Year Released: 1967
Directed by: Terrence Young
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston, Julie Herrod, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
(Not Rated, 107 min.)
"I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you." T.S. Eliot
A blind Audrey Hepburn must use all her inner resources as she matches wits with three determined villains in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Forgo the usual slasher flick and rent this first rate thriller whose pervasive sense of menace builds to a heart-pounding climax that will take your breath away.
On October 26, 1967 Wait Until Dark opened just in time for Halloween, and the theatres were darkened to the legal limit during the last 8 bone chilling minutes. One of the few problems occurred in casting the ultimate villain, Harry Roat, who played an extremely unsympathetic role. Not only did he have to terrorize a blind woman, but she was the exquisite and well-loved Audrey Hepburn at that! In a breakout role, Alan Arkin instills a malicious core behind the dark glasses and black leather jacket of Harry Roat Jr.
The opening sequences set us up for beneath the surface brutality as a knife slices through the shiny red pantaloons of a china-faced doll. After slipping in several sacks of white powder, the rip is sewn up with careful stitches and hand carried onto a flight from Montreal to New York. But things go wrong upon landing, and Lisa, the lovely fur-clad courier, cooks up a believable tale and quickly passes it off to Sam Hendrix (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), a fellow passenger on the flight. Little does he realize that the little doll in his luggage is a plague that will infect one closest to him, his beloved wife, Suzy.
Much of what anchors Audrey Hepburn’s performance as Suzy Hendrix is the knife’s edge she walks between being a helpless victim and a self-reliant survivor. Having lost her sight in a fire that followed a car accident, Suzy puts up a brave front, telling her husband that she was the best in blind school that day, and when he meets her in the café all he has to do is look for the one reading Peter Rabbit in Braille. But underneath a defiant darkness still lurks. “Do I have to be the world’s champion blind lady?” she pleads, when Sam, her photographer husband, pushes her too hard. Later on, the smell from a discarded cigarette still smoking in an ashtray is enough to put her in full blown panic. The war within herself is far from over and it provides a dramatic texture that would be lacking if she were completely secure and confident in her sightless state.
Gloria (Julie Herrod), the neighbor girl who does Suzy’s grocery shopping, adds still another dimension. Abandoned by her father and left to her own devices by her mother, she is in the ugly duckling stage of pre-pubescence, with a crush on Sam that makes her resent Suzy. Nevertheless, it is Gloria’s and Suzy’s fragile alliance to outwit two polished cons and a ruthless thug that is the crux of the plot.
The villains themselves are a diverse lot as well. Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) and his partner Sgt. Carlino (Jack Weston) are two bit cons just out of jail. A phone call from an ex-confederate and the promise of some ready cash lure them to Suzy’s empty apartment where, instead of their friend Lisa, they meet Mr. Harry Roat, as the malevolent Alan Arkin calls himself. He will give them $2000 dollars each if they can help him recover a certain doll now in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Hendrix. All they have to do what they always do – lie, cheat and play act. It all sounds easy enough until they find a little problem in one of the closets – a very dead Lisa tucked inside a garment bag.
This is more than they bargained for, but Roat, with the assistance of Geraldine, his name for a statue that hides a very sharp stiletto, persuades them otherwise. By now their prints are all over the apartment – Roat has been careful not to touch anything himself – so they are more or less blackmailed into disposing of the body and helping Roat get back his doll. Even as they set up a scheme first to win Suzy’s confidence and then maneuver her into a corner, we cannot help but see them just as much cornered as she.
A particularly cruel thrust of their scheme, wherein they plant suspicion that Sam has had an affair and murdered his paramour, seems needlessly heartless, but then again it is guaranteed to put Suzy in desperate straits. Of course, we can’t help but wonder if some wives would react in such a protective way about a supposed philandering spouse/murderer.
There are a few tense moments, as when Suzy returns home unexpectedly and they are caught in the apartment, cowering behind doors until they realize that she is blind. We are treated to one particularly grim image when Suzy dresses to go out. As she rushes into her closet to retrieve a scarf, we get a shot of the dead body with the head and hair trialing out of the plastic garment bag looming right next to her.
But as the film proceeds, Suzy’s blindness becomes a blind spot for the bad guys, who become careless because of it. Since she cannot see, they feel free to move about in the apartment, signaling each other with the window blinds, and tip-toeing around to wipe up their prints. But they forget the heightened state of her other senses and begin to give themselves away.
Adding to the sense of claustrophobia is the semi-basement apartment. For all its sunny interior and cheerful furniture, it is halfway into the bowels of the earth with only one way out. There the cornered prey awaits the final showdown with her tormentors. She and they have enough surprises up their sleeves to guarantee Halloween-sized portions of tingling spines, gasping breaths, and scarcely suppressed screams.
Sgt. Carlino’s most successful caper in Wait Until Dark is his stealth raid on Suzy’s refrigerator and its assorted cold cuts. Forget looking for stolen plunder or exploring locked closets for lingering bodies in the garment bags; his first stop is the refrigerator. In no time he has gathered a great spread of thin-sliced meats, mellow cheeses, and fresh bread. His ensuing “Stealth Sandwich” is thick and delicious, and he wastes to no time in polishing it off. It may the last enjoyable meal he has before having to deal with Mr. Harry Roat, Jr. and his friendly stiletto, Geraldine.
The recipe below is for a Hoagie, the Philadelphia spin on your typical New York deli version – just the thing for the upcoming football season.
The Stealth Sandwich
Lynn Kerrigan (The Culinary Cyber-Sleuth) provides us with a recipe as well as some historical background on this delicious sandwich. Her recipe for a hoagie is the Philadelphia version of a New York Deli Sandwich. It means a hog of a sandwich.
The New York Delis
“The hoagie's origins may have started with the deli sandwich that coincided with the opening of delicatessens. More than 100 years ago, Eastern European immigrants opened the first "deli" to provide other incoming immigrants with foods they loved from the old country including hearty dark breads, smoked meats and fish, spicy mustards, pickles and other delicacies. The first American delis were opened in the 1880's and 1890's. Native Americans soon flocked to the incredible New York delis (known as the deli capital of the world) like The Carnegie Delicatessen and Restaurant, Katz's Delicatessen, Barney Greengrass, Stage Delicatessen and Restaurant and Kaplan's at the Delmonico. These celebrated establishments offered a wide array of foods, but were best known for their fabulous overstuffed sandwiches.
I learned to make assembly line hoagies as a volunteer for the annual Hoagie sale fund-raiser benefiting the high school baseball team. Here's how we did it:
- Shred lettuce fine and toss with vinegar and olive oil, as if you are making a salad.
- Slice tomatoes and onions thin.
- Layer your choice of meats (we used cappicole and hard salami), provolone cheese, tomato slices, sliced onion and shredded lettuce in that order on a good Italian hoagie roll. Pile high. Sprinkle with Italian herbs like oregano and/or basil. Some people prefer mayonnaise instead of vinegar and oil on their hoagies. Other additions may be hot and/or sweet chopped peppers, pickles, relish and mustards. Making this full meal on a roll can really allow your creative juices full reign.
Tips For Great Deli Sandwiches:
Nothing is more important than the meat. Buy the best you can find. Homemade corned beef, pastrami, brisket, roast beef, roast turkey, salami, smoked white fish and smoked Nova Scotia salmon are all good choices. Have it sliced thinly.
Ditto the cheese. Experiment with different types.
Buy the best bread. It can be French bread, Italian bread, American hoagie rolls -- just be sure it's fresh and crusty.
If you can, make your sandwiches with home grown tomatoes.
Great deli sandwiches needn't be slathered in sauces. A dab of mustard, mayonnaise or vinegar and oil helps blend all the flavors together. “
Recipe Source: The Culinary Cyber-Sleuth