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'Yield to the Night'is a child of its time, the mid fifties. Set
against the grim background of the condemned cell in what is presumed
to be Holloway prison (the only hanging prison for women at that
time),it is a strong statement against capital punishment in general,
and for a condemned woman, in particular. By 1956, popular opinion in
Britain had turned against the death penalty, fuelled by a series of
unpopular executions, Derek Bentley, the educationally subnormal youth
hanged in 1953 for the shooting of a policeman on a Croydon factory
rooftop when his seventeen year old accomplice, Chris Craig, had fired
the fatal shot (Craig was too young to hang); the executions of two
women in quick succession, Louisa Merrifield and Stylou Christofi, and
the cause celebre of Ruth Ellis, who shot her lover, David Blakely,
outside a North London public house.
Obviously Ellis was the inspiration for Dors' character, Mary Hilton (both blondes, both shoot their lovers while emotionally distraught). Director J. Lee Thompson had worked with Diana Dors in the 1954 film 'The Weak and the Wicked', which, like 'Yield to the Night', was based on a book by Joan Henry. Times had changed, even during those two intervening years, and Thompson yearned for a broader, more hard hitting statement than his earlier offering. The action scenes are much pacier, with quick scene changes and remarkable (for its day) camera angles - the shots of Dors around a fountain amount to a cinematic work of art, and the murder itself is a tour de force of close ups, almost unbearable suspense and facial expressions (note the face of the uncredited cab driver when he realises what Mary has done).
We skip the trial to the first prison scene where the governor, played to perfection by that most authoritative of actresses, Marie Ney, informs Mary that her appeal had been denied. Geoffrey Keen, as a thoughtful chaplain, leaves the cell when Mary's lawyer appears, played by the veteran Charles Lloyd Pack, with an optimism that borders on insouciance. Mary settles into the daily routine, comforted by Liam Redmond, as the caring doctor. Flashbacks trace Mary's failed romance with Jim, a once ambitious pianist whose inner emotions are in turmoil, who is reduced to playing in nightclubs and acting as a third rate host, dancing with various women, including Mary's nemesis, the well heeled Lucy. Mary is besotted with him, but he is fatally attracted to Lucy, fuelling Mary's inveterate hatred for her. Jim commits suicide, leaving a note that is addressed to Lucy, pushing Mary over the edge. The flashbacks are not as convincing as the rest of the film, but perhaps that is due to their nature - we already know that Mary has shot Lucy, so the lead up to that cataclysmic situation is somehow diluted.
However, the prison scenes more than make up for that. The set is so incredibly realistic, down to the 'door with no handle', the door through which Mary will step, on execution morning. As the clock ticks down to that fateful day, some of the finest character actresses of the day shine through the gloom - Joan Miller, whose calm exterior finally cracks when Mary's reprieve is denied, and who entwines the shell-shocked Mary's fingers around a welcome mug of tea; prolific character actress Marianne Stone, as the flustered stand in wardress; the fearsome Olga Lindo, magnificent as veteran Warder Hill, whose granite exterior finally succumbs to pity as she strokes Mary's hair, a wonderfully touching nuance of direction which would not have been possible in 'The Weak and the Wicked'. Athene Seyler, who was also in 'The Weak and the Wicked' appears as a philanthropic 'prison visitor' who gives Mary flowers from her garden. However, the performance of Yvonne Mitchell, as the caring, Christian wardress, who offers Mary a blindfold to help her sleep (much to the chagrin of Hill), is towering in its tenderness and vulnerability, even getting away with the line: 'Have you ever thought that we ALL die, some morning'? (My own mother died at 7:45 pm!) Amazingly, the line works because of the well drawn relationship between the two.
The ending is dramatic - Mary is kneeling in the chapel with the chaplain while the hangman and his assistant are watching from behind an open door - we only see their hands, the hands which will put her to death, another triumph of creative direction and camera work. On the morning of the fateful day Mary leaves her partly smoked cigarette in the ash tray and her silhouette is seen from the front, arriving through THAT door, with the chaplain behind her, a detail that was incorrect, because the assistant executioner would be behind her, having tied her hands behind her back - in 1956 the secrets of capital punishment were still closely guarded, and would not be made public until the autobiography of chief hangman Albert Pierrepoint (1977) and his one time assistant, Syd Dernley in the late eighties.
Dors showed that she really could act, and that the British film industry was capable of producing work of realism and depth, a much better film than Susan Hayward's much vaunted film about Ruth Ellis's American equivalent, Barbara Graham, 'I want to live'! And the message? A life for a life is futile, and life should be for living. Yield to this fifties gem of true excellence.
This film proved that Diane Dorrs was a superb serious actress. The obvious comparison to the tragic case of Ruth Ellis 12 months earlier only served to make a good film even better. The whole cast gave their heart and soul to it. A must for people who have not yet viewed it.
Diana Dors in her first dramatic role, and last before her unsuccessful
venture into Hollywood, sees her trade in her glamorous image for a more
realistic and down to earth performance as a woman who finds herself on
death row after committing a crime of passion. The film, based on a John
Henry novel, has obvious similarities to the real life drama of Ruth Ellis,
who murdered her ex-lover on a busy London street and become the last
British woman to be hung a year before this film was made.
Dors had become one of the more famous starlets to emerge in Britain's post-war attempt at a Hollywood-like star system. Her familiarity with British audiences no doubt ensured sympathy for her character, which played partly on her bad-girl image. However, this was more than a mere star vehicle, and it saw her transform herself from a star to a serious actress. The American distributors seemed to miss the point somewhat, titling the film on its release there, 'Blonde Sinner'.
The film obviously draws upon the controversial issue of capital punishment. There is no doubt that, despite us witnessing her murder in cold blood, our sympathies are meant to lie with Dors' character. This is of course partly due to her star persona but also because of the way in which the film is directed. Rarely do we see the face of her victim who we learn nothing of apart from his cold attitude towards her ex-lover, Michael Craig, whom Dors has shown nothing but compassion for. Her callous attitude towards his tragic New Years eve suicide is exemplary of this, when she shrugs him off as someone who had just been a nuisance to her.
However, the film is commendable in that manages to avoid mere melodrama. We don't just get a one-sided view of events. We are left in no doubt that the Dors character is herself an adultress who committed a murder with malice and forethought. The issue the film achieves in getting across is the detrimental effect the capital punishment system has on those who are around it. Not only do we see the effect it has on Dors' family but also we get an insight of the wardesses who are with her for her final days. In particular we recognise the discipline shown by Yvonne Mitchell's character, Macfarlane, a young wardess who is drawn with compassion and sympathy towards Dors, and yet must contain her emotions especially during the last agonisingly pensive hours. There is also a feeling that we should not be overly sympathetic towards Dors, as she is rebuked by an elderly Christian lady that visits her for being too self-pitying and for showing little or no remorse. This theme is of course drawn on in more detail in Tim Robbins' recent death row drama 'Dead Man Walking'.
J. Lee Thompson's taut direction shows signs of his later atmospheric Stateside successes such as 'Cape Fear'. The expressionistic filming techniques used to add to the claustrophobic tension of the prison cell scenes are particularly effective. Yvonne Mitchell provides a strong supporting role as the young wardess who befriends Dors. However, it is Dors herself who should be applauded most of all for her emotional and naturalistic performance as the woman awaiting her fate. Some of the film's themes may seem rather cliched to a modern audience but I would imagine it hit a nerve when the issue was at the forethought of the British consciousness.
Found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, a young woman lives out
her last days under the watchful eyes of a small group of prison
From its edgy opening sequence as the camera furtively tracks Dors' determined and resolute steps towards the killing, to the devastating final image of a smouldering cigarette we suspect will still be burning after the executioner has pulled his leaver, Yield To The Night is an extraordinary exploration of the reasons and repercussions surrounding a premeditated murder in mid-fifties Britain. At its heart is a performance which, over 50 years later still resonates with depth and naturalism. Even as we have witnessed her coldly and repeatedly shoot another woman to death, under the expert direction of J. Lee Thompson, Dors enables us to feel sorrow for the killer Mary Hilton and even if we can't condone the deliberate taking of her victim's life, we can at least realise that Hilton is also somehow a victim of circumstance. Dors doesn't put a foot wrong from beginning to end and the fact that she didn't receive domestic and international award nominations for her performance is in my opinion as puzzling as it is unforgivable, especially when one considers what were the celebrated performances of the time (Virginia McKenna, Audrey Hepburn and Dorothy Alison were BAFTA nominated that year). Could it be that the British and subsequently Amercian studio systems were unwilling to accept Dors as the intelligent and talented actress she so obviously was? Certainly the marketing and promotion of Yield To The Night in the US supports this premise - retitled Blonde Sinner, with lurid posters ridiculously emphasising Dors' sex symbol qualities and carrying the ludicrous and tacky tag-line "The Man-By-Man Story of a Lost Soul".
Flaws? Yes - as written, Jim Lancaster, whilst handsome and initially charming just doesn't allow the viewer to believe he could be the reason for Mary's actions. Undoubtedly less to do with Michael Craig's performance than with the character being undeveloped in general. However, overall Yield To The Night is a powerful film that will linger long after the final credits have rolled, and now it is finally available in DVD should become essential viewing for all British cinema fans.
In the best tradition of black and white, this film starts with a bang. After a pair of shapely legs get out of a classic 56 T-Bird in England somewhere, a gun shot is fired, without ever seeing who did it. The idea of making an anti- capital punishment movie in the mid-fifties right after the McCarthy era was ahead of it's time. Never preachy or blatantly left winged, this great unknown sleeper carries on the classic female incarcerated films of THE SNAKE PIT to the era of fins. Even the female prison guards show compassion, and the movie never uses bitch-slapping gimmicks for thrill effects. A quiet study that still touches the heart. Diana Dors shines in a smart role choice that added to her credits away from her necessary frothy pointed bra-B flicks. No wonder people loved her right up to her death.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Diana Dors is unforgettable in the role of a murderer condemned to death after shooting her love rival in cold blood. The murder scene comes right at the start of the movie and is shocking in its cold blooded approach. Diana is beautiful and glamorous in the story flashbacks as we see what led up to this terrible act, but for much of the movie we see her in the condemned cell stripped of her glamour. Although she never expresses any regret for what she has done we sympathise with her plight as she is mentally tortured to death before her execution by the pitiless prison regime. The inhumanity of capital punishment is also expressed by the torment that all around her have to go through before the punishment is carried out. Not only relatives and friends but also the people whose job it is to care for her while she is behind bars. The performances all round are superb from the dignity of the Prison Governor played by Marie Ney, the compassion of warder Yvonne Mitchell, the benevolence of prison visitor Athene Seyler and the self pitying mother Dandy Nicholls. Diana's performance is stunning and will haunt you for days after seeing this film and her reading of poetry by A.E. Houseman will linger long in your memory.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a powerful movie. Diana Dors is the star. She's on screen
virtually the whole time and turns in a fine performance. It's not what
we expect from Diana Dors: She is not a sex pot or glamor girl.
She plays an unhappy young woman who is taken in by a man. She kills him -- very early in the film; so this is not a spoiler. She is sent to prison. Much of the film is set in prison and there are many flashbacks.
Yvonne Mitchell is also superb as a sympathetic prison matron.
In her later years, Dors went from voluptuous to very large. She is shocking in the first movie I ever saw her in: "Baby Love." And she's large, good, and naked in the fine "Deep End." The woman could act and that is very clear in "Yield to the Night." She wears no, or very little makeup. The close-ups show a pretty but unglamorous woman.
It's film noir in structure. And it's one of the few in which a woman is the primary character. Look for this one!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although the plot is a bit thin and the obvious similarities between this film and the hanging of Ruth Ellis the year previously (the main difference being that Ruth Ellis shot her boyfriend and the character played by Diana Dors shot her boyfriends lover after he committed suicide), the acting from Diana Dors is without fault, she puts her heart and soul into the part and outshines the other actors who appear, almost to the point that, beside her they appear somewhat wooden and contrived. The direction is well executed (no pun intended) and the photography is superb. The final outcome of the film is inevitable, but the portrayal of a woman clinging to a forlorn hope of getting a reprieve and the acceptance of her fate when it is denied, is made so realistic and believable by Diana Dors that it elevates this film into one of the great British films of all time.
The pompous dirigible Jean-Luc Godard ,like most French movie directors
a man utterly in love with himself,or at least ,the idea of himself
,once said that all you really needed to make a movie were " a girl and
a gun"At the opening of this movie it looks as if the makers had taken
his dictum literally for that is precisely what we get.The girl is Mary
Hutton (Diana Dors) and she pulls a gun from her handbag and shoots a
man to death ,one she blames for her lover's suicide .It is an open and
shut case -she is placed on trial for murder and sentenced to death by
hanging .The majority of the movie takes place in her condemned cell as
she waits the outcome of her appeal and relives the doomed affair with
lover Jim (Michael Craig) What sets the movie apart from its Hollywood
sister "I Want to Live"from a couple of years later is that unlike
Susan Hayward in that movie Mary Hutton is quite obviously guilty -her
case is not a miscarriage of justice and there is no special pleading
in the way the movie sets out to make its anti-capital punishment case
.For make no bones about it, this is an abolitionist propaganda piece
.Despite her clear and palpable guilt the movie insists that hanging is
just plain wrong . J lee Thompson shows an absurdity to things as the
wardens set about trying to keep her occupied -they teach her chess
,pass the time in meaningless chit chat and ensure she is healthy
enough to be hung in a week or so .The style is not ,as you might
expect ,documentary but shows the influence of German Expressionism in
its use of extreme close-ups,and oblique camera angles .It deftly
suggests the disorientation of someone who may be about to die by order
of the state in a premeditated and planned manner
Much was made at the time of its similarity to an actual murder case -that of Ruth Ellis,the last woman to be hung in Britain .Both Ellis and Mary in the movie were blondes ,both shot men who had done them wrong .This is coincidence nothing more as the script was written two years prior to the Ellis case and the release of the movie at the time the Ellis case was generating publicity was an accident .
Dors is sensational in the role .A flamboyant publicity conscious starlet she declared herself with this movie to be powerhouse actress unafraid to present an appearance devoid of her usual glamour ,letting her dyed hair grow out to show dark at the roots and discarding the revealing gowns of the publicity machine for unflattering prison wear .
Its a powerful piece of work and all involved in its making did good work .I am still a pro-hanger but I do admire the honesty and integrity of this movie .its not enjoyable but it is potent
Mesmerizing from beginning to end. Black and white photography,
impeccable, giving you the feeling of the scene just by placing the
camera in a position that exactly will tell you before hand what's
And then there is the actress.
She, unlike ANY actress of that period, appears most of the time with her face washed up and her hair with 4 inches of black roots, totally unconcerned with her looks for the camera, but she is ACTING. She is acting a storm, what an excellent actress!!
In the flash backs the actress becomes DIANA DORS... Fully done with platinum hair, made up to kill and slipped into a dress too tight to believe, it could be painted on her naked body.
The story takes its time to develop and little by little it starts building up the tension of her character. The timing is perfect, we get more and more involved with her suffering and waiting as anxiously as herself about her destiny.
I don't have words to tell you what a superb movie this is, a film that I think will be impossible to produce nowadays, maybe Charlize Theron came close to this type of character in "Monster", but the feeling of the movie is totally different, the results of the 50s are the results of a civilization gone with the wind.
To me, this movie is a masterpiece.
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