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This review is from: Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Lovely crisp DVD transfer.
Cash on Demand (1961)
Cash on Delivery? Pah! This is Cash on Demand!
Out of Hammer Film Productions, Cash on Demand is directed by Quentin Lawrence and adapted the screenplay by David Chantler & Lewis Greifer from a play by Jacques Gillies. It stars Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Richard Vernon, Norman Bird and Kevin Stoney. Music is by Wilfred Josephs and photography by Arthur Grant.
Hammer's Xmas movie has a kick and half.
In the opening section of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, robber in waiting Tim Roth tells his lover, Amanda Plummer, about how a guy robbed a bank with just a telephone. This principal is the core of Hammer's majestic Cash on Demand, an intense, tightly constructed thriller that also provides proof positive of the acting talents of Peter Cushing, Andre Morell & Richard Vernon. With minimal budget to work from and operating out of practically one set, director Lawrence gets the maximum suspense out of script with no blood letting or overt violence. This is very much about eloquent verbal sparring, the terror is in what might happen should Cushing's (superb shifting of the acting gears as the plot unfolds) martinet bank manager not tow the slick line being drawn by Morell's (brilliantly playing his cards close to his chest) crafty thief.
A real gem and a pleasant surprise, both in technical merits and outcome of story. Highly recommended to all serious fans of Classic British Cinema. 9/10
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960)
I don't know who's more dangerous, you or your father?
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger is directed by Cyril Frankel and written by John Hunter who adapts from the play Pony Cart written by Roger Garis. It stars Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford, Janina Faye, Felix Aylmer, Michael Gwynn, Alison Leggatt and Niall MacGinnis. Music is by Elisabeth Lutyns and John Hollingsworth and Megascope cinematography by Freddie Francis.
British family the Carter's have emigrated to small town Canada and are rocked when it is revealed that 9 year old Jean (Faye), and her friend Lucille (Frances Green), were asked to dance naked for candy at the home of elderly Clarence Olderberry Senior. Filing an official complaint, parents Peter (Allen) & Sally (Watford) are astounded to find the town's denizens are reluctant to believe the Carter's take on things. It becomes apparent that the Olderberry family were intstrumental in the building of the town and the family has much power within it. With the town closing ranks on the British outsiders, there's a real chance that a suspected paedophile will go unpunished and maybe strike again?
Thought provoking and intelligent handling of sensitive material, Hammer's Never Take Sweets from a Stranger has finally garnered the credit it deserves. Back on release the taboo subject of the plot ensured the film was mostly shunned, with bad marketing also proving to be a hindrance. However, it is ahead of its time in many ways, Frankel's (School for Scoundrels) picture manages to gnaw away at the senses with its calm and measured approach work. Francis' (The Innocents) black and white photography a clinical ally to the realism wrung out by Frankel.
The alienation of the Carter family is steadily built up, the small town mentality to strangers in their little world unspools calmly by way of credible acting and believable passages of dialogue. By the time the last third arrives, the frustration of the Carter's is shared by the viewers, things get legal and gripping, and then it's the uncoiling of the spring to unleash the denouement. Point made, a message movie of some standing, monsters in our midst indeed. Not merely the predators preying on our children, but also the guilty around them, ignorance most definitely isn't bliss. 8.5/10
The Snorkel (1958)
The Snorkel Killer, a most illusive being.
Out of Hammer Films, The Snorkel is directed by Guy Green and co-written by Anthony Dawson, Peter Myers & Jimmy Sangster. It stars Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller, Gregoire Aslan & William Franklyn (Wilson). Music is by Francis Chagrin and cinematography by Jack Asher.
There is no plot synopsis needed for The Snorkel because it takes us straight into the story by having us witness the perfect murder of a wife and mother, and we know who perpetrated it as well, it's the husband! There's a gimmick, the snorkel of the title, and film's success mostly hinges on a devilish twist for the finale. In between the plot revolves around the daughter of the deceased, Candy (Miller), trying to prove her stepfather has killed her mom even though it appears near impossible for him to have done so. Naturally sadistic dad has plans for Candy as well.
Coming as it did during Hammer's run of colour laden reinventions of the Universal monsters, The Snorkel, in black and white, received very little attention at home and abroad. Hammer would release in the 60s, post the success of Psycho, a number of very good black and white psychological thrillers such as Taste of Fear, Paranoiac, Nightmare and Maniac, this period of Hammer film would certainly have seen The Snorkel getting more attention publicly. However, although bad timing can account for some of the reason it was an unsuccessful release, the truth of the matter is that it's just not particularly memorable outside of the gimmick and denouement, and even then with the finale it loses dramatic impact by going on 5 minutes too long for what one imagines was a censor avoiding appeasement. A shame because acting is mostly good, Jack Asher's camera work holds the eyes and production value is higher than expected (location for the shoot was San Remo in Italy).
Undeniably it's got an interesting premise at heart, but it is kind of silly when examined still further. Making this a cautiously recommended Hammer thriller for those who have yet to see the far better films of its type that the company produced in the 60s. 5/10
You take a man's wife, Mr. Farrell, but not his money?, 12 April 2013
Maniac is directed by Michael Carreras and written by Jimmy Sangster. It stars Kerwin Matthews, Nadia Gray, Lillian Brouse, Donald Houston and George Pastell. Music is by Stanley Black and cinematography by Wilkie Cooper.
Vacationing in the Carmarque region of France, American artist Jeff Farrell (Matthews) gets more than he bargain for when he becomes romantic interest for mother and daughter Eve (Gray) and Annette (Brousse) Beymat...
Out of Hammer Film Productions, Maniac is one of a number of psychopath themed thrillers that followed in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Filmed in black and white on location in Caramarque, the film opens with a tremendous whack as young Annette Beynat is abducted on her way home from school and raped (off camera) by the side of the road. This crime is witnessed by a local man who fetches Annette's father who promptly captures the rapist and gets medieval on his ass with a acetylene torch (again off camera). It's quite an opening, but then the film settles into a leisurely pace for the next hour as Carreras and Sangster build their story in preparation for a big finale. Then things get tricky, and I'm not just talking about for handsome Jeff Farrell...
Realising they have gone for a "major" slow build and are desperate to add some added bite into what was becoming a bona fide sub-genre of thrillers, the makers cram so much into such a short space of time it collapses under its own weight. We know there's going to be a twist, the whole story is geared towards this fact, but they instead keep twisting, and twisting until it no longer becomes interesting. While the actual finale is something of a damp squib. There's a big problem with the location as well, Carreras' flat direction is unable to draw anything substantially atmospheric from the locale. True, a chase and reveal at the climax gets a splendid back drop in which to unfold, but it's a rare moment of inspiration and you are kind of taken out of because of piecing together the threads and implausibilities.
It's a very frustrating film, one where the usually great Sangster over reaches himself and Carreras doesn't come up to the standard of Terence Fisher or Freddie Francis. It holds the interest, is decently performed, has good production value and is fleetingly attention grabbing, but this should have been much much better. Both visually and with plot machinations. 6/10
The Damned (1963)
I live with one fact. A power has been released that will melt these stones. We must be ready when the time comes.
The Damned (AKA: These Are The Damned) is directed by Joseph Losey and adapted to screenplay by Evan Jones from the novel The Children of Light written by H.L. Lawrence. It stars Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed, Alexander Knox, Viveca Lindfors and Walter Gotell. Music is by James Bernard and cinematography by Arthur Grant.
The South Coast of England, and a middle aged American tourist, a Teddy Boy gang leader and his troubled sister are thrust together into a deadly scenario deep below the cliffs of Weymouth...
Blacklisted by Hollywood, Joseph Losey moved to Britain to continue his artistic leanings. 1963 saw the release of two Losey movies, the much lauded The Servant and also The Damned, the latter of which was finished in 1961 but held back for reasons that are not exactly clear. As it transpires, The Damned is something of an under seen gem, a unique picture that defies genre classification, one of Hammer Films' oddest productions but all the more brilliant for it.
From the off it should be stated that this is not a film for those wishing to be cheered up, from a brutal mugging at the start to a finale that will haunt your dreams, pessimism and bleakness pervades the narrative. This is in the vein of The Quatermass series of films, tinged with a touch of John Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos, yet for the fist part of the film there's no clue as to where the narrative will take you.
The back drop is a sunny and vibrant seaside town (Weymouth one of my favourite British resorts), an irritatingly catchy tune (Black Leather Rock) is being sung as we follow the meeting of the principal characters. From here you think this is a film about teenage angst, a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club themed picture, where the perils of gang youth is born and the divide between the young and the old is caustically dissected. Yet this is not the case at all, this is merely a cataclysmic meeting of integrity and troubled souls that's going somewhere terribly sad, the vagaries of fate dealing its deadly hand.
Losey then instills the picture with potent characterisations and striking imagery as we head towards what will be a fascinating and clinically cruel last third of the film. The brother and sister relationship between King and Joan is drip fed with smart dialogue, we don't need it spelled out, but we know that from King's side of things it's badly unhealthy. In the middle is Simon, trying to build a relationship with Joan under trying circumstances. At first it's hard to accept a "clearly too old" Simon as a romantic partner for a sultry Joan, but as back stories are dangled it's not inconceivable that Joan would seek solace in the arms of an older man.
The Children of Light.
On the outer edges, for a while, are Bernard (Knox) and Freya (Lindfors), he's a scientist, she's a sculptress, they themselves are part of a weird relationship. He's mysterious and soon to become the focal point of a terrible secret, she's eccentric and spends her time at her cliff top studio crafting weird sculptures, the latter of which Losey gleefully enjoys framing to keep the atmosphere edgy, the images are lasting and used to great impact as The Damned reveals its hand, and what a hand it is. Enter the science fiction, enter the government and their shifty dalliances, enter the children, the children of light...
It's a socko final third of cinema, both narratively and in viewing Losey's skill at creating striking compositions (while he garners impressive performances from his cast as well, especially Lindfors). It becomes thrilling yet deeply profound as it spins towards its bleak finale. It can be argued that its core sentiment (message) is heavily handled, and that Carey is a touch unsuitable as an all action hero type, but the film rises above these minor issues. For once the camera pulls away from the cliffs to reveal a swanky seaside town, the cries of children still ringing in our ears, you know you have watched something pretty special. 9/10
One of Hammer's unsung classics, The Damned can be found on The Icons of Suspense Hammer Collection. Region 1, it appears with five other films, two of which - Cash On Demand/Never Take Sweets from A Stranger - are also little gems waiting to be discovered. Great transfers for viewing pleasure, I can't recommend this collection highly enough.