In this fast-paced world where the ink on movie posters dries up before it has time to shine, lie buried treasures like this 1978 movie, The Silent Partner.
The hero of this strange crime epic is an ordinary clerk, Miles Cullen, an ordinary man who is not particularly smart, handsome, or brave.
During the Christmas season, his days go by one like the other, courting a beautiful colleague while children bore their parents to buy gifts in the mall where the bank is.
Until he gets a strange receipt with threats and realizes the author is a dangerous criminal, Harry Reikle, planning to rob the bank the next day disguised as Santa Claus.
The clerk thus decides to profit by hiding $50,000 in his business suitcase and then making it look like it vanished along with the loot.
Reikle robs the bank, but Cullen sets off the alarm through a spring hidden among the cash register bills, so the criminal must flee while guards shoot at him.
The heist was a failure, having taken a considerable risk for a few hundred dollars, yet he realizes from the television news the clerk has swiped a large share of the money.
So he begins harassing him with phone calls and break-ins at his home, warning Cullen he will kill him if he does not split the $50,000.
After the umpteenth unwelcome visit in the middle of the night, the timid clerk becomes brave and follows the criminal to the dingy apartment where he lives.
He later manages to get him arrested with an anonymous phone call, framing him by parking a stolen car in front of his house.
Although Reikle ends up in jail on a serious charge, for Cullen, the problems will still only be just beginning.
Checkmate in the Old Noir School
In this late 1970s noir classic, two talented directors masterfully drive the narrative.
Daryl Duke, who would later establish a solid career in television, and Curtis Hanson, who would continue into the world of cinema, making such successful thrillers as L.A. Confidential, The River Wild, and Bad Influence.
The Silent Partner is a noir thrown back into the 1978 era, an old-school crime movie where, however, there are no private detectives or femme fatale in exotic locations.
Instead, the bright and colorful mall setting creates an intriguing contrast between ordinary everyday banality and the dark moods typical of these cinematic genres.
Building on Anders Bodelsen‘s excellent novel Thing of a Number., the filmmakers’ skill always keeps the tension alive between the two protagonists, whom I would not strictly divide into the roles of good or bad.
It’s no accident the camera very often stops on the chessboard in the clerk’s house, highlighting how the story is a twisted chess game between two unscrupulous men.
Indeed, although the criminal is a violent murderer, even the bank clerk cannot be considered a saint.
During this dangerous rivalry, other people end up involved, and both the criminal and the bank clerk do not hesitate to erase their guilt evidence and, when necessary, even make dead bodies disappear.
Each manipulates a woman to achieve their goals, although both will get a surprise discovering these beautiful ladies are more intelligent than they thought.
Although, at times, the tone verges on the romantic comedy, we also have several nude scenes giving the story more adult sexuality.
To sum up, we have a movie that perfectly holds up to the test of time, also because of the excellent cast we will discuss in a moment.
Dear old 70s Cinema Faces
Complementing the excellent movie direction and story of the original novel, The Silent Partner also features a fantastic cast of glorious 1978 actors whose careers extend well beyond that cinematic period.
Elliott Gould is a quirky and original protagonist, ambiguously playing the seemingly harmless Miles Cullen.
Indeed, we are only sometimes on this character’s side, and many of his choices are undoubtedly questionable.
However, we admire the courage of this humble employee who, for once in his life, steps out of his comfort zone to risk it all.
Better still, we can appreciate the brilliant ease with which he responds blow by blow to the assaults of the criminal Harry Reikle, superbly played by the great Christopher Plummer.
On the surface, even this character might seem like the classic unstoppable villain, a stereotype of evil and sadistic violence.
Listening to his words, we can also understand his point of view. After all, he has a point in blaming the hypocrisy on Miles, now a criminal as well, once he robs the bank where he works.
As the story progressed and their hostility became irreversible, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if these two characters had worked together.
Miles’ intelligence and Reikle’s relentless tenacity could make an unstoppable pair of buddy criminals, although, of course, mine remains an impossible wish to fulfill.
Finally, let’s not forget the essential female side of this noir, with innocent blond Susannah York playing Julie Carver, the somewhat naïve (but not too much) co-worker constantly wooed and pushed away by Miles.
Meanwhile, on the criminal’s side is the sexy Céline Lomez as the (fake) nurse Elaine seeking the loot on Reikle’s behalf while he’s in jail.