The Archivist #55: WAIT UNTIL DARK

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and Blu-ray discs (which, unlike the DVDs, are factory pressed rather than burned). Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

It’s hard to believe, but suspense classic Wait Until Dark turns 50 this year. The film is atmospheric and effective at putting the audience in its protagonist’s shoes, and famous for one of the most effective jump scares of all time. I remember watching this on VHS with my Mom, who jumped and yelped at the famous scene. Good times. In advance of this anniversary, Warner Archive has just released a new Blu-ray edition, and I couldn’t wait to revisit it.

Chasing a heroin-filled doll that got away from them, a trio of criminals try to trick Susy, the woman who now possesses it, into handing it over to them. It might be a standard home invasion thriller save for one important distinction. Susy, played by Audrey Hepburn, is blind.

Heading up the heist is the mysterious Roat (Alan Arkin), a vile and duplicitous fiend perpetually hidden behind dark sunglasses and speaking in a soft, measured monotone. Roat coerces a pair of small-time crooks into helping him, offering a handsome payout if they assist, but also threatening them if they don’t. Mike (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston) grudgingly acquiesce, and take part in an elaborate charade designed to trick Susy into revealing the location of the doll.

Susy’s blindness takes a familiar kind of story and completely recontextualizes it. She lost her sight fairly recently in a car crash, and hasn’t fully learned how to deal with her disability. When the crooks engage her, their approach is at first seemingly friendly before turning threatening. She must rely almost entirely on her cleverness and resourcefulness to see through the lies and survive. The audience can often see things she can’t, heightening tension and emphasizing her vulnerability, nowhere more effectively than in the celebrated climax in which she kills the lights to level the playing field.

The story is set almost entirely within Susy’s apartment, which is unsusprising since the film is based on a hit play. That said, it never feels artificially small or contained; the limitation of movement is completely fitting in the context of a newly blind person’s area of mobility.

The horror and thriller genres have evolved and changed a lot over the last few decades, but Wait Until Dark’s intelligence and effectiveness haven’t wavered since its release. Highly recommended.

The Package

Warner Archive released the Blu-ray edition of Wait Until Dark on January 24th. The packaging is very standard, and surprisingly makes no mention of the film’s 50th anniversary.

Light is a critical element to this film, both visually and thematically. The disc looks marvelous, and I’m happy to report the low-light scenes play beautifully.

The film is not rated, but is roughly PG-13 stuff.

Special Features and Extras

A Look In The Dark (8:40)
Producer (and Audrey Hepburn’s ex-husband) Mel Ferrer and Alan Arkin reminisce about the film. DVD carry-over in interlaced SD.

HD Theatrical Trailer (2:36)

“Warning” Trailer (1:08)
This is one of those fun but also somewhat laughable William Castle-style gimmick trailers selling the last 8 minutes of the film and supposed rules about the presentation. Interlaced SD.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
Wait Until Dark – [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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