CASH ON DEMAND is a 1961 Christmas crime movie that I learned about from that Yuletide Terror book I keep mentioning. Though the book is about Christmas-themed horror movies they included this crime one because it’s a Hammer production starring the great Peter Cushing. Apparently he didn’t want to get stuck only playing Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing and shit, so the studio threw him a bone.
It’s a simple story with only a handful of characters, entirely limited to a couple locations inside and just in front of a small town bank. I thought it might be based on a play, with the black and white photography and the snow falling outside the window adding a very cinematic atmosphere. It was in fact a remake of a television episode by the same director, Quentin Lawrence (THE TROLLENBERG TERROR, THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND). I guess that makes sense too.
The story takes place on December 23rd, the work shift before the staff Christmas party. They all seem to have a good work-based bond, with a friendly rapport even between different age groups, and a flirtation between the youngest. But then the boss shows up and sucks the air out of the room. Harry Fordyce (Cushing) is so uptight he deserves a writing credit on the Stevie Wonder song. He lacks the humor and social skills of his staff and gets into confrontations about petty details. Strict literalism about policy takes precedence over relationships with co-workers or long time customers, at least if he notices some minor misstep or bending of the rules from Pearson (Richard Vernon, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED), whose opposite personality type pisses him off. He’s even planning to fire Pearson over some bullshit. At Christmas.
Then big shot insurance investigator Colonel Gore-Hepburn (Andre Morell, BEN-HUR) comes in to inspect the bank’s security procedures, and Fordyce gets his chance to be nervous, to kiss ass and to throw others under the bus (which is a mysterious metaphor that no one seems to know the origin of).
Only thing is, the Colonel isn’t who he says he is. He soon explains that he has Fordyce’s wife (Vera Cook, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA) and son (Gareth Tandy, first assistant director, second unit, JUPITER ASCENDING) hooked up to electrodes somewhere, not to mention a partner outside the window watching for his signals. Fordyce will have to do everything he says. So pretty quick Mr. Judgmental About Bank Policy finds himself helping a dude get into the vault, load up the money, and do all kinds of lying and quick-thinking to hide the situation from the rest of the company, and then the police. He becomes much more sympathetic as he desperately tries to do these things that run so contrary to his normal character in order to protect his family, who he says are “all I have.” I take that to not only mean the only human beings he loves, but the only ones who love him. Although the Colonel has a good time implying that the relationships are not as warm as you’d want them to be.
The Colonel is a great villain, cruelly lording over his victim with fake friendliness, making him uncomfortable by complimenting his cooperation in the robbery and giving him a packet of bills as if he would ever accept such a reward. Messing with Fordyce seems to be as important to him as getting away with the money.
Cushing is outstanding. I’ve never seen him in a role like this. There are so many layers – his pettiness and heartlessness, but also his humanity as he deals with this high pressure situation. And at the end, when his heart has grown however many sizes and he’s going to leave the bank, he turns and looks at everyone. He seems like he wants to say sorry or thank you or I love you or something, but he doesn’t know how, and anyway the look is enough. They got it. And he leaves and they look at each other like “phew, can you believe this day?” and then after a beat they get back to work.
Some would describe CASH ON DEMAND as an update of A Christmas Carol. The parallel with Ebenezer Scrooge is obvious, and I suppose Pearson is Bob Cratchit. There’s a reference to Fordyce not heating the office properly to save money. And it has the crucial aspect of teaching him a lesson about life that causes him to pull the stick out of his ass, be nice to some people and experience joy for once. But I didn’t really notice anything representing the three ghosts or the past present and future or anything like that.
Writer David T. Chantler wrote SHE and a bunch of the George Reeves Adventures of Superman. Produced by Michael Carreras, son of the founder of Hammer, CASH ON DEMAND was nevertheless not well liked by the studio, and in the UK it was shelved for two years before being dumped in a version that cut out 14 minutes from its brief 80 minutes. After I learned of its existence, though, I was happy to find a high quality Blu-Ray from Indicator, complete with both cuts (I watched the “long” one), featurettes and a historical commentary track. (The catch is that it’s part of a box set of Hammer crime movies, but I was able to rent it separately.)