In case you missed it, 2017 is already a great year for Audrey Hepburn fans. Twilight Time recently unveiled a gorgeous transfer of Stanley Donen's Two for the Road, wherein cinema's most beloved beauty co-starred with Albert Finney. And now the Warner Archive Collection ‒ who have been unveiling more classic catalogue releases on Blu-ray for film lovers to cherish ‒ presents us with two more for the road in what I can only call an "Audrey Two-fer" (yes, Little Shop of Horrors fans, that may have been a reference).
The first title being perhaps the most popular of the pair, 1967's Wait Until Dark all but paved the way for the contemporary horror thriller. And while some of the many thrills contained therein may seem a bit too cliché by today's clichéd standards, you can bet your last drug-laced doll that it scared the pants off of patrons when it first hit the screens in '67. The story here finds Audrey as Susy Hendrix, the fetching young bride of professional photographer (uh-huh) Sam Hendrix (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). Susy's life hasn't been easy as of late, having recently been in an automobile accident which cost her her sight.
Sadly, poor Susy can't see the heavy clouds rolling in once a drug mule hands a doll full of heroin to Sam at the airport. Naturally, being the '60s, Sam thinks nothing of a total stranger asking him to take an innocent child's toy right before the Customs line. Soon, a variety of additional strangers ‒ some less charming than others ‒ are landing at the Hendrix's basement apartment in search of the stash. Richard Crenna and Jack Weston play the nice(r) guys, while comedic great Alan Arkin (The In-Laws) ‒ in one of his earliest, darkest roles ‒ takes on the enviable role of the sadistic creep in charge: a beatnik named Roat.
As Crenna's creep of a character works his natural charm on the bored, blind housewife, Roat masterfully manages to turn Susy's world upside down. But what will happen once the tables are turned? You'll have to Wait Until Dark to discover the answer to that for yourselves ‒ but please be sure not to blink in the meantime. This superb psychological thriller from Terrence Young, the director of landmark James Bond movies From Russia with Love and Thunderball, made a mark for itself when first released by having the auditorium lights lowered during the film's exciting climactic sequence.
Mel Ferrer produced this groundbreaking horror hit (a year before he and his real life Audrey Hepburn would divorce, effectively leaving Mel to seek work in low-budget horror movies and TV shows from thereon in), which was adapted from a stage play by Dial M for Murder's Frederick Knott. The Warner Archive casts a giant shadow over previously released DVDs with this stunning HD transfer here, and the accompanying DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono soundtrack is equally marvelous. (SDH) subtitles are included with this WAC Blu-ray, as is an archival featurette (from the 2003 DVD), and two theatrical trailers.
And now for something completely different. Next up on the Audrey Hepburn roster is Love in the Afternoon ‒ a title which, for all accounts and purposes, is the polar opposite of Wait Until Dark. For starters, it's set in the light. Secondly, this is a lighthearted black-and-white romantic comedy which didn't fare very well in cinemas. But that doesn't mean it should be avoided. Quite the contrary, in fact: whereas Wait Until Dark's formula has been done to death by contemporary cinema, finding something as charming and as harmless as Love in the Afternoon today is nearly impossible to do.
Made a full ten years before Audrey Hepburn's one and only horror film, this 1957 flick from iconic film director Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment) finds our favorite actress as the shy, inexperienced daughter (just the way I like 'em!) of French PI Maurice Chevalier (Panic Button, Count Your Blessings) with a nasty habit of rummaging through daddy's case files. Particularly of interest to the lovelorn lass are the all-but-patented methods a rich serial adulterer from America, as played (and rather brilliantly, at that) by an aging Gary Cooper, whom Chevalier has been tailing for some time.
So, with a mouth full of little white lies and a stomach full of butterflies, young Audrey worms her way into Cooper's lair ‒ which comes complete with a quartet of gypsy musicians at the latter's beck and call; a running gag which only grows greater with each passing scene. As does Love in the Afternoon itself (especially if you're a classic chick flick fan), even in spite of its rather odd casting choices (Cooper's advanced age compared to that of Hepburn's eternal youth made for a deal of mockery in '57, although the issue of an older man coupling with a younger woman is hardly worth noting today).
The great John McGiver (The Manchurian Candidate, The Jimmy Stewart Show) co-stars in another example of peculiar casting choices as the jaded, jealous, and jittery husband who has hired Chevalier to catch Cooper red-handed with his wife (Lise Bourdin). A pity Audrey chooses to muscle her way into Gary's room and spoil things for everyone like that, eh? An uncredited Louis Jourdan narrates Wilder's loving homage to the irreplaceable Ernst Lubitsch (Ninotchka, To Be or Not to Be), as written for the screen by Wilder and frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond from a novel by Claude Anet.
Sporting a superb transfer (chalk up another meticulous restoration for the WAC!), Love in the Afternoon has received a new lease on life thanks to the Warner Archive Collection. The photography by William C. Mellor (Bad Day at Black Rock, The Diary of Anne Frank) has been well preserved for future generations of cinephiles here, and the original mono audio has received a nearly flawless DTS-HS MA 2.0 overhaul. English (SDH) subtitles and the original theatrical trailer are the only bonus items for this release, which is just as vital to Audrey Hepburn fans as is Wait Until Dark.
Highly Recommended. Both of 'em.