Wait Until Dark (1967) Terence Young

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Warner Brothers purchased the film rights to “Wait Until Dark” early on with Jack Warner set to star Audrey Hepburn in the lead role of the blind heroine, Susy Hendrix.  Hepburn wanted Warner’s to announce as soon as possible that she would be starring.  She wanted to avoid accusations similar to what occurred when she took the role of Liza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and was accused of stealing the role from  Julie Andrews. In the play, film and stage actress Lee Remick was starring and was a big enough star to have headlined the film. What Audrey wanted known is that from the beginning Warner’s had no intention of having Lee star in the film version

The hit play opened in early February of 1966 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater with Remick and with Robert Duvall, as Harry Roat Jr. It was directed by Arthur Penn who would soon go on to film “Bonnie and Clyde. “Written by Frederick Knott whose first hit play was “Dial M For Murder”, “Wait Until Dark” was Knott’s successful return to Broadway, a woman in peril thriller in the  “Sorry, Wrong Number ” mode.

wait lcProduced by Mel  Ferrer, Hepburn’s husband, the film version opened up  on October 26th 1967 at Radio City Music Hall, just in time for Halloween. The film sets up Susy (Hepburn), a young  woman recently blinded in a car accident, against a team of three criminals led by a diabolical Harry Roat Jr. (Alan Arkin). The men are determined to get their hands on a heroin filled doll that has made its way to Susy’s apartment.

How the doll got to the Greenwich Village apartment Susy shares with her photographer husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and its disappearance and reappearance takes time to explain as does the convoluted  deception by the criminals including  Roat Jr. dressing up disguised as other people in an attempt to get the doll back from the blind Susy.

The biggest question the film, and the play, leave your with is why did Roat Jr. have to wear disguises when his intended target is blind?  Despite this glitch in the plot and a slow build up, in the third act the film provides an intense finale that will still make viewers tense and jumpy.  I am not going to give anything away here so if you have not seen the film don’t worry.

wait until darkThis was the first suspense thriller for Ms. Hepburn whose career was filled with gentler works like “Charade”, “The Nun’s Story”, “Sabrina” and “Roman Holiday.” She does well in this career change of pace and  received her fourth  Academy Award nomination for her efforts. Also, in the cast are Richard Crenna and Jack Weston as Roat Jr.’s  partners in the evil scheme. Directed by Terence Young, best known for directing the first two James bond films “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love” and later on the fourth, “Thunder ball.”  Young was good friends with Hepburn and her husband Mel Ferrer and they fought for him to direct the film. Jack Warner was looking to get Carol Reed to direct.wait still

Like Lee Remick did for her stage performance, Hepburn  studied and did much research on the blind, first in Lausanne and then in New York at the Manhattan Lighthouse for the Blind. Alan Arkin got the role of the criminal Harry Roat Jr. after Warner’s was turned down by numerous stars  including George C. Scott. Arkin had just made a name for himself a year earlier in Norman Jewison’s  “The Russian Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.”

Hepburn wanted to make the film in Europe where she felt comfortable, and while the film is set in New York most of the film involved interior shooting that could have been done anywhere. A few exterior shots of Greenwich Village could have been made in New York and the rest of the film completed anywhere. Jack Warner refused insisting that the interiors be filmed in California. While Warner won that battle he lost the tea at four war. Audrey insisted on a stipulation that they break for tea every day in the afternoon, a British tradition, and was backed up by the Brit director Mr. Young. Jack Warner steamed but the crew had their daily break tea.

Warner Brothers studio used a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock and William Castle ballyhoo when they announced in the coming attractions for the movie that during the final eight minutes of the film the theater lights will be darkened to the legal limits to intensify the action on screen.

In 1998, the play was revived on Broadway with Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarantino in the roles of Susy and Harry Roat Jr. Changes made to the original play and movie, like the apartment was now on the Lower East Side instead of Greenwich Village, apparently did not add any gloss to the play. It closed after 97 performances.

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16 comments on “Wait Until Dark (1967) Terence Young

  1. R.D. Finch says:

    John, some nice background on the film. I didn’t know that Arthur Penn had directed the Broadway version. (By the way, I liked the link to the interview with Penn, which I enjoyed immensely.) It’s intriguing to think what Penn might have done with the film–or Carol Reed for that matter. I found it entertaining but pretty stagebound. Audrey’s one of my favorites, and it’s amazing to think she made this the same year as “Two for the Road,” a very different movie and a very different kind of performance. She retired after those two, and it was several years before she made another movie. They were really pretty much the end of a brief but fantastic career. It’s incredible to think that she made such an impression in less than 15 years, between “Roman Holiday” and this. It was also the first movie I ever saw Alan Arkin in, and for me his flamboyant performance stole the movie.

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  2. John Greco says:

    R.D. Sure go ahead with the link. Glad you liked the article. I actually saw the Broadway production with Lee Remick and she was great in the role, as was Hepburn in the film. I had always wished she had the opportunity to do the film version. I did not know at the time the Warner’s purchased the screen rights with Hepburn in mind for the lead. Of course, Hepburn was a bigger movie draw than Remick.

    I was fortunate enough to also see two stage productions directed by Arthur Penn. Along with WUD, a year earlier I saw “Golden Boy” with Sammy Davis Jr. This was a musical version of the Holden/Stanwyck film. I was young at the time but once a year in the summertime my parents and I would go to see a play. Honestly though, at the time, I believe this was 1965, I did not know who Arthur Penn was.

    Robert Duvall was in the original cast of “Wait Until Dark” but I believe by the time we saw the play he had already left.

    As you say, Hepburn made some impact considering her short though amazing career. I agree with you on the film being stagebound and yeah, what would have Carol Reed made of the film.

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  3. Judy says:

    Years since I’ve seen this, but I thought it was a great film – remember being absolutely on the edge of my seat during those final minutes, which I think have been imitated at times in other thrillers since. I loved the background information you’ve included, John, like the daily breaks for afternoon tea!

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Judy! Apparently, Jack Warner was truly upset with the daily tea break, too much money and time being wasted, in his opinion.

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  4. Dave says:

    As Judy mentioned, this one seems to be have been imitated quite often over the years… which I think might have unfortunately lessened some of the impact for me. I hate to admit to that, but I think that might be the case. I like to think that I can disregard such influence, but in this case I don’t think I did. The reason I say this is that while I watched it I could recognize how well-made it was and knew that I was watching an outstanding movie, but I wasn’t necessarily on the edge of my seat. It was a weird feeling.

    Still, as usual, your historical background and context in your reviews is second to none. An interesting read of a film that I own and just might make a perfect re-watch this week leading up to Halloween. 🙂

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  5. Sam Juliano says:

    John: I have fond memories of this film, as it was one of the last films I saw on the big screen at the Embassy Theatre in North Bergen, New Jersey, a movie palace that was later converted to a Jehovah Witness Hall, then to various shops. Of course the film was one that terrified me as a young teengaer, and I have since seen it many times over. I also appreciate the historical lead-in and the well-founded argument about the disguises ringing ludicrous when the central character is blind. The film (for me) bears some similarities in tone as another one from that period, LADY IN A CAGE, which also involves intruders, but with that one a woman is trapped in an elevator. I agree with you that Ms. Hepburn is most effective, and that’s amazing that Warners went with that Hitchcock/Castle ballyhoo. Superlative piece here.

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  6. John Greco says:

    Sam,

    Good comparison to “Lady in a Cage” which I about 15 or so years ago. It was either a bootleg vHS or made a rare appearance on TV.
    The climatic ending scared the hell out of me when I saw the play back in the mid-60’s. Still remember it to this day.

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  7. ostrov says:

    Thank you,
    very interesting article

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  8. Denise says:

    I have watched it again yesterday it is such a cool film
    I love old films I think you too
    write back

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  9. V.E.G. says:

    Lee Remick was the distant cousin of Alan B. Hall, the hero who gave his life saving a young girl in Florida! “Uncle” Alan Hall is watching from the heavens!

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  10. John Greco says:

    VEG,

    I remember reading about Hall in the newspaper a couple of months ago, I think it was. Thanks for the info, had no idea of the relationship to Ms. Remick.

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  11. Bob Ascani says:

    Was 12 when I 1st saw this film and the edge of my seat was almost worn off. I remember being angry @ Efram’s character what with his wife having to be the ‘best’ blind woman even at the very end when he comes in after all the bally-who. I absolutely love this film and the wrong Hepburn was awarded the Oscar that year. I’ve seen it so many times I couldn’t dare to give a figure. You tid bits of information (Lee & tea) where very interesting and good to know. Coming across this page makes me want to see this film again. There was and will be only one Audrey and I consider myself the NUMBER 1 Julie Andrews fan so believe me, the praise for Audrey means a lot!

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