Dueling Film Reviews - Round One: JDub on "Wait Until Dark"

Posted 6/04/2010 by JDub in Labels: , , , ,
It is hard to watch a film like director Terence Young's 1967 suspense/thriller "Wait Until Dark" without being unfairly critical, especially if the film has 20 years on you like it does me. Audrey Hepburn is iconic even in current terms, but I still wasn't expecting the kind of strength, grace, and resolve she brought to her role as a (not so) helpless blind housewife.

There is no denying that this is a truly excellent film, but there are some interesting ways in which it shows its age, and this is where the unfairly critical stuff starts coming out. A modern movie viewer with modern expectations will find that some of the dialogue seems contrived and poorly delivered--especially in the early scenes.

Specifically, as in the clip above, while Mike and Carlino are searching for the Hendrix's address, they question a group of "street" kids whose attempt at bad attitude is laughable in today's post-Marshall Mathers climate. It seems to me that this scene is designed to roughen up the film's setting, and especially to show how "hard" Mike and Carlino are. Instead, the kids' conspicuously loud and forced "HAHAHA's" and Mike's sternness just make me laugh myself.

More subtly though, in any scene which involves dialogue taking place outside on the street, the actors project their voices noticeably more, which simply sounds wrong to a more modern ear. I can only presume that microphone, recording, and mixing technology in the day necessitated this extra-loud talking, and if that's true, then the overt breach of the fourth wall here couldn't be helped. People clearly don't talk that loudly and with such perfect enunciation to each other in real life, so the scene just doesn't feel as real, and contemporary viewers will notice.

The thing is, though, that once the film settles into the Hendrix's living room (where 90% of it takes place) and starts following Susy, I quit caring about any of those things. I mean, I've been thrown off a lizard-bird at 15,000 feet above the planet Pandora (in 3D!), and yet Audrey Hepburn manages to elicit a more intense feeling of suspense in my gut than did the whole of "Avatar."

That's what gets me about this film: sure, its old enough to be a grandparent--and suffers for its age in some ways, as I said--but it somehow had me on the edge of my swivel chair through the entire second half... and I'm tough: I watch "24" completely unmoved.

There's something strangely compelling about watching Susy fight to maintain the essence of her humanity (IE, her life) in the face of her new disability. It would be one thing for her character to have been blind from birth, but instead, she's only recently been blinded: meaning she knows just how much big scary world is out there for her not to see.

Perhaps there's a parallel to be drawn between Susy's fundamental sensory shortcoming and the film's shortcomings that seem to result from the technology and methods of the day. They may have Roat wearing dark sunglasses indoors to highlight Susy's blindness, but in the end, she shows us (and herself, of course) that no disability can quell her humanity, and likewise, "Wait Until Dark" shows us that old age and a few less-than-believable elements cannot keep the film from rocking the party--harder even than the most expensive of modern films.

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