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Reel Toronto: The Silent Partner

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…
…and outside.
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!)
…of Cole’s…
…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. While it’s since gone the way of the dodo, it used to be at 6 Howard Street. Sadly, it was torn down in 2006.
This is the view down the street. Could be almost anywhere, eh? [UPDATE: 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 [UPDATE: 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.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 4, 2013: We originally wrote that we couldn’t locate Elliot Gould’s apartment but thanks to several dedicated readers we were able to find the actual location, on Howard Street. We’ve added the information above.


  • John Semley

    Such a great, great movie. Probably my favourite Toronto film. Also one of the first, and surely the best, tax shelter production. John Candy, Elliot Gould, and Christopher Plummer sticking up a bank while in drag (or dressed as Santa Claus). What more could a movie need? Plummer decapitating someone on the jagged edges of a fish tank? It’s got that too!

  • http://undefined VonGarber

    Pretty sure the exterior shot of Elliot Gould’s apartment is at Howard and Sherbourne.

  • http://undefined VonGarber
  • http://undefined JustLisa

    I love this so much. At the risk of sounding seriously old, I remember when I was in middle school in the burbs, the dad of one of my friends was an engineer on the project. He arranged a field trip for 4 of us to visit the site during construction. We had no hard hats, no safety anything. I remember walking through what would be Eaton’s, thick plastic curtains separating the various dusty sections, stepping carefully through the mess completely agog. It was like being in a space station. And being from the burbs, it made Toronto seem even more like a Wonderland.
    Thanks for conjuring up the memories.

  • http://undefined Lioness

    I not only was in this movie, you have a picture of me- I’m in the white coat next to turtleneck guy! For each day of filming we got paid one dollar, a free meal at McDonalds and a Silent Partner Tshirt.
    You missed any pictures of Susannah York though. All the guys wanted to get close to her!

  • Jamie Bradburn

    Nifty movie indeed – a great time capsule.
    Based on the angle and the age of the buildings, it looks like the scene with the yellow car (“This is the view down the street. Could be almost anywhere, eh?”) looks like Howard Street looking west toward Sherbourne

  • http://undefined VonGarber


  • http://undefined Brian

    @VonGarber: You beat me to it. It sure it Howard and Sherborne.
    “11 Winston Street, in Cabbagetown”; That feels more like parts of Gerrard east of Broadview, or Queen west of River–the houses sit right on the street! That part of Queen west is mostly torn down now, though, so hard to tell..

  • Miles Storey

    I found this film on Amazon for a few bucks and bought it mainly because I love 70s films, especially with this-era Elliot Gould. The film is a fine example of its genre and the scenes of a ‘young’ downtown Toronto are a bonus!

  • David Fleischer

    Good call on Howard Street, fine readers!
    I’ll see if there are any other useful visuals for the apartment building but given that visual clue I’m guessing it might be the now-vacant lot next to the Cozy Corner.
    This shot is too dark to tell for sure but the presence of a retail store on right and a house on the left with a gabled porch sticking out makes it seem likely.

  • http://undefined Steve Buechler

    The complete film can be downloaded as a torrent at

  • http://undefined munzz

    it clearly says it’s Rosedale Station IN THE PICTURE.
    How did you come up with summer hill station?

  • http://undefined Paul

    Actually, it is Sherbourne Station and the sign says “Rosedale Valley Road”. Key clue is the small grey subway tile (Summerhill would have had the large vitrolite style). Definitely not Rosedale Station as that one is outside, and had green tiles back in the day.
    Sherbourne would be geographically consistent with the other film locations.

  • http://undefined Mr Ornot

    The apartment building that previously occupied the empty lot at #6 Howard St was torn down in 2006 after a partial collapse earlier in the year. There’s a photo at TO Built with some historical background on the building. Another victim of intentional neglect.

  • David Fleischer

    I believe you’re right. That’s the closest the movie comes to showing the whole platform and the grey tile looked like Summerhill but I couldn’t be 100% sure (hence the “apparently”.)
    But given the Sherbourne context we now have that makes more sense (I knew it wasn’t Rosedale, but since Rosedale is one station from Summerhill, the sign potentially made sense.)
    It does sort of beg the question of why Plummer needs to walk up to the subway to get down to his home a few blocks away in Cabbagetown….but that’s film logic for you.

  • David Fleischer

    Here are a couple of shots that seal the deal on the house being #6 Howard.
    This one shows the side of the building, including the grey stone along the bottom and that white structure (garbage chute?) visible in Mr. Ornot’s picture. And this one shows the front door, complete with an easy-to-spot #6.
    And for subway station lovers, here is a shot of the stairs of what we now know to be the Sherbourne station.
    Good job, and thanks!

  • http://undefined OCADsmartist

    I was just telling my 14 year old son today about 6 Howard Street and how the film Silent Partner was filmed in my apt. before I lived there in the early ’80′s. It was Apt.9, 6 Howard Street, a beautiful apt. in its time. My roommate and I cried when we were evicted from it only to see that no one would ever live in it again. Hardwood floors throughout and hand wrought iron windows with lead glass on each side of the fireplace. If I was alone on cold winter nights and the phone rang, Silent Partner came to mind. I would always look across the street to make sure that no one was standing in the phone booth!

  • Empire Biscuits

    The location in the Eaton Centre where the bank was is actually the Reitman’s store.