J. lee Thompson (director)
Studiocanal UK (studio)
100 min (length)
12 October 2020 (released)
12 October 2020
This rather dark and bleak crime drama from 1956 is based on a novel by Joan Henry. For some long standing reason there has been a misunderstanding about it being based on the Ruth Ellis case (the last woman to be hanged in Britain). In actuality Henry's book was written shortly before the Ellis case. The similarity being that we are witnessing a woman (blonde bombshell Diana Dors is cast against stereotype) on death row, hoping to get a last minute reprieve.
The film begins with attractive Mary Hilton (Diana Dors) walking around Trafalgar Square before she makes her way to a fashionable Belgravia Mews – an area way above her station but there’s a reason for it… Mary is tracking a fabulously wealthy lady named Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw) to said location with one thing in mind: premeditated murder! The soon-to-be victim turns out to be the lover of Jim Lancaster (Michael Craig), an impoverished musician and general louse Mary is hopelessly infatuated with. When Jim commits suicide after Lucy had dropped him like a hot potato (we must ask ourselves what Lucy ever saw in him to begin with!), Mary decides that revenge is in order and kills the dame with several bullets from a pistol which belonged to Jim. Convicted of murder and sentenced to death the film then shows via various flashback sequences how it came to this crime of passion…
Mary works as a respectable salesgirl in a swank perfume store - trapped in a dull marriage with her equally dull and dowdy husband Fred (Harry Locke). A chance encounter with down-on-his-luck nightclub pianist Jim (who also likes betting on horses) turns her drab little world upside down and within no time (well, after a night of lust) Mary reckons she’s madly enough in love to leave her hubby for Jim. Unfortunately Jim doesn’t seem as crazy about Mary as she is about him and makes it clear she can’t stay in his rooms. What else can she do but temporarily move into a boarding house until she finds her own flat? Meanwhile, Jim has no qualms getting acquainted with fabulously rich Lucy and begins to spend more time with her than with poor Mary, the louse. Of course, Jim hopes that Lucy might be his ticket to a better life but just how naïve is he? Soon Lucy gets bored of her ‘toy-boy’ and makes it clear she will soon marry a man who is her equal… which is when the first tragedy happens what with devastated Jim committing suicide, followed by the second tragedy when Mary exacts her revenge and decides to take the ‘law’ into her own hands…
The majority of the film takes place in the condemned cell in which Mary spends most of her time either sleeping or eating and is always guarded by various matrons which she befriends, among them Hilda MacFarlane (Yvonne Mitchell) who has her own share of private tragedies to bear. While time is ticking away and the monotony of prison routine grinds Mary down like the uncertainty over here fate (she still hopes for a reprieve from the Home Secretary all the while her eyes (which seem dead already) are looking at the ‘door with no handle’ and we all know where the door with no handle leads… just as we know there cannot be any happy ending for Mary. In France, someone like real-life murderess Ruth Ellis may well have got off with a 'Crime Passionel' sentence but here in England we have Mary Hilton charged with killing her boyfriend's rich 'other' girlfriend. As it is a premeditated murder we can hardly hold out much hope for her can we?
Diana Dors at this time was undoubtedly Britain's undisputed movie glamour queen (our answer to Marilyn Monroe - but Dors was a far more versatile actress) and it was a bold step for her to take on such a role which meant that audiences would be seeing her 'de-glamourised' and sans make-up for the majority of the film- but who can blame her for wanting people to know she was something more than a curvaceous platinum blonde?
Swindon-born Diana Dors really does deliver a praiseworthy and realistic performance (a nice change from the Anna Neagle school of acting) - giving us an excellent insight of what it would be like to be in such an appalling situation and the film provides much food for thought. Here practically all of the female guards are shown in a surprisingly sympathetic light and Matron Hilda even establishes a kindly rapport with the condemned woman, actually cradling her head in her arms before that dreadful walk to you know where. The film’s title is taken from E. A. Houseman's 'A Shropshire Lad' - a book of poetry that the ill-fated Mary found in Jim's flat. Husband and wife team J. Lee Thompson and Joan Henry (yes, Thompson left his wife for Joan Henry) did a sound job and in view of the circumstances Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography captures the right notes all round. No wonder the movie was nominated for the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. Writer Joan Henry, despite her privileged Belgravia upbringing, knew her onions as she'd been in prison for passing a fraudulent cheque - there had also been an earlier prison film based on one of her novels. Trust a rich girl to make something out of what invariably ruined a poor girl's chances.
A great pity that we didn't see Diana Dors in more serious roles and that she ended up parodying herself… but she did even that remarkably well!
YIELD TO THE NIGHT is released on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital in a 4K restoration and with brand-new Extras.