CASH ON DEMAND (1961)

Cash on Demand

Christmas crime review week comes to an end with 1961’s Cash on Demand. This British thriller was produced by Hammer Films on the cheap, right when they were branching out in avenues beside horror to breathe new life into the company. The film stars Peter Cushing and prolific Doctor Who alumni Kevin Stoney. It’s a tightly wound little bank heist film set on Dec. 23, when banks are stuffed with cash ripe for folks making holiday withdrawals. Despite dragging in some parts, particularly the middle, overall it’s a charming little caper that cleverly reimagines A Christmas Carol.

Cushing stars as stiff prick bank manager Fordyce, a stand-in for Scrooge. He’s the type of boss that complains about the quality of pens being used in the workplace and would chew out an employee for smiling at him. When he comes in, his employees are afraid to mention the company Christmas party because they’re scared he might cancel it for no good reason. He won’t even donate a measly two pounds towards the shindig. Cushing, of course, plays this proper, patronizing role very well. Instantly I hated his guts.

Fordyce’s one soft spot is his wife and young son. He’s got a framed picture of them on his desk and amidst all of his employee reprimanding, he takes a second to look admiringly at the photo. This familial weakness is how Detective Inspector Mason (Stoney) takes advantage of Fordyce. He rolls into the bank under the guise of a security inspector, claims he’s there to look over the bank’s security and report any potential weaknesses. Fordyce complies, and as he’s making small talk with the inspector, he receives a call from his wife. She’s screaming for help. In the background, Fordyce can also hear his son hysterically crying.

If Fordyce doesn’t comply with Mason, he’s going to have his boys torture the old grouch’s family. From here on out it’s all about the heist. It’s shown in real-time, which wasn’t too unusual for heist films back in the day. What is unique is that that the perspective of the heist is strictly from inside Fordyce’s office and the adjoining safe (a “strong room” they call it here). It’s like a chamber play. When Mason signals to his driver outside, we never actually see the driver. It could be a bluff. When he says how many men he has at Fordyce’s house, it could be a bluff. Mason could be on his own for all we know.

From how Mason plans on getting the cash out to the hand signals to his “insurance” plan during the getaway, the meticulousness of the heist is detailed really well. These intricacies make for some of the film’s most engaging moments. The rest of the movie coasts along at a rather drab pace. After Mason shows his cards, the movie see-saws between fun heist follies and dull moments of chit-chat. A 60-minute edit of the film was shown on TV, and that makes sense to me. Cutting out all the gentlemanly exchanges between Mason and Fordyce would definitely make for a tighter film.

Cash on Demand is a subtle re-working of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with Fordyce being taught a hard lesson about the holidays not from a series of ghosts, but from a gentleman thief. Mason ingenuously makes Fordyce complicit in the crime, and in the end, the old man doesn’t really put up a struggle. He knows he’s been a greedy piece of shit, so he gets some much deserved comeuppance for Christmas.

It’s not a great film, but as a brief, condensed caper it’s fine. Shaving some of the needless chit-chat would make for a more solid film though. Stoney delivers a wicked performance as the smug, gentleman thief and him and Cushing have some palpable chemistry. Fans of Hammer and Cushing will probably get a kick outta this one.

Patrick Cooper

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