"Still of the Night" is a red herring all its own. It's a mystery that isn't a mystery, a thriller that isn't a thriller. What's more bothersome, the corpse is the most animated member of the cast. And we're not talking no-talent slobs: This is the season's second entry in the Meryl Streep-stakes.
Streep, who lets her page boy do the talking in this film, plays a suspected lady killer. She's a mysterious beauty, supposedly shy, but basically blah. Her costar Roy Scheider, one of moviedom's most menacing leading men, purrs like a pussy cat as he pads after her down dark corridors and dim stairwells.
Scheider plays a second-generation shrink, whose mother (Jessica Tandy) is supposed to be a Dr. Watson to his Sherlock Holmes. She talks some Freudian symbols with him and poof, that's about it for Tandy. But not for symbols. You want symbols, you got symbols -- birds, boxes, bells, cats, tunnels, teddys and so on. Director/writer Robert Benton wanted to salute old masters by littering his film with the spoor of mysteries past -- a case of game-playing instead of movie-making.
As for the present story, the one about the shrink whose patient is done in by Jill the Ripper, Benton gives us few clues and few suspects. It's all Scheider reading over his old transcripts and flashing on sessions with his late patient (Josef Sommer). Sommer puffs on Gauloises and confides his affair with Streep, implying that she's a murderess. Later Sommer and Streep break it off and that same night his throat is slit.
Streep goes to Scheider for consolation just when a detective (Joe Grifasi) arrives to take Scheider's statement and warn him that he might be next. Afterward, Scheider frequents empty basements and Central Park late at night. Now, Benton does get the spine tingling and the scalp creeping: A dream sequence, shot in blue and purples, is eerie, and once or twice, things jump out at you and elicit a yelp.
Finally, Scheider solves the mystery -- what there is of it -- via dream interpretation. It's a facile finish, befitting this not unpleasant, but unsubstantial film. If you love a mystery, better just gaze out your window in the still of the night and hope for a mugging. STILL OF THE NIGHT -- AMC Carrollton, K-B Studio, NTI Tysons Center, Roth's Americana, Roth's Mount Vernon, Roth's Randolph, Roth's Silver Spring West, Rolling Valley, West End Circle.