(This article was originally published in slightly different form on Fruitless Pursuits)
Now that 82-year old Christopher Plummer has finally won an Academy Award, why not partake in a movie where he robs a bank in a Santa outfit and then kills a woman using an aquarium?
As someone who is proud to have never watched The Sound Of Music, Christopher Plummer is a good actor, but nobody whose films I would actively watch out for. But as a fan of weird, little movies few have ever heard of, I was pretty excited when I found out that 1978’s The Silent Partner was available on YouTube.
Directed by Daryl Duke and adapted from a Danish novel and film (Tænk på et tal, or Think Of A Number), The Silent Partner stars Plummer as a bank robber who terrorizes Elliott Gould, and Gould then who steals from his employer as he is being held up by Plummer. One of the first (and best) movies in the era of Canadian tax credits, The Silent Partner won the Canadian Film Awards for Best Picture and Director. The film site Canuxploitation has gone so far as to claim it as an intentional allegory about Canadian and U.S. relations, and how Canadians (represented by the charming but dishonest bank teller) aren't so different from Americans (the charismatic yet sadistic thief).
Gould is an acquired taste; his decline from superstardom to character actor status has tainted much of his accomplishments from his peak and since (who would’ve thought thirty-five years ago that Elliott Gould would not even be on the poster for Contagion?). However, his role here as Miles Cullen shows why he was so good and so popular; not just anyone can be likeable even while embezzling from his job, while turning the tables on a sadistic criminal, or disposing of someone’s corpse.
On the other hand, Christopher Plummer has been a stage and screen legend for his entire career, and is still receiving praise in his early 80s for Up, The Last Station and Beginners, for which he finally received his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The rest of the film is rounded out by a solid cast and crew. One-time Oscar nominee Susannah York plays one of Gould’s love interests, while John Candy has some screen-time as their likable but naive co-worker. Candy isn’t given much but does make a good impression. Curtis Hanson, who would later direct L. A. Confidential, Wonder Boys and 8 Mile, adapted the screenplay, while Canadian jazz legend (and boyhood friend of Plummer’s) Oscar Peterson composed the score.
Perhaps the most memorable scene (out of many) is its climactic end, where Plummer returns to the scene of the crime to collect his money from Gould, and comes in wearing a Chanel dress and a woman's wig. According to Plummer's 2008 autobiography, In Spite Of Myself, it was his wife Elaine's idea that he dress in drag, with his transvestitism informing his motives and eventual demise. While this naive psychology (and the fact that people could go into banks dressed in Santa suits in the first place) dates The Silent Partner a bit, it makes for a great ending, and I have to admit, Christopher Plummer makes a reasonably believable (and attractive) woman.
The Silent Partner is a solid movie, and a film that pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock and is excellent in its own right. It has several disturbing moments, and when a major character is killed, I was actually surprised, in spite of the YouTube link's warning of "aquarium endangerment". If you want to see just what all the hype about Elliott Gould was about, or if you want to see Christopher Plummer at his best but with fewer wrinkles and no Von Trapps whatsoever, this is a good place to start.
Resources And Further Reading
Plummer, Christopher. In Spite Of Myself: A Memoir. New York, Toronto. Knopf, 2008. pp. 565-66.