“For the night is already at hand and it is well to yield to the night.”
There’s immediate traction to Yield to The Night’s opening visuals. We look on at pigeons scuttling about, outdoor waterfalls, and Diana Dors’s heels clicking across an open plaza. Of course, we don’t know it’s her.
J. Lee Thompson’s introduction is almost Hitchcockian in how he utilizes the feet as a kind of synecdoche for the whole body distilling the action down to its most basic form. Because soon enough those feet make their way to an apartment belonging to a fashionable woman about to go inside.
In the chaotic sequence that follows, she gets shot in the back as Dors makes plenty sure her victim is dead in her tracks. Her first closeup almost crushes her face or closer still her face overwhelms the screen and she stares down at her handiwork. She’s just murdered a lady in the street. Riddling her in the back with bullets. There’s no doubt that she’s dead as the frenzied onlookers rush to the scene.
What makes the moment so effective is how purposeful it is from the outset, punctuated by this terrifying act of violence. However, what makes it even more startling is the fact we have no context. Is Dors good or evil? Is she on the side of justice or lawlessness?
Surely she has a reason for what she did. We half expect a flashback right about now — this seems like an opportune place if not the most original. Instead, we get the credits and the story keeps on moving forward.
Hilton’s in prison, but whether it’s a sign of the British civility in the prison system or only a result of the movie mills, there’s something rather congenial about the whole set-up. It’s not exactly Buckingham Palace or Balmoral for that matter, and there are bars like any prison, but the wardens, lawyers, and priests who all cycle through seem like generally decent people.
Hollywood alternatives like Caged or even I Want to Live! in one form or another feel like harsher, less forgiving films. The tone of Yield to the Night functions out of its own dissonance. As a fitting development, Mary’s story materializes in fragments, and it actually becomes a fairly absorbing way in which to take in the narrative.
The presumptive flashback actually comes a few minutes later than expected. Mary Hilton formerly worked in a beauty shop. One evening she encounters a particularly jovial client at a club. He’s at the piano when she sees him. His name is Jim, and he gives her the pet name “Christmas Rose.” She became madly devoted to him even as his own demons and self-destructive habits find him dallying with other women.
His primary romantic partner is a rich socialite named Lucy, who remains faceless and nearly unseen throughout the entire movie. For not having an overt showcase, she certainly holds a major sway over the picture as she effectively dominates and cripples Mary and Jim’s relationship. Mary loves him madly, but he can never be tied down to her, preferring the benefits the other woman affords him.
The ensuing bout of voiceover is a bit much, but there’s a pleasant gossamer quality in Dors’s readings — the lightness in her voice — somehow it juxtaposes with her place as a murderess, and in some small way, it humanizes her.
Back in the present, she receives a number of visitors. Her kid brother, a genial lad who is looking to lift her spirits joins their quibbling mother for the visitation. She’s trying to come to terms with how the girl she strove to raise the right way could end up like this.
Mary also gets called on by her husband Fred. He comes faithfully, leaving work to come check on her. Suddenly it becomes plainly evident the reason they are separated is on account of Mary. He seems like another decent sort of chap, too decent in a way. He bores her and so there is a defined distance between them. It’s depressing to witness.
Finally, there is Mrs. Bligh, who feels like yet another embodiment of all the benevolent souls. She’s a kindly old lady, a lover of flowers, and a prison reformer. What she also provides is a social conscience. Strangely, all this goodwill from both the attendants and visitors only emphasizes the disconnect between the warmth of all these people and the punishment at the other end of the hallway.
But the final stroke has to be how the movie foregoes any form of serpentine plotting and focuses in on an individual life in torment. It becomes a far more intimate meditation. Mary is caught in a debilitating cycle of unrequited love, watching her man destroy himself for another woman, and it tears her apart. She’s powerless to save him. The only flaw in the picture might be the suspension of disbelief, that is, how likely would someone rebuff Dors for someone else, albeit someone with higher social standing?
Otherwise, as we bide our time alongside of her in the confines of her cell, constant light streaming in, and guards playing chess, we are introduced to her every monotony. It builds a level of sympathy you can attain no other way. Dors is known as a great glamour girl — Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe — and yet when we see her stripped of all pretense, it’s a startling and impressive showcase of vulnerability.
In her own words, the actress acknowledged it was “the first time I ever had a chance to play such a part. I was very thankful to Lee J. Thompson for having faith in me. Until then everybody thought I was just a joke, and certainly not an actress to be taken seriously, even though I knew within myself I was capable of playing other roles.”
She exhibited emphatically she was far more than a pretty face by delivering some emotional resonance as well. One is reminded of the telling exchange with the Preacher.
“This day I shall be with thee in paradise. I think those are the most beautiful words in the Bible.”
“If you believe them.”
It sums up her entire experience. He is a man of faith and he burgeons with hope — hope for her, even in death — in spite of her shortcomings in this life. But her conception of the world doesn’t allow her to believe this. All she has is the melancholy and the pain stockpiled from her romantic heartache. Her outlook more than fits the shabby interiors of the film. It’s a dreary world to be privy to, and it’s just as depressing leaving it behind. Yielding is not in her nature. It doesn’t come easy to many of us.