THE SILENT PARTNER -- Capitol Hill, Dale Cinema, K-B Bethesda, K-B Cinema 7, K-B Fine Arts, K-B Langley, Landover Mall, Loehmann's Plaza and White Flint.

If you sit through a scene so bloody that it makes the horse-head episode in "The Godfather " look like a practical joke, you'll find "The Silent Partner" to be one of the best thrillers to come along in years. It's a skillfully crafted, fast-paced movie, done with intelligence and wit, and it's guaranteed to keep its audiences alternately gasping in terror and laughing.

Elliott Gould has one of his best parts in years as Miles Cullen, a Clark Kent-ish bank teller whose great passions in life are collecting fish and playing chess, in that order. "An oscillated puffer," he says when someone asks him what he'd buy if he could afford anything, anything at all, in the world. (It's a type of blowfish.) But his life takes an exciting turn when he carries off what seems like a devilishly clever crime, a $48,000 bank robbery at the expense of a psychopath (Christopher Plummer). That's just the first of many a twist and turn of the plot.

As a master criminal, Cullen undergoes a strange and comical transformation: He's suddenly a self-confident smoothie, suave and debonair and very pleased with himself. "Miles -- such a stuffy name! It doesn't suit you," says a sexy young Frenchwoman. "Are you the type people usually underestimate?" The look in his eyes is priceless.

Gould has been in such schlocky stuff lately that it's been easy to forget how talented he is, but he handles the complex role of the mild-mannered, diabolically clever bank teller with just the right low-key flair. Many of his best scenes are silent ones -- sly glances at the camera when he and the audience share a joke an expression of chagrin when he realizes that it's the girl of his dreams he's been cursing at on the telephone.

Plummer, whose career has certainly taken a turn-away from his "Sound of Music" days, is equally adept in his role as a psychopathic killer, and some of the movie's most terrifying moments are spent watching his beady little eyes flicker and wondering just when he's going to strike. He's all too believable when he murders his former girlfriend by drowning and decapitation. His death scene, when he staggers -- and staggers -- and staggers -- up a down escalator in a slick shopping mall, is excruciatingly effective.

Still, it seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to for a measly $48,000. Like many thrillers, this one doesn't stand up to too close scrutiny. But that's not what thrillers are for. They're supposed to keep you on the edge of your seat with a lot of showy, action-packed suspense, and this one fits the bill perfectly.