Wait Until Dark

At first I thought it was my fault. For awhile there I was afraid that the reason why I wasn't completely following the plot of Wait Until Dark was because my mind was somewhere else and that if I had just been paying attention the whole thing would have made sense. And that was probably true to an extent - when I started watching this movie I was also trying to nail down some dinner plans, so I can't claim that I was fully committed to watching the screen. But once dinner got all sorted out and my eyes were on the prize I was still confused. At that point I realized that it wasn't just me - it was also the movie.

Wait After Dark is a thriller about a blind woman named Susy who has to outwit three con-men who are trying to break into her home. They are targeting her specifically because they think that she has accidentally intercepted a doll that is full of heroin that was supposed to be delivered to them. If you're wondering why a blind housewife would have their drugs, well, there's a reason. You see, the doll was originally in the hands of a drug mule named Lisa, but she got paranoid that someone was following her so she handed the doll off to a stranger at the airport. (This was released in 1967, long before the overhead speakers at airports very clearly announced every ten minutes that it was not a good idea to carry any packages for any strangers.) That stranger ended up being Sam, Susy's husband, and the con-men have tracked the doll down to their house. Unfortunately, Sam has since left the city again, and Susy doesn't know anything about any of this since she was never at the airport. (Her confusion about all of this was definitely not helping my confusion about all of this.) However, even if she did know anything about the doll she couldn't actually return it to the con-men because one of the kids from her building actually stole it from her apartment when she wasn't looking. (Which was very easy to do, since Susy is, you know, blind.)

Now, all of this is the set-up - none of this is the actual plot. So far we've witnessed four hand offs (dollmaker -> Lisa -> Sam -> Susy -> neighbor kid) just to establish that the thieves think Susy has this doll even though she doesn't. Once Wait Until Dark is done with getting all of that background stuff out of the way then it starts to get really complicated. You see, the con-men don't think they can just strong arm Susy into giving them the doll because it might be stashed in a safe that only she could unlock, so they've come up with an elaborate plan that will hopefully convince her to open the safe without tipping her off to the fact that she's secretly being robbed of something that she actually doesn't own. That plan involves one of them playing a cop, one of them playing one of Sam's old war buddies, and the ringleader of the con-men playing multiple parts, including a cuckolded man and the cuckolded man's father. Their plan requires so many entrances and exits and costume changes that it would make the perfect set up for a classical farce - except Wait Until Dark is playing it completely straight. Apparently we are supposed to buy the idea that such bargain basement thieves would go to such great lengths to get a doll from a blind woman who was alone in her unlocked house.

There's nothing wrong with building a movie around an elaborate con - cinema history is full of great movies like The Sting or Oceans 11 that are all about stacking cons-on-cons-on-cons. But all of those films work because they have a lot of moving parts on both sides of the equation - they pit schemers against other schemers so they can create a narrative that is organically full of twists, turns, upheavals and reversals. However, in Wait Until Dark you have a mismatched equation - the trio of con-men know that an elaborate ruse is afoot but Susy is clueless about whats happening in her own house. They mentally and physically outmatch her to such a great extent that the movie can't help but feel a bit overdone. It makes sense that a game of cat-and-mouse might go the distance, or even a game of cat-and-cat-and-mouse-and-mouse, but a cat-and-cat-and-cat-and mouse movie seems like it should wrap up pretty early, especially if the mouse isn't that tough or smart. (Which Susy is definitely not; she's too trusting and sweet to go toe-to-toe with trio of professional hustlers in a game of wits.)

Indeed, once Wait Until Dark whittles down it's characters until it's a one on one showdown between Susy and the main con-man the movie really ignites - their final showdown has all the intensity and drama that the rest of the movie lacked. Which makes sense, because there's something very primal about putting two people in a room when one of them wants something and the other wants to keep them from having it. You don't need a bunch of funny hats and accents to make that conflict seem dramatic - you just need interesting and determined characters, which this film actually has, once you get them away from scenarios that are so complicated as to defy belief. When it comes to human drama, simpler is often better.

I would have accepted all of Wait Until Dark's contrivances if I had felt that they were necessary, but alas, they were hindrances. The most logical version of this story is very simple - a drug mule panics and she tries to offload her package on a stranger but he refuses to take it because he's not an idiot. The end. Or if he does agree to take it home then he puts it in a safe place and when people come looking for it the next day he knows where it is and he willingly forks it over. The end. Or if there's some reason why he can't just hand it over to them then he turns it over to the police and makes them deal with it because it really shouldn't be his problem, much less his wife's. Unfortunately, at every one of these stages Wait Until Dark decided to go down a more complicated path - one that requires petty crooks to play dress up so they can pull the wool over a blind woman's eyes. You'd think that would be pretty easy to do - but I guess not.

Winner: The Cat

Wait Until Dark on IMDB