Cash on Demand (1961) Quentin Lawrence

  

An effective little psychological thriller from England’s Hammer Studios that keeps you on edge for its entire 80 minutes in length. Peter Cushing is a Scrooge like manager at a local bank. Two days before Christmas a man posing as an insurance investigator (Andre Morell) enters with plans to rob the bank while his partners are holding Cushing’s wife and son hostage. Whether intentional or not the screenwriters have given us a unique twist on Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” including an ending that pleads for the line “God bless us everyone.”  Peter Cushing would have made a superb Scrooge as he proves here, bullying his staff unmercifully over one petty matter after another. Andre Morell is perfectly hateful as the arrogant bank robber.

The film reunites Peter Cushing and Andre Morell who were superb together, as Sherlock Holmes and Watson, just a few years earlier in Hammer’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”  “Cash on Demand” is the kind of small film that just would not get made today. There are no special effects or flashy moments. It is simply an unadulterated caper film with good writing and solid story telling that demands your attention. Hammer Studio’s was mostly known for its horror films, however they did make a few psychological thrillers in the early 1960’s (Scream of Fear, Stop Me, Before I Kill) that are worthy of being better known today that they are.

A Miracle Happened on 34th Street and 5th Avenue

 

Apparently back in 1947 Hollywood thought it was a good idea to release Christmas films in the middle of the year instead of the holiday season. In June of that year, two films were released within a week of each other. Both placed ads in the New York Times weeks before they opened as if it were a preliminary for the main bout.  Who will grab the public’s imagination and more importantly their dollars? The two contenders were the now almost forgotten “It Happened on 5th Avenue” and a film that would become a perennial holiday classic, “Miracle on 34th Street.”

While the stories are different, the two films do have some similarities. Both take place in New York during the holiday season, both feature kindly cherubic older men and both spread philosophies, though very different, on the goodness of man. Continue reading

Christmas Interlude #3 Five Traditional and Five Alternative Christmas Movies and More

 

 

FIVE TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS FILMS

1 – Barbara Stanwyck made two Christmas movies in her career,  “Christmas in Connecticut” and “Remember the Night”. While I like both (Stanwyck being one of my favorite actresses) the latter, written by Preston Sturges is a witty film with charming performances, and is now available on DVD.

2 – “Holiday Inn”  introduced Irving Berlin’s yuletide classic  ‘White Christmas.” While it is improbable, and economically unsound, to say the least, to run an Inn that only opens on Holidays the odd premise does nothing to take away from the many joys of this film. 

3 – My favorite film to watch on Thanksgiving Day is “Miracle on 34th Street with Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn, a true holiday classic. There have been various remakes of this movie over the years most of which are easily forgettable. There is the 1973 TV version with David Hartman and Jane Alexander, and a mediocre 1994 film where they could not use the name “Macy’s” because the department store refused to give them permission. There are a couple of other TV adaptations of which a live 1959 version with Ed Wynn, as Kris Kringle, was discovered a few years ago. A kinescope was donated some years back by NBC to the Library of Congress, where it laid buried, unseen and forgotten.  Read more here.

 

4 – “A Christmas Carol” (1951) with Alastair Sims. Originally titled “Scrooge” this is generally considered the best version and I agree. Still, there are many good versions of this classic Charles Dicken’s story out there.

 

5 – Monty Wooley’s Sheridan Whiteside makes  Ebenezer Scrooge look like Mr. Nice Guy in this classic screen version of George S Kaufmann’s  play, “The Man Who Came to Dinner”

 

FIVE ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS FILMS

1- Bob Hope’s “The Lemon Drop Kid.”  Okay, I know what you thinking, “Bob Hope on an alternative list? Stop spiking this guys punch!” Well, unless you really hate Bob Hope, you will enjoy this lessor known  work.  Based on a Christmas themed Damon Runyon story, made in 1951, the movie is a load of fun. If you are familiar with Damon Runyon then you know the story will revolve around racetracks, gamblers, gangsters and con-artists. Also, the classic song “Silver Bells”, sung by Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, was introduced in this movie.

2 – In The Ref” Denis Leary is a cat burglar who is holding a dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve and they drive him nuts. If you ever felt like a hostage at a family function this film is for you.

3 – Anyone who has seen Woody Allen’s “Small Time Crooks” will recognize the premise of “Larceny Inc.  Edward G. Robinson does a wonderful takeoff on his gangster image in this fun-filled comedy. The Christmas scene involves co-star Broderick Crawford who dresses as Santa to create a diversion while Eddie G. and the rest of his gang drill through the wall of his luggage store and into the bank located on the other side. When the cantankerous Santa (Crawford is flawless here) is beat up and knocked out by holiday shoppers, Robinson takes over putting on the Santa outfit.

4 – Shane Black’s idiosyncratic “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a crime thriller/black comedy set during the Christmas season. Filled with in-jokes, including the film’s title, the film engages many conventional crime drama traits with its tongue firmly in cheek. If my memory serves me well, the film did not do well at the box office, despite good reviews, however it has found a following since its release on DVD. 

5- “The Ice Harvest” unfortunately came and went fairly quickly in theaters. John Cusack is Charlie a slimy mob attorney who, along with his partner Vic (Bill Bob Thornton), unburden his boss of a few million dollars during one ice ridden Christmas Eve. Only problem is they cannot get out of town due to all the ice on the roads. To avoid suspicion, they split up for the night with Vic holding the money. Charlie spends the night getting involved with a beautiful strip club owner who has her own agenda, his drunken friend who married his ex-wife and the rest of his dysfunctional family and now regretting every minute of it.  Another dark moody holiday delight.

 

A MOST INTRIGUING YET TO BE SEEN CHRISTMAS MOVIE

When I first read about this film, “Christmas Holiday”  with  Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin, I thought, sounds like a sweet happy musical filled holiday treat. Only then I looked at the credits and read “Directed by Robert Siodmak. This does  not sound right. As I investigated more I found out its a crime ridden film noir with Kelly playing a murderer and the usual perky Durbin is his girlfriend who is fully aware of what he is.  Siodmak made the film the same year he directed “Cobra Woman” and “Phantom Lady.” To make this film even more intriguing it is based on a novel by Somerset Maugham with a screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz. I just ordered the DVD the other day and will let you know more later on.

What follows is a list of  10 other favorite Christmas theme related films.

Die Hard

Christmas in Connecticut

Desk Set

Black Christmas (Original version)

Trading Places

The Shop Around the Corner

A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott)

Bad Santa

Scrooge (the Musical)

and  It’s a Wonderful Life (of course)

There are plenty of other wonderful Christmas films (and a barn full of bad ones) whether traditional or not, so feel free to submit your favorites.