Yield to the Night

StudioCanal Vintage Classic            DVD/BluRay             Out Now

The latest in this excellently restored collection of Vintage Classics from StudioCanal is, perhaps, one of the lesser known, or at least less fondly remembered examples of ‘50s British cinema.

It came as a surprise to me that I had never seen it – being way too young for an X certificate film when it was released – and never having been a great fan of Diana Dors, I guess it never really entered my consciousness. My loss, as it happens.

For this is an exceptionally fine example of British Noir, and gave Dors the opportunity to show what an actress she could have been, had she stepped away from the “glamour” image and the path that eventually led to her being better known for the hard core, drink and drug fuelled sex parties she held for the celebrities and starlets who frequented her home.

Directed by J Lee Thompson with a script based on a book by his wife, Joan Henry, the film opens with the brutal murder of an unsuspecting woman at her own front door. The killer throws down the gun, but makes no attempt to escape.

From there we move to the condemned cell where the killer, Mary Hilton (Dors) spends her days awaiting her appointment with the scaffold, with only the slight possibility of reprieve from the death sentence giving her faint hope.

Gradually the story of how a shop girl came to commit a murder for which she shows no remorse unfolds. It’s more than just simple revenge taken by a jilted woman on a love rival, but is also not a heat of the moment act of passion, and it is the premeditation that condemns Mary to the gallows.

Thompson’s skilful direction allows the audience to reflect on the death penalty and what it does or does not achieve. There is no banner waving, no strident protest, just a calm portrayal of the counting down of the days of her life that remain. Walks in the prison yard, chats with a visitor, friendships forming to a greater or lesser extent with the prison officers (an exceptional performance here from Yvonne Mitchell), and all the while the door at the foot of Mary’s bed that remains closed, and will open only once on her final day.

If made today, much would be made of the fact that this is a female led drama, and rightly so. Whether this was the case on its release, I do not know, but it certainly should have been. A quiet classic, that only threatens to tip over into melodrama on the odd occasion, StudioCanal are to be commended for this restoration and release.

Jim Welsh

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