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Feb 16 2018

Months of Meryl: Still of the Night (1982)

Hi,we'reJohnandMattand,icymi,we are watching every single live-action film starring Streep...

#7 — Brooke Reynolds,a Waspy urbanite and unlikely femme fatale with a shady past and a killer blonde bob.

MATTHEW: No actor,not even the oft-cited Greatest Actress of All Time,is immune to the inevitable and indisputable stinker.Seven projects in and just touching the surface of true-blue movie stardom,Meryl Streep finally made her first real turkey...

Still of the Night,Robert Benton's subdued,sub-Hitchcockian Manhattan noir,almost certainly places within the lowest ranks of Streep's filmography,which,at this early juncture in the actress' career,wasn't entirely made up of masterpieces.I thinkJuliaandThe French Lieutenant's Womanremain hazy,fragmentary cinematic experiences,but place them againstStill of the Night,and these titles suddenly look like precise and accomplished filmic achievements.

What's odd aboutStill of the Night,though,is that it began as an altogether high-pedigree production.Benton had just won writing and directing Oscars for亚博主页Kramer vs.Kramer,whose acclaimed cinematographer Néstor Almendros also returned for this genre-switching venture.Add in composer John Kander and costumer Albert Wolsky and it makes sense why Streep would take on a role in which she appears instantly and irreparably miscast,despite Benton's insistence that he wrote the character with Streep in mind after working with her onKramer,in which Streep literally rewrote the unhappy Joanna Kramer into a thinking,full-bodied woman and nicely balanced out her film in the process.

The thriller plays out like a Brian De Palma potboiler without the unimpeachable craft or lurid enthusiasm.It's already gone off the rails before Streep enters the picture!But unlike so many of her lesser projects,Streep's entrance doesn't salvage the film or even the character.In fact,it's clear from her very first scene that Streep is pretty much going to sink with the entire ship.It doesn't help in the slightest that she's stuck playing a woman named Brooke (!) Reynolds,a name better suited for a scowling,shoulder-padded,goblet-of-wine-throwing soap opera starlet than any character played by Meryl Streep.

In any case,Streep's Brooke is an auction house worker whose older lover and co-worker topples out of the driver's seat of a car,having been stabbed to death and found by a carjacker during the film's risible opening sequence.By the time a whispery,jittery Brooke creeps into the office of Dr.Sam Rice,a recently-divorced psychologist who treated the deceased and is played by a stolid and equally ill-suited Roy Scheider,we can clearly discern the entire arc of this oh-so familiar archetype.She's the type of woman whose beauty leads men to make reckless,self-sabotaging decisions.Streep,with her creamy complexion and lustrous,above-the-shoulder haircut,definitely looks the part.But it only takes a moment to gauge from her uncomfortable,deer-in-headlights expression and wavering Continental accent,which is clipped in a way not entirely unlike Madonna's feignedly posh Britspeak,that Streep will only be playing at mystery as opposed to believably projecting it.

John,why don't you take us through the even rougher passages of this truly unfortunate Streep performance,which even she admits was a botch:

"I didn't know what I was doing in that.Again,I had no idea who my character was.I hate noir.It's not about playing a person,but a representation,usually of the girl.Kim Basinger inL.A.Confidentialwas the closest recently – that was a person.The ones that are just seen through mystery and smoke – I'm not interested in them."

Meryl Streep in Entertainment Weekly,March 2000

JOHN: Are there any non-rough passages ofStill of the Night?I can't remember any in this bland,faux-Hitchcockian pastiche,in which Meryl Streep makes less of an impression than a prop corpse.In that Entertainment Weekly snippet,Streep is right to point out how noir films often ask women to play ideas,a representation rather than a person.Specifically,in the star-spangled repertoire of Hitchcock's catalog,the director often recycles such stock figures as the Wrong Man,the Blonde,the Good Voyeur,the Bumbling Authority Figure,the Ordinary Man in An Extraordinary Circumstance,the Duplicitous Spy,and so on,but through Hitchcock's direction and the immense talent he employed to fill these roles,each character feels alive and distinct.In Benton's tepid homage,Scheider is a shallow composite of Jimmy Stewart inRear Window(and sometimes,laughably,inVertigo),Robert Donat inThe 39 Steps,and Cary Grant inNotorious;he can't decide whether he's onto or into Brooke,and his lust propels him into exciting but dangerous territory.

Brooke Reynolds is a Hitchcock Blonde in name only.The Hitchcock Blonde,a woman who always possesses more knowledge than the men around her – and suffers for this – usually has a threatening perfection that sends men spiraling.Hitchcock Blondes are mysterious and sophisticated,but their films often prod,test,or terrorize them into revealing some inner anguish (Marnie,Notorious,Vertigo) and or punish them for their intuition and/or their elegance (Blackmail,Rebecca,North by Northwest,The Birds).InStill of the Night,Streep is neither the icy Hitchcock Blonde nor the fumbling Wrong Man,but rather a broad mixture of the two.Streep,who excels at signaling ambiguity and mystery even when she's not required to,just doesn't invest any mystery into the role.She doesn't convince as either a destabilizing femme fatale or a wrongly accused damsel.The film posits Brooke as a prime suspect throughout a string of suspicious situations: a possibly erotic late-night visit from a gentleman caller,a Central Park stabbing,the discovery of a torn newspaper article stuffed into her desk.These scenarios are meant to keep the audience guessing,perhaps hinting at some menace within,but Streep's performance doesn't signal any of that.Instead,Streep looks as confused as we are about what role she's meant to be playing.She's a stiff cipher and her alabaster beauty is not stirred to any eruptions of psychotic release.It's shocking to see Streep be this boring and play this ridiculous film so dully straight,never suggesting that she might actually be a vicious killer and rendering her innocently naïve suspect as an entirely blank slate.

Robert Benton is no De Palma and is certainly no Hitchcock.Take,for instance,his completely misjudged decision to have Brooke's mysterious suitor,glimpsed by her late lover,turn out to be a masseur."I have terrible back pain,"she demures when Sam catches her,mid-massage.The masseur then quietly works Brooke's shoulders as she and Sam try to have a revealing conversation about their budding romance.She's nude,belly-down,and preoccupied as he,standing awkwardly across the room,admits his infatuation.It's an unexpectedly hilarious scene for all the wrong reasons.Benton just can't create an atmosphere for these confessions to have any weight,even going so far as to make the words themselves inconsequential amid the absurdity of the situation.Can you blame Streep for so drastic a misfire if this is the caliber of filmmaking that she's up against?

Is thereanythingworth remembering about this movie?

MATTHEW: There are a few things but that's only because they are deliciously and unequivocally awful.First there's a howler of a dream sequence involving an eerily silent gamine and a one-eyed teddy bear whose empty socket oozes blood.Then there's that aforementioned nighttime montage in Central Park that involves what can only be described as the world's most patient mugger.The idea of sex with an Asian man is used as a lurid behavioral peculiarity.And there's a snooty secretary who may or may not be keeping a secret.How do we know this?Because she has brown hair and one of the most pitiful perms in 1980s American cinema.

Still of the Nightmight have taken its rightful place as an instantly disposable early-decade dud were it not for Streep's involvement.Still of the Night,like many noir thrillers,only needs an outline of a woman.But it has no idea what to do with a performer intrinsically inclined towards flesh-and-blood inhabitation of her characters.And Streep is indeed woefully unmysterious as a shifty-eyed,chain-smoking seductress who takes deep,purposeful pauses between every other words and slinks into rooms hissing things like,"What did you tell the police about me?"without any formal greetings.Streep can play enigmatic or sultry,asThe Deer HunterandThe Seduction of Joe Tynanexhibited,but only when there's an actual character emitting these auras.And when it comes to finally making sense of this jumbled character,she gets no visible help from Benton,Scheider,or frankly anyone save for her ever-loyal hair and makeup partner J.Roy Helland,who began his ongoing big screen collaboration with Streep on this misbegotten movie.He at least has the smarts to distract us from the actress' pallid presence here with those flawlessly-styled blonde locks.

Somewhat tragically,Still of the Nightmay be most memorable for containing the first and so faronlyinstance in which I've ever seen Meryl Streep truly,utterly,and undeniably flail on film.In a climactic monologue,Streep's Brooke reveals the calamitous truth of her upbringing in an emotional,expository speech that has no place whatsoever in noir.It's as if Benton suddenly and inexplicably decided that this movie should not just startle but move audiences as well,which is why we get Streep reciting her character's entire backstory in a bafflingly extended close-up that Benton's editors straight-up refuse to edit.Hence,Streep stammers,fidgets,squints,sighs,and unravels right in front of our eyes yet it's not the character we're watching fall apart but the actress herself.I take no joy whatsoever in watching Streep disintegrate on screen but thankfullyStill of the Nighthas endured,if such a word can even be used to describe this flop,only as a curious blip within Streep's long and legendary career.And,besides,there was one masterwork of a performance hitting movie theaters just three weeks later in 1982 to take everyone's minds off of the hopeless Brooke Reynolds...

Previously:Julia,The Deer Hunter,Manhattan,The Seduction of Joe Tynan,Kramer vs.Kramer,The French Lieutenant's Woman

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Reader Comments (29)

It's a misfire.That said,I'll always take this over say,THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

I've never seen it.Is it really that bad?I like the idea of Streep as an icy blonde,so I can understand the attraction of all involved.Too bad the execution is so off.I even remember when this was briefly called STAB which I thought was kind of cool.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

I saw this so long ago and was unsurprisingly unimpressed with it but now I'm curious to see it again if only to experience it in a wreck on the side of the road kind of way.

Well all great stars have their cinematic disasters and if this is the worst she ever has to content with she should be happy.It's certainly no Trog (Joan Crawford) Flesh Feast (Veronica Lake) or Iron Petticoat (Kate Hepburn)!!

February 16,2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I saw this film in the movie theater when it was released.I remember absolutely nothing about the film.That should tell you something.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

I am so definitely in the minority here,but I love Still of the Night.Granted,I am a noir buff who attends and covers Noir City film fest every year,but there's something about the world of noir,with its differing layers of darkness that is forever intriguing.Benton hasn't exactly brought it back to life the way De Palma did,but with Still of the Night,he's honed in on its sensibilities.

Scheider is neither here nor there in the part.I'm of the belief that the male in these films is always less interesting than the female cuz the audience gets to know him right off the bat.The female on the other hand remains a mystery;a puzzle for us to figure out and,if she's done right,will have us suspect her n want her at the same time.

Acting-wise,the femme fatale is always a tough role.The actress in charge of her must construct a whole character (background n all) n keep it contained,letting it radiate through subtle words and gestures.Most actors can recite dialogue in a meaningful way,but only skilled ones can truly embody their character through sheer physicality carefully doled out words in the way this genre requires them to.It's not the easiest of feats,but Streep pulls it off.Brooke is not her strongest role by far,but it's far from an embarrassment.For me,it's a highlight.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Andy Cohen asked Streep to name a bad movie starred in,and she did not hesitate to name "Still of the Night."He asked her what it was about,and she said never mind.I also seem to remember that Streep (off the record) told someone when giving advice to never work with Roy Scheider.Similar to working with Charles Dance,I think these were bad experiences for her.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJono

This was on HBO every 5 minutes back in 1983ish,and all I remember is either the climax or a drama sequence with billowing curtains in a dark hallway by the sea...?

Frank,love the description of the Femme Fatale in your post!

February 16,2018 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Hilarious final picture in the article.It was the vase all along!

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

I was maybe 15 or 16 when I saw this.I went to the theater on its opening day to see it.I knew it was Benton's first film since the hugely successful Kramer vs.Kramer,which was all the kids in school could talk about.And I remember when I heard about this 'female jack the ripper' thriller Benton was filming which was originally entitled Stab with Streep in the lead.Clearly I was curious.And I actually liked the film,even with its new title.And I was surprised by not only how good Streep was as a femme fatale,but how sexy she was too.This flick remains one of my guilty pleasures.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

She disses noir because she can't play it.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMatty Walker

This is a very dull thriller- they might have been aiming for Hitchcock but the results are no even minor DePalma who should would at least have staged one juicy murder.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

How crazy that it was gonna be called STAB!That's what the franchise-within-the-franchise in the "Scream"sequels was called.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

I actually like how Streep plays the final monologue but the movie is a bore.Plus she is beautiful in this.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Matty Walker is right!Kathleen Turner is a great example of a masterclass in acting in a non-character,pure stylization part.Poor Streep,too literal for movies.That's why she's worked with so many bad directors.She wants to play human beings,but sorry,often cinema is not about them.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

LOVED this movie as a young teen when I saw it on HBO.Streep is beautiful in it and I thought her monologue at the end was superb.

Josef Sommer (the murdered man) was in Streep's next two films.He's the narrator (voice of adult Stingo) in ‘Sophie' and has a small role in ‘Silkwood' too.

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBC

More Meryl gossip!Thanks for these great posts - she is the most famous worldwide actress ever

February 16,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSaran

Saran,how is any of this discussion gossip?

February 17,2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Streep has alluded to people being on coke in the 80's and film sets sometimes being difficult.This is what happens when you are on drugs.

February 17,2018 | Unregistered CommenterThe Vase

Meryl's Tippi Hedren moment...not a good thing!

February 17,2018 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

She can't play farse either.

February 17,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSerial Mom

The original title was "Stab"and I think it was suppose to be about a female Jack the Ripper but they wanted to market the film to a more upscale audience not the 42nd street exploitation crowd- I could see this with Michelle Pfeiferr and Jeff Bridges now that is a sexy movie couple

February 17,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

She can't sing Sondheim either.

February 17,2018 | Unregistered CommenterDonna Murphy

I don't think any actress could have saved this film.It was ill conceived and executed.

February 17,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

She can play farse,in fact.Death Becomes Her

February 18,2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Not caring much what everyone says,including Meryl herself: I was actually surprised how much I like this movie and Meryl in it.

She also didn't like Death becomes Her,if I remember correctly.Or at least she didn't like shooting it.(understandable with a blue bag on her face for the special effects.*lol*)

February 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Actually,this is what happens when you are on drugs.Aging well is the best revenge.

February 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen Turner's 2018 Face

So...where's Streep going to tap out as far as Oscar nominations and wins?21 noms,3 wins right now,but let's say,at least,24 noms,4 wins.

Next nomination:

Best Supporting Actress,Mary Poppins Returns (Remember,she was nominated for a role that's,presumably,smaller than this one for the last Rob Marshall musical she was in.Might even be a win,because "2 lead,2 supporting"sounds about right for Streep.)

February 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Streep is winning in March.Frances is not campaigning and the voters want to recognized a legend.This movie is so the Baby Jane of Meryl's career.I sincerely adore her.

February 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Crawford Trixie Mattel

A noteworthy thing about this film is that Streep's reputation didn't suffer because of it.

The takeaway was "Meryl Streep is an A movie actress.She's not a B movie actress.She's too good for this kind of thing".

She pretty much escaped the "one strike and you're out"criticisms that might have been levelled at another actress: not sexy,has no chemistry with her co-star,can't make the narrative move,can't make a story sizzle.

There's two of the recurring themes in Streep's career:
1) Meryl Streep is a genius at show business,able to spin reputation gold out of movie dreck straw
2) The critics of the era,almost all male,find a match in Streep of what they think women are,and how they should be portrayed.

February 19,2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

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