DVD: Cash On Demand (1961)

August 19, 2016 | By

IconsOfSuspenseFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  Sony

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  April 6, 2010

Genre:  Suspense / Cime / Caper / Drama

Synopsis: A martinet bank president is forced to aide a slick thief rob his own branch in less than 90 minutes.

Special Features:  (none)




During the 1950s and early 1960s, Britain’s Hammer Films produced blazing colour horror movies based on classic Universal monsters – vampires, mummies, werewolves – and chilling occult thrillers, but amid these sexier productions were suspense-dramas grounded in reality. Anchor Bay licensed a few more than 10 years ago, including the mob-themed drama The Frightened City (1961) with Sean Connery playing a thug, and one of Val Guest’s best films, the failed heist /police procedural drama Hell is a City (1959), headlined by the great Stanley Baker and shot largely on location in Manchester.

Cash on Demand (released by Sony as part of the 3-disc set Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films)  is another small suspense-drama that’s lesser-known, even though it stars Peter Cushing in a non-horror Hammer production. Like Fightened City, Hammer kept the budget low and running time brief, and hiring a wealth of talent from television.

Writers David T. Chantler (The Adventures of Superman, The Invaders) and Lewis Greifer (Emergency-Ward 10, Doctor Who) adapted Jacques Gillies’ play, while director Quentin Lawrence tackled the drama in real-time, making the whole endeavour unfold like a taut live teleplay. Lawrence directed very few feature films – the massive bulk of his work involved teleplays and episodic TV – but Cash shows his adeptness for pacing and ratcheting up intensity through tight edits, claustrophobic close-ups, and choreographing the dynamics of a fine cast.

Cushing plays bank president Harry Fordyce as a severely retentive martinet, applying the white glove test to everything within his reach and gaze, and subjecting employees to a strict code that could easily get them fired for an inflated infraction, as happens to second-in-command Pearson, played by the ever-reliable Richard Vernon (Goldfinger, TV’s Persuasion, Roll Over Beethoven). A ten pound slight almost ensures his dismissal days before Christmas until security inspector Col. Gore Hepburn (Andre Morell) arrives unannounced, and within a few minutes manages to completely control Fordyce with threats of brutal torture to his family if his needs aren’t followed to a similar code of absolute fidelity.

The drama within Cash rolls between various ironies – Fordyce’s survival depends on Pearson’s cooperation and sympathy; Hepburn reduces Fordyce to a Pearsonian weakling; and Fordyce’s ability to instill fear and loyalty among his core staff is severely weakened – but it doesn’t take long to realize Gillies’ play is an extremely clever spin on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Like Scrooge, Fordyce is a cold-hearted miser with no friends who shuns staff joy and is perfectly willing to stomp out Christmas because it’s irrelevant to the efficiency of business, if not illogical.

Lessons are learned by the end, and while the finale doesn’t have Fordyce hugging the staff under Christmas decorations, it shows him bending a little, which is more realistic. Like his performance in the 1954 BBC Sunday Night Theatre TV production of George Orwell’s 1984, Cushing is superb, realizing Fordyce’s arc from imperious ruler to a more enlightened, professionally humiliated president. In the final scene, Fordyce’s willingness to celebrate the season with his employees comes from a state of shell-shock, and there’s no guarantee of whether he’ll be a greater participant or a no-show.

Morell had shared screen time with Cushing in Hammer’s elegant version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), and this pairing features a vastly different dynamic. Morell’s Hepburn relishes the emotional, professional, and physical blows given to Fordyce –  as a crook, he’s more amiable with the staff than their wealthy overlord – and he clearly enjoys turning the power structure upside-down with a simple threat: ‘Do exactly as I say, or the missus will have her memory fried beyond recovery by accomplices.’

Fordyce is warned not to take Hepburn’s natural charm and wit for granted, which Morell conveys in equal measures, switching from being loud and witty to hushed and steely-eyed. It’s a great performance which both star Cushing and director Lawrence allow to ebb and flow, while the secondary cast watch from an apprehensive distance as closed door, executive machinations morph into suspiciously odd events.

The final wrap-up may be a little neat, but Hepburn’s ongoing gloating and his convincing lies to Fordyce sublimate any audience doubting of the power dynamics as Fordyce struggles to explain to the police and colleagues of his predicament and innocence in the finale.

Sony’s transfer is fine – there’s a bit of obvious compression, as the film shares space on a dual layer disc with Stop Me Before I Kill (1960) – but the lack of extras ensure this non-horror gem within the Hammer catalogue remains an unexplained oddity; one suspects Hammer’s reasons for pursuing non-horror material was simply good business sense: broadening the release slate, and albeit with sometimes lower budgets, allowing contract stars to indulge in other genres, keeping them happy as Hammer plotted out further monster sequels to exploit its star players.

Titles in Sony’s Icons of Suspense Collection include Stop Me Before I Kill! / aka The Full Treatment (1960), Cash on Demand (1961), The Snorkel (1958), Never Take Candy from a Stranger (1960), and These are the Damned (1962).



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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