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Hammer SD: Cash on Demand

Available in Sony’s The Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films 3-disc DVD set, along with ManiacStop Me Before I Kill!The SnorkelNever Take Candy From A Stranger, and These Are the Damned. Order now through Amazon.com

Hammer may be best known for their horror productions, which would become their dominant stock and trade by the beginning of the 1970s and continues to be in their more recently revived form, but horror is by no means the only thing to have emerged from beneath the studio’s banner. In the early decades of its career Hammer proved itself quite a versatile film production outfit, turning out everything from pirate-themed action adventures and light comedies to science fiction and films noir. Proof positive of this versatility is 1962’s compact suspense vehicle / parable Cash on Demand, a real-time character driven piece that offers an answer to a question no one seems to have been asking  – what might Dickens’ A Christmas Carol have been like had it been about a bank heist instead?

True to its Dickensian roots Cash on Demand takes place around Christmastime, as the good employees of the Haversham branch of City and Colonial Bank prepare for both the holiday and the annual office party that comes along with it. Spirits are high, but Scrooge surrogate Mr. Fordyce (the esteemed Peter Cushing), manager of the branch, seems singularly determined to dampen them. He finds ink wells too dirty, pen tips corroded, and lo, Christmas cards as well? “Do you feel it really necessary to make such a display of your popularity?” he intones, with quiet disgust, upon finding one employee’s desk covered with the things. “Banking is one of the few dignified businesses left in the world. Do you mind terribly if we keep it that way?” Humbug, indeed.

Then there’s the matter of bank clerk Mr. Pearson (Richard Vernon, The Tomb of Ligeia), Cash on Demand‘s answer to Bob Cratchit and the predominant recipient of Mr. Fordyce’s abusive criticism. Two days before Christmas the business at hand is a botched transaction from some days prior in which a customer was overpaid to the tune of a ten pound note. The money was returned and everything seemingly set in order, but Mr. Fordyce is unconvinced. In the balance sheets he sees not a single errant transaction, but a whole conspiracy of falsification and embezzlement. As such Mr. Pearson’s takeaway for the holidays is not a bonus or even a pat on the back for a year’s work well done, but the threat of termination and a black mark on his record so severe as to prevent him from ever finding employment in the industry again.

On that cheerful note the tills are filled and the doors are opened. Unfortunately (or perhaps not) for Mr. Fordyce the first customer of the day is a real doozy – Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future all rolled into one. Col. Gore-Hepburn (Andre Morell, ) reads his card, and though he soon proves not to be from the home office of the bank’s insurer, an alleged unannounced inspection by which Gore-Hepburn uses as his cover, he remains an important man indeed. Dealing only with Mr. Fordyce directly, and careful not to invite the suspicions of the bank’s staff, not-Gore-Hepburn reveals his true intentions. The bank is loaded with Haversham’s Christmas Eve payroll, some £90,000 in all. Gore-Hepburn wants it, and has insured Mr. Fordyce’s cooperation in the most fiendish of ways. The banker’s wife and child have been taken as collateral, and unless Mr. Fordyce does precisely as instructed a grim fate is assured for both. The stage set, Gore-Hepburn puts the screws to Mr. Fordyce, along the way revealing a curious relish for teaching him the importance of Good Will Toward Men.

Like a number of other Hammer Film productions of the time, most notably The Abominable Snowman and the Quatermass trilogy, Cash on Demand was adapted from a previously successful teleplay – in this case The Gold Inside, a 70 minute program penned by teleplaywrite and novelist Jacques Gillies and produced and directed by Quentin Lawrence (The Crawling Eye) for ITV’s weekly Theatre 70. Though rewritten (and expanded from its network timeslot) by Lewis Greifer and David T. Chandler (Hammer’s SHE), Hammer were kind enough to retain two important elements from the previous television production – producer / director Quentin Lawrence, who served as director for Cash on Demand, and star Andre Morell, here reprising the role of the fallacious Col. Gore-Hepburn. Now paired with ace director of photography Arthur Grant (The Reptile, Quatermass and the Pit) director Lawrence, a fixture of English television but rarely of film, can do no wrong, and his star players certainly don’t hurt. Morell seems to relish the opportunity to set Peter Cushing (taking over for Richard Vernon from the teleplay) squirming all over again, having already done so once before as the sinister O’Brien (against Cushing’s Winston) in Rudolph Cartier and Nigel Kneale’s lauded adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The contributions of original teleplay writer Jacques Gillies should not be understated here, however, and the picture’s all-important suspense builds effortlessly from his premise. Amusingly the greatest anxiety is generated not during the heist itself but afterwards, when the safety of Fordyce’s family is left wholly dependent on the success of Gore-Hepburn’s getaway. A suspicious co-worker’s call to the police ratchets the level of dread still further, and just how close to being licked by Perdition’s flames Fordyce comes I’ll not say (the Dickinsian influence goes a fair way towards giving things up as it is). I must admit, though, that the film had me right where it wanted all the while. Jaded as I am it’s damned hard for any picture to manipulate me as such anymore, and if for that success alone Cash on Demand is deserving of praise.

Cash on Demand received its domestic (and perhaps worldwide) DVD debut courtesy of Sony’s seemingly abandoned Icons line, and aside from the dreadful packaging (like the earlier Toho Collection all three discs are stacked, one atop the other, on a central hub) it’s difficult to find a fault with the presentation. Cash on Demand is offered in an 80 minute cut at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and for a standard definition release it looks damned good. Detail and contrast are tight in the black and white image, which retains an appropriate hint of filmic texture and presents with very little in the way of damage. For a low budget production of so long ago (50 years now) it looks very nice indeed, and I’ve no complaints. Audio is serviceable, accurate DD2.0 monophonic, and is accompanied by optional English SDH subtitles. A theatrical trailer is the only supplement.

While the same logical conundrum that weighs against recent efforts like Phone Booth applies (just why does the robber care whether or not his mark has the proper social graces?) in general I found myself very pleased with Cash on Demand. It certainly delivers the suspenseful goods, and practically anything with Cushing or Morell attached is worth watching. The film looks great in its latest (and thus far only) iteration, and lamentable disc-stacking abuses aside Sony’s collection is a real steal. Highly recommended!

Order Cash on Demand  from Amazon.com

Screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in VLC Media Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

Order Cash on Demand  from Amazon.com

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