My audio commentary for Wait Until Dark (1967)

Here’s a first for me: an audio commentary of the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, an underrated gem and a top five personal favorite of mine.

If you’ve never seen the film, don’t bother with this commentary until you do. It’s a great little cat-and-mouse thriller in the Hitchcock mold: Audrey Hepburn plays a recently blinded housewife who finds herself targeted by a trio of criminals out to find a stash of heroin that accidentally ended up in her possession. The story is packed with twists and turns, and the suspense slowly builds to a boiling point. The final twenty minutes are truly nail-biting, with Hepburn fending off the most dangerous of the thugs (played to perfection by a young Alan Arkin) in a battle to the death.

It’s a unique movie in the Hepburn canon, one of the few thrillers she ever did (think of it as the suspenseful but romantic Charade‘s more sinister cousin). She walks the fine line between vulnerability and tough-minded resourcefulness, and the result is one of the best performances of her entire career. She finds the perfect onscreen nemesis in Alan Arkin, whose master criminal is every bit as intelligent as she is. And then there’s the fine direction, the great script, Henry Mancini’s queasy yet gorgeous score– but you can hear me gush about all that in the track.

In the commentary, I cover the following:

  • How Wait Until Dark started out as a stage play by Frederick “Dial M for Murder” Knott, but the screen rights were purchased by Warner Bros. at Mel Ferrer’s request well before the show even opened on Broadway
  • How Wait Until Dark was adapted for the screen without resorting to obvious “opening up” tactics to make it more cinematic (courtesy of screenwriters Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington and director Terence Young)
  • The numerous differences between the play and the film
  • Frederick Knott’s style as a thriller playwright and the running themes/motifs between his three plays (Dial M for Murder, Write Me a Murder, and Wait Until Dark)
  • Wait Until Dark‘s long stage history, including the ill-fated 1998 Broadway revival and Jeffrey Hatcher’s noirish 2013 adaptation
  • The almost-constant conflicts between Team Hepburn (which includes producer Mel Ferrer and director Terence Young) and the studio over everything from Hepburn’s wardrobe to where the interiors would be shot
  • How Alan Arkin’s characterization choices (based on his actual interactions with criminals and drug addicts in early 60s Chicago) initially baffled the film’s crew and the movie critics (though apparently charmed a decent number of teenage girls who sent the alarmed actor love letters)
  • Hepburn’s extensive research of blindness and her friendship with a visually impaired college student
  • Richard Crenna being underrated as hell
  • My (mostly nuanced, I think) thoughts on the irritating husband character
  • And much more!
A very giallo-esque Italian poster for the film. Source: Cinematerial

Making my own commentary has long been a dream of mine, but for years, I felt I wasn’t good enough and putting my voice on something terrified me. However, over time I’ve become less self-conscious and decided, hey, why not? Other people have recorded fan commentaries (I was particularly inspired by the Batman and James Bond commentaries on the This Damn Fool Idealistic Crusade channel on YouTube and Chris Meadows’ 2006 fan commentary of The Castle of Cagliostro)—why shouldn’t I give it a try? Even if it isn’t Criterion-worthy, creating something is better than just dreaming in vain forever.

To be frank, this commentary project is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. It involves more than just talking—I had to make sure my vocal delivery was audible and figure out where to talk about what subject within the movie itself. I also had to make sure I was able to comment on scene-specific details amidst more general information about the film’s production. I confess I wasn’t able to share all the research I did either– 108 minutes goes by fast!

I admit I feel a bit vulnerable in posting this. I’m comfortable enough cranking out a written review, but expressing anything with my voice makes me feel exposed in a way that a normal essay does not. (I have to wonder if silent film actors making the transition to talkies experienced much the same dread in being heard for the first time?) I tried my best not to sound “academic” or dry. I think I succeeded there and maintained a casual (if very geeky) tone throughout (especially with my many jokes about Alan Arkin’s delightful wigs), but you can still detect a bit of my nervousness now and then.

A page from an original Japanese film program for Wait Until Dark. On the left side, you can bask in the glory of Arkin’s many wigs, ranging from oily beatnik to dapper old coot about town.

Still, it’s good to do things that scare you. I’d been in a creative rut for a while and having to learn new skills to work on this commentary rejuvenated me. I hope it’s a fun listen.

You’re welcome to play the track along with the film or to just listen to it like a podcast. Whatever suits you—I tend to have commentaries playing while I’m cooking or doing housework.

Below, I’ve also posted a list of the main sources I used when researching the film, as well as the sources for the interviews I directly quote in the track.

One last thing: I made two errors in the commentary, both luckily minor. First, I claim My Fair Lady was the biggest film of 1964, but that was actually Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews really got her revenge, didn’t she?). Second, during the scene where Jack Weston is interrogating Hepburn for the first time, I say something like, “When Carlino patted Mike on the shoulder a few moments ago”—only for the aforementioned pat to occur about a minute after I said that. That was meant to come out as “When Carlino pats Mike on the shoulder in a few moments” but my brain shorted out and I got the tense wrong, and just never picked up on it until yesterday. So if you’re watching along with the film, don’t think you’re off-sync—I’m just being an idiot.

Sources:

“A Look in the Dark,” the making-of featurette included on DVD and Bluray versions of the movie

“All for Knott” by Joan E. Vadeboncouer for Syracuse Herald American (NY)

Audrey: Her Real Story by Alexander Walker

Audrey: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Charles Higham

Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris

Audrey Hepburn: A Biography by Warren Harris

Blood on the Stage, 1950-1975: Mileston Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection by Amnon Kabatchnik

The Carrington screenplay can be read on this website: https://cinephiliabeyond.org/wait-dark-terence-youngs-terrifyingly-effective-suspense-thriller-brilliant-audrey-hepburn-alan-arkin/

Clown Prince of Hollywood: The Antic Life and Times of Jack L. Warner by Bob Thomas

Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Donald Spoto

Everybody’s Talkin’: The Top Films of 1965-1969 by Barry Monush

Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock

Lee Remick: A bio-bibliography by Barry Rivadue

Liner notes by Lukas Kendall for Film Score Monthly release of the Wait Until Dark soundtrack

“Look What They’ve Done to Her Script” by Donnell Stoneman for News & Record

The making of feature films: a guide by Ivan Butler (Terence Young is one of the directors interviewed)

Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott

Sources of direct quotes:

Arkin’s comments on fan mail – Saturday Review (September 9, 1969: Vol 52, Issue 36)

Arkin’s comments on how he came up with his characterization – The Actor Speaks: Twenty-four actors talk about process and technique by Janet Sonenberg

Hepburn’s comments on having to commit onscreen murder – “Star Must Walk to Work” by Florabel Muir

Crenna’s comments on Hepburn’s professionalism – Audrey Hepburn: a biography by Warren Harris

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6 thoughts on “My audio commentary for Wait Until Dark (1967)

  1. Thumbs up all the way and for doing a feature length audio commentary. I don’ t think I could do something like that myself. Wait Until Dark is one of my Mom’s favorite movies, she saw it back in 1967 in theaters with her one older sister when she was about 11. The scene towards the end with Arkin jumping out at Audrey with the only light coming from the fridge still makes her jump even today.

    Like

    • Thank you for the comment!

      I’ll say this– I definitely better appreciate the work that goes into my favorite commentary tracks now that I’ve made one myself. You have to juggle a lot: research, vocal delivery, clarity, timing. But it’s fun when you do one for a favorite movie. I love Wait Until Dark so much that this never felt like homework. And getting a decent mic isn’t too expensive either– I bought one for about $80 and used free Audacity software to record and edit. So definitely don’t be nervous about trying– it’s hard but also fun in its own way!

      I envy your mom’s experience! People who saw that movie first-run tend to have fond memories of the screenings and how the theaters would shut off all the safety lights during those last scenes. Even when watching the movie at home, I try to turn off all the lights in my apartment, just to get the full experience!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 10 Posts Worth Screaming About: Halloween Around the Blogosphere |

  3. I was so excited to see you post this, Nitrateglow! I’m due for a rewatch of Wait Until Dark, in fact it’s on my watchlist this Halloween. I also remember how you mentioned wanting to dip your toe into commentary work. Great job putting this together – you are a natural!

    I’ve included your post in my Halloween roundup. Here’s the link if you’re interested in taking a look:

    https://theclassicmoviemuse.com/2022/10/29/the-best-of-the-blogosphere-10-posts-worth-screaming-about-this-halloween/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Favorite posts of 2022 | nitrateglow

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