ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent (1958-1961) Blu Ray (Indicator)
While the legendary (and recently revived) British film studio Hammer was famed largely for its horror output it also made films in other genres. This collection brings together four of the studio’s crime flicks in one boxed set.
The Snorkel (1958)
This suspense thriller begins in a villa on the Italian coast. Paul Decker (Peter van Eyck) murders his wife in an elaborate fashion by filling her room with gas and making it look like she has committed suicide. Part of the plan necessitates him remaining in the room as it fills with deadly vapours; he has worked out a method of surviving the experience by hiding under the floorboards and wearing a snorkel.
However, while this plan convinces the local police that her death was, indeed, self-inflicted, Paul’s stepdaughter isn’t so trusting. She is convinced that he murdered her father by drowning him some time ago and is quite capable of doing the same to her mother. Since nobody else believes her, she decides to take the investigation into her own hands.
The Snorkel is very much in the Hitchcock mould. While Guy Green isn’t (at the risk of stating the obvious) in the same league as the portly genius there are some highly effective moments of suspense here. There is also a spot of atmospheric investigatory prowling around the central villa at night which seemingly prefigures similar scenes in Dario Argento’s Deep Red. Mandy Miller is engaging as a young heroine, effectively balancing stubborn determination and resourcefulness with a certain innate sense of childlike decency. There’s something quite touching about the way in which she asks her chaperone Jean (Betta St. John) if her mother has gone to heaven despite taking her own life. Peter van Eyck plays his sneaky villain in quite a restrained manner and is all the creepier for it.
The film pushes the nastiness envelope as far out as it was probably feasible for a British film in the 1950s to do so; even a sweet little dog isn’t spared here. It also teases an unashamedly mean-spirited ending; while it pulls back from it at the last minute the very idea has sunk into the mind for long enough for it to make the viewer squirm with unease.
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Runtime: 90 mins
Dir: Guy Green
Script: Peter Myers, Jimmy Sangster, from a novel by Anthony Dawson
Starring: Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller, Grégoire Aslan
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960)
The Carter family - Sally (Gwen Watford), Peter (Patrick Allen) and their daughter Jean (Janina Faye) - have moved from England to a small Canadian town after Peter has landed a post as a head teacher at the local school. One time, when Jean plays in the local woods with her friend Lucille (Frances Green), she loses her “sweetie money”. Lucille persuades her to come with her and visit the house of an old man named Clarence Olderberry Sr. (Felix Aylmer) as she says he will give them sweets for free.
Later that night, Sally and Peter ask her about what she got up to in the house. She reveals that the old man asked the pair of them to strip naked and dance for him. Needless to say, the parents are horrified and decide to press charges against him. However, the odds are stacked against them as Olderberry Sr. is the man who founded the old sawmill which has given everyone in the town their livelihoods. Moreover, the man’s wealthy son, Clarence Olderberry Jr. (Bill Nagy), is determined to use his influence to quash any slight possibility that his father will be found guilty.
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger was apparently based on a 1954 stage play entitled The Pony Cart by Roger Garis - something that’s somewhat noticeable here due to the preponderance of talky scenes. Despite this, however, it does handle its rather uncomfortable subject matter in a discreet yet powerful manner. The most disturbing moments here revolve less around the crime itself and more around the attitude of the various townspeople towards it. It is clear that just about everyone in this little town - from the chief of police to Olderberry Jr. and even Lucille’s own father - would rather compromise the protection of their children in order to rally around their beloved but clearly sick patriarch. A courtroom scene where Olderberry’s defence lawyer ruthlessly endeavours to invalidate the child’s story in the witness box is particularly unsettling.
The performances are generally solid across the board, in particular from Felix Aylmer as the creepy old paedophile, Janina Faye as his sweet but clearly traumatised victim and Patrick Allen as the latter’s boundlessly determined father. The climactic scenes finally break free from all of the talk and take a cinematic turn into near horror territory (which is eerily reminiscent of Frankenstein). As with The Snorkel there’s nothing in terms of graphic content here but the tone is fairly uncompromising.
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Runtime: 81 mins
Dir: Cyril Frankel
Script: John Hunter, based on a play by Roger Garis
Starring: Gwen Watford, Patrick Allen, Janina Faye, Felix Aylmer, Niall MacGinnis, Bill Nagy, Frances Green
Cash on Demand (1961)
This adaptation of a play by Jacques Gillies is set in a bank branch in a small English town around the Yuletide season. Peter Cushing plays Harry Fordyce, the branch’s uptight manager. One day, he is visited by a man called Colonel Gore Hepburn (André Morell) who claims to have arrived from head office to carry out a security inspection. Both Harry and his chief clerk Pearson (Richard Vernon) are taken in by this charismatically assertive character.
However, when Harry receives a phone call from his wife explaining that both herself and their son have been taken hostage, the Colonel immediately reveals his true intentions: to coerce him into opening the vault in order for him to take the cash for himself. He explains that Harry’s wife has electrodes wired to his head and that if he fails to comply she will be tortured with electric shocks. The hapless manager, while resentful of the man’s demands, decides to comply for the sake of family.
Cash on Demand’s origins as a play are even more obvious than those of Never Take Sweets from a Stranger; not only is it heavily dialogue-based but it is set entirely around the bank location - never going further away than the street immediately in front of it. Nonetheless, there is enough tension and suspense here to keep it gripping through most of the runtime. While most of the conflict comes between the highly-principled bank manager and the charismatically smooth-talking crook, there is also a little tension between the manager and his right-hand man Pearson. The characters are well-developed and keep the scenario bubbling along. Quentin Lawrence’s direction is quite conventional but he does play up the requisite suspense of fumbling nervously with locks and security alarms very well.
The acting is very good across the entire cast. Cushing is, of course, the standout here and gives one of his most layered performances as an arrogantly nitpicking nightmare of a boss. However, when he starts to crack under the weight of threats to his family he reveals an exposed underbelly of mousy vulnerability that soon turns our sympathies towards him. There are some genuinely neat touches in his performance here; watch his expression as the Colonel offers him a small wad of the cash that he is stealing. André Morell comes a very close second to Cushing as this charismatically smarmy baddie.
If there’s one thing that lets Cash on Demand down a bit it’s the oddly unconvincing and incredibly contrived ending. Other than that, it’s a modest but effective small-scale thriller.
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Runtime: 80 mins
Dir: Quentin Lawrence
Script: David T. Chantler, Lewis Greifer, based on a TV play by Jacques Gillies
Starring: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Richard Vernon, Norman Bird, Kevin Stoney, Barry Lowe, Edith Sharpe, Lois Daine, Alan Haywood
The Full Treatment (1960)
Ronald Lewis plays Alan Colby, a race car driver who gets involved in a road crash with a truck coming the other way. Fast-forward two years later and he is still attempting to recover from the psychological after-effects by taking a holiday with his wife Denise (Diane Cilento) in the French Riviera. Unfortunately, he becomes prone to sudden fits of anger which occasionally threaten to turn murderous.
While the couple are at their hotel they meet a mysterious man named David Prade (Claude Dauphin) who is living at a house nearby with his mother (played by Françoise Rosay). He invites the couple around for dinner that evening. Soon after they arrive, Alan becomes angry at the dinner table over a comment which David made - resulting in him punching the latter and storming off. After he is gone, David tells Denise that he is a psychiatrist and gets her to persuade him to seek treatment for his violent tendencies.
Can Alan get the help that he needs - and is David as trustworthy a psychiatrist as he seems?
The Full Treatment is a rather dated but not entirely unentertaining Freudian psychological melodrama. Ronald Lewis - a Welsh actor who resembles an uncanny cross between David Hasselhoff and John Philip Law - is rather too stilted and lacking the kind of emotional depth needed to pull off this conflicted character. Diane Cilento is slightly better despite the fact that her pseudo-French accent becomes somewhat grating after a while. Claude Dauphin, however, is the de facto star of the show as the mysterious and potentially dodgy psychiatrist. He has some enjoyable bits of dialogue such as when he explains that women are like female black widows devouring the males after sex - only they do it psychologically rather than physically!
It’s overlong but Dauphin’s performance and some occasional flashes of style courtesy of director Val Guest just about hold the attention through the running time.
Watch a trailer:
Runtime: 109 mins
Dir: Val Guest
Script: Val Guest, from a novel by Ronald Scott Thorn
Starring: Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis, Françoise Rosay, Bernard Braden
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Quality is generally great with spot-on contrast and pin sharpness. However, The Full Treatment is a little worse than the others due to the somewhat tinny audio quality and slightly softer picture.
Highlights amongst the extras
There are an incredible number of extras in this package - each film is presented in two different versions as well as being graced with accompanying booklets, galleries, trailers and numerous documentaries. Both The Snorkel and Cash on Demand have audio commentary tracks. Here are the best of the extras:
The Snorkel Audio Commentary with Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains
A highly enjoyable, trivia-laced discussion about the film. The film’s unfortunate dog Toto, for instance, was the pet dog of John Holmes, an animal trainer who worked extensively on British TV and film. Since the word “snorkel” didn’t have equivalents in a number of other European languages at this time it went by various bizarre names - e.g. in Portugal the film’s title translated to “The Tube of Death”. Apparently Jimmy Sangster’s originally written ending was planned to be far darker than the one which we see. Ironically, despite its watered down nature on film, the BBFC still asked for cuts.
Hammer’s Women: Betta St. John
Kat Ellinger talks about The Snorkel’s co-star. She takes a look at the career of this former American child star from her roles in Westerns through to her stint with Hammer Studios.
Conspiracy Theories: Inside Never Take Sweets from a Stranger
This solid Powerhouse Films documentary looks at the second film in the set, its director, its cast and the controversy that surrounded it. Despite Hammer’s intentions to make a message film (even going as far as getting backing from the NSPCC) some contemporary British film critics took a sanctimonious attitude to a company who were more readily associated with horror and genre films daring to tackle such a sensitive subject. In Ireland it was banned at the behest of the Catholic Women’s Guild.
An Interview with Janina Faye
The former child actress discusses her role in the Never Take Sweets from a Stranger film as well as briefly touching on her appearances in previous Hammer film Dracula and the stage play The Pony Cart (which Never Take Sweets from a Stranger was based on). She reveals that the publicity surrounding the play resulted in her being withdrawn from it as there were rules against actors under 12 appearing in stage productions. Her revelations of her times working on the film incarnation are equally interesting. For instance, during the courtroom interrogation scene her performance was so convincing that her chaperone ordered for the shoot to be stopped as she was convinced that her distress was genuine!
The Perfect Horror Chord
David Huckvale discusses composer Elisabeth Lutyens, who worked on Never Take Sweets from a Stranger as well as a number of other Hammer productions. Huckvale discusses her various pieces, recreating them on his piano alongside film clips. An entertaining feature, although at 43 minutes it’s a tad on the long side.
Cash on Demand Audio Commentary with David Miller and Jonathan Rigby
A lively commentary courtesy of the authors of Peter Cushing: a Life in Film and English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema respectively. As well as examining the entertaining central performances by Peter Cushing and André Morell they also explain that the film was an adaptation of a 1960 TV play called The Gold Inside. The original version also featured Morell and Richard Vernon in the same roles and was also directed by Quentin Lawrence - but had Richard Warner playing the hapless bank manager Fordyce. Another point of interest they reveal was that Cash on Demand received a US film release on Christmas 1961 and an international release on Christmas 1962 but only reached cinemas in its native UK in 1963! Apparently Hammer were struggling to get a supporting feature deal to their liking in the UK market and finally agreed to it being paired with the 1963 musical film Bye Bye Birdie.
Hammer’s Women: Lois Daine
Becky Booth narrates this modest but nicely-presented 10-minute account of some highlights in the live and career of actress Lois Daine, who appeared in a supporting role in Cash on Demand. Daine herself is interviewed in another featurette on the Cash on Demand disc.
Mind Control: Inside The Full Treatment
Jonathan Rigby, Josephine Botting and John J. Johnston (who present several of the other features here) talk about the fourth and weakest film in the set. The admit its shortcomings while praising other aspects. Ronald Scott Thorn, the writer of the original book on which this film was based, was a genuine psychiatric doctor and derived the story from his own research. Val Guest beat Alfred Hitchcock to the filming rights which begs the question: what would it have been like if the latter had been able to deal with the material? The saddest revelation here is that Ronald Lewis (who played the film’s protagonist) later sank into alcoholism and bankruptcy, ultimately committing suicide in 1982.
Hammer’s Women: Diane Cilento
Melanie Williams takes a look that actress Diane Cilento, who had an interesting career without ever quite becoming a major star. Despite several prominent roles (including her Oscar nomination as Molly in the 1963 adaptation of Tom Jones) her marriage to Sean Connery at the time when he had made it big playing James Bond meant that she largely remained in his shadow in the public eye. There were also allegations that Connery didn’t want her to work and that he was physically abusive towards her. A worthy appreciation of an overlooked career.
This classy Indicator box set proves that Hammer ably turned their hands to genres other than horror. Indeed, three of the films here (The Snorkel, Never Take Sweets from a Stranger and Cash on Demand) arguably hold up better nowadays than many of their more famous productions. The wealth of extras here makes this an absolute gift to fans.
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger
Cash on Demand
The Full Treatment