Saturday, January 28, 2017


PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*

I have the dim recollection that I once read a Robert Benton interview in which he claimed that his psycho-thriller STILL OF THE NIGHT might have been a box-office success in its day. What he should have done was to re-jigger the script he wrote with David Newman -- Benton's previous collaborator on both the 1978 SUPERMAN and the earlier Broadway comedy based on him-- so that co-star Meryl Streep was the killer. This struck me as singularly foolish thinking, to expect that the audience could be swayed by this one change.

STILL doesn't have a very remarkable script, but to the extent that it works at all, it's because Meryl Streep is not the killer, and psychiatrist Sam Rice (Roy Scheider) has to prove she's not a killer in order to satisfy their common romantic arc. The two leads provide serviceable performances, but Benton-- who loads the film with references to famous Alfred Hitchcock tropes-- shows no more understanding of the way Hitchcock's stories worked *as stories* than he understood anything about the Superman mythos. This may be shown by the fact that toward the end Streep's character has a "big reveal" about the nature of her relationship with her quarreling mother and father-- and the supposed "reveal" turns out to be a whole lotta nothing (aside from its reference to VERTIGO).

From the glacial pace of the direction, I think Benton had some idea that he was "above" the crude excitement of the psycho-thriller: the actual "psycho" here isn't even as interesting as the sex-killer from Hitchcock's FRENZY. The only scenes that are slightly compelling take place as Rice "re-imagines" some weird nightmares experienced by a patient. However, though the imagery is creepy-- a weird little girl with a teddy beat, for instance-- the images are clearly straightforward representations of things the dreamer has seen in real life, which marks STILL as being strongly influenced by Sir Alfred's SPELLBOUND. Thus, the dreams in this film, like those in the earlier one, register in the naturalistic mode.

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