Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
We’ve been wanting to bring you this one for a long time. If you think a lot of bad movies were made here in the 1980s and 1990s, you won’t believe what went on the 1970s. American productions came up here to shoot the worst of the worst thanks to special tax shelter laws.
A lot of them were horror movies and, almost without exception, they’re unwatchable. Along with a couple of other “classics” (Meatballs, Porky’s), The Silent Partner is an exception.
Because The Silent Partner was made in 1978, it had to star Elliot Gould, by law. He plays a Toronto bank teller who gets involved in a cat-and-mouse thing with a super-criminal dude played by Christopher Plummer. It all takes place on the streets of Toronto and in the then-shiny-new-and-futuristic-looking Eaton Centre.
In Geoff Pevere’s book, Toronto on Film, he says the movie “remains a pivotal work in capturing Toronto’s transition from a stuffy WASP burgh to the country’s largest and wealthiest city,” and describes it as “Toronto’s answer to the urban decay movies made in America in the early 1970s.”
That may be true. But we say it’s also the only place you’re going to see one of our most esteemed actors play a psycho who kills naked women with his bare feet and dresses in drag to pull off a bank heist.
Seeing the Eaton Centre in its prime is a real draw here. Here’s a series of shots from the opening….
…including the entrances from the inside…
The movie’s First Bank of Toronto was on the lower level, near a fountain—not the centre court fountain, though, it’s something that’s no longer there. The little bit of history we could find suggests the location may have been a TD branch, and it’s a bit hard to peg down for sure, but it seems to be about where Old Navy is now, just outside the old Eaton’s.
Outside the window you can enjoy seeing stores like The Slack Shack (you can see the fountain here).
Or you can fondly recall getting a drink at the Orange Cup.
There are also lovely shots going up the escalators…(Trim those mutton chops, Turtleneck Guy!)
…and of the mall, in all its crowded glory.
We’re going to admit it: this movie was made thirty years ago, and between how things have changed and the lack of background material, it’s hard to piece things some things together.
This, for example, is Elliot Gould’s apartment.
This is the view down the street. Could be almost anywhere, eh? [ : Eagle-eyed readers have pinned it down, though: it's Howard and Sherbourne.]
The closest thing we have to a clue is that he follows Plummer, who has broken into the apartment, to the subway, apparently at Summerhill Station [ : Another eagle-eyed reader solved this one, too: it's actually Sherbourne Station].
If we assume some level of geographical consistency, the implication is that Gould is within walking distance, but the area right around Yonge has so much new development that it’s impossible to tell.
Later, Gould walks down Parliament Street, following Plummer through Cabbagetown.
The truck here nails down the address, number 493. It looks like the grocer is long gone, and the chicken joint across the street is now Johnny G’s diner.
He then calls the police, sending them to Plummer’s address, “at 11 Winston Street, in Cabbagetown.” While there is no Winston Street in reality, streetcar tracks suggest that this was somewhere along Carlton.
(Side note: if anyone starts a petition to bring back the yellow police car, we’ll sign it.)
He also visits this construction site. We spent way too much time trying to figure this out, but the facade of Sheraton Centre shows that we are to the south. Out of frame to the left is a building right beside Sheraton Centre, the visible part of which says “Hotel Toronto.” Also not in this shot, to the left, is a building with brown windows that looks like this one, on York Street.
That would make the building across the street the Exchange Tower. Since the movie was filmed in 1977 and the tower was finished in 1981, that’s where we’re placing our bets.
Every Torontonian knows that for a romantic meal, you can’t beat Captain John’s, right?
Not to mention a postprandial stroll down Queen’s Quay.
Hey, look! It’s a young John Candy!
Hey, look at the skyline, from the Gardiner Expressway!
Hey, look! It’s Chris Plummer in Chanel!
One of our most film-friendly dive joints is Spadina’s Silver Dollar.
Man, dig that ’70s decor! Is that, like, velour wallpaper?
It may just be the movie lighting, but the club looks pretty different today.
And before it’s all done, we get a shot with the CN Tower and City Hall. What more could you ask for, really?
If you’re still not convinced, dig this pedigree: the screenplay is by young buck named Curtis Hanson (8 Mile, LA Confidential, Wonder Boys) and the score is by a pianist named Oscar Peterson. There’s an interesting essay on Peterson’s involvement here.
It’s not an easy one to track down, but we’re going to break from form and urge you to find The Silent Partner if you can.