Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Overlooked Movies -- Wait Until Dark

Nostalgia time. This is a particularly memorable movie for me for reasons entirely unrelated to the movie itself.  Judy and I saw it in the Varsity Theater on the Drag in Austin, just across the street from the University Methodist Church.  As an undergrad, I saw a number of memorable movies there, including North by Northwest.  The theater closed in 1990 and became a Tower Records store.  Later it was a bookstore.  I don't know what occupies the space now.  Here's a photo of the concession stand taken a couple of years before we saw this movie, and here's the interior.  And the mezzanine.  And the exterior in the good old days. 

But I digress.  The reason I remember this movie so well is that when we got home after seeing it, I discovered that my billfold wasn't in my back pocket.  I got in the car and drove back to the theater, which was closing up for the night.  I located someone with a flashlight, and we went to the row where I'd been sitting.  Luckily for me, my billfold was lying right there in the floor under the seat.  What a relief.  I've been a lot more careful about it ever since.

The movie itself was a lot of fun.  It opens with a scene that would probably be hard for anyone traveling by air today even to imagine.  A woman takes a big doll filled with bags of heroin on a flight from Canada to New York.  Things were different in the 1960s.  When she arrives, she asks a man she's met on the plane (Sam, played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) to hold it for her.  She's being stalked by a vicious killer named Roat (Alan Arkin), and she leaves the doll with Frank when Arkin accosts her.  Later, Roat kills her in the apartment where Sam and his wife, Susy (Audrey Hepburn), live.  Samand Susy aren't home, of course.  After that, a couple of hoods (Richard Crenna and Jack Weston) show up to look for Lisa.  Roat convinces them that they'll be blamed for the murder, but if they'll help him dispose of the body and find the doll, he'll split the money from the sale of the drug with them. 

Susy is blind, so when Sam leaves on a business trip, Roat and his new pals show up.  They pose as cops, and while Roat engages Susy in conversation, the other two search the apartment.  After all, she can't see them.  The doll's not there, though, because a young woman who lives in another apartment and who helps Susy out now and then has stolen it.

There's a lot more stuff that goes on, but it's all just building up to the big climax when Arkin and Susy are alone in the apartment at night.  Susy has turned off all the lights, so she'll have a chance, and this sequence is the whole point of the movie.  I hate to spoil if if you haven't seen it so SPOILER ALERT.  After some suspenseful cat-and-mousing, Susy stabs Roat with a kitchen knife.  Shortly afterward, there's the first instance that I remember of a scene that's been endlessly replayed in movie after movie, but this was the first and the best use of it.  I admit that I jumped a foot or so, and that's probably when I lost the billfold.  Shortly after this shocker, there's the scream that everyone who's see the movie will remember.  A lot of people in the theater screamed, too. And that's the end of the SPOILER ALERT.

This isn't really an overlooked movie, of course, but then a lot of the ones I've mentioned recently haven't been.  I'm sure that people around my age have seen it and remember it well.  The rest of you should give it a chance.  Hand onto your wallets.


Anonymous said...

Great memories! I actually saw the original stage production on Broadway, starring Lee Remick and Robert Duvall, and in the scene you mentioned the whole audience screamed. I think it was the first time I'd seen that either.

Love the pictures of the old movie theater. Sadly there aren't many of them left.

Jeff (from the geezer bus)

Todd Mason said...

I've seen it, but on television so long ago that I wonder if I've simply forgotten the sequence you're coy about (even in the spoiler) or if it was edited (I probably saw it on movie-heavy Channel 56 in Boston ca. 1973).

Remarkable, in some ways, how little even the concession stands have changed in some theaters, how much in others.

Oh, sure, a doll full of recreational drugs carried onto an airplane...next you'll be telling me no one had to take their shoes off before boarding...

Deb said...

My husband still says that's one of the scariest scenes ever.