Sunday, September 19, 2010

Well, it is getting dark earlier

It hasn't been on TCM for a long time, but TCM has finally regained the broadcast rights to Wait Until Dark, which is airing at 8:00 PM ET tonight.

Audrey Hepburn plays a woman living in a basement New York apartment who has recently lost her eyesight. She's trying to adjust and live independently, although she also has a husband (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) who loves her and wants her to be independent, too. To that end he leaves her alone while he takes a fateful business trip to Montréal. It's fateful because, at the airport on the way back, he's given a doll and asked to bring it to a young kid in hospital in New York. What he doesn't know is that the doll is actually filled with heroin, and that he's playing an unsuspecting drug mule.

Still, he takes the doll, and brings it back to the apartment. Completely unaware of its real contents, he leaves it there, intending to take it to the hospital later. The bad guys in the various drug gangs, of course, know all about this doll and its contents, and dammit, they want it! How to get it? Well, the lead bad guy, Alan Arkin, realizes that the woman of the house is blind, and perhaps he can use that to his advantage to trick her and get into the apartment where he can search for the doll without her seeing this.

The Hollywood trope about blind people is that their other senses are super-keen, and such is the case with Hepburn. She realizes something isn't quite right, but she doesn't know what. Still, her husband isn't there to help her, so she has to rely on that other Hollywood trope, the bratty kid upstairs. She winds up with the doll for a while, similarly blissfully unaware of the danger lurking within it. Arkin, meanwhile, has no compunction about using several different voices to try to get that doll -- and if that doesn't work, he'll use violence.

And that sets us up for a thrilling finale. Arkin's OK with killing Hepburn. But Hepburn understands that he has to find her first, so she figures a way to take her blind person's cane to break all the lightbulbs in the apartment and reduce him to being just as blind as she is. (When the movie played in theaters, the studio asked managers to turn off the house lights just before this scene started.) It's frightening, but well-executed.

Audrey Hepburn got an Oscar nomination for this role, and frankly deserved it. In fact, I think she was robbed of the Oscar, which went to Katharine Hepburn for the dreadful Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Thanks to the magic of cable movie channels and DVD, however, it's easy to compare both performances and see that Audrey is the far superior Hepburn.

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