There are more than a few non-traditional Christmas flicks that I like to watch every year but few are quite as nasty (or surprisingly unheard of) as 1978’s THE SILENT PARTNER. Adapted from Anders Bodelsen’s novel by a then young and unknown Curtis Hanson and directed by Daryl Duke who was mainly known for his TV work, it didn’t have much going for it behind the camera. But in front of it you get Elliot Gould, Christopher Plummer and Susannah York as well as a whole bunch of gratuitous T&A, surprisingly brutal violence and a rather competent crime yarn.
THE SILENT PARTNER opens with a great title screen featuring a bunch of folks in Santa/holiday gear which leads into establishing the mall location that the major plot elements will take place in. Elliot Gould plays a teller in a mall bank while Christopher Plummer plays a mall Santa ringing a bell for charitable donations. Gould suspects that Plummer is up to something and, sure enough, he is. Plummer enters the bank and hands Gould a note stating that he has a gun and he wants all of the cash. And this is where it gets fun.
On paper, THE SILENT PARTNER sounds like a fairly safe Elmore Leonard-esque crime story filled with clear cut good buys and bad guys, but it is far from that. Rather than handing over all of the cash to Plummer’s angry Santa, Gould stashes some of it. What he does with it and what his intentions are, I won’t spoil. What I will spoil is that Plummer’s attempted robbery turns into a brief mall shoot out that plays out as if BAD SANTA and COMMANDO combined in a fit of holiday aggression. It doesn’t amount to much carnage but it is far from safe.
Following all of this, we are shown how sadistic a fuck that Plummer’s character is. Now sans Santa suit, we get to see the Plummer that we actually recognize only to see him angrily pinch a topless gal’s nipple and then step on her face in a sauna. Yeah, this one means business. And that’s not even the worst of it, but I’ll leave the rest of it for you to find out.
The rest of the runtime (which is a nicely balanced 106 minutes) is primarily focused on the two leads playing each other. One wants the money that the other has and will do anything to get it, and the other will do anything to keep it. With Susannah York getting involved (and naked) in the proceedings as well. This isn’t an action film but that doesn’t keep it from getting as rough as it does, and a couple scenes do feature some tastelessly brutal violence towards women. It ends up sitting comfortably between a gritty heist film and a paranoia infused thriller and it works better than it should, likely thanks primarily to the cast who are all in top form and seem to be having great fun with the material.
A Merry Shitmas note: the holiday material is primarily focused to the first scenes, even though you’ll see a decoration here and there throughout. Still, Christopher Plummer as a bank-robbing Santa with a penchant for nipple pinching and face stomping is hard to pass up. ‘Tis the seaon.
- Justin LaLiberty