The Silent Partner


Earlier this year I did a series of posts on my love of heist films, what my favourite ones are, and how they differ from caper films.

The number one rule of a solid heist film is the heist always, always goes wrong, whereas caper films put more emphasis on comedy and the criminals often get away with it.

What to make, then, of the 1978 Canadian film, The Silent Partner?

I’d heard about this film around the traps, never prioritised viewing it because of the star, Elliot Gould, an actor I’ve never much cared for, and what I perceived to be its caper feel.

Wow, was I wrong.

Gould plays Miles Cullen, a teller in a small bank in a large Toronto shopping mall. He’s a boring nobody who secretly lusts after another teller, Julie (played by Susannah York), and whose only passion is collecting tropical fish.

That all changes the day he learns the bank is about to be robbed after finding a discarded note on one the bank’s counters. He quickly deduces that the culprit is a guy in a Santa suit whose working the crowd outside the bank and whose ‘give to charity sign’ is done in the same hand writing as the discarded note.

But instead of telling his boss or going to the cops Miles devises a plan to keep most of the cash from his transactions, thus ensuring that when Santa robs the bank he’ll get far less money.

It’s a bad move. Santa is a career criminal called Harry Reikle (a brilliant and very different performance by Christopher Plummer). Reilke likes to wear mascara and dress in drag. He got a thing for beating up and raping unsuspecting women who attend the local sauna he hangs out at. And it doesn’t take him long to figure out that he take from the robbery is far less than it should be and there’s only person who could have the money.

Reikle embarks on a campaign to intimidate Miles to give him the additional money, a campaign that quickly escalates from threatening calls in the middle of the night too much more serious methods of persuasion. Miles resists, in the process throwing aside his inhibitions and engineering a series of devious counter moves.

It’s virtually impossible to go further without engaging in some major plot spoilers.h. Just go and see it. Seriously, it’s a terrific film that defies being easily categorised into either a heist or caper film. The Silent Partner also has a great seventies period feel, John Candy plays one of Mile’s co-workers, and features the only murder I can remember seeing being committed on screen using a fish tank.


9 Responses

  1. I’ve never heard of this one, but it sounds awesome. I do like Elliot Gould, but I think this has to do with his turn in the original M*A*S*H film. In any case, looks like this movie is in parts on YouTube. So, I’ll be viewing. ~ Mark

  2. Great movie! And the ending was worth the wait!

  3. I saw this in Toronto when it first came out. We were all terribly excited that a movie was actually set in Toronto. Thanks to a tax break being offered at the time, lots of movies were being shot in T.O., usually of B-quality, but none of them were set in Toronto. One of the stipulations of the tax break was that one of the major roles had to be filled by a Canadian actor, thus explaining why Plummer was in the movie. Donald Sutherland made a ton of money appearing in these tax shelfter films. Most of the tax shelter films were crap, but they did launch the career of David Cronenburg: Rabid and Scanners were both tax shelter films. The shopping mall in Silent Partner is the Eaton Centre, a multi-level behemoth about four city blocks long, and Gould’s apartment was about three blocks away from where I was living in the Cabbagetown area of the city.That death by fish tank does stick in the memory.

  4. And to think, I used to find tanks of tropical fish so relaxing…
    This was a surprise hit for me, too. I was particularly impressed with Christopher Plummer in a role about as far from his turn as Captain von Trapp as I can imagine!

  5. Andrew, sorry to distract from this post; Just want to let you know
    that MONEY MOVERS, which I learned of here, is now available on Netflix streaming in the US.


  6. Todd,
    You know I think Money Movers is a great film. Please watch it and make sure you let me know what you think. By they way, do you have a link to it?

  7. Andrew,
    Thanks for the recommendation – I will report back soon.
    Now if they will only release, The Empty Beach, as well.

    This should get you there:

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