1978, Movies

Silent Partner (1978, Daryl Duke, Curtis Hanson)

This bank robbery thriller is one of most Toronto movies I’ve ever seen, certainly featuring a major American star. The film primarily takes place within the Eaton Centre. They ride the TTC (which is not pretending to be another subway) and drive on the Gardiner. Elliott Gould eats at Captain John’s. (Captain John’s! Where I used to beg my dad to take me to eat in the ’80s.) If you are interested in seeing what Toronto looked like in 1978, this will give you a good idea. Also, John Candy in a minor role.

This is an interesting spin on bank robbery plot. I say “robbery” because it’s not really a heist film in any conventional sense, it’s just a bank robbery that has a really unique twist. (It turns out the novel this is based on was turned into two European films before this, so I guess not that unique.) The plot summary will spoil the twist for you but I won’t.

The film very much feels like Canadian film from the 1970s. There’s almost a Black Christmas quality to the production, in terms of the supporting cast and some of the shots. It’s not exactly that it feels low budget so much as it feels Canadian budget. The supporting cast really isn’t great.

The main women characters are kind of inexplicable and very clearly written by a man. The female lead is the biggest “indecisive woman” cliché I’ve seen in some time. And both main women seem to be motivated entirely by trying to attach themselves to the man who will both most satisfy them and help their life prospects. (As an aside, this is a pretty damn horny thriller.) The third most prominent woman is even worse in this regard.

But I understand why this film struck a bit of a nerve. In addition to the creative plot, it’s got a bizarre performance by Christopher Plummer as one of those classic (and bizarre) film villains from the past who manage to be both effeminate and also extremely violent and dangerous. (And, in this case, apparently quite good in bed with women.) Even before he [spoiler alert] for climax he seems to be wearing makeup. As Jenn says, he’s coded queer, and yet he sleeps with women and apparently makes them very happy. The movies had a really weird idea of “sexual deviance” in the past…

The film is a little bit silly, at times. Particularly with the scene in Gould’s character’s apartment when Plummer’s character commits a crime. It’s hilariously over-the-top and totally unnecessary. (And apparently was added by request of the producers after the film was finished, which is why screenwriter Hanson has a codirector credit now.) It’s one of the things that makes the film feel just a tiny bit shlocky.

But it is a creative, interesting spin on a bank robbery plot. And it’s really fun seeing 1978 Toronto.


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