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Robert De Niro,
The story of Karen Silkwood, a metallurgy worker at a plutonium processing plant who was purposefully contaminated, psychologically tortured and possibly murdered to prevent her from exposing blatant worker safety violations at the plant.
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George Bynum, a patient of Manhattan psychiatrist Dr. Sam Rice, is brutally murdered. Soon afterward, Dr. Rice is visited by Bynum's co-worker and mistress Brooke Reynolds and by the investigating officer Detective Vitucci. As Dr. Rice reviews the case notes on his sessions with Bynum, he starts his own investigation. At the same time, he finds himself falling for enigmatic blonde Brooke, despite her increasingly suspicious behavior. The closer Rice comes to the truth, the more he puts his own life in danger... Written by
Doctor Sam Rice:
Now listen to me! On account of you, I'm an accessory to something. I don't know what! I'm withholding evidence. I'm obstructing justice. I'm gonna get my license revoked if I'm not thrown into jail first. And on top of that, I've just spent fifteen thousand dollars for a painting I don't even like!
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All those Hitchcock references do not make this a Hitchcock film
"Still of the Night" is one of the more obscure entries in Meryl Streep's filmography, even though it came out in 1982 in between two of her greatest films, "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and "Sophie's Choice". (Until it turned up recently on British television I had never previously seen it or even heard of it). It is a psychological thriller, directed by Robert Benton who had earlier directed Meryl in "Kramer v Kramer". It has often been described as having been influenced by the works of Alfred Hitchcock, and one of the obvious signs of this influence is the fact that the main character, like the heroine of "Spellbound", is a psychiatrist. (Hitchcock was fascinated by psychology and psychiatry, and often makes reference to them in his films).
Another Hitchcock touch is the idea of the "man in the street" who suddenly finds himself in trouble or in danger. When one of his patients is murdered Dr Sam Rice, a Manhattan psychiatrist, finds himself becoming emotionally involved with a young woman named Brooke Reynolds, who was not only a colleague of the dead man but also his mistress, and who is also a suspect in his murder. The plot is a complex one, involving Rice falling under suspicion with the police, who believe that he may be withholding evidence about the killing, and his placing himself in danger by his own attempts to solve the crime.
The film makes quite deliberate reference to a number of Hitchcock films. Besides the general psychiatric theme, there is also a dream sequence reminiscent of the one in "Spellbound". The appearance of a bird during this sequence is a reference to "The Birds" and possibly also to "Psycho", where Norman's hobby is stuffing birds. A fall from a bell tower recalls "Vertigo" and, as in "North by North West", there is a scene set in an auction room. (The murdered man, George Bynum, was a senior employee of an auction house). There are also scenes reminiscent of "Rear Window" and "Marnie". Jessica Tandy who plays Rice's mother (also a psychiatrist) appeared in "The Birds". Many of Hitchcock's films, including "Notorious", "Strangers on a Train" and "Psycho", feature a strong, dominant mother-figure.
Perhaps the most effective Hitchcock touch is the use of a trademark blonde heroine. Although this is far from being one of Meryl Streep's greatest films, she nevertheless gives a very accomplished performance as Brooke, portraying a woman who is clearly disturbed and frightened and who might just also be a psychopath, while leaving (as the conventions of the thriller genre require) that second point open to doubt. Had Meryl been twenty years older, she might have become one of the Master's great muses, along with the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly.
And yet any number of Hitchcock references do not in themselves make a Hitchcock film. "Still of the Night" falls along way short of the great man at his best, or even at his second-best. Roy Scheider does not make a very charismatic hero and, except perhaps in the final sequences, Benton never succeeds in generating the sort of nail-biting tension that Hitchcock was so skilled at conjuring up, even in some of his lesser films. Whereas Hitchcock could normally relieve that tension with some effective use of humour, "Still of the Night" is a pedestrian and humourless film, no more than an average eighties thriller. 5/10, largely for Streep's performance.
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