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Theatre / Wait Until Dark

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Wait Until Dark is a mystery/thriller play by Frederick Knott.

The heroine is the recently-blinded Susy Hendrix, a Greenwich Village housewife who becomes the target of three men searching for the heroin hidden inside a porcelain doll, which her husband Sam brought over from Canada — unaware of its contents — as a favor to a woman who since has been murdered. The trio, led by a sociopath calling himself Roat, try to convince Susy that Sam has been implicated in the crime and the only way to protect him is to surrender the doll. More murder and mayhem ensue when she refuses.

Originally produced on Broadway in 1966, with a cast that included Lee Remick as Susy and Robert Duvall as Roat. The play was revived on Broadway in 1998, with a cast including Marisa Tomei as Susy, Quentin Tarantino as Roat, and Stephen Lang as Talman. Another revival, staged in October 2013 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, moved the setting back in time to 1944 – lending it a distinctly Film Noir flavor – among other changes.

A film adaptation was made in 1967, produced by Mel Ferrer, directed by Terence Young, and starring Audrey Hepburn as Susy, Alan Arkin as Roat, Richard Crenna as Talman, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Sam. In 1982, HBO aired a videotaped performance of the stage play, featuring Katharine Ross as Susy and Stacy Keach as Roat. Another film adaptation, titled Penthouse North and starring Michelle Monaghan and Michael Keaton, was released in 2014.

This work provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Susy at the end. She's a nice, unassuming lady who gets dragged into a situation with her life at risk by three conmen against her will. She manages to beat her opponent, killing him before he can kill her, but it's a close, close thing.
  • Adaptation Name Change: A subtle example in the 2013 rewrite: Susy is referred to as Susan.
  • Adaptational Backstory Change: In the 2013 rewrite, the characters' backstories are made to better fit the WWII era setting. For example, Susy and Sam met in a hospital when she was recovering from the accident that blinded her and he was recovering from wartime PTSD. Also, Roat is made a draft-dodger, mutilating his own foot to avoid service.
  • Adaptational Late Appearance: In the Hatcher rewrite, Mike does not appear in the first scene. He makes his initial appearance when the con begins, making the revelation of his involvement in the criminal plot a twist rather than a detail the audience knows from the beginning.
  • Alone with the Psycho: The climax, in which Susy is left alone in her apartment with the murderous Roat.
  • Ankle Drag: Happens when the psychotic Roat leaps and grabs Susy's ankle as she tries to signal for help through the window.
  • Anti-Villain: Talman. He's just trying to pay off his debt to a loan shark, and does everything he can to avoid actually hurting Susy. He ends up leaving of his own accord after he decides Susy is a Worthy Opponent, and promises he and Carlino will never bother her again, assuring her that Roat is dead, having previously agreed that Carlino would kill him. Unfortunately, he's wrong — Roat killed Carlino before Carlino got the chance, and promptly kills Mike, too.
  • Asshole Victim: Lisa seems to make betraying her partners-in-crime a regular thing. She dumped Mike and Carlino when their last mark caught wise to their blackmailing scheme, letting them take the rap while she walked away. She tries to do the same thing to Roat, but he isn't as forgiving...
  • Big "NO!": Susy belts out two in the movie: once when she learns the truth about Mike and the second time when Roat shoves a burning newspaper into her face.
  • Building of Adventure: The action is almost entirely set in one apartment.
  • Canon Foreigner: The character Shatner was added for the film, presumably to open it up a bit (his one scene takes place outside) while also establishing that all of Susy's adult neighbors are going to be out for the weekend.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the film, Gloria makes sure to mention that a knife is among the objects that she flung to the floor during a temper tantrum. That's the knife that Susy eventually uses on Roat.
  • The Con: Talman makes himself out to be a friend of Susy's husband. Carlino pretends that he's a cop investigating the murder of the lady who gave Mr. Hendrix the doll. Then Roat pretends to be two different people in order to trick Susy into thinking that her husband has been implicated in the murder, and that she has to find the doll to clear him.
  • Conveniently Empty Building:
    • The film takes place in what appears to be the most desolate apartment building in New York City. Lampshaded early on when it was explained that of the six tenants living in the building, only Susy and Gloria were actually home - Shatner left for Vermont, Gloria's mother was uptown "for a weekend of fun and games" and her father had left as well, and Sam was off to work.
    • Averted in the 2013 rewrite, where Gloria's mom is stated to be upstairs with a lover. However, since she's established as a chronic "dipso," she may as well not be there at all.
  • Cut Phone Lines: The baddies cut the phone line so that Susy could not call the police.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Beautifully subverted. Susy knocks out all the lights to give herself the advantage over her attacker. Too bad she forgot one. You probably would, too. In the refrigerator. She thankfully does manage to unplug it at the last second, and darkness equals her attacker's death instead of her own.
  • Disability Superpower:
    • Lampshaded, really. Roat wears two elaborate disguises to pretend he is two different people, for no apparent reason, other than that's what he does when he pulls the con on other people, or maybe just for the benefit of the girl who also lives in the building. Since Susy can't see the disguises, there's really no point in wearing them, and in fact, she recognizes that he is the same person, because she isn't distracted by them.
    • Susy's ears are also sharp enough for her to pick up that Carlino is "dusting" her apartment for no particular reason (he's really wiping prints), and to notice that her visitors keep fiddling with the blinds even though it's nighttime (they're signaling to each other).
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Roat in the film, as he's spotted by (and subsequently intercepts) Lisa after she lands at Kennedy Airport.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: It's hard to call Talman and Carlino "evil", but they're still criminals – and they're both disgusted by Mr. Roat.
  • Evil Cripple: Roat, in the 2013 version, where he damaged his own foot to avoid being drafted into the military. The dragging sound of his club foot becomes Susy's way of identifying him rather than via squeaky shoes.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Initially, Harry Roat feigns pleasantries with his marks and seems generous with paying his lackeys well for a few hours of work.
  • Femme Fatale: Lisa, who in her previous work with Mike and Carlino seduced then blackmailed wealthy men. Roat refers to this "type" as her con artist specialty directly by name in the 2013 version.
  • Foreshadowing: There are many: the icebox, which plays an unusually important role for an icebox, and is mentioned in several different contexts, early in the movie, and Susy's lines "I don't want Gloria today, I don't need her"; "What if I get [killed] as a poor, defenseless blind lady whose husband is off in Asbury Park?" "Do I have to be the world's champion blind lady? [her husband says "Yes!"] then I will"; and "I wish I could do...important things," followed by a list of things she wishes she could do, that are not very important compared to saving her own life, and ridding the world of an evil criminal at the same time.
  • Frame-Up: Roat lures Talman and Carlino into the room where Lisa (their former partner in crime) is and has them get their fingerprints everywhere, then threatens to have them take the fall for the crime unless they help him.
  • Freak Out: Susy has a brief one after she discovers that her phone line got cut. She breaks a lamp in frustration, which gives her the idea to do the same to all the lights.
  • The Ghost: Lisa in the play. The closest we ever get is an offstage but frequently discussed dead body, hidden in Susy and Sam's closet. Averted in the film, where she appears onscreen, and in the 1998 Broadway revival and the 2013 rewrite, where the body was/is shown onstage.
  • Handicapped Badass: Susy, a blind woman who managed to take advantage of the fact that she is used to not being able to see, while Roat is not, and smash out all the lights and cover the floor in gasoline, guaranteeing he can't see a thing. The only thing she didn't think of was the light in the refrigerator, and while it comes close, she still manages to kill Roat in the end.
  • Hastily Hidden MacGuffin: The MacGuffin is a heroin-stuffed doll which a young woman tries to smuggle on a plane from Montreal to New York. On arrival she notices a criminal waiting for her at the arrival zone whom she hasn't expected. She senses trouble and quickly hands the doll to an unwitting stranger she met on the plane who then carries it home with good intent. The plot revolves around the criminal and his two partners trying to get the doll back from this man's apartment.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Talman. He stops the con on Susy, promising to leave her and Sam alone and that she's safe... and is promptly killed.
  • Heroic BSoD: Susy has one when she learns that Talman played her. She has another one when noticing the Cut Phone Lines.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Roat charges at Susy with the knife raised - but only manages to catch her by the ankle because he trips over Mike's body.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: This happens around the time that Susy manages to splash Roat with the gasoline and then grabs matches.
  • I Call It "Vera": Roat named his switchblade "Geraldine."
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Roat towards Susy in the film. He strokes her face during his interrogation of her and it is strongly implied he plans to do more than just kill her when he insists they go into the bedroom.
  • I Lied: Roat promises not to hurt Susy if she gives up the doll. After she does, he marches her into the bedroom for murder or worse. She says he promised not to hurt her, and he parries with "Did I? I must have had my fingers crossed."
  • In Love with the Mark: Subtle. When Susy touched Mike's face to "read" him there was something in the way that he was looking at her that seemed like he had fallen for her. He later tells Carlino that she is "something", and it's very clear that he really likes her, romantically or not. Leads to a Heel–Face Door-Slam for Mike.
  • In the Back: Mike, who Roat stabs from behind.
  • Inspector Javert: Carlino poses as one, investigating a murder he supposedly suspects Sam of, to scare Susy.
  • Ironic Echo: Susy asks both Sam and Roat if they're "looking at me," the context being quite different in those two scenes.
  • Jump Scare: Roat comes out of nowhere to grab Susy by the ankle.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Talman, by Roat, just as he's bidding a Worthy Opponent goodbye to Susy.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Susy turning out the lights to turn the tables on Roat.
  • MacGuffin: The doll, which is stuffed full of heroin.
  • Mr. Exposition: Susy's neighbor Shatner serves this in an unusually indirect way. He says hi to Susy (while packing up for a ski vacation) and as they complain about their landlord, mentions that the only tenants in the building are the two of them, Sam, Gloria and her mother.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: Talman (a smooth guy who develops sympathy for Susy) is nice, Roat (a psychopathic killer) is mean, Carlino (who gets along with Talman, but bullies around Susy- albeit only as part of the con and because he's being blackmailed-) is in between.
  • No Name Given: Roat, Mike Talman, and Carlino are all made-up aliases assigned by Roat. The script simply calls them by those names because they have to call them something.
  • Not Quite Dead: Roat comes jumping at Susy after being stabbed down by her in the previous scene.
  • Oh, Crap!: After Susy's able to kill off most of the light sources in her apartment, Roat figures out that the refrigerator has a working light...
  • Only in It for the Money: Mike and Carlino don't have anything against Susy and honestly seem to want to avoid hurting her—they're just in it for a quick buck. Averted with Roat, who, as Susy lampshades, just "wants to do evil things."
  • Parental Substitute: Sam for Gloria. Eventually, Susy is, too.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: When they are first searching the apartment, Roat tells Talman to check the closet. He opens it and is startled to find the corpse of the sexy woman who was carrying the doll, in a plastic bag hanging from a hook.
  • Perverted Sniffing: In the film, Roat grabs some laundry from the dryer to clean his sunglasses with while monologuing. When he realizes he's grabbed some of Susy's lingerie, he brings it to his nose for a whiff. From the smug look on his face, he doesn't seem interested in what detergent she uses...
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: The climax of the film involves Susy breaking all the lamps in the apartment so that the thugs can't find her. Her plan is thwarted when Roat finds the refrigerator.
  • The Power of Trust: A lot of the con rides on Susy not trusting Sam. While her faith does waver, she does trust him. She also trusts Gloria, and Mike (and is devastated when she realizes Mike is in on it, too). Mike and Carlino seem to trust each other, but they don't trust Roat at all. With good reason, seeing as how he kills them both. Roat doesn't appear to trust them very much either.
  • Pretty in Mink: When Lisa takes the doll on the plane she is wearing a lynx coat, showing the drug dealing paid well (though also ended up getting her killed).
  • Protect This House: A group of burglars resort to increasingly desperate means to get a poor blind housewife to give up a heroin-laden doll mistakenly delivered to her house.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Talman and Carlino. They never show any genuine malice toward Susy, and only agree to do the job on the condition that nobody will get hurt. When things turn sour, they come up with a plan to get rid of Roat and leave Susy alone. Sadly, it fails.
  • Red Herring: The safe. For all it's brought up, it has very little importance later.
  • Rescue Romance: How Susy and Sam first met. She was trying to cross traffic one day and was almost hit by a car. Sam rescued Susy as the cars began to "pile up" around her.
  • Roadside Wave: Sam gets wet when the taxi cab outside the apartment gives him a puddle shower.
  • Scare Chord: Oh boy!
    • The film's music score, incidentally, was written by Henry Mancini.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Attempted by Talman and Carlino, when they try to get rid of Roat and bail on the whole con. It backfires, and Roat kills them both.
  • Setting Update: Inverted with the 2013 revival, which moved the time period back a couple decades to 1944. Among the several changes to fit the new setting, the doll is now stuffed with diamonds rather than heroin.
  • A Simple Plan: The con men try to scam Susy into revealing where the doll went, by posing as cops and trying to hint that Susy's husband was having an affair with a murdered woman. For a blind woman, Susy quickly senses things are amiss - she can tell one "cop" is wiping away evidence - and it drives the sociopathic Roat into an even simpler plan...
  • Sinister Shades: Donned by Roat for much of the film.
  • Skeleton Keycard: In the film version, Carlino seems to have slipped a piece of plastic between door and lock to open the apartment door from the outside.
  • Smuggling with Dolls: The MacGuffin that kicks off the whole plot is this when the woman uses a doll for smuggling heroin through an airport.
  • The Spook: None of the other characters know Harry Roat's (which is not his real name) background. The only thing about him they find out is that he is a sociopath who feigns pleasantries with his soon-to-be victims.
  • Step into the Blinding Fight: In the climax a blind woman battles against a killer in her apartment; she destroys all the lamps so he is disoriented but she can react just fine.
  • Sunglasses at Night: In the movie, Roat seems to wear sunglasses whether it's day or night, whether he's indoors or outside. He only ever takes them off to clean them, wear a disguise, or when Susy throws the hypo in his face and they're the only reason his eyes aren't damaged by the chemicals.
  • Taking You with Me: After Susy thrusts a knife into his gut, Roat nixes whatever minuscule chance of survival he may have had by pulling the weapon out of his wound and chasing down Susy, hoping to butcher her before bleeding out himself.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork:
    • The three cons aren't entirely trusting each other. Roat has to blackmail them into helping him scam Susy to find out where the doll filled with heroin got to.
    • The animosity-laced teamwork between the three crooks is contrasted with the teamwork between Susy and Gloria, who initially dislike one another and then after reconciling, join forces to sniff out the criminal's scheme.
  • Video Credits: At the end of the film for the principal players, including three different shots of "Roat" as he regularly looks and in his disguises as Roat Sr. and Roat Jr.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Heavily implied. The script makes a note of Gloria and Roat staring at each other at one point — Gloria, because she's seen Roat before in a different disguise and is realizing it, while Roat looks at her like a bug he wants to crush. It's almost certain that he would've killed her, had he gotten the chance.
    • The 2013 rewrite lampshades this when Roat in disguise as Roat Jr., annoyed by Gloria's presence, makes an implicit threat, saying he would like to, "introduce her to my little girl. Geraldine."
  • Would Hit a Girl: Roat, and he does much more than hit her in the climax. Subverted with Mike, who is ultimately unable to harm Susy though he threatens to.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: When Roat figures the other two con men are no longer needed and convinced (rightly) that his "partners" are turning on him...