Director: Daryl Duke
Writers: Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL)
Starring: Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, John Candy.
It’s no secret that thrillers are my favorite genre, and I saw this Canadian gem when it was first released back in 1978. I have no idea if some critic called it Hitchcockian or not, but it has that STRANGERS ON A TRAIN vibe where two strangers become connected by crime. It also takes place during the Holiday Season with a background of Mall Santas and Holiday Parties and the Christmas Rush at stores... and a Santa with a gun.
Shy, chess playing Miles (Elliott Gould) is the head bank teller at a mall branch. He is approaching middle age, and this is the best it is ever going to get for him. He has a crush on the woman who is in charge of safety deposit boxes, Julie (Susannah York), but she’s having an affair with the married bank manager. He has a dead end life, and part of that is not being very assertive.
During the busy Christmas season, Miles is in charge of all of the Merchant deposits from the mall... all of the money people spend on gifts and clothes and meals comes to *his* window. Tens of thousands of dollars in *cash* every day. The bank manager trusts him with the money, but won’t recommend him for a promotion.
Miles discovers a deposit slip with a hold up note written on it in block letters... but with a distinctive “G”. Someone was planning on robbing the bank, then decided not to. Later he notices that one of the Mall Santas has a sign asking for donations to the poor... hand lettered with the same distinctive “G”. That is the robber! The next day, Miles puts all of the big cash deposits in his lunch box instead of the cash drawer... and when that Mall Santa comes in and hands him the stick up note, Miles gives him all of the money in the drawer, then triggers the alarm... and puts his lunch box full of cash in his briefcase. The old Security Guard gets into a shoot out with the Mall Santa, but he gets away....
Everybody run! Santa's gotta gun!
Miles is interviewed on TV, they say his name... and also the amount stolen (which is much much more than the Mall Santa ended up with). So the Mall Santa calls Miles, tells them that they are *partners* in this robbery, and if he knows what is good for him he will share the money. This begins a great cat and mouse game between Miles and the vicious bank robber (Christopher Plummer) where each tries to outsmart the other without being caught by the police. The background is the holidays, and Miles ends up taking Julie to the Bank Manager’s Christmas Party so that the Bank Manager’s wife won’t figure out he’s cheating. This leads to Julie confiding that she is facing the same dead end as Miles... and they two hook up. While the Bank Robber makes Miles’ life hell in the background. Miles has to figure out some way to outsmart the Robber, without screwing up his new relationship with Julie. And it’s much more complicated than that! (a character gets their head cut off, Miles loses the money, all sorts of fun things happen!)
John Candy plays another teller who hooks up with the hottest woman in the film (the new teller hired as Christmas Help). This is a great thriller, edge of your seat suspense, and does an amazing job of quietly setting up later complications (the new bank’s vault will be surrounded by a massive underground wall of cement is mentioned in passing, and pays off much later!). A great little movie, and written by some guy named Curtis Hanson (who would later win an Oscar for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). I love this movie so much that I tracked down the Danish novel it’s based on (“Think Of A Number”, found it in a mystery book store in London) and read it. The book ends differently (in the film Miles and Julia talk about running away from the city to some tropical paradise and starting over again... and that’s what happens in the book and that is where the Bank Robber finds them), but the story is basically the same and the book also takes place at Christmas Time.
Check this film out if you haven’t seen it!
Great The Holidays!
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