*. Clever. But not clever enough.
*. The idea of updating Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and repackaging it as a heist film is interesting. The cast is solid (Peter Cushing as the anal bank manager Fordyce, André Morell as the Rafflesesque burglar, Richard Vernon as Bob Cratchit). They made it for next to nothing, but you don’t mind because it’s obviously a filmed play being shot on just a couple of sets so it’s all good.
*. Unfortunately, the promise of a short play kept on a tight production leash being a cinematic well-wrought urn is not kept. You expect this movie to be wrapped up neatly at the end and instead you’re left with more questions than answers.
*. The scheme is a typically British take on the crime story. “I want bank robberies to be smoother, more sociable,” Colonel Gore Hepburn tells us. He’s so suave you almost want him to get away with it. His one show of violence is even a slap to the face of Fordyce, not a punch.
*. But what is his scheme? He fakes a call to Fordyce from Fordyce’s wife and child, apparently by using a tape recorder, but how does this work? Does he really have an accomplice outside the bank? He says his partner is Father Christmas, which may refer to the charity Santa Claus we see a couple of times outside the front door, but if that’s where he’s stationed how does he see any signals from the window of Fordyce’s office?
*. I’d like to say that the business about signaling from the window is just some nonsense Hepburn made up, but he rushes to the window in a panic when he hears a siren outside so it must be real.
*. If the Santa was the Colonel’s accomplice, why does Fordyce give him up at the end?
*. Of course the big question at the end is what’s going on with Fordyce. He isn’t being charged with anything, but at the same time his story doesn’t sound very convincing and he is sent off to the police station in handcuffs. And what was the Colonel’s game in all this? Did he just want to turn the burglary into a learning experience for Fordyce?
*. There’s something untidy and unsatisfying about such a resolution. It’s not even clear that Fordyce has been redeemed, as Scrooge was, after his ordeal. He’s still someone who has no friends, or any close personal relations, aside from his wife and son, and they will presumably go on being treated as a kind of property. His paying the pound he “owes” the Colonel at the end smacks less of a newly discovered spirit of generosity than another example of his usual dreary punctiliousness. I’m not even sure if we can believe that Pearson’s or Harvill’s jobs are safe.
*. So it’s enjoyable. The script gets to indulge the Colonel’s sense of irony, especially when playing with Pearson. The audience tries to anticipate whether Fordyce or Pearson will outsmart the Colonel or whether he will be tripped up by some accident. In fact, it’s neither, and we’re left wondering if getting caught was somehow part of the plan all along, that it was somehow all meant to be a test or a game.
*. My own hope was that Mrs. Fordyce was going to be revealed as the mastermind, getting even with her neglectful and superior husband. But I guess 1961 was just a bit too early for that. Pity.