A Danish Original and a Canadian Remake

The Danish film poster for THINK OF A NUMBER (1969), which was remake as THE SILENT PARTNER in 1979.

In March 1979 a small scale but offbeat and ingenious little crime drama entitled The Silent Partner slipped into U.S. theaters without any advance word. A Canadian tax shelter write-off, the movie might have passed unnoticed if it hadn’t been for a handful of U.S. film critics who championed the release such as Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times, who called it “a thriller that was not only intelligently and well acted and very scary, but also had the most audaciously clockwork plot I’ve seen in a long time…it’s worthy of Hitchcock.” And Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it “a dense, quirky, uncommonly interesting movie, this time with a high quotient of suspense.” 

Over the years The Silent Partner has built up a considerable fan base and has become a welcome Yuletide viewing alternative (it is set during the Christmas season) to the umpteenth airings of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. What most American viewers don’t realize is that The Silent Partner is a remake of the 1969 Danish thriller Think of a Number (Taenk pa et tal), directed by Palle Kjaerulff-Schmidt.

Based on a novel by Anders Bodelsen, who wrote a number of crime dramas about ordinary people caught up in amoral situations, Think of a Number was a popular success in Denmark and even inspired a 1972 West German TV remake under the title Der Amateur. What is particularly striking about Kjaerulff-Schmidt’s Think of a Number and The Silent Partner is how different they are from each other in tone, execution and certain plot details yet still manage to surprise and delight the viewer with the many twists and turns of the narrative. It is a rare case of a remake being as good as the original and together they would make a killer double feature.

Bank teller Flemming Borck (Henning Moritzen, second from right) does not really fit in with his fellow co-workers in the 1969 Danish crime drama THINK OF A NUMBER.

Think of a Number is set in a small regional bank during the Christmas season and focuses on Flemming Borck (Henning Moritzen), a buttoned-up and impersonal bank teller who doesn’t fraternize much with his co-workers. One day he is cleaning up some paper trash from the counter and notices a duplicate copy of a withdrawal slip that reads, “It’s a revolver in my pocket. Give me everything without alarming the staff.” After this Borck regards every bank customer with suspicion, especially a man in a Santa Claus outfit who approaches Borck in a menacing manner and then quickly leaves when a small boy asks him what he has in his pockets.

Borck (Henning Mortizen, right) shows his bank boss the contents of his personal money tin in THINK OF A NUMBER (1969), a Swedish crime drama.

Borck follows the Santa Claus figure as he disappears in a rest room and re-emerges without the costume. The tense looking younger man then jumps on a motorcycle and rides off into the snow covered countryside. Borck later follows the same route and notices a shack with the exact motorcycle parked outside. This is just the beginning of a cat and mouse game that will transpire between Borck and Sorgenfrei (Paul Huttel), who will indeed rob Borck’s bank. The bank teller, of course, has been expecting this so he transfers the money in the teller’s till (around 188,000 Danish Krone) into a private strong box. When Sorgenfrei stages his surprise heist, Borck gives him what is in the drawer (a small amount) but the robber realizes immediately he’s been tricked. He flees as the bank alarm goes off but Borck hasn’t seen the last of him. Meanwhile, the bank teller hides the money he took in his safety deposit box and prepares for the subsequent police investigation.

Bank employee Borck (Henning Moritzen) takes unusual precautions when he suspects his branch is about to be robbed in the 1969 Danish thriller THINK OF A NUMBER.

Borck is an intriguing character because he doesn’t seem dishonest until the opportunity presents itself and then he becomes almost maniacal in his plotting. The money offers Borck an escape from his drab, lonely life, which is occasionally interrupted by visits to see his ailing father in a nursing home. It is only when Jane (Bibi Andersson), a nurse at his father’s facility, enters his life that Borck begins to imagine and plan for a new life.

Jane (Bibi Andersson) meets Borck at a seaside cafe after he discovers his car has a flat tire – or was it slashed? – in THINK OF A NUMBER (1969).

[The rest of this article contains spoilers] Jane turns out to be a complete fraud. Her real name is Alice, she isn’t a nurse or knows Borck’s father and is in cohoots with Sorgenfrei. But she betrays her lover for Borck and the duo escape to a Spanish resort as a detective follows their trail and the vengeful Sorgenfrei does likewise.

Jane (Bibi Andersson) and Borck (Henning Moritzen) enjoy a holiday escape from the dreary weather in Denmark in THINK OF A NUMBER (1969).

The finale of Think of a Number is completely unexpected with the true criminal of the piece – Sorgenfrei – emerging as the hero in a sense. Borck’s evolution from a nondescript white collar worker to an embezzler and murderer is also a surprising twist. But this is not how The Silent Partner plays out.

Bank teller Miles Cullen (Elliot Gould) receives a threatening phone call at home in the 1979 crime drama THE SILENT PARTNER, directed by Daryl Duke.

For one thing, Miles (Elliott Gould), the main protagonist, is much more eccentric and amiable than Borck. He doesn’t seem capable of deceiving a psychopathic robber like Reike (Christopher Plummer) but he is a lot slyer than he looks. He also initiates a stop-start romantic relationship with fellow employee Julie (Susannah York), which is constantly interrupted every time they attempt to make love (one of the running jokes in The Silent Partner).

Borck (Henning Moritzen) flirts with coworker Miriam (Kirsten Peuliche) in the hope that she will do him a discreet favor in THINK OF A NUMBER (1969).

In the Danish version, Borck makes romantic overtures to coworker Miriam (Kirsten Peuliche) but he has an ulterior motive – he needs her discreet assistance in acquiring a new key to his safety deposit box. When Miriam ends up marrying Jorgen, a fellow employee, she becomes a background character unlike Julie, who figures prominently in the happy but amoral ending of The Silent Partner.

Bank robber Sorgenfrei (Paul Huttel, left) realizes he is being duped by branch employee Borck (Henning Moritzen) in the Danish crime drama THINK OF A NUMBER (1969).

Another crucial difference between the Danish and Canadian versions of the movie is the portrayal of Sorgenfrei/Reikle. Paul Huttel’s would-be robber seems more like an inexperienced street hustler than a career criminal and he is more threatening as a blackmailer than a violent assailant. Christopher Plummer’s Reikle, however, is a truly frightening creation who often explodes in a violent rage (he tortures a prostitute in one scene and later decapitates his partner in crime on the jagged glass of a broken fish tank, an unusually graphic scene). Reikle also enjoys the art of disguise as witnessed by his Santa Claus costume and later, in drag, as a rather prim, matronly female bank customer.

The psychopathic criminal Reikle (Christopher Plummer) tries to pass as a matronly bank customer in THE SILENT PARTNER (1979).

Last but most importantly the finales of both versions are markedly different in tone. Think of a Number has a poetic justice fadeout that finds Borck a victim of his own design. By contrast, The Silent Partner sees Miles and Julie en route to a holiday together in what is an obvious happy ending. Regardless, Miles is guilty of embezzlement and Julie is an accessory to the crime but they have no moral guilt over what they have done and get off scot free.

Borck (Henning Moritzen) and Jane (Bibi Andersson) try to decide what to do with the body of a dead detective in THINK OF A NUMBER (1969).

Of the two movies, The Silent Partner has a much quirkier mix of humor and suspense with a first rate script and dialogue by Curtis Hanson, who would become a much in-demand director in the 1990s with films like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), The River Wild (1994) and L.A. Confidential (1997). The director, Daryl Duke, had previously directed the overlooked character study Payday (1973) with Rip Torn, which received a special award from the National Society of Film Critics “for a person working in cinema whose contribution to film art has not yet received due public recognition.”

The Silent Partner is also noteworthy as jazz pianist Oscar Peterson’s first film score. Among the other cast members that deserve a mention are John Candy in a small, humorous role as a bank employee and the sexy Celine Lomez as the ill-fated femme fatale who seduces Elliott Gould.

French-Canadian singer Celine Lomez plays a prominent supporting role as a suspicious seductress in THE SILENT PARTNER (1979).

Think of a Number has a more bleak, wintry setting in comparison to The Silent Partner and Kjaerulff-Schmidt’s terse directorial style makes Borck’s escalating sociopathic behavior of greater interest than the initial bank robbery, which merely ignites his amorality. Henning Moritzen is excellent in the starring role and is considered one of Denmark’s most acclaimed actors, appearing in art house favorites like Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972) and Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration (1998). Bibi Andersson, another Bergman favorite, is equally good in an uncharacteristic villainess role as the deceptive Jane/Alice. In addition, the moody but occasionally playful music score by Bent Fabricius-Bjerre is quite memorable.

Jane (Bibi Andersson) appears in disguise at Borck’s office in order to help him pull off an embezzlement scheme in THINK OF A NUMBER (1969).

Both Think of a Number and The Silent Partner are highly recommended for fans of offbeat crime thrillers and deserve to be better known. KL Studio Classics released a special edition Blu-ray of The Silent Partner in June 2019 which includes a new interview with Elliott Gould and other extras. Think of a Number is not currently available on any format in the U.S. but you might be able to find a streaming option for it on the internet with English subtitles.

Other links of interest:




3 thoughts on “A Danish Original and a Canadian Remake

  1. I’ve seen THE SILENT PARTNER on the big screen when it was released in Europe back in the day and never forgot it, because it was and still is so intense (like SPOORLOS, to name another unforgettable one). Seen it on TV in the later 80ies and again in the 90ies, then it vanished. You might not believe this, but I re-watched it just 2 days ago, when I did a “remembering great ones”-evening, also re-watching POINT BLANK (1967, of course) and PRIME CUT (also with Lee).

    SILENT PARTNER has aged very very well, lost nothing of its punch and is worth a re-discovery (like other tax-shelter productions, eg SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY with the marvellous Ernest B.). Thanx for your view on this neglected gem. And thanx for the info that it is a re-make. Now I gotta get to see THINK OF A NUMBER. Thanx!

      • Thanx! Yeah, “the Cave” is GREAT! Seen dozens of movies there meanwhile.

        Found it, seen it, like it, but if ain’t as good as the re-make. Well, not bad, but not surprising that the re-make is better considering the amount of talent involved in the re-make. I already commented there:

        “This is one of the rare occasions where a re-make is a lot (!) better than the original. This is by no means a bad movie, but has shortcoming pretty much everywhere. The cinematography is equally uninspired as the direction, which both lacks spirit and zest. It all looks like TV-fare. The music by none other than acclaimed composer Bent Fabricius-Bjerre is practically mono-thematic, on purpose, but gets annoying as the story progresses. And though the acting is competent it does not do the subject justice. Pretty low level of tension throughout.

        What’s really great is (just) the basic premise and then again the ending. THE SILENT PARTNER took just the premise, changed a lot about the ensuing story, added sex and violence (but in a well toned manner) and gave it the ending it deserves. Whilst this ending here ain’t bad at all, it has an unnecessary moral undertone, which is superfluous. Nevertheless it’s still the ending, which does make this version, because without the added surprise it would falter altogether.

        Still 7/10.”

        That´s probably a bit harsh, considering there´s 10 years between them, but frankly: hardly anyone would remember the first take, if SILENT PARTNER would not exist. The re-make pulls this one out of oblivion.

        Gonna check the German re-make IF I can find it. At least I won´t need sub´s for that one. 🙂

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