Directed by Quentin Lawrence; produced by Anthony Nelson-Keys (associate producer)
Just before Christmas, the manager (Peter Cushing) of a small provincial bank arrives at work to begin another day. He criticizes his staff – something he frequently does – threatens to sack his chief clerk (Richard Vernon) and must deal with a man (Andre Morell) sent by the company that insures the bank, come to examine its security. But the bureaucrat from London is not what he seems. He explains that his accomplices will murder the manager’s wife and son if he doesn’t help rob his own bank. Within minutes, an ordinary day has become a matter of life and death.
Produced by Hammer Films on a very limited budget, Cash on Demand looks like what it really is: a filmed teleplay with only two or three sets. But don’t let that fool you. Just as Morell’s announced identity is a disguise for the rogue he really is, this film’s appearances are deceiving. With good writing, sharp direction and, above all, excellent acting, Cash on Demand becomes a taut, involving thriller – not the sort for which Hammer was famous, but thrilling even so.
The front men for this exciting little movie are the lead actors. Cushing is probably best known for horror and monster films, mostly from Hammer and often co-starring his friend, Christopher Lee. His character here is Harry Fordyce, a fastidious, seemingly cold man, whose principal concern is the efficiency of his bank, though integrity, both personal and professional, is also important. The slightest error draws his wrath upon his staff; punctuality is of huge significance, and the bank’s reputation and dignity of great concern. Yet even as we meet him, we see that there is something else about him: the merest glimpse of his wife and son’s photographs are enough to cause an impromptu if brief smile. Cushing is well-cast, even to his lean face and thin physique, suggesting an unbending, hard man.
Morell is Cushing’s equal (they had played, respectively Watson and Holmes in 1959’s The Hound of the Baskervilles). Initially exuding bluster and bonhomie, his Colonel Gore-Hepburn quickly demonstrates his unflinching ruthlessness, yet never loses his charm, even his concern for others. In the criminal, Fordyce has met his match in efficiency and fastidiousness, though these qualities are to be used now for larceny. Mention should be made of Vernon, who nicely gives the impression of an easy-going but decent duffer.
The writing doesn’t bother with lines that aren’t to some purpose, making sure that each word shows character, drives the plot, or both, though this doesn’t mean there aren’t quick flashes of humour. (Usually ironic, these are offered mostly by Morell, as he speaks to the bank’s staff as the insurance examiner, his statements having different meanings for them than for Cushing, forced to play along.)
The direction seems straightforward until it combines with the script and acting in the last quarter for some truly edge-of-the-seat moments. There is no overt violence, no car chases, no villains leaping out of closets to the accompaniment of loud music. But Cash on Demand ably demonstrates that nerves can be stretched with nothing more than talent, before and behind the camera.
A perfect example of a British B-film, cheaply produced in black-and-white, Cash on Demand is better than most star-pocked caper movies, and with a finale that will keep you guessing which way it will turn until the last minutes.