One night a number of years ago I was waiting to cross the street over to my building when I noticed Curtis Hanson walking by with a woman. As they passed, he was pointing over at my building and saying something. Since then, I’ve always wondered what the director of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL happened to know about where I live. If I ever actually got to meet him maybe that would be a pretty good way to start a conversation. Now I’ve gotten to see THE SILENT PARTNER, an near-unknown title from long before he received any critical acclaim, so that would be two things I could bring up.
Written by Hanson and directed by Daryl Duke, 1978’s THE SILENT PARTNER (seen the other night at the New Beverly on a double bill with THE CANDY SNATCHERS, which I didn’t stay for, but Diablo Cody was also there) is a Canadian thriller starring Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer and Susannah York. Gould plays Miles Cullen, a mild-mannered bank employee with an attraction for co-worker Julie Carver (York), but he doesn’t really do anything about it. But he finds himself jarred into action one day when he accidentally stumbles across information which leads him to believe that a shopping mall Santa (Plummer) is planning to rob the bank. Instead of informing everyone, he plans ahead to make it appear that it looks like the robber gets away with more than he has, so he can take most of the money for himself. When the robbery occurs he pulls it off and even manages to seem like a hero, but he hasn’t planned far enough ahead to anticipate how the crook will react to the situation.
“If I waited to do something, I might not do anything,” York’s character tells Gould early on as a possible explanation why she carries on an affair with the married bank manager. It’s also a reason why he is suddenly spurred into doing what he does and while watching THE SILENT PARTNER I found myself strongly reminded of Fritz Lang’s THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, a favorite noir of mine with an interestingly similar take on forbidden desire. Lang followed that film up with SCARLET STREET, which starred the same three leads—Edward G. Robinson, Dan Duryea and Joan Bennett (sigh)—and even though THE SILENT PARTNER is based on a novel it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that noir buff Hanson wrote the script imagining it as a third film that could involve those people. Placed into the context of the forties, one could easily imagine Gould’s role played by Robinson, Duryea’s by Plummer and two possible roles that Bennett could play. (Or maybe Hanson just split the Bennett role in two?) Of course, since this film was made in the seventies there’s a fair amount of liberal nudity, surprising violence and a few plot turns that would never have been allowed back in the days of the Hays Code, making me wonder just how much of Hanson's intent in writing it was setting a classic noir idea against modern day (for the seventies, anyway) sensibilities and how that would change things. In my current frame of mind, I honestly found myself responding strongly to Gould’s desire to cause change in his life and it’s a thrill to discover such a performance by the actor that I had never seen—the inherent sadness that lies within his eyes work extremely well here.
Extremely effective and suspenseful, THE SILENT PARTNER is a big surprise that seems to have gotten very little play here in the states. Hanson’s script is continually unpredictable in a number of ways. At one point, I started to feel like I was ahead of the characters on a few points…but the movie even had a few surprises for me in that sense as well. I love it when that happens. In addition, the surprising emphasis it gives to character development, along with Gould’s presence, give a much stronger human element to it than it might have had in other hands. But for the most part, the nature of its pulp-noir elements keep it strong and it seems like the sort of modest genre piece that, if made a few years later, would have had the Avco-Embassy logo in front of it. For anyone interested in heist movies and the various people involved, seeing this film will come as a huge treat.
Made during the Canadian tax-shelter era, it’s a nice change to see Toronto actually playing Toronto and the city is used very well. It’s hard not to think of David Cronenberg films from the period while watching it and a few actors look like they could have turned up in some of those films. At the very least, the actor who played Christopher Walken’s father in THE DEAD ZONE plays the bank’s security guard and also appearing as a bank employee, surprisingly, is John Candy in an early role. It’s great to discover another leading role for Elliott Gould with him doing a fantastic job and Plummer is an extremely effective counterpart, creating one of his very best bad guys (making INSIDE MAN another good one to pair this with) As an interesting counterpoint to Susannah York’s character, the French-Canadian Céline Lomez, who I’d never seen before, is an extremely evocative presence as the other woman who turns up in Gould’s life. The interesting music by Oscar Petersen sounds slightly reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's score for CHINATOWN and works very well.
That notion of waiting to do something, particularly when it involves a character played by Elliott Gould, hit me in a particular way this week when I have certain things on my mind. THE SILENT PARTNER may be a small movie, but it’s potent enough that it sticks and makes me wonder just what I’m waiting for. If I ever figure out the answer to that, maybe I’ll let you know.