Although I did give some praise last review to the HFPA for successfully recognizing Richard Attenborough as an actor I sorta have to take that away when referring to this film. Oddly the HFPA did nominate someone for Wait Until Dark but it was not Alan Arkin, nor was it even Richard Crenna as the most sympathetic of the criminals, but rather Efrem Zimbalist who plays Susy's husband Sam. Zimbalist isn't bad really but his role is so unsubstantial that it certainly leaves you scratching tour head when thinking about the nomination. I guess Arkin maybe suffered from category confusion, which would is ridiculous, but probably more likely the nature of the role prevented him from being recognized. According to Arkin himself part of the reason he got the role is that few wanted it due to its sinister nature, and that same sinister nature is probably what prevented him from being nominated for any awards.
One more random tidbit before I get on with the review is that Quentin Tarantino played this part in a stage revival that was at the very end of his overexposure, now that might been something really horrifying to watch. Anyway, Alan Arkin plays the man who refers to himself as Roat who is the worst of the three criminals. This made abundantly clear when one of his earliest actions is that he murdered the original drug mule off screen and black mails her associates with her murder to ensure that they work with him to get the doll. Also the visual presentation of the character alone pretty much set stage for the character with his small round sunglasses he often wears, the truly bizarre haircut that Arkin sports, and the way he often suddenly appears entrenched in shadow. With all of that already set up Arkin rather intelligently does not really try to play up the villainy of Roat any more than what is already set up in fact Arkin takes kinda a relaxed approach to the part.
In his first conversation with the other two criminals Arkin rather cleverly commands the scene even though his whole manner as Roat is that of a man who is quite sure of every step of his plan. Arkin's easy going style here is surprisingly effective in creating the callousness of Roat. Arkin rather strangely is able to be quite menacing in this first scene while delivery almost every part of the chat as if he is just having a simple conversation with the men. This is even in the case when Roat tells them that he murdered their old criminal associate since he felt she was trying to cut him out on their business. Arkin brings such a casual sinister quality to the part by making the amoral quality of the man just so naturally a part of him. Arkin shows that Roat does not need to try to be evil rather Roat just innately is evil so no reason to force it out of him. Arkin's curious approach pays off quite well and just from his opening scene you know there is hanging knife over the rest of the characters.
Roat does not strike right away as the men first put on act which they think will force Susy to reveal the doll. Roat plays two parts in this charade the first being Roat Sr. who demands to see Susy's husband angrily and funny enough Arkin kinda does his curmudgeon act that he's probably best known for now. He also plays Roat Jr. which Arkin plays an extremely timid man who is both concerned over his father's outrageous behavior while also being concerned that his wife is having an affair with Susy's husband. Arkin plays these in a slightly absurd fashion and more as caricature than characters, but this absolutely makes sense since Roat is not trying to win an Oscar. Also Susy is suppose to suspect something is up so Arkin slightly off approach is the right one. Arkin is enjoyable in these scenes but he's also quite good in portraying the true Roat in his eyes while he is pretending to be these characters.
The finale of the film ends up being a most unusual battle between Roat and Susy. The knife drops quite effectively as Roat brings out his true nature again as he coldly dispatches his fellow criminals then proceeds to inquire about the doll to Susy. Arkin is quite chilling in this prolonged scene as he brings such a sadistic glee to Roat as he viciously toys with Susy and does not mind boasting about predicting the double cross against him. Arkin makes Roat manner most unnerving such as when he brushes off his claim that he wouldn't hurt Susy by non-nonchalantly stating that he had his fingers crossed. What makes Arkin's performance especially strong though are in the moments when Susy manages to get the upper hand for at least a moment. Arkin is terrific as he plays these moments especially realistically as just a guy frustrated or pained by what happened.
Arkin's is particularly good though in how he shows Roat trying to maintain his attitude as he usually reverts to his usual self once he gets the upper hand back. Well that is until Susy manages to do something that more permanently causes Roat to lose his usual cool. Arkin's is great in the scene as he forgets all about Roat's casual manner and instead is quite terrifying by just showing a man fighting against all sorts of anguish as his rage pulls him forward in a last ditch attempt to kill Susy. Alan Arkin altogether makes Roat one memorable villain for the film. His unusually style in his performance always works in still making him a figure to be feared while having a slight comic edge to the character that works rather nicely. Arkin's performance works as he makes Roat a believable a murderous thug who does not mind enjoying his ill deeds, but most importantly that he still suffers injuries like any real man would.