The Silent Partner’s dated ‘70s sterotypes squander its potential
It begins among shoppers mingling in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, but what a strange brew bubbles beneath heist flick The Silent Partner (1978).
It was financed under a controversial tax-shelter program (the Capital Cost Allowance), produced by a Jewish-Canadian impresario, Cineplex co-founder, and businessman convicted of fraud and forgery decades later (Garth Drabinsky). It was directed by a Vancouver-born CBC producer who’d helm The Thornbirds—America’s second most-watched TV-miniseries ever—and remakes a Danish novel-turned-film, adapted by the American writer-director later behind L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson). The score’s melodies composed by a jazz-pianist born to West Indies immigrants and raised in Montreal (Oscar Peterson).
The story—sussing out a plan by a mall Santa to rob his bank, vault teller Miles Cullen (Elliott Gould) takes advantage, stealing a large cash deposit—is stodgy at first, but picks up as it plot-twists and starts unlocking Cullen. He seems nebbish, even nerdy (he’s a tropical fish enthusiast), but turns out to be a suave, even crafty opportunist.
That thieving Kris Kringle, Harry Reikle (Christopher Plummer, icily malevolent), soon pursues Miles for that money and isn’t just an anti-social type, but a misogynist psycho.
The portrait of ladies, and male attitudes to them, in late ’70s urban North America is disturbing (especially when capped by a beheading which, reportedly, director Duke didn’t agree with).
It’s less free love and women’s lib and more muddled relationships and retrograde sexual mores. The femme fatale’s somehow in thrall to sadistic Reikle. The branch boss’ wife ignores his affair with employee Julie Carver (Susannah York), whom the boss keeps entrusting Miles “to look after.” The branch’s blonde (who, when single, wears close-fitting T-shirts declaring: “bankers do it with interest” and “penalty for early withdrawal”) cheats on her teller-boyfriend (John Candy) with another co-worker.
Julie hangs mistletoe on her desk lamp and, pointing it out to Miles, says, “Everyone else has had a turn.” After the robbery and police station interviews, she asks him, “Does it get you in the same way? Do you feel excited?”
If only The Silent Partner had been less sexy-thriller frolics and more sexual politics, it could have been a Hitchcockian neo-noir of real interest.
Thu., Dec. 21 (7 pm)
The Silent Partner
Directed by Daryl Duke
Original release: 1978