First, let's dispel a common misunderstanding: Hammer Films did not solely produce horror films. Throughout the decades, Hammer regularly released comedies, adventure films, literary adaptations, science fiction, and a variety of tense, sometimes Hitchcockian, thrillers. CASH ON DEMAND is precisely one of said tense thrillers, though comparisons to the Master of Suspense might be best left to other Hammer thrillers like SCREAM OF FEAR (1961) or PARANOIAC (1963); instead, CASH ON DEMAND relies on the superlative performances of its two leading actors, Peter Cushing and Andre Morell.
CASH ON DEMAND concerns the fastidious taskmaster Mr. Fordyce, who runs a small but very successful bank outside London. Fordyce, played wonderfully by Cushing, makes for a bizarre protagonist; his casual cruelty and condescension aren't exactly the types of behavior you find yourself identifying with, especially when he butts heads with his second-in-command, Pearson (Richard Vernon), over a minute detail that coldly warrants Fordyce to threaten Pearson with termination.
Enter one Colonel Gore Hepburn (Morell, who you might recognize from other fine Hammer products like PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES from '66 or '59's HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, where he played Watson to Cushing's Holmes), a supposed representative from the bank's higher-ups. Once Hepburn and Fordyce are alone, however; we come to the real plot: Hepburn is an impersonator whose true purpose is to rob the bank, and to earn Fordyce's cooperation, Fordyce's beloved wife and son are captured and threatened. What unfolds has the elements of a heist film, parts of a police procedural, a dash of Hitchcock's tired and true "the wrong man," and, finally, an ironic ending worthy of EC Comics.
The core of this film is the interactions between Fordyce and Hepburn. The role of Hepburn was actually originated by Morell himself in an earlier television adaptation, and his mastery of the part certainly shows; Morell plays Hepburn with erudition, patience, and truckloads upon truckloads of charm, but occasionally drops those to demonstrate to Fordyce his deadly seriousness. Cushing, meanwhile, plays Fordyce as a nervous, stuffy, and traumatized victim who also happens to "learn a thing or two" from Hepburn, believe it or not.
You have to give credit for utilizing characters like Fordyce and Hepburn; while not uncommon to use rather unlikeable characters are protagonists (see Hammer's Frankenstein and Quatermass films, repectively), it is something of a rarity today, supplanted by the notion the audience should innately identify with the main character and can only do so if that character acts in a way audiences can or would like to picture themselves acting. With Fordyce and Hepburn, not only do we get richer characters, but it becomes a more layered film, instead asking us to question why we find Hepburn such a charming, likeable fellow - and for all intents should be our protagonist - when, in fact, Hepburn is a lying criminal who has spent a year with his circle of conspirators to map out the patterns and details of the bank's assets and has ensured Fordyce's abducted wife and son will be murdered unless he escapes with nearly £93,000. Fordyce, on the other hand, sops with perspiration as he attempts to stave off a complete breakdown, even telling Hepburn he has nothing - not even friends - apart from his family. This does, I suppose, make the film's ending that much more of a conundrum, but I'll keep from spoiling it so that you might get the most mileage as possible.
Overall, CASH ON DEMAND is a compelling and tense film, pitting the actions of two polar opposites against one another in the midst of a complicated bank robbery. The cinematography is crisp black and white with perhaps a hint of Expressionism, but plays second fiddle to the performance of the actors themselves. Cushing and Morell carry the film, keeping sharp dialogue as snappy as possible, and it is doubtful even the most cynical of modern film viewers will be unable to watch CASH ON DEMAND.
REVIEW: Ryan Baker
IMAGES: Marcus Brooks