Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman whose husband (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) is away on business, leaving her all alone in her apartment. He has been trying to teach her to be independent and not reliant on the assistance of others, aside from the brat across the hall (Julie Herrod’s Gloria) who occasionally helps her with some of the chores Hepburn can’t do on her own. However, Hepburn is to face her biggest test yet when three crims attempt to enter her apartment, looking for a doll supposedly containing heroin inside (which Hepburn clearly knows nothing about). Richard Crenna is the affable-seeming one who uses his charm to try and get what they need (pretending to be an old friend of Zimbalist’s paying a visit), whilst Alan Arkin is an outright bizarre psycho who may even be dangerous to the people he’s working with, let alone a danger to Hepburn. Jack Weston rounds out the trio as a portly crim who looks about as trustworthy as well, nothing at all, so it’s a good thing Hepburn can’t actually see him while he masquerades as a police detective in a ruse to get Hepburn to hand over the doll.
No one likes a well-made genre movie more than me, and this 1967 ‘blind woman in peril’ film from director Terence Young (“Storm Over the Nile”, “Dr. No”, “From Russia With Love”, “Cold Sweat”) is pretty much the best film of its type. Adapted by Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington from a play by Frederick Knott (“Dial M for Murder”), this is pretty irresistible stuff and boasts fine performances from an Oscar-nominated Audrey Hepburn, and especially Richard Crenna and Alan Arkin. The basic set-up may have been done to death since, but this is the originator, and it’s a cracker.
The set-up is longer than in most films of this type, but it’s to the film’s advantage, because it means we get to know the characters. The film is an excellent showcase for Ms. Hepburn, who probably deserved her Oscar nomination, but for me the real stars here are Crenna, Arkin, and the excellent, shadowy lighting by cinematographer Charles B. Lang (“Sudden Fear”, “Some Like it Hot”, “One-Eyed Jacks”). Crenna is probably best-known for playing Col. Trautman in the “Rambo” series, but he’s cast somewhat against type here as one of the villains. He’s surprisingly excellent as the most outwardly ‘respectable’ of the trio of crooks here, you certainly wouldn’t pick him for an associate of Jack Weston (spot-on as the sweaty fat man of the trio) or Alan Arkin, that’s for sure. There’s something seemingly affable and trustworthy about Crenna that you wouldn’t even need a working pair of eyes to sense that the other two don’t have similar qualities. It’s amazing that Arkin hasn’t played many more villains over the years, because he proves here that he can definitely do it. He’s mannered, not remotely subtle…and fascinating to watch as he has a field day here, it seems. Like Dwight Yoakam in “Panic Room” (one of the better variants of the ‘woman in peril’ conceit) he’s totally unpredictable and not particularly trusted by the other two guys. I know that they could run into other tenants in the building, but I still think it’s a bit odd that Arkin keeps donning different disguises given Hepburn is blind, but nonetheless it allows Arkin to give one helluva entertaining performance. You’ve never seen him like this before or since, believe me. Meanwhile, in the role of most horrid little monster who absolutely deserves to die: Gloria, the little shit who lives across the hall, played without any sympathy or likeability whatsoever by Julie Herrod. If the intention is to make the audience want to hate her, Ms. Herrod does a superlative job.
The self-deprecating blind jokes are a touch precious, but I rather liked that Hepburn’s husband does his best to teach her to be independent and self-reliant, as her other senses help her figure out what’s going on after a while, which is rather nifty. I’m not sure if this film was the originator of the ‘always check that the killer is really dead ‘coz he’s not’ cliché, but I reckon it’d have to be pretty close to the first. Being that Hepburn is blind, it’s actually an understandable oversight this time, however.
A clever, stylish and well-made genre piece where pretty much everything not named Efrem Zimbalist Jr. works. Gripping stuff, only ever-so slightly suffering from the passage of time. Terrific, typically 60s-era music score by Henry Mancini (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “Days of Wine and Roses”, “The Pink Panther”), too is worth a mention.
Greatest bit of trivia you’ll ever read: 20 years before this film, Audrey Hepburn was a young volunteer nurse during WWII, and one of the soldiers she nursed back to health was Terence Young. You can’t even make this stuff up, people!