ANDERS BODELSEN – Think of a Number. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1969. No paperback edition.

THE SILENT PARTNER. Carolco Pictures [Canada] 1978. With Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, Céline Lomez, and John Candy. Screenplay and co-directed by Curtis Hanson. Directed by Daryl Duke.

   A disappointing book turned into an intriguing film.

   THINK OF A NUMBER starts out with a neat little hook and develops it with some skill and suspense. Bork, a meek bank teller with a thoughtful streak, perceives hints that someone plans to rob his bank – probably his own station—during the busy Christmas Season, and decides to get in on the act himself.

   Bork makes a practice of hiding away large sums of cash, and when the robber strikes, he gets away with a few thousand Kroener while Bork carries off a few hundred thousand. And so crime pays…

   Until the robber decides to go after Bork’s share.

   What follows is a battle of wits between Bork and the Bad Guy, complicated by the appearance of a Mystery Lady who may be a key piece in the game. But what makes it readable is that the wits involved are genuinely sharp, with Bork somehow keeping one jump ahead of the others, even as they out-think him.

   Unfortunately, author Bodelson seems to have mapped out his ending without considering the characters, because in the last third of NUMBER, everybody gets stupid. And I mean Everybody: Bork, the mystery gal, the robber, even a cop on their tail… all of them, after being sharp-witted for so long, suddenly commit the most obvious and unforgivable mistakes imaginable. And I say “imaginable” because what we have here is clearly a case of a writer shepherding his characters to a tidy ending that reads like the author himself descended from on high to personally arrange it.

   So when our neighbors to the North made this into the movie SILENT PARTNER, they wisely opted for a more convincing resolution, one that is rich in irony, yet seems to rise naturally from the characters. And it may be the casting, but those characters, as played by Elliott Gould, Susannah York and a nasty-nasty Christopher Plummer, seem more rounded and interesting than the predestined losers of Bodelson’s novel.

   I should add that there’s some surprisingly graphic violence here, mostly directed at women, but it helps that PARTNER is directed at a brisk pace, acted with enthusiasm, and written with an air of spontaneity that breathes freshness into every scene. This is a film not to be missed by lovers of tricky caper flicks who want to see a few new wrinkles in the celluloid fabric.