Viewer Guide: Wait Until Dark and Safety Not Guaranteed with Richard Peña

July 20, 2018 | Richard Peña

Your weekly peek into what’s coming up next on REEL 13, written by host Richard Peña.


Wait Until Dark (1967)

This week’s classic is the 1967 suspense-thriller Wait Until Dark, from British director Terence Young. Earlier in the 1960s, Young was busy directing not one but three James Bond films: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball.

In Wait Until Dark, Young had to limit his “action” almost exclusively to a garden apartment on Greenwich Village’s St. Luke’s Place. The apartment belongs to Suzy Hendrix, a recently-blinded woman played by Audrey Hepburn, and her husband Sam, played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. When Sam agrees to hold a child’s doll for a woman he met on an airplane – never a good idea – he inadvertently brings heroin, and danger, into their home.

Enter the criminals in search of the drugs, led by Alan Arkin’s frightening Harry Roat, Jr., who only identifies himself as “from Scarsdale,” and including Richard Crenna and Jack Weston. The men play a series of dark and cruel tricks on the vulnerable Suzy in their effort to regain possession of the doll and the drugs.

The diabolical deceptions may seem to go on and on, but the tension pays off. The film’s final scenes are cited on nearly every “Best Of” list for terror films. Viewers in 1967 theaters had an even more authentic experience: in an effort to enhance the suspense on the screen, theaters were dimmed to their legal limits. Then the remaining lights were shut off, one by one until the theater was plunged into complete darkness. Feel free to recreate the effect in your home.

Wait Until Dark was based on a 1966 stage play of the same name written by English playwright Frederick Knott. Knott also wrote the London-based stage thriller Dial M for Murder, adapted into a film by Alfred Hitchcock.

The role was a nice stretch for Audrey Hepburn, who was one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses but was generally confined to more romantic or comedic roles. She worked very hard to perfect the physical movements of a blind person in her performance, learning Braille and spending hours before the shooting rehearsing with blindfolds. She was even forced to wear very painful contacts, as her eyes were deemed “too expressive for a blind person.” Nominated for both the Golden Globe and the Oscar, Hepburn would always cite her performance in Wait Until Dark as one of which she was most proud.

Years ago, The Film Society of Lincoln Center honored Audrey Hepburn, and I can attest that she was one great star who was even lovelier in person than on screen. One admirer who came to pay tribute to her was Alan Arkin, her co-star in Wait Until Dark. Arkin said how usually after making a film, he would go home to visit his mother, who naturally would shower him with praise for his fine work. But after this role, his mother just glared at him. At dinnertime, she threw his plate on the table and walked away. Finally, Arkin couldn’t stand it, and said, “Ma, what’s the problem? What did I do?” She just looked at him and said, “Alan, how could you? That wonderful girl…!”


Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

This week’s indie is Safety Not Guaranteed, a quirky romantic comedy directed by Colin Trevorrow.

Aubrey Plaza stars as Darius Britt, a recent college grad who finds herself struggling to get out of her post-school “funk” to begin her adult life and career. Living at home with her widowed father and with no clear idea of what she wants to do, Darius has learned not to expect too much from life, especially in the years following her mother’s death. Her unpaid internship at “Seattle Magazine” keeps her busy but broke, so Darius is pretty much ready to try anything to make some money, even if means interviewing for a dead-end restaurant job.

Eager to escape the menial office chores she is saddled with at the magazine, Darius is intrigued by an idea pitched during a story meeting by Jeff Schwensen, one of the magazine’s staff writers, played by Jake Johnson. Jeff has spotted a most unusual help wanted ad looking for someone to join a time-traveling expedition, the only requirement being to “bring your own weapons” although “safety is not guaranteed.”

Darius’s initial excitement at working on the story quickly wanes when she realizes the assignment will require her to join the boorish Jeff on an out of town research expedition along with another geeky intern played by Karan Soni. Staking out the post office, Darius whiles away the time waiting for whoever took out the ad to check on their mailbox—until at long last a furtive oddball played by Mark Duplass appears on the scene. And with that, Darius embarks on a cat and mouse game to get to the bottom of a time-traveling quest that just may not be as much of a nutty hoax as she initially thinks.

In some respects, Safety Not Guaranteed follows the formula of a contemporary screwball comedy—except this time around it’s the male side of the romantic equation who functions as the kooky eccentric disrupting the dull logic of conventionality. The script was inspired by an actual want ad that first appeared in “Backwoods Home” magazine in 1997, placed as a joke by a senior editor. Understandably attracting considerable attention, the ad initially attained legend as an internet meme before serving as the basis of Derek Connolly’s screenplay for Safety Not Guaranteed in 2012.

Marking the theatrical feature directing debut of Colin Trevorrow, the director did not have to wait long before moving into the cinematic big-time. In 2015, his second film was Jurassic World, another quirky variant on screwball comedy that became the first film to make $500 million in a single weekend. While Trevorrow lost the opportunity to direct the last movie of the new Star Wars trilogy, he will return to Jurrasic Park to direct the third Jurrasic World.

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