The Silent Partnerrecommended viewing

Pawn takes crook
★★★★
☆
Released: 
1978
Director: 
Daryl Duke
Starring: 
Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, Celine Lomez
The Setup: 
Mild-mannered bank teller pulls a switch on a known robber, gets the money himself.
Discussion: 

A reader who had recommended the fascinating Uzumaki, wrote to tell me on this, and since I’ve been wanting to see more Elliott Gould [or rather, see Elliott Gould in something I LIKE], I threw it to the top of my list. Good choice! This is one of those 70s films based on novels that is clever and entertaining from beginning to end and contains interesting character development. Turns out the screenplay was written by Curtis Hanson, adapted from the novel Think of a Number by Anders Bodelsen. Oh and by the way, the music is by Oscar Peterson!

Gould is Miles Cullen, mild-mannered teller at this bank in a Toronto mall. In the first scene he is messing with these deposit slips, which then had carbon within them, and finds one with a holdup note written on the bottom layer. He realizes that someone is going to hold up the bank, and this was placed there as part of their preparation. He sees the mall Santa [it’s around Christmas time] watching the bank, observing when a local store makes a big deposit, then the Santa comes to that window, hoping to get all the deposit money. The plan is foiled by a random circumstance the first time, and as Miles thinks about it more, he starts to develop a plan.

But first, some character-setting stuff. Miles is asked to take out the wife of a bank manager because he’s busy—and it’s a time when it was apparently seen as impossible that a woman could amuse herself alone for an evening without a man. The wife ends up essentially detailing what a loser Miles is. He is said to be very handsome and attractive, but when women go for him they soon discover that, as one woman puts it, “The total is less than the sum of its parts.” Miles is very devoted to his tropical fish, another thing seen as making him an uber-nerd. There is a shot of him at home pondering a pawn on a chess board—that’s HIM, he’s just a PAWN!—but I didn’t mind it being so obvious since, what the hell, it’s from the 70s.

The next day Miles sets up a fake cash drawer, from which he seems to be distributing his own money—and taking the big deposit into his own briefcase. When the Santa comes in, Miles gives him all the money in his drawer, which is a few hundred, when he expected a few thousand. Miles trips an alarm, which lights a giant, very visible light on the desk of a co-worker. There’s a mall shootout, and the Santa gets away. Miles is walking out of the bank when a detective helpfully tells him he forgot his briefcase, which contains all the cash.

SPOILERS > > >
We now see Christopher Plummer as the robber, Reikle. He has a girlfriend he seems to take his failure out on, and we see him beat her and put his foot on her face. So he’s not a nice guy. Meanwhile, at the bank—which features one of those 70s calendars of molded plastic with the dates on pegs, and a white ring to move from peg to peg—Miles puts all the money, wrapped up in kitchen towels, in a safe deposit box. He again takes out Julie, his co-worker’s wife, but this time dances with and kisses her. They go back to his place and are in the throes when he gets a call telling him to “think of a number”—the title of the novel this is adapted from. He gets nervous and tells the bewildered Julie to leave. Reikle is in the phone booth right outside, and was obviously inside Miles’ apartment before he got home. Soon Reikle is right outside the door—there’s an effective image of him staring in through the mailbox slot—and wants to impress upon Miles that he is a badass criminal that Miles has no chance in dealing with. But Miles follows Reikle home, then goes, steals a van, parks it right in front of Reikle’s apartment, then calls and reports him for the theft. Reikle is picked up and taken in. Through some clever indirection and manipulating of the police, Miles engineers Reikle getting thrown in jail on a rape rap. This does not make the criminal happy.

Then Miles meets a beautiful brunette, Elaine, who soon reveals that she saw him on TV after the robbery and “fell for him.” There’s an amusing scene where Miles and Elaine pull up to his apartment just as a garbage truck is leaving, and when Miles goes inside, soon realizes that his housekeeper cleaned out his fridge, inadvertently throwing out the keys to the safe deposit box with the money. They have a little more romance, and we notice that Miles is starting to grow into a confident person. He courts Elaine and flirts with her even as, it is soon revealed, he knows she is Reikle’s girlfriend and just trying to worm her way to the money.
< < < SPOILERS END

There are numerous more complications and twists, but I’m not going to tell you any of them, as some are truly surprising. As we watch Miles struggle to outsmart Reikle and stay a step ahead, we also see him grow in confidence and become a much more active, outgoing, attractive person. Even he stops and marvels at all the things he finds himself doing now. And Gould brings off the role perfectly, growing into a relaxed and sexy confidence that convincingly seems like an evolution of the character.

The movie is one of those clever, well-thought-out thrillers with enough good, convincing character development and intelligent twists that you really feel like you’re in the hands of smart craftspeople, and can trust that things will remain interesting and intelligent to the end. There are also plenty of surprising elements and twists, although all of them work and make perfect sense in retrospect.

Well, I simply wouldn’t be me if I failed to mention an undercurrent of homoeroticism between Miles and Reikle, very intentionally played on by the movie. Reikle, despite having a prominent girlfriend, is also presented in what looks like makeup and generally dressing like a gay hustler. He keeps insisting that he and Miles are “partners,” and wants Miles to embrace that relationship. There is a notable scene in which Reikle appears in drag, at which point he tells Miles that they’ll meet again, some time in the future, when they can—and he seductively toys with his hair—“you know.” This clearly isn’t a major theme of the movie, but is an undercurrent that adds depth and texture to their relationship.

All in all, a quite good, twisty thriller that is quite intelligently put-together, with rich characters and an intricate plot that all hangs together in the end. And that’s a rarity. If that’s your cup of tea, you should definitely watch it.

Should you watch it: 

Sure thing, you won’t be sorry.