Elliott Gould plays banker, Miles Cullen, a man so underestimated that his boss considers him a safe escort for his mistress, a co-worker of Miles and his secret crush. After accidentally coming across a bank robbery note, Miles deduces that the note is the product of a failed robbery attempt and belongs to the Mall Santa who has been loitering outside the bank. Miles correctly predicts another robbery attempt by the Mall Santa and takes advantage of the situation to transfer money into his own lunchbox, allowing the escaping robber to take the blame for the $50,000 stolen.
The Mall Santa, Harry (Christopher Plummer), is quick to realize that Miles has stolen the majority of the money when news reports fail to match up to his measly $1500 take. After witnessing Harry's brutal beating of a teenage prostitute, the audience knows what Miles soon learns: that Miles has made himself the target of a violent psychopath. What follows is a dangerous game of wits in which a seemingly mild-mannered banker is pitted against a murderous criminal with a vendetta.
Many aspects of The Silent Partner endeared the film to me. The fact that Toronto is featured so prominently when so many movies made in Canada at the time tried to pass off their generic settings as American; Miles works in the Bank of Toronto, doles out Canadian money, and makes reference to actual streets and neighbourhoods in Toronto.
More importantly, I appreciated that screenwriter, Curtis Hansen, who went on to direct L.A. Confidential, did not insult the viewer's intelligence with heist clichés or characters making groan-inducing decisions (writers of "Heroes" take note). Miles's decision to go on the offense rather than simply give up the money to Harry or the authorities is surprising and hence, exciting to watch.
It should also be noted that Christopher Plummer makes for a scary psychopath. Whereas he merely comes across as prickly in The Sound of Music, Plummer's depiction of murderous rage barely contained by an icy demeanor makes Miles's actions all the more thrilling since my own reaction would have been to run crying to the police and the relative safety of a prison cell. Even in drag, Plummer is frightening to behold.
It may be raising expectations too highly to ask readers of this blog to try and obtain a copy of an obscure film like The Silent Partner. However, if the movie ever shows up in the middle of the night, it is worth staying up for.