Wednesday, 12 August 2015
Cash On Demand (1961, Quentin Lawrence)
Another of Hammer Films' slightly less well known monochromatic offerings, Cash on Demand is a taut and thrilling little noirish potboiler blessed with a solid script (co-authored by Lewis Greifer of The Man Who Finally Died ), some excellently-crafted direction from Quentin Lawrence (helmer of the original TV version of The Trollenberg Terror  and assorted installments of the Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre strand) and powerhouse performances by it's two leads - the incomparable Peter Cushing and the wonderful Andre Morell.
Unfolding in real time over it's 84 minutes, the film opens with the mise en scene of Christmas shoppers giving to a Santa Claus garbed charity collector in the festive spirit outside the doors of the City and Colonial Bank (Haversham Branch). We are then treated as the credits roll to a subjective camera, prowling and moving through the empty rooms of the bank and down into the vault in lingering shots before the bank opens for the morning and its staff begin to arrive. Early mutterings by employees of 'Is His Lordship in yet?' set up the character of bank manager Harry Fordyce (Cushing) as something of a prissy and fussy martinet (we first see him arriving at the bank and fastidiously wiping down the plaque outside the door to get rid of some errant stains / fingerprints / dirt).
The Scrooge-like Fordyce has little time for socialising with his employees, complaining about Christmas cards on the desks of this 'dignified profession', and engaging in a clash of both personality and class with his deputy Pearson (Richard Vernon) that is reminiscent of a dramatic re-versioning of the Mainwaring / Wilson dynamic of Dad's Army. Within minutes of his appearance we know that this methodical man of Victorian clothing and Victorian manner is a creature of strict rules and habit - a man who, like Conan Doyle's Mycroft Holmes, lives his life so by routine that he seems to have rails from which he never deviates.
This day, however, Fordyce will find that his life goes off the rails entirely, with the arrival of one Colonel Gore Hepburn (Morell), who announces himself with insouciant charm as a representative of the bank's insurance firm and is granted an audience in Fordyce's office. Hepburn's urbanity barely slips when there is a sudden change of atmosphere in the room as he calmly informs the frosty Fordyce that he is there to rob the bank's vault, that he has Fordyce's wife and son, and that Mrs Fordyce will catch a jolt from some electrodes and be fried like a Cajun catfish unless Fordyce co-operates.
Morell gives a fine performance, by turns urbane, witty, charming, and sinister, with a steel always there beneath the smile. (Coincidentally, on my current Avengers marathon, i not so long ago watched the episode 'Death of a Batman', in which Morell played crooked banker Sir Basil Teale.)
Cushing is the star here, however, giving a powerhouse performance as we see the usually strictly in charge of both his bank and his emotions Fordyce beginning to crumble under the pressure of the next hour's events. As he barely suppresses his ire and indignation towards Hepburn but is powerless to do anything but go along with something that is anathema to him - opening the bank's vault and assisting in the theft of over £90, 000 - for the sake of his family, his haughty Patrician facade begins to crack and we can begin to empathise with the panicked and terrified man within.
By the time we pass the tension-filled scenes of the emptying of the vault and approach the thrilling Catastrophe and Denouement, Fordyce has passed through his trial by fire and, like Scrooge himself, been redeemed as a man in this Christmas Carol - cum - crime caper set in the festive frost.
Also featuring performances by the excellent Norman Bird (as a fellow bank employee) and the always wonderful Kevin Stoney (as a police inspector), this Hammer thriller isn't filler as we see the transformation of a tyrannical teller into a broken and humbled feller.