Still of the Night (MGM MOD program)
Directed by Robert Benton
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic Running Time: 91 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 19.98
Release Date: December 2010
Review Date: February 4, 2011
Even before Alfred Hitchcock made his last film (the not altogether satisfying Family Plot in 1976), filmmakers were jockeying to fill his position as the master of the suspense film. Robert Benton, after attempting a murder mystery in 1977 called The Late Show that was showered with praise but made very little money, jumped into the whodunit thriller pond once again with Still of the Night. This time, he didn’t get either critical or public approval, and the film was a considerable failure at the box-office. Time, however, has been kind to this Hitchcockian mystery. With three top flight stars and some deliciously effective suspense sequences, Still of the Night plays wonderfully well on a dark and stormy night, provided one can forget about some of the murkier psychological elements in the story that are downright laughable.
Auction gallery supervisor George Bynum (Josef Sommer) is found murdered in his car, his throat slit after a vicious attack. One of the first people police detective Joseph Vitucci (Joe Grifasi) interviews is Bynum’s psychiatrist Dr. Sam Rice (Roy Scheider). Rice can’t tell the police much since he’s bound by doctor-patient confidentiality, but he does know that the gallery lothario was having an affair with his assistant Brooke Reynolds (Meryl Streep), and after the shy, jittery chain-smoking blonde visits Sam to find out what he knows, he begins to think she might actually have committed the murder. Sam is drawn to Brooke despite what he fears about her, and after a mugger is murdered after he takes Sam’s coat, the police are convinced someone is out to kill Sam because he may be on to the identity of Bynum’s killer.
Robert Benton not only directed but also provided the script and story (co-written with David Newman), and the whodunit aspects of the film are its strongest attributes. With genuine doubt planted into the audience’s minds about the innocence of Brooke Reynolds, the director is able to misdirect us with a series of outstanding suspense sequences which keeps us constantly guessing and delectably on edge. Two wonderful scenes are beautifully directed and outstandingly produced to generate some delicious “boo” moments for first timers: a creepy investigation around a dimly lit basement laundry room and the later walk through Central Park, both prime locations for suspense and fright to be heightened. A recounted dream that George had before his death leads to a ludicrous exploration of its meaning by Sam and his mother (Jessica Tandy), and this same dream is unfortunately used as the framework for the film’s climactic chase scene once the killer is revealed. Despite those psychological missteps, though, the film is enjoyably tense. Another nod to Hitchcock is the scene at auction gallery Crispen’s as Sam slips away with Brooke’s keys to snoop through her office while Brooke is trapped taking bids on a Jackson Pollack painting over the telephone, terrific cutting back and forth as tension is ratcheted up makes it the movie’s third superb set piece (with its nods to North by Northwest clearly delineated).
Roy Scheider makes a very good everyman protagonist, gamely trying to investigate the mystery while oblivious to the real danger surrounding him. Meryl Streep was roundly criticized at the time for her overly mannered portrayal of Brooke. Perhaps she does lay on the stammering and excessive hair manipulations a bit too thickly (she made this the same year she won the Oscar for Sophie’s Choice), but she’s such an interesting actress that she’s always a pleasure to study, even in her lesser performances. Jessica Tandy doesn’t get much to do as Sam’s mother dispensing maternal advice and psychiatric analyses by the bucketfuls, but Joe Grifasi does his usual sturdy job as the dogged detective. Josef Sommer as the murdered man gives “jerk” a new dictionary definition in the numerous flashbacks we see. Sara Botsford and Rikke Borge add color as other gallery assistants.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is presented faithfully on this manufacture-on-demand disc and has been anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Close-ups reveal nice detail and fairly good color with realistic flesh tones, but long shots have an annoying habit of displaying some line ghosting that’s very disconcerting. Black levels can be good, but in the darkest scenes, the black levels tend to crush as details get lost in the shadows. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. John Kander’s lovely score can sound nice on occasion in this rather dated mix, but dialogue tends to come out too softly for comfort, and one may find he’ll need to increase the volume a bit if he’s to hear everything that’s said clearly. (But be prepared to jump when some of those sound effects designed to take you by surprise occur because in the mix, they're at a normal level of volume.)
There is a trailer present on the disc. It only runs for ½ minute and is in murky, smeared condition presented in 4:3.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Still of the Night has always been an underrated thriller. While there are moments when its mystery seems convoluted and unconvincing, there are enough really special moments surrounding a generally intriguing whodunit to definitely put this on the rental list.