A man must suddenly face his trial balance, his viperish authority now reduced by fear and crushing anxiety, an automaton now unable to suppress his human nature. Quentin Lawrence directs two of Hammer’s most elegantly acerbic and witty actors in Peter Cushing and Andre Morrell, as they duel with words and morals that begin to decode the enigma of complex ethics and sacrifice for duty.
The plot is a basic heist case that focuses upon a bank manager Fordyce (Cushing) and a thief Hepburn (Morrell) masquerading as a security director from the “home office”. But the story eschews genre tropes and becomes a paranoid and focused character study of the uptight and airtight banker Fordyce, locked in his own vault of personal horrors. Fordyce is an arrogantly small man who rules his staff with clockwork precision and attention, a micro-manager who is as infuriating as he is dull. Fordyce doesn’t demand respect since he doesn’t care what his staff thinks of him, he demands absolute obedience. He looks down his raptor-like nose at his employees, treating them with disdain and contempt. However, Cushing is able to mold his character into a complex human being, as the dark waters of neurosis boil to the surface. We see the man beneath the stoic mask. Hepburn is the gentlemanly and roguish thief, one who is seemingly driven to crime by the sheer pleasure of pulling off the perfect caper, but also a blunt man who will victimize for profit.
The film utilizes a static location to great effect, mostly set within the confines of the manager’s office, like a shrine to a peon, where a man over time has been reduced to a phantom haunting his own life, ethereal yet ghastly to his subordinates: it is the environment of a dead man who has yet to surrender the ability to breath. Hepburn is the devil with the details, he is the catalyst for Fordyce to recognize his weaknesses and offers him salvation. Though Hepburn is a thief whose intent is the 97,000 pounds, he seems just as interested in cursing his nemesis in order to save his soul. This is reflected in the final scene when Hepburn makes his confession and absolves Fordyce of sin. In this case, the profit belongs to Fordyce but not in a measurable way that can be jotted down in a accounting ledger.
Final Grade: (B)