Couldn’t resist it – in choosing Alan Arkin as Harry Roat Jr. from Scarsdale as one of my all-time ‘favourite’ villains in our (though I say it myself, remarkably successful) Top 10 Movie Villains post, I realised that I simply had to share my further thoughts on Terence Young‘s sublime thriller, which no less than Stephen King still cites as being one of the scariest films ever made. And he ain’t wrong.
Where to begin? Well, it’s adapted from the play by Frederick Knott, and Terence Young (who was best known for directing three films in the James Bond series, Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965)) had no problem in preserving its essentially stage-bound origins, which was a very good idea – the claustrophobia generated by the single-room setting, in which beautiful, resilient and incredibly brave ‘world’s champion blind lady’ Suzy Jenkins (Audrey Hepburn) must battle her cowardly (and, in the case of Roat, psychopathic) opponents is unparalleled for this reviewer in some 30 years of loving film and, more specifically, fear films.
Jenkins, who has only recently been blinded, is the unwitting recipient of a stash of heroin stuffed into a doll, that her husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) was made a mule for by the soon-to-be deceased ‘Mrs Roat’ – enter Roat and his two stooges, Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston), who have a little long-con planned to ensure that their ‘property’ is returned. It’s a plan that Talman and Carlino are led to believe will involve no-one getting hurt – but they really, *really* hadn’t counted on just how far Roat Jr. is prepared to go…
But nor had they counted on the initiative and intelligence of their ‘mark’ – Hepburn’s quite superb performance is not only completely convincing in its deliniation of blindness, but also in how she manages to battle her aggressors.
Without giving anything else away, Jenkins’ defence ultimately involves her turning the tables on the by-now injured (and *extrememly* angry) Roat by smashing every light in her apartment, to render him nearly as blind as she is. Every light, that is, save one – and see if you can guess which one *you* might forget.
And this was back in the day when William Castle-esque gimmicks ruled in cinemas – to accentuate the on-screen terror, movie theatres dimmed their lights to their legal limits, then turned them off one by one as each light was shattered by Hepburn in the film, so the theatre was plunged into complete darkness. ‘Man, that must have been bad,’ as Stephen King says in his excellent appreciation of horror as an art form, Danse Macabre.
Once again, the King ain’t wrong – turn off your own lights, and enjoy terror such as you are unlikely ever to experience again in this dark jewel of a film.