Everyone knows The Sting and Dog Day Afternoon, but today I wanted to chat about three of what I think are some of the best neglected heist/caper movies from the 70’s
Silver Bears (1977),11 Harrowhouse (1974), and The Silent Partner (1978).
Ever heard of ’em?
Maybe not, but these three movies belong to the great tradition of 70s heist movies, which included the (probably) better known Anderson Tapes and $Dollars from 1971, The Hot Rock (1972), Charley Varrick (1973), Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, The Taking of Pelham 123 (both 1974) , The First Great Train Robbery (1978) and of course the box office smash The Sting (1973).
Why these three in particular?
Well, they each represent a separate sub-genre; 11 Harrowhouse is an intricately planned robbery, Silver Bears a genial caper and The Silent Partner a much darker kind of picture, where a sadistic robber is outsmarted by an equally larcenous bank teller, a forerunner to classic period de Palma and early Tarantino.
11 Harrowhouse tells the sale of the multi-billion dollar diamond heist, which was adapted by star Charles Grodin, who unfortunately gave himself intrusive and bored-sounding narration to intone throughout the movie. But don’t let this spoil the picture’s pleasures, which include a clever heist, some decent twists and an unhinged chase towards the end, plus some strong performances from Trevor Howard and the great James Mason.
Silver Bears is a real treat if you’re in the mood for it. Directed by the late Ivan (Cutter’s Way) Passer, this star-laden shaggy-dog tale of a caper movie centres around The Mob’s purchase of a Swiss bank to launder their ill-gotten earnings and the consequent twists and turns that ensue.
Michael Caine semi-phones it in as Mafia money-man ‘Doc’ Fletcher, but at least he retains his English accent and has some decent chemistry with co-stars Cybill Shepherd and Louis Jourdan. Funnyman Tommy Smothers turns in a weird performance over the end credits as Shepherd’s jailed husband, worth sticking around for. Jay Leno also puts in a rare movie appearance, sporting an Afro and ‘bum-freezer’ leather jacket.
As said, 1978’s Silent Partner is a far darker proposition, which features a truly nasty performance from Christopher Plummer as the cross-dressing baddie and a less annoying than usual one from Elliot Gould, who dials down his trademark mugging.
Susannah York is always good to watch and you can almost see her forcing Gould to abandon the default-mode shtick.
Plummer went onto to essay a more ambiguous kind of villain in Peter Yates’ 1981 thriller Eyewitness, which has some similarities to The Silent Partner. And don’t forget that the former Sound of Music star also brought a harder edge to his portrayal of Sir Charles Lytton (‘The Notorious Phantom’) in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) than his predecessor in the role, David Niven.
The late Curtis Hanson when on to write and direct the similar thriller The Bedroom Window (1982), as well as others in the genre (including The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) as well as the Oscar winning LA Confidential in 1997.
Anyway, here’s the trailer to the very excellent Silent Partner. Check these out when you’re able to find them.