Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – Still of the Night (1982)

by RICHARD WINTERS

Successful psychiatrist Sam Rice (Roy Scheider) suddenly finds himself immersed in a tangled web of murder and deceit. One of his patients, wealthy art dealer George Bynum (Josef Sommar), is found murdered. A mysterious woman named Brooke Reynolds (Meryl Streep) visits him and states that she was George’s mistress and Sam suspects that she may be the killer. He tries to do his own investigation, but the police start to doggedly tail him thinking he may know more than what he is letting on.

This was yet another homage to Alfred Hitchcock, this time done by writer/director Robert Benton, who is an excellent filmmaker in his own right. This one has all of the style, but none of the substance. The concept is slickly handled, but it misses Hitch’s flair as well as his wry sense of humor.

Normally I have never been too impressed with Scheider as a leading man. He has always seemed transparent and his range of characters as well as emotions that he can convey are limited. Here though, as an evasive middle-man, his acting abilities work quite well and I actually found him perfect for the part.

Streep does not fair as well. Her acting is almost always impressive and I admire her prolific career, but this is one of her few roles that takes no advantage of her talents. She seems to have an almost ghost-like presence. I didn’t find her character to be compelling, nor intriguing. I had no interest in her fate or her relationship with Sam.

Joe Grifasi was a poor choice as the lead investigator Joseph Vitucci. He showed none of the characteristics of a seasoned police detective and looked and acted more like a disheveled kid just out of college. The rest of the supporting cast is dull and cardboard. It would have been nice if at least one eccentric character could have been put into the mix to liven things up.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the whole movie is a nightmare segment that comes in the middle of the story. I liked some of the creepy imagery that was used including a bleeding stuffed teddy bear. I also enjoyed how afterwards Sam debates the dream’s meaning with his mother Grace (Jessica Tandy) who also has a background in psychology, but I thought it was a bit of a stretch when she suggests he go to the police about it as dreams can be interpreted in many different ways and hold no relevance in a court of law. I thought it became even more far-fetched when at the end Sam uses some of the symbolism in the dream to figure out the identity of the killer.

The film has a few plot holes and certain things that just don’t add up. Probably even more would become apparent on a second viewing. One that hit me was when Brooke talks about seeing George off in a cab that night and then the next morning reading in the papers that he had been murdered, which is preposterous. Most newspapers go to press between ten and midnight, the dead body might not yet have even been discovered until later that day, or even a few days later. There is also a segment where Sam makes a $15,000 purchase on a painting he doesn’t even want at an auction simply so he can use it as an excuse to write a note on the bidding card warning Brooke that the police are after her. Also, when Sam does not find Brooke at her apartment her friend tells him that she is at her parent’s house in some town called Glen Cove but she is not sure of the street name, and yet Sam is able to find the place in the middle of the night with hardly any effort.

There is enough intrigue to keep you somewhat interested, but the result is mild. I did like the idea of building the tension up through slow subtle means instead of the quick shocks that you see done in a modern suspense movie, but it is still slow going. The music played over the opening credits is more suited for a romance movie and does nothing to create the right mood for a thriller. Also, I found some of the conversations that George has with Sam during their sessions to be unintentionally funny. The lighting in literally every shot is dark and shadowy, which certainly helps with the atmosphere, but after a while it gets to be a little too much.

I was not impressed with the climactic sequence either. The protagonist seems too helpless and defenseless with seemingly no ability to fight back, which severely limits the action. Having it occur at an oceanside house does create a nice ambiance, but the chase that is involved there could have been more extended and the camerawork during the segment is unimaginative.

My Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

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Last Time on Rewind: Midnight Run (1988)
Coming Up Next: Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1971) (UK)

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