Joe Fiore (Martin Balsam) is a powerful gang boss who has fingers in many pies, but one he is looking to invest in is the world of international banking. To that end, he hires an old associate, Doc Fletcher (Michael Caine) from Britain, much to the chagrin of his fellow American crooks, but he feels that he has picked the right man for the job and sends Doc out with his son Albert (Jay Leno) and a counterfeiter (Tony Mascia) to Switzerland to meet Prince di Siracusa (Louis Jourdan), who says he has a bank lined up just ready for them to take over. Alas for Doc, all is not as rosy at it initially seems...
Here's one of those internationally-cast comedies, this hailing from the United Kingdom, that didn't make much impression at the time, only offering glancing note for its stars and probably finding the sole reason anyone brings it up now is because it features future chat show king, and then stand up comedian, Jay Leno in it. As it is, Silver Bears looked as if it was set up to appeal not to general audiences, in spite of who was appearing, but to the world's bankers and financial wizards, as the plot was apparently designed with them in mind, after all those types of businessmen need entertainment as much as the rest of us.
Whether they would be sufficiently fascinated by the wheeler-dealers that populate this is another matter, of course, and it turned out the people who most appreciated it were the filmmakers, who got to visit both Switzerland and Morocco on their travels, and those who find an undemanding caper movie to their tastes. Undemanding as far as viewing it went, that is, for you could quite happily take in the stars doing their thing and not even begin to allow the complications of the narrative twists to bother you. The script was drawn from a novel by Paul Erdman, which was supposed to be far more involved and satisfying than the big screen version, but still there was a reputation around this that it was a challenge to follow.
What happens is that Fletcher discovers that this is no flash bank he has been sent to take over, but a lowly one office establishment above a pizza parlour. Noting that this was not what Joe had in mind, and that Joe will not be in the least bit happy, he weighs up his options and sees that making the best of a bad lot is his better choice of action, and the Prince has a contact who might provide them with the money they need to make a success of this. That money rests in a silver mine in Iran, kept secret by the brother and sister who own it (played by David Warner and Stéphane Audran, an unlikely pair if ever there was one) so they don't have to pay tax. But they are willing to let Doc take care of the finances.
If you can't tell there's something fishy going on by this point, then hang up your deerstalker in shame, but naturally this sudden step up for a tiny bank into the major leagues with millions of dollars to play with attracts attention, specifically that of silver baron Mr Cook (Charles Gray), who now wants to buy Doc's bank, even though Doc believes that he's onto a goldmine (or a silver mine) with this, far beyond the dreams of avarice, and no price will ever match what the operation is worth. This far into the plot, about an hour to be precise, you might be asking, where is Cybill Shepherd? She's second-billed in the opening credits, but there's been no sign - ah, here she is, in a comparatively minor role as the wife of one of the rival bankers (Tom Smothers) who is romanced by Doc to get some information out of her. Cybill brightens up her scenes with her kooky personality, but it would take more than that to make this stodge look fun, and the revelations of the finale are more dutiful than an extravagant reveal. Not one decent joke in it, either. Music by Claude Bolling.