I forget who it was who suggested that STRONGROOM would make a good double bill with CASH ON DEMAND. Duly noted, and though we didn’t pair them up (this time), we did finally get around to Vernon Sewell’s claustrophobic thriller.

Sewell, a former associate of Michael Powell, seems to have had a natural inclination towards restrictive environments. True, it’s a natural way of controlling costs, but there are other ways to do that — filming on location to avoid the need to hire studios and build sets, for instance. Sewell made several films on his boat, and a decent haunted house film, but STRONGROOM may well be his best.

The concept is simple: three bank robbers are compelled to lock two staff members in the vault where their plan goes awry. Realising that the prisoners will suffocate over the long weekend, they resolve to alert the authorities, but circumstances conspire against them. Weirdly, the tension relating to whether the poor bank employees will asphyxiate is less than that concerning whether the bastards who caused it will face a murder rap.

The double-bill we went for was this and SPLIT SECOND, the Dick Powell-directed nuclear thriller, which has an interesting cast and a high concept — criminals take a bunch of hostages at a nuclear test site — but weirdly is far less tense, until the very impressive final blast. Nobody in SS seems to be taking the nuke seriously enough. Every single moment in S is about the threat of death, of finding yourself a murderer.

Sewell’s direction isn’t so much — logic says the shots ought to build in intensity, but they barely do — but the script knows what to concentrate on. It’s shameless but effective in its constant amping up of anxiety. Writer Max Marquis wrote mainly TV drivel (Crossroads!) but Richard Harris (not that one) concentrated on thrillers, including great stuff like I START COUNTING, THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN (English dialogue), and a bunch of obscurities like THE MAIN CHANCE which I now feel eager to try. It’s a perfect low-budget movie, exploiting not only small, cheap sets, but slow pace. Watching oblivious minor characters padding about while death is on the line is extremely suspenseful.

While the imprisoned (Colin Gordon & Ann Lynn) are rather drab characterisations which the actors can only do so much with, the thieves include the great Derren Nesbitt, who has a strange plastic Auton quality that always makes him uncanny and watchable (he’s magnificent as the oily blackmailer in VICTIM). Sewell would cast him again in BURKE AND HARE (NOT a distinguished film — but one I kind of want to watch properly).

Nesbitt, tragicomically, blew his savings on his dream project, sex comedy THE AMOROUS MILKMAN, a contender for worst British film ever, and also appears in two more of the worst British sex farces you could ever hope to unsee, NOT NOW DARLING and OOH, YOU ARE AWFUL. He even cameos in RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, for old times’ sake. But he should never have been put in a comedy. His thick-lipped wax mask of a face stifles the laugh response. (Producer Art Linson, mulling over a casting idea with his wife: “Do you think Willem Dafoe could make you laugh?” Mrs. L: “I don’t know, but I saw him smile once and I had nightmares for a week.”)

When Nesbitt puts a stocking over his head for the robbery, it’s too much — he already looks like he has a stocking over his head, somehow.

The ending is a magnificently timed kick in the teeth for both characters and audience.

So, yes: a double bill of STRONGROOM and CASH ON DEMAND would be an excellent idea. Run them near Christmas, ideally, and have this one first: it isn’t remotely Christmassy.


8 Responses to “Lockdown”

  1. George White Says:

    Just watched Nesbitt in a 1990 Australian American British Yugoslavian Norwegian UFO movie called Project Alien with Charles Durning, Maxwell Caulfield, Michael Nouri and Darlanne Fluegel where he plays a Shakin’ Quatermass
    Also founded Our Price with his brother

  2. Amazing! He’s still out there, his last movie credit was 2020.

  3. architekturadapter Says:

    Everything linked : how is it possible that I just got a copy of “I start counting” and you mention it above – I rushed to catch up the “Ready .. Steady … ” article. Amazing review !

    Jenny Agutter – the so underrated dream girl and incredible actress (even in Call the Midwifes she’s astonishing !). I saw “American Werewolf in London” and “Logans Run” a million times on VHS beacuse of Jenny.

    Going to write soon about Berkshire new town in “I start counting” and “The Offence”. Thanks to bring this together !

  4. architekturadapter Says:

    It’s a shame that a lot of your posted videos “are not available”, on my screen, in my country … global network has his limits.

  5. Yes, EuroYouTube is strangely picky about what it displays.

    This post connects up oddly with the following day’s, where I reference the famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad, which was directed by David Green, who also made I Start Counting.

    And I was just thinking, since Derren Nesbitt and Fabio Testi are both happily still with us, a team-up seems like an alluring unlikelihood.

  6. John Seal Says:

    Nesbitt makes a great impression as New Number Two in The Prisoner episode of the same name.

  7. Gotta resee that! Love the show but have no clear memory of him in it. Lots of Number Twosi have grown to love since I last watched the series.

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