Tuesday, August 29, 2017

STILL OF THE NIGHT 1982

Warning: Possible spoilers

All filmmakers start out as film fans, so perhaps it should come as no surprise when—and I stress “when,” not “if”—they find irresistible the urge to pay homage to the movies and directors that inspired them. I don’t mean those directors who’ve built their entire careers on appropriating the style of others (Brian De Palma, Quentin Tarantino); rather, those filmmakers brave/foolhardy enough to adopt imitation as their chosen form of flattery.

Peter Bogdanovich hit critical and boxoffice paydirt by candidly riding the cinematic coattails of John Ford and Howard Hawks, respectively, with The Last Picture Show and What’s Up, Doc?. That is, until the leaden At Long Last Love exposed the director as having no gift for the light touch required of aping the musical romantic comedies of the 1930s. Macho Martin Scorsese fared no better with his stab at the stylized realism of the studio-bound 1940s musical with his shapeless and meandering New York, New York (1977); and Interiors (1978), Woody Allen’s first dramatic film and beginning of many attempts to clone his idol Ingmar Bergman, was such a tin-eared East Coast transmutation of Bergman’s trademark Swedish existential dread, many understandably mistook it for a tongue-in-cheek comedy spoof. 
Fragile Victim or Femme Fatale?

When writer/director Robert Benton (Bonnie & Clyde, Kramer vs Kramer, Places in the Heart) tried his hand at updating the 1940s private eye flick, the result was the smart and quirky The Late Show (1977): a small, unpretentious little gem (which flopped tremendously) that made self-referential neo-noir look effortless.

Kramer vs Kramer, Benton’s wildly popular follow-up to The Late Show, still strikes me as little more than a pedigreed Lifetime movie (decades before there was even such a thing as a Lifetime movie), but it nevertheless proved to be a mainstream cash-cow/award-magnet (a whopping nine nominations) netting Benton Oscars for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Success on such a grand scale does nothing if not feed expectations, so when it was announced Benton’s next film was to be a suspense thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock vein starring such heavy-hitters as Kramer vs Kramer Oscar-winner Meryl Streep (hot off The French Lieutenant’s Woman), two-time Oscar nominee Roy Scheider (most recently for the critically acclaimed All That Jazz), and actual Hitchcock alumnus Jessica Tandy (The Birds); anticipation was so high it’s likely that no film Robert Benton released could have lived up to the hype.
As it turns out, the public was spared from having to weigh in on the truth of such speculation when Robert Benton (collaborating with screenwriter David Newman) released Still of the Night. A film that, while unremittingly stylish, well-acted, atmospheric, and one of my I’m-pretty-much-alone-in-this personal favorites (Streep’s take on the Hitchcock blonde is my favorite of all her screen looks)—critics and audiences alike felt it to be a tepid toast to the Master of Suspense that failed to live up to even the modest expectations one might harbor for an episode of Columbo.
Meryl Streep as Brooke Reynolds
Roy Scheider as Dr. Sam Rice
Jessica Tandy as Dr. Grace Rice
Josef Sommer as George Bynum
While reeling from the dissolution of his 8-year marriage, emotionally insulated psychiatrist Sam Rice (Scheider) learns that one of his clients, an auction house antiquities curator named George Bynum (Sommer), has been brutally murdered. Bynum, a married, middle-age narcissist with a Don Juan complex, had come to Dr. Rice seeking treatment for difficulty sleeping due to a recurring nightmare somehow related to the much-younger, enigmatic woman he was seeing.

Following Bynum’s death, Sam is paid a visit by the very woman in question, one Brooke Reynolds (Streep); Bynum’s assistant and a fragile nervousy type with darting eyes, a hesitant manner, and a hairdo in constant need of being brushed away from her face. Sam, through his sessions with Bynum, had already developed something of a dream-girl fixation on Brooke, meeting the icy blonde in the flesh triggers within him paradoxical feelings of attraction and fear.
Killer's Kiss?
Basically an instance of an emotionally immovable object meeting a cryptic irresistible force, the fact that Sam and Brooke’s attraction intensifies in direct proportion to both the amount of danger their association places them in and the degree to which each fears and/or mistrusts the other, becomes a (grievously underdeveloped) part of their chemistry.

The investigation into Bynum’s murder, deemed to have been committed by a woman, appears to implicate Brooke, Bynum's assistant at the auction house where he's employed. On the surface, Brooke appears to be as fragile and damaged as the antiquities she oversees, but she is just as likely to be the potential target of the murderer, or indeed, a cold-blooded serial killer herself. And for Sam, the investigation proves a race against time as he tries to keep himself alive long enough to discover if his tapes of Bynum’s psychiatric sessions hold the key to the murderer’s identity.
Joe Grifasi and Homicide Detective Joseph Vitucci

In fashioning a Hitchcockian romantic thriller set in the cultured world of multimillion dollar art auction houses and Park Avenue shrinks, it certainly can’t be said of Robert Benton that he faulted on the particulars. For indeed, Still of the Night is an enormously sleek and handsome film; a sophisticated murder mystery fairly drenched in atmosphere and style. Oscar-winning cinematographer Néstor Almendros (Days of Heaven, Sophie’s Choice) channels Fritz Lang and Hitchcock’s trademark closeups, imbuing Still of the Night’s color-saturated interiors and shadowy nighttime exteriors with a tension and dynamism not always present in Benton’s intermittently dormant script.
But as many filmmakers before and since have learned, capturing the look and feel of a Hitchcock film is a relative cakewalk when compared to replicating Hitchcock’s gift for storytelling, his understanding of the elements of suspense, and his mastery of rhythmic editing and pacing.
Sara Botsford as Gail Phillips

Still of the Night is a film I rank amongst my favorite Hitchcock homage movies, a list comprised of, but not limited to: Donen’s Charade, Chabrol’s The Butcher, De Palma’s Obsession, Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black, and Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath.

But as much as I take delight in Still of the Night being a smart and worthy entry in the faux-Hitchcock romantic thriller sweepstakes; I've no problem in confessing that I find the film to be somewhat lacking as a romance, and that the payoff of the ending feels like Benton's screenplay was perhaps a story meeting or two short. That or the victim of last-minute tampering, as Benton had a reputation for reshoots and rewrites.


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
If any of what passes for objective observations about Still of the Night ring false in my writing, blame it on the film’s title sequence. Composer John Kander (sans longtime collaborator Fred Ebb) composed music for Still of the Night described by biographer James Leve as a “nocturnal waltz theme.” When I sat in the theater on opening weekend back in 1982 and heard this beautiful melody playing beneath an elegant credits sequence comprised of a full moon floating gently across a midnight sky…I knew instantly, no matter how flawed the forthcoming film might be, there was no way I was ever going to completely "dislike" Still of the Night. That opening gave me goosebumps. 
To this day I think it’s one of the loveliest, most simply poetic title sequences for a “thriller” I’ve ever seen. So much so that while working on this piece, I made a nuisance of myself by asking my partner to play it for me on the piano nearly every day.
John Kander's theme for Still of the Night is intended to
"create an uneasy balance between romance and terror" - James Levee

As for the film itself, I largely regard Still of the Night as a sensual pleasure. I enjoy its surface pleasures while trying not to focus too much on all the lost potential. Unlike many, I actually think Still of the Night is a very effective thriller, providing suspense, mystery, and a few surprises along the way.  It has style, tension, strong performances throughout, and a visual distinction that marks it as one of the few films from the '80s to emerge unmarred by hideous fashions and embarrassing hairdos.
But while I easily find myself stimulated by the particulars of the plot, the ritzy setting, and the overall glossy production values; Still of the Night never engages my heart, rouses my empathy, or involves me in any meaningful, emotional way with the characters. I watch the film at a pleasured remove; happy to be seeing so much talent assembled in the service of an impressive Hitchcock carbon; all the while suppressing my disappointment that the film doesn't ultimately live up to the potential suggested by the collaboration of Benton, Streep, Scheider, Tandy, and Almendros.
Still of the Night succeeds stupendously in capturing the look and feel of a Hitchcock film, but Benton's screenplay sacrifices character for plot. Which wouldn't be so bad if the ending were more satisfactory (the marvelously intricate dream which plays such an important role in the narrative yields such a banal Freudian secret). 


PERFORMANCES
Although easy to forget now, but one of the major selling points of Still of the Night in 1982 was that it was it was one of the rare thrillers made for grown-ups. In a marketplace flooded by horror sequels, teen slasher flicks, and sleazy erotic thrillers, Still of the Night's promise of a return to the classic suspense thriller shone like a beacon.
I'd been a Meryl Streep fan since The Seduction of Joe Tynan, so the idea of my favorite actress appearing in one of my favorite film genres was irresistible. In assessing her take on the Hitchcock blonde, here again it must be said, objectivity is not likely to rear its head. I'm crazy about her in this movie. She's just so marvelous to watch. I just wish her role were better written.
Roy Scheider, perhaps one of the last of the grown-man actors Hollywood favored before switching to its current taste for superannuated frat boys, is also very good here. But again, his character is underserved by the screenplay, resulting in his chemistry with Streep being more muted than it should be for a film dubbed a romantic thriller.
An actor whose performance has improved over time is Josef Sommer as George Bynum. I was 25-years old when I first saw Still of the Night, and I remember being somewhat grossed out at the time by this "old fart" who fancied himself a ladies man. Well, remarkably, Sommers was only 47 when he made this film (15 years older than Streep), a good 12 years younger than I am now. Suddenly he doesn't seem so old (although his character has remained every bit as odious). Sommer may not be playing a very likable individual, but his George Bynum is terrifically realized.
She's not given much to do, but it's always a pleasure seeing the great Jessica Tandy onscreen


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Perhaps in an effort to stay one step ahead of Hitchcock-savvy audiences apt to figure out whodunnit by the 30-minute mark, Still of the Night clocks in at a brisk 93 minutes. And while there’s nothing wrong with a thriller being fast-paced (a wise choice in this instance, given the relative simplicity of the plot), haste of the sort that forces events to proceed too swiftly—leaving characters and relationships undeveloped—results in a story that feels rushed.
After breaking a desk statue in his office, Brooke gives Sam a Greek Tanagra figurine
Still of the Night handles its suspense duties nicely, taking the time necessary to set up pertinent plot points and having them pay off later, also, allowing for the gradual disclosure of past events (via Bynum’s taped therapy sessions) to inform and alter our perception of things in the present. Similarly, the film handles the central murder mystery extremely well, cleverly revealing details in dual “cherchez la femme” narratives: one told in flashback by the victim himself (Bynum) as he tries to unravel the mystery of the woman with whom he’s carrying on an adulterous affair; the other relayed in the present by Sam, who alternately fears and fears for the woman he barely knows, yet has fallen in love with. It is on this last point—the romantic relationship between Brooke and Sam—where Still of the Night could have most benefited from a few more minutes running time.
Innocent Seduction
Still of the Night takes two classic Hitchcock archetypes: the icy blonde-with-a-past (Kim Novak in Vertigo, Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, Tippi Hedren in Marnie) and the physician-heal-thyself emotionally fucked-up hero (James Stewart in Vertigo, Sean Connery in Marnie); and plops them in the middle of a genuinely intriguing murder mystery. Genre conventions demand they fall in love, but Benton’s screenplay devotes so little time to helping us understand these characters beyond the plot devices they signify, their union lacks the emotional intensity the film needs. 
Two beautiful enigmas kissing does not a romance make
Brooke’s allure and mystique is wrapped up in our inability to quite figure her out, thus her abrupt interest in Sam fuel’s the film’s suspense. We’re never sure if her attraction to him is authentic or masking a sinister, ulterior agenda. 
But Roy Scheider’s Sam is the character from whose perspective the film is told, so our being given so little information about him severely undercuts our engagement in the story. As written, Sam left me with more questions than Brooke: Is Sam’s remoteness a result of his marriage, or the reason the marriage dissolved? Why does a successful psychiatrist live a life of beige austerity? Beyond her beauty, why exactly is he drawn to Brooke? They never really even have a normal conversation.
Sam and his psychiatrist mother share a moment of "shop talk" in his
sparsely furnished I'm-not-ready-to-be-a-bachelor-again pad

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Filmmakers who venture into the land of Hitchcock homage do so at their peril, for nothing wrests a viewer out of a narrative faster, nor tugs at the willing suspension of disbelief more aggressively, than being invited by the director to engage in a game of “Spot the Hitchcock reference.”
North by Northwest
Still of the Night features an auction sequence similar to the one in the Hitchcock film,
but where Cary Grant sought the attention of the police, Scheider tries to divert it

Unlike those De Palma films where entire sequences are lifted from Hitchcock films, Still of the Night wisely adheres to “in the style of” homage when it comes to its storytelling. Hitchcock references abound (North by Northwest blonde, Marnie red, Notorious daddy-issues) but they're subtle and unobtrusive enough for the film to be enjoyed by those not possessing a vast familiarity with the works of the Master of Suspense. Of course, for those who do, Still of the Night offers a wealth of Hitchcock-related dividends, but none so overt as to prove a narrative distraction.
Saboteur/North by Northwest
The one arm, hanging-by-a-thread rescue attempt
Rear Window
Bynum watches Brooke's apartment and spies her undressing for a stranger  
Vertigo
A bell tower is the site of a death suspected of being murder
Spellbound
Brooke and Sam analyze the details of a dream to solve a murder and unlock a dark secret
The Birds
An attacking bird features in the film's biggest "jump" moment

Psycho
The working title for Still of the Night was Stab, so...there you have it


BONUS MATERIAL
Although they share no scenes together in Still of the Night, Meryl Streep and actor Joe Grifasi are longtime friends, their association going back to their days at the Yale School of Drama in the '70s. Grifasi has appeared with Streep onscreen in The Deer Hunter and Ironweed. Click HERE to see them performing the musical intro to an all-star 2014 charity event.

For those who can actually stand to watch Andy Cohen (I can't...does the man ever shut up?) here's a clip of Meryl Streep from a 2012 episode of  the TV program Watch What Happens: Live in which she answers the question: "Name one bad film that you have made."  HERE (at the 13-minute mark).

I remember back when Still of the Night was still known as Stab, Meryl Streep and Roy Scheider were presenters on some award show. Their pairing in the soon-to-be-released Stab was announced as they approached the podium. At some point in their stage banter Streep joked, "Oh, I kill him in that!"   As unlikely as it is Streep would divulge the actual ending of the film, I've never forgotten her saying this, and thus always wondered if there was ever an alternate ending for Still of the Night

Copyright © Ken Anderson

24 comments:

  1. Joe Grifasi! Has there ever been an actor who worked more than Joe Grifasi? I think maybe not.

    Streep has more Oscars, but Joe has lots more movies. Bless him. It's a stinking business and he has found success where success is always unlikely.

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    1. Yes! Although I'd seen him in many films, I hadn't known until writing this that he and Streep had such a long association and history. He seemed to be in everything during the 80s.

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  2. I love Meryl, but this is one movie I always forget about. I think that's because I saw it about a month after I had seen "Sophie's Choice" and I was still stunned by her performance as Sophie Zawistowska. Unlike when I saw Sissy Spacek as Carrie White, then as Beth Horman, the shift in tone from an intense historical drama to a stylish murder mystery was a little too much for me to take in all at once. In a way, it's kind of nice, though, because whenever I do see "Still of the Night," it always seems fresh, if a little slight, to me.

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    1. I know what you mean about this smallish film being forgotten somewhere between her eye-catching role in "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and her outstanding performance in "Sophie's Choice."
      Every actor on their way to stardom seems to have a period where they seem to be everywhere at once. I associate this film with Streep in theaters in "French Lieutenant", on TV in "Alice at the Palace," and then the pre-release hype of "Sophie."
      I saw this before "Sophie's Choice," but like you, I think it would have been somewhat jarring to see her in this after registering with me so strongly in that difficult film.
      It's not a favorite of hers, but I think your description of it fits nicely.

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  3. I have very similar feelings to yours about this film. I love the words you used to describe it and the analysis you've given it here. I used to have it on VHS, so it was quite a treat to finally see it a few years back, cleaned up and in widescreen. I'm too saturated in the glamour of the 1980s for this to be my all-time favorite look of Meryl's (that would be "Death Becomes Her"), but I do think she's so elegantly lovely here (and shows off a pretty decent body in some scenes if memory doesn't fail.) I feel like this one would have performed better in theaters just 2 or 3 years later when "Jagged Edge" and then "Fatal Attraction" seemed to ignite a huge spate of romantic thrillers. I am a Hitchcock fanatic and love Brian de Palma's imitations, too, though not to the degree of the real thing and also really loved "The Bride Wore Black" when I saw it. I know NOTHING of "The Butcher" so I'll have to keep an eye peeled for that one! And, lastly, like you, I'd have liked to see Jessica Tandy given a bit more to do. I seem to recall her having another pretty teensy role in "The House on Carroll Street." After toiling in so many slender roles for so long, no wonder she was "on cloud nine" winning the Oscar for "Daisy" and then getting to do "Fried Green Tomatoes" and a raft of other things late in life. Hell, when I first saw this movie, I thought she was ancient then!! LOL

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    1. Hi Poseidon
      I too had this on muddy VHS, so I was thrilled when it finally got the DVD treatment. I think you might be on to something in noting that this film might have fared better riding the wave of romantic thrillers that became popular just a few years later.
      "Still of the Night" has flaws, but with the studios needing to give such a push to "Sophie's Choice" (rightly so) it's inevitable that this movie would get lost in the crush of her big-budget literary adaptations.
      As for Claude Chabrol's "The Butcher," I highly recommend it.
      I always get a kick out of actors with careers like Jessica Tandy's. She works consistently in stage and film for decades, and then when most are thinking of retirement, they have some of the biggest successes of their careers. But like you, I've ALWAYS thought she was old even back when I first saw her in "the Birds." I see old photos from her early career and she is so striking and delicate-looking.

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  4. Ken, I am SOOOO happy you did a post about this movie ! I do love it too. And actually I found it because I was intrigued by the very comment Meryl Streep made about this movie, and which you posted. How can she think this is a bad movie ?? It's a very effective thriller with indeed lots of references to Hitchcock and a surprising (for me at least) ending.
    I never would have thought of Meryl Streep as the icy hitchcockian blonde, but apparently she can pull of every type of role with talent. Her 5 minutes of monologue about her past where she's alone on the screen is worth the entire movie on its own, the rest could have been bad, this moment would have saved it all. I do even wonder if it was entirely in the script at first or if she gave it more depth, but anyhow it was the actual "point d'orgue" of the movie for me. I loved the atmosphere conveyed by the set, the milieu in which the characters evolve (the auctions) and all those menacing glances the potential killers exchange. The movie really doesn't throw shame on Meryl Streep's filmography. I do however feel there was a certain lack of chemistry between her and Roy Scheider, as if the way they played their characters didn't connect with each other but as you wrote, maybe it's the results of the cuts made ?

    On a different matter : I tried to find "Dream Lover" but it seems the movie is actually quite hard to find. Mistaking it with a 1993 movie with James Spader I ended up watching an entirely different (yet very much enjoyable) noir movie, with a femme fatale, an asylum and deceit all over it. (I do think you would very much like it). So still trying :)

    Anyway, great post once again. I do want to watch it again now ! :)

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    1. Hi Ivar
      Glad to hear you like this movie, too. I think back in the ’80, when Streep was groomed as the queen of heavy drama, a genre film like “Still of the Night” struck many as being too slim a property for an actor of her talents.
      Things weren’t helped by (from what I’ve read since) the fact that Streep took the role chiefly to work with Benton again (it’s said that he wrote the part with her in mind), that she neither understood nor believed in the character she played, and that she isn’t a fan of noir.
      I think her frustration with taking on a role she felt she couldn’t get a handle on is the main reason she (unfairly, as I see it) lists it as the one bad film she has made. For me, Streep’s bad film honors should go to RICKI & THE FLASH, SHE-DEVIL, and FALLING IN LOVE.

      I think fans of the genre appreciate Streep’s performance more than she does. It certainly sounds that way from your comments. Much of what you recount as your favorite parts of the film are my own. I love the auction house setting, the whole “murder on the Upper East Side” feel of it; but particularly her monologue which I’m glad you called attention to.
      I think it is brilliantly played, and very memorable. I forget if it was a critic or someone I know telling me about it, but they took particular issue with how she says the line "And then I came into my inheritance..." – and the thought of it makes me laugh. Not that I agree with them, but because it amuses me sometimes when someone can absolutely loathe something I absolutely love.
      "Still of the Night" is well-constructed, and many do find the twists surprising (my partner cites this as the film that gave him one of his biggest movie leaps out of his seat).
      I don’t think this movie is a blemish on Streep’s filmography at all, for I really do think the film’s flaws (none of which spoil it, merely prevent it from living up to its potential) lie in its screenplay. I've yet to come across any sources confirming my suspicions that there was a lot of rewriting and possibly a different ending.

      As for the Kristy MacNichol film “Dream Lover” I know it’s one of those Burn to Order DVDs and may be out of print, but I see them on Ebay and Amazon all the time. Still, you didn’t do too badly with the 1993 “Dream Lover” which I saw when it came out and remember enjoying (the femme fatale was very good, wasn’t she?).
      So that was a bit of an unexpected bonus for you.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Ivar. Terrific observations. And good luck with tracking down DREAM LOVER!

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  5. I've been meaning to comment on one of your film reviews for ages, and now I just couldn't resist as you covered one of my guilty pleasures here!

    I've always been intrigued by Still of the Night. I love, love, love The Late Show and I confess I've always been a little puzzled by what Benton was trying to do here. The look, tone, and pace of the film (as well as the NY locations) makes it feel to me like a Woody Allen film in his Bergman phase (like Interiors and Another Woman). A very odd choice of tone for a thriller or mystery.

    You mention De Palma several times - I'm not sure I agree that he's made his "whole career" in imitation of Hitchcock, but I guess that comment would be more or less fair for the era Still of the Night was made. The only difference being that something like "Dressed to Kill" is way more dynamic, unique, and memorable than this film. I have to say some of the Hitchcock borrowings in Still are a tad clumsy - the Freudian dream out of Spellbound, the auction scene from North by Northwest. It's such a low-wattage thriller - that's what makes it interesting (and very unique for an American suspense film) and it's also what must have been a turn-off to audiences and many contemporary critics.

    I think the film did have a tumultuous production. I've read that it was completed by late 1981 and was previewed very unsuccessfully in November/December 1981 while it was still titled "Stab". Considering the film was finally released a full year later in November 1982, and considering DP Nestor Almendros made many mentions of reshoots for this film in his memoirs, I think it's fair to guess that a good deal of trimming, re-editing, and re-shooting took place. I'm not quite sure why Meryl has always been very cool to this film - she gave an interview in the early 90s (decades before that Andy Cohen appearance) where she talked about how disappointed she was in the film and how out of place she felt playing what she called a "film noir" character. I think she's quite good in the film - and her long, late-in-the film monologue in front of the night sky is pretty memorable.

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    1. Hi Chris
      I've always felt "Still of the Night" took place in the world of Woody Allen as well, though Allen could take a lesson from Benton on how effortless it is to cast people of color as extras so that it actually feels like it takes place in NYC.
      Given how much control Robert Benton had over the production, I wonder how he felt it came out and how close to whatever vision he was going for did he think he hit.
      Streep's disconnect with her role and hinted at lack of real-life chemistry with Scheider colors her objectivity a bit, as she comes across better than she perhaps knows (much like Tuesday Weld's dissatisfaction with her performance in "Pretty Poison" reflects primarily her unhappy working relationship with the director rather than the truth of her sly performance).

      Yes, and I have to stick to my guns on De Palma, he's very much a derivative director to me. Albeit a talented one. I think I was one of the few unimpressed with "Dressed to Kill" and actually preferred THIS film. But something about its small scale and simple plot appeals to me.

      But for a film that doesn't actually work for a great many people, it does have many intriguing elements. Chief of them being the monologue you mention.
      Interesting to hear of the unsuccessful preview and possible reshoots/tinkering. Confirming somewhat how something just feels...off.
      Thanks for reading this post and commenting, Chris! Always appreciate your taking the time and effort.

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    2. You really do have a wonderful blog, and you've covered some remarkable movies - Wait Until Dark; Suddenly, Last Summer; The Conversation; The Late Show; The Night Digger; The Heiress; Klute; The Last of Sheila; Petulia; Seance on a Wet Afternoon. Just when I think it can't get any better, you go ahead and do The Innocents, which I think is one of the great underrated movies of all time. I love your blog!

      Given your taste and the perspectives you have on the films you've written about, I do wish you revisit Dressed to Kill at some point. I really feel there's a lot in that film that is right up your alley. Just a thought!

      Agreed that Still of the Night is a flawed yet fascinating movie. I love that John Kander theme, and also love Josef Summer. For a character actor who has had so many pedestrian roles in countless movies, I feel like Still of the Night was the one really juicy character he was given - and he gave a phenomenal, creepy performance.

      I see your comments above about possible reasons Meryl was unhappy with the final product, and I concur. I don't know if you read an interview she gave to NY Magazine around the time of The French Lieutenant's Woman - she said Still of the Night had started shooting and she was excited about it as she was reuniting with Benton and he had allowed her to contribute to the script and the writing of her character. I think something must have happened during filming, and her contributions were either undone or minimized. I can't see any other explanation as to why she would be talking about co-writing her character, and then years later complain how remote, unsatisfying, and cryptic the character she played was. Unless some pretty major changes took place that she wasn't happy with. I guess we'll never know the full story, but it's interesting to think about!

      I wonder, have you ever seen See No Evil with Mia Farrow? I'm curious what you would think about it.

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    3. Hi Chris
      It's true, sometimes I re-visit a film I didn't care for when it was first released, and then the changes in who I am and what the film represents (removed from the influences of time and place that may have played a part) can change.
      I just recall having such strong bad reactions to "Dressed to Kill" and "Blow Out" at their release that I never watched them again.
      I then made of the mistake of watching that De Palma documentary in which he talks about his work and that blocked all consideration I'd given him short shrift. Given how much I like CARRIE and OBSESSION, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and SISTERS, it's odd his later work has left me so cold.

      That interview with Streep before starting STAB sounds interesting. While writing this I came across two brief interviews given way after the fact (like 2000) and she just goes on to say how she feels she let herself down by taking a role she didn't believe in, allowing her love for Benton to cloud her judgement. She says she was swayed by being able to film in NYC and be with her kid, Scheider's role being larger and so she didn't have to work every day; but that basically the structure of noir and the function of women in the genre left her with little to work with and she was disappointed she hadn't ever latched onto the character.
      It reminds me of when i see some horrid film, and then see the actor on TV praising it to the skies as their favorite because of the personal acting challenge it presented, and how proud they were of their work. i think actors can be myopic, and it sounds like Streep is unable to appreciate STILL OF THE NIGHT beyond reliving her professional disappointment (also she hinted how the collaboration process with Benton wasn't as flexible as she'd hoped). Those many changes and rewrites, I guess.

      That's a nice appreciation you write for Josef Sommer. He is really kind of flawless in his role. I so didn't appreciate it before, but the revulsion towards him I felt as a youngster is really in his performance and intentional. He's so good.

      Mia Farrow's SEE NO EVIL was one of those movies (like THE NIGHT DIGGER) I so wanted to see when I was a kid- freshman in high school when it came out- butnever got around to it until the cable/VCR years. I've seen it many times and like it a lot, but have a couple of issues. You remind me that I'd like to write about it someday (or maybe i'll have to check your blog, is it a favorite?)

      I'm really gratified, Chris, that you enjoy this blog, and I thank you for those really nice compliments that started off your comments. I always enjoyed reading about movies online, but every blog I ever encountered had youngsters writing about movies made long before they were born - getting the social context wrong, misunderstanding how attitudes and tastes were different, viewing them through a modern prism; I just wanted to write about movies in the way I've always liked reading about them- in a personal, subjective, critical way that also takes into account film history and social context.
      With you, Poseidon, Rick, and a few others, I've found a little community of movie blogs that do just that.
      Good hearing from you, Chris!

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  6. So happy to see some love for this movie. This happens a lot - there's so much to love or enjoy about a movie but you have to overlook some major weaknesses. It might even be a rehash or lousy copy, but it still has something. I love Streep in this mode. The performance is a bit camp, something she's since mostly avoided, but she looks great.

    Also, I share your nostalgia for mature leading men who didn't act like overgrown boys.

    Trivia: this film made me fully commit to Gauloises cigarettes. When I watched Streep use those short, fragrant cigs as an extension of her personality, I was hooked on nicotine for life. (Since quit, but you can still look at the menu even though you're dieting.)

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    1. The dirty little secret about movies is that the vast majority are imperfect, but - much like with people - we don't love movies for being perfect, we love for for how they make us feel.
      Streep just mesmerizes in this movie, and for my taste she's just not in it enough. Since she's gone on record at not particularly liking the genre, I guess there's no hope of seeing her turn up in another suspense thriller any time soon. Too bad.
      And thanks for naming the cigarettes!
      Perhaps the brand is well known enough to recognize by the distinctive pack (the color so similar too the green box in the dream), but all this time I never knew what brand it was. LOTS of smoking in this movie. I miss it in films as a character tick. Very cinematic, all that dramatic stubbing out of butts, and long, tapering fingers poised before a nervous puff. One of my most enduring memories from "The Birds" is simply the footage of Tippi Hedren holding that cigarette while she's on the phone to Mitch.
      Glad you gave up the smoking. maybe you can get someone to design a SmartPhone case that looks like the pack. Thank you for commenting and visiting the blog!

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  7. Hi Ken,
    I've never seen this, but remember seeing photos and clips when it was released. Meryl Streep was fairly new on the scene at the time. Styled as a sleek modern Hitchcock blonde, Meryl reminded me of Tippi Hedren, but with talent!

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    1. Hi Rick
      Yes, it's funny to think back on Streep when she was just beginning to get a foothold in the business. I guess I was particularly taken with this because my favorite actress was appearing in one of my favorite genres.
      Given the talent involved, I had hopes of "Still of the Night" being on par with "Klute" -- a grown-up and sophisticated thriller with brains.
      Had I clung to that hope I think I never would have enjoyed the film, for it is no "Klute," but I was nicely surprised to find I enjoyed it as much as I did. That being said, I don't think you need to rush to see this any time soon. It's pleasures are largely subjective and very connected to time, place, and that theme music.
      Thanks, Rick!

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  8. For Hitchcock homage and guilty pleasure, I don't think one can beat the jam-packed Final Analysis, with Kim Basinger as the iciest of blondes. It's got one of my favorite courtroom scenes, too, where it's made plain that everybody there has seen each other many, many times over and are fantastically bored with the proceedings.

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    1. I agree. Basinger's "Wrong girl, pal!" scene is one of my all-time-favorite movie moments. I haven't seen it in years, but I saw it when it was released and several times when it made the cable TV run. A very enjoyable film, and loved the casting of Basinger and Uma Thurman as sisters.

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  9. This is what I wrote when I first saw Still of the Night three years ago:
    "Benton did not do much with two of the most unnerving things in the movie: the lifelike statue of the man in the museum office (I kept expecting some sort of pay-off - such as discovering the cop's body there or something) and the dream image of the blood on the little girl's leg (I thought that a child rape scenario was being indicated by that.)

    I like the film, but I thought it was TOO textbook of a thriller. I was expecting a bit more cleverness and better dialogue."

    Definitely a good Hitchcockian atmosphere. Your post has inspired me to give this film another try.

    Mark

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    1. Hi Mark
      You cite two very good examples of where STILL OF THE NIGHT could have built upon the foundation it had already set. The film isn't lacking in a certain tension and mood, and indeed, the shot of that macabre statue in the auction house and the details of the dream sequence (the fact the blood drips rather purposefully from the teddy bear to inside the girl's leg) fail to pay the hoped-for dividends.
      In the "slasher film" besotted '80s, when bizarre twists were both common and expected; I think Benton's reserve was actually the antithesis of Hitchcock in some ways. It fits the sophisticated style, but cuts back on the weirdness at the root of much of Hitchcock.

      If nothing else, Hitchcock used his films to explore all of his quirks and compulsions. Specifically in the ways you mention, I think STILL OF THE NIGHT could have benefited from Benton mining the darker sides of these characters a bit more.
      Are your comments from three years ago your blog? I guess I'll take a look. Thanks, Mark!

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    2. No, my comments were on IMDB. You might be disappointed by my "blog," as it's really just a collection of lists ranking all of my top films for every year from the present back to the 1920s.

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    3. Far from it. This blog is just a ranking of my top favorite films, too. I just stay within the '40s - 2000s zone!

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  10. Ken,

    Another great review. And some good comments, too. This is an odd movie. I think you're right, something was cut from this film, but whether it was early on during filming or altered after it was finished is hard to say. I think the fact the movie was originally called Stab hints that is was intended to be more of a thriller, and perhaps gorier, than it turned out be. Also, it feels like there are setups that don't pay off and pay-offs that weren't set up. For the former, as has been mentioned, the life-like statue is a startling image that goes nowhere, as is the suggestive dream image of the girl. (Honestly, I'm glad that one didn't go anywhere.) I also thought the fact that Meryl Streep and Josef Sommer both smoked Gauloises was going to be a clue of some sort. The distinctive blue packets were photographed in a way that drew attention to them, but then nothing. As for a pay off that wasn't set up, at least as much as it could have been, the ending. I don't want to get too spoilery so I'll leave it there. And where did the ocean come from? I don't recall seeing it until the final scene. Did I miss it earlier in the film?

    I wonder if Benton stripped out some noir-ish elements and reconfigured the movie to be more of a romance, only to find out too late there was no chemistry between the stars. As you mentioned, the main musical theme is lovely, but it isn't very Hitchcockian or suspenseful. When was it chosen or composed, I wonder? (I wish I had a live-in pianist to play soundtrack themes for me.) Still, for all its disjointedness, this is a movie worth seeing. I liked that it was about and for grown-ups, a very rare thing these days and not too common back then. I also liked the way the movie's design avoided an overtly early 1980s look, giving it a timeless feel. The performances were uniformly excellent, and are the main reason to check this movie out. Thanks for writing about it and inspiring me to watch it.

    Michael

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    1. Hey Michael,
      Glad you were inspired to check this film out. The recentness of your experience calling to light many interesting things. You describe very well the nagging sense of something feeling "off" about the film. Nothing so serious as to make it unwatchable, but enough to undercut the effectiveness of what Benton was going for.
      In a way you wished he committed more clearly to ONE style. Be a slasher (and bump up the violence and scares) or be a Hitchcock romantic thriller and work on the romantic chemistry and fix the film's lack of payoff for what it sets up (the ending, the cigarettes, the details of he dream).
      You really hone in on many of the things that don't successfully pay off for you, and you have a clear sense of what worked, and what left you wishing for a more satisfying total experience.
      I think you're onto something in noting how the music composed for the film hints at a romanticism that isn't fully actualized. And yet, enough of it DOES work to make it a film worth seeing (at least once for some). It definitely has a maturity to it that I sometimes miss in movies, and I agree that in appearance, it doesn't feel as mired in the 80s as some movies of the era.
      Love your question "Where did the ocean come from?"
      There really are not previous shots revealing the cliff-side location of that house. It's "believable" in context with the locale and where Scheider is shown to be driving, but that's it.
      Sure get a kick from hearing from such an observant film enthusiast, Michael. It's a gift to be able to delineate precisely where the language of film fails to use the right vocabulary to reach you. you're good at that.

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