Picks and Pans Review: Still of the Night

updated 12/13/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/13/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Considering the exalted reputations of Meryl Streep, Roy Scheider and writer-director Robert (Kramer vs. Kramer) Benton, it's disappointing that all they're doing here is cribbing from Hitchcock. Nothing wrong with that in theory: With his perversely teasing style, Brian (Dressed to Kill) DePalma has made it pay off handsomely. Benton, however, approaches the master hat in hand, and Benton's classy style is too cautious to generate much heat. Scheider is cast as a Manhattan shrink, newly divorced. He finds himself strangely haunted by Streep, who's having an affair with one of his patients, Josef Sommer. When his patient turns up stabbed to death, Scheider starts to do some private sleuthing. Streep, who works in a Madison Avenue auction house, arouses his suspicions along with his passion. Scheider is sterling throughout, and his scenes with his shrink mother, beautifully done by Jessica Tandy, suggest the more affecting movie that might have been. But when Benton switches his and the plot's focus to the mysterious Streep, the is-she-or-isn't-she-the-mad-slasher theme seems mildewed and monotonous. Streep tries valiantly—even desperately (she does a near-nude scene with a Chinese masseur)—to keep the attention of the audience riveted, and the strain shows. There's certainly an actress here, but no role. Benton is so selfconsciously fancy about atmosphere that he loses track of character and plot. The film dips a toe into some of Hitchcock's greatest works, especially Vertigo, Notorious, Suspicion and Spellbound, and predictably, in view of the context, those remain the real jewels. Still of the Night is pretty, but transparently paste. (PG)

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