Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Wait Until Dark

This is yet another non-giallo, non-Argento film whose relevance to this blog has to be demonstrated. We could simply invoke the old chestnut of there only being two sorts of anything, the good and the bad, and that Wait Until Dark fits into the former category.

But we can do better, in terms of how different the history of the giallo could have been. For the film was a big success in Italy, where it went by the title Gli Occhi della notte - literally The Eyes of the Night - and put director Terence Young in the running to direct The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. He didn't of course, and the rest is history, Argento taking the genre to new artistic and commercial heights and inspiring a raft of imitators.

More interesting than this oft-told story, however, is the way in which Wait Until Dark also reverberates into later giallo productions, notably Argento's subsequent essay in the thriller form, The Cat o' Nine Tails, which shares with it the notion of a blind protagonist, and Duccio Tessari's Puzzle, with the same MacGuffin of hidden drugs that the protagonists – one suffering from amnesia and other from a broken leg to give them not too similar states of disability – are initially unawares of.

The doll

The plane

Aparted from a play by Frederick Knott, almost all of the action within Wait Until Dark takes place in the one location, in near real time. The way the filmmakers initially open out the action is interesting from a giallo perspective though, insofar as it entails the familiar tropes of air travel and the doll. Drugs mule Lisa takes the doll, which is stuffed with heroin and also happens to play a distinctive music-box style tune, from Montreal to New York, passing it on to photographer Sam Hendrix on the pretext that it is for a little girl who is sick and that she does not want to be seen with it on her when she meets her own daughter as the child will not understand that the doll is not for her. (Try that nowadays and I wonder how far you would get.)

At the airport Lisa is intercepted by her old partner Harry Roat (Alan Arkin) who murders her offscreen - though there are moments of shock, this is more of a suspense film characterised by restraint and menace rather than gratuitous violence - and puts her body, contained within a transparent plastic clothes bag, in the cupboard of the Hendrix's apartment. (Not a million miles away from Five Dolls for an August Moon's meat locker, then.)

The psycho; one of the best incarnations of the type out there besides Luciano Rossi

The body, wrapped in plastic

Things get a little confusing here - another reminder that it's not just gialli that can be accused of suffering from less than water-tight naratives - as another couple of men, Mike Talman and an ex-cop by the name of Carlino, turn up at the apartment looking for Lisa. They also leave their prints all over the place, placing them right where Roat, who shows up shortly after, wants them. (In keeping with the theme of blindness, non-visual details attain a greater importance than usual here, though with an element of inconsistency at times, one feels.)

Around about this point Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) returns home. Recently blinded in an accident, she does not notice the men's presence, taking the little details that are out of place, like the chair she nearly trips over, as stemming from the child upstairs, Gloria, visiting when she was out. Roat and company sneak the body out, dumping it where it is later found. Believing that Susy knows the whereabouts of the doll, Roat and his reluctant co-conspirators concoct a story that implicates Sam in Lisa's murder and the doll as the thing that can prove his innocence.

Unfortunately there are also those little details, like the fact that two different men being played by Roat both seem to be wearing the exact same pair of creaky new leather shoes, that begin to arouse Susy's suspicions and place her in increasing danger...

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