Archive for Wait Until Dark

Blind Tuesday: The butcher’s so frightening I gotta wear shades

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 14, 2022 by dcairns

Remember when I used to write about thrillers featuring blind characters on Tuesdays? But I never got around to WAIT UNTIL DARK. Maybe this time.

Well, Dario Argento has made something called DARK GLASSES or maybe, ridiculously, BLACK GLASSES (OCCHIALI NERI). It has all the bad qualities of an Argento film from any period and maybe some moments reminiscent of his good ones.

As in any Argento film, good or bad, people are stupid, and our sex worker heroine starts the film by staring into an eclipse. When she’s blinded by a brain injury incurred that night at the hands (or van) of a serial killer, we’re apt to feel she was seeing on borrowed time anyway. (I’ve belatedly realised filmmakers deliberately have their characters behave stupidly because it makes the audience feel tense. Don’t go downstairs! They’re often willing to sacrifice sympathy and credibility for this useful stupidity anxiety.)

The car crash that blinded her has also orphaned a little Chinese boy who becomes her carer, recalling the cute relationship at the heart of CAT O’ NINE TAILS (good Argento). Asia Argento plays an employee of the blind person’s mobility service, who wears a T-shirt saying she’s an instructor of the blind person’s mobility service. I think everyone in this film should wear a T-shirt saying what they are. It’s the only way the dopey cops are likely to identify the killer.

Argento seems pretty clear in interviews that he doesn’t want to repeat his glory days, and if fans can’t learn to enjoy his new tunes, that’s their hard luck. But he CONSTANTLY repeats his glory days, he just does it without the style. This one has a faux-Goblin score and some coloured lighting. And one or two inventive situations — there’s a ludicrous random water-snake attack that reminded me of INFERNO’s river-rats, and quite a promising bit where the heroine has a rifle and needs the kid to aim it. But nothing is made of this — no shot aiming along the barrel as it pans wildly to and fro, the minimum required trick. Took me ten seconds to think of it.

What sometimes happens to older directors is they increasingly reject cheap tricks, but have nothing to replace them with. In a film like this, cheap tricks are what we pay to see.

Alas! A whole lot of funding bodies threw in presumably tiny amounts of money to let Dario make another film. I would be glad for him, but he doesn’t seem to be having any fun with it.

Blind Tuesday: Where is love and who turned out the lights?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by dcairns

An obscure one — I’d never heard of MADNESS OF THE HEART until I stumbled across it. It has no reputation, but it does have points of interest: it’s written and directed by Charles Bennett, who collaborated on a half-dozen or so key Hitchcocks between BLACKMAIL and FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (including most of the late-thirties espionage cycle, all reviewed elsewhere on this site as part of Hitchcock Year) and also adapted NIGHT OF THE DEMON for Jacques Tourneur, incorporating a number of Hitchcockian ideas, including the master-villain with the sweet, doddering mum.

And then there’s Kathleen Byron, reprising her mad love act from BLACK NARCISSUS, only with a cod French accent. Powell told her that Sister Ruth was a great part, the only problem being she’d never get a better one, and he was right. So basically repeating the role here seems a reasonable option: it beats Freddie Francis’s CRAZE.

In brief: plucky doctor’s receptionist Margaret Lockwood meets and falls for French aristo Paul (Who He?) Dupuis. Then she’s struck blind, and the best medical minds, including the one she works for (yay! Maurice Denham!) conclude there’s no hope. After an unsuccessful turn as a nun (blind AND a nun? doesn’t Audrey Hepburn have automatic dibs on that?) narrating the story so far in flashback (the structure’s a mess but so’s this sentence) she hooks up with Dupuis again and he marries her, blindness and all. FINALLY we arrive at the family château in the South of France where Kathleen Byron plays an old flame of Dupuis, determined to destroy Lockwood so she can have him for herself… Now things can get going, and going is precisely what they get…

Spoiler alert! The next paragraph contains plot details written in invisible ink: highlight to read.

A daft plot twist allows Lockwood to cure her blindness and return, faking it, in order to entrap her unseen enemy. This frustrates one of the best tropes of the blind person in jeopardy thriller, which is the disabled character triumphing over both unspeakable evil and their own disability. In fairness, this convention isn’t set in stone and hadn’t really been established at this time: WAIT UNTIL DARK really fixed the template. But when you see it done decently, it’s satisfying in obvious ways that alternatives, like the boyfriend barging to the rescue in SEE NO EVIL, really aren’t.

End spoiler.

Oddly, Bennett directs this one better than he writes it, but he’s dealing with a cheap novelette as source material (ugh! that title!) and struggles to inject real humanity into it. On the other hand, his filming is often stylish, aided by Desmond Dickinson’s moody photography.

Listening to Fiona’s extremely zestful reactions to Byron’s acts of wickedness against her sightless rival (from repositioning a wine glass to attempting to arrange a drowning), I was struck by how films like this encourage a complicity with the bad guy. At times, Fiona was virtually egging the madwoman on. This wasn’t due to any dislike of Lockwood, who embodies pluck, but simply because in a film like this, nothing entertaining can happen unless the villain is plotting villainy. If the supporting cast were full of amusing bit players, there might be some welcome distraction from the main event, but asides from Thora Hird as a no-nonsense maid, there’s nothing doing. So we require constant perfidy from la Byron or the thing is going to just lie there.

Kathleen in a saucy two-piece, something I never thought to see.

Fortunately, K.B. does not disappoint, seizing one of her last chances to be interesting in a dull film. No act of spite is too petty for the ironically named “Verity”, who amusingly goes from leaving sharp objects near the maid’s baby so Lockwood will get the blame, straight to murder attempts, then back to faking love letters (to a blind woman?), and back to murder again. In this she’s aided by the château’s offscreen architect, who for some reason has supplied the building with a door opening onto a fifty foot drop. Perhaps the castle was assembled from a kit, like the Keaton homestead in ONE WEEK?

Why didn’t Kathleen Byron go from strength to strength? Simply because the British cinema of the ‘fifties was too weedy to contain her, I think. There weren’t enough psycho-bitch roles to typecast her successfully, and nobody was bold or imaginative enough to see her in more varied parts, despite the proof offered by THE SMALL BACK ROOM that she could be really excellent in a less extreme characterisation. (The reason David Farrar’s so uncharacteristically strong in that film is that she lends him fire. And he’s strongest in BLACK NARCISSUS when she’s around.)

There’s also the sad fact that she was apparently a little difficult, as talented people often are.  With the supremely difficult Michael Powell around to help her, that didn’t matter so much, but when they were no longer an item and his career was on the slide, that impetus was gone. (BTW, she always said Powell’s description of her, in his memoir Million Dollar Movie, standing naked and threatening him with a revolver, was sheer confabulation.) And nobody else owed her sufficient goodwill to help.

That was stupid: with the Rank Organisation embracing sappy bourgeois mediocrity in the ‘fifties, British cinema really needed a fierce talent who could heat up a moribund flick with a dash of hellfire.

Blind Tuesday #1: The Eyes Don’t Have It

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2011 by dcairns

BLIND TERROR or, to give it its “classier” title, SEE NO EVIL, is a seriously basic blind-girl-in-jeopardy thriller written with slack minimalism by Brian The Avengers Clemens but directed rather sensationally by Richard Fleischer, whose seventies work is all over the map but sometimes comes violently to life in response to either a good script or a technical challenge. Here we get traditional slasher dynamics — extreme low-angle glides after sinister footwear, that kind of thing — given an extra push into stylistic brio by cinematographer Gerry Fisher.

Also, the suspense is genuinely intense as Mia wanders about a big house unaware that the other occupants have been bloodily murdered. Even more cringe-making is a coffee-making scene in which she doesn’t know about the broken glass littering the kitchen floor, her stockinged feet padding about between the glittering shards, miraculously escaping bloody mutilation with every step.

Unfortunately, the script’s slenderness prevents it working on any deeper level, and an unbelievably flat and anticlimactic conclusion stops it holding up as a straightahead shocker. Those in the know about young British actors of the period will have no trouble guessing the killer, since it’s got to be somebody with the necessary psycho edge, although the botched climax never actually allows him to display his chops.

Burgess Meredith gate-crashes the movie via TV.

Faced with this streamlined, largely unmotivated string of cruel set-pieces, Fleischer attempts what seems like his own stab at subtext. The killer has no background or psychology to motivate him, so RF attempts to stencil in a vague mental framework in the opening titles by showing the sensationalist media crowding the guy, a cultural call to violence. This is immediately ridiculous (and it’s in bad faith for a violent thriller to blame its killer’s actions on violent thrillers) — we open on an audience filing out of a grindhouse double feature, rather implausibly situated in rural Berkshire. Then we get newsstands with lurid headlines, and Burgess Meredith grimacing in TORTURE GARDEN as viewed on a TV set in a shop window… was the clip chosen based on the film’s splendid title, leading to a struggle to find any suitably gory imagery in a typically mild Amicus horror flick? In the end, the sequence overreaches itself conceptually and makes for a shaky start, redeemed only when the suspense starts properly and the film can perform on a purely visceral level.

Top marks for blindness: Mia’s raw, screaming hysteria is not only convincing but worrying. The movie makes more sense than WAIT UNTIL DARK, but that’s easy since it doesn’t attempt anything remotely complex. The attempts at red herring generation are at a DW Griffith level of complexity (untrustworthy gypsies, including Michael Elphick of THE ELEPHANT MAN and the landlady of The Slaughtered Lamb in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON).

Fiona tells me that when THE ELEPHANT MAN came out, poor Elphick would get abuse from random strangers in the street, so convincing was his callous hospital porter in that movie. “You bastard!” A phenomenon unglimpsed since Stroheim.

***

This has been No 1 in a short series on blind person thrillers.