Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cushing is must deliver Xmas 'Cash on Demand'

Cash on Demand (1961)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, and Richard Vernon
Director: Quentin Lawrence
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

A bank manager (Cushing) is forced to assist in plundering his own bank when a robber (Morell) holds is wife and child hostage.

This is an undeservedly obscure thriller with stars Peter Cushing and Andre Morell showing that you don't need hundreds of millions of dollars, gunplay and lots of violence to make an exciting movie. Most of this film takes place within a single room--the bank manager's office--and most of it is Cushing and Morrel talking. This is a movie that shows that a great film can arise from a solid script, good actors, and competent direction and editing. (This film cost about $60,000, adjusted for inflation; not single shot is fire; and the worst violence is when Andre Morrel slaps Cushing a couple of times.)

The film is a remarkable entry into the psychological thriller genre, one of roughly a dozen of this type of film co-produced with Columbia Pictures during the early 1960s in the hopes of capturing the success Universal Pictures and Alfred Hitchcock had with "Psycho." This wasn't new territory for Hammer, however, as they had released numerous crime dramas and thrillers during the 1940s and 1950s, before the studio hit cinema gold with their celebrated Technicolor gothic horror flicks.

But the black-and-white thrillers the studio produced during the early 1960s were better than those earlier efforts, and "Cash on Demand" is one of the best.

The film's strength comes to a large degree from Peter Cushing and his portrayal of Fordyce, a man who treats the bank he manages as his kingdom, his staff as serfs, and his office as his throne room. He is an unliked and unlikable in his professional life, but Cushing presents Fordyce's soft side with a single glance at the picture of his wife and son that he keeps on his desk... and that one glance is all the audience needs to be on Fordyce's side once Andre Morell's villanious and manipulative Hepburn enters the bank and turns Fordyce's throne room into his prison and forces him to destroy his kingdom in order to save his the ones he loves.

We feel for Fordyce as he is reduced from a proud and unyielding to sniveling and begging. But we also watch to see how far Hepburn can push Fordyce, if Fordyce will break, and what the result will be if he does.

But Cushing's performance wouldn't be as strong if he didn't have Andre Morell to play off. Morell presents Hepburn as a charming, cheerful person and he delivers every line with a smile in his voice... but in a couple of instances, he reveals his character's true nature and it becomes apparent that he is a mirror image of Fordyce: Fordyce is a soft man within a cold, hard shell, but Hepburn is a hard man with an even harder core hidden behind a soft and smiling exterior. Hepburn has seen through Fordyce's exterior and he takes a great deal of pleasure at breaking it down while lecturing him on proper interaction with his fellow man. The humanistic approach that Hepburn takes to life--and it is one that seems to be genuine, not just part of his picking at Fordyce as he waits for the right moment to clean out the bank vault--makes him a fascinating and interesting character.

One of the biggest surprises is the film's ending. It is a far more modern one that I anticipated, and it's a great close for a great film. Another appealing aspect is that the film, which takes place just before Christmas, ultimately ends up like a sideways take on "A Christmas Carol," with Fordyce standing in for Scrooge and Hepburn being all the Christmas Ghosts in one smiling--yet very menacing--package.

"Cash on Demand" is one of the six movies featured in "Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films." It's worth the price of the almost all by itself.


  1. I always liked Cushing a lot. Did he ever sing or record a song or album? I have Karloff, Lee, Price, and Chaney Jr. ongs but I have never been able to find any song Cushing ever sang. Did he ever sing?

  2. I've been wracking my brain, and I can't think of any time that Peter Cushing sang in a movie. Nor can I think of him recording any records.

  3. A very pleasant surprise. Well-acted, funny film with a good deal of suspense. Shows its roots in the theater, but that's a plus for me. Unexpected and delightful references to A Christmas Carol.