Yield to The Night (1957)

“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.

4/5 Stars

Tiger Bay (1959)

Horst Bucholtz has always held a soft spot in my heart. There are several very simple reasons. My father’s favorite movie might be The Magnificent Seven, and I grew up watching this young raffish upstart join forces with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen against the forces that be. Then, years later, there he was again as an old man in La Vita è Bella. Somehow it served the movie and my own history with him well, to see him this way. A mere 5 years later he would be gone.

Of course, Tiger Bay, if you’ve never been acquainted with it before, is the picture that really put him on the map, at least for English-speaking audiences. And it’s easy to see why. He was advertised once upon a time as Germany’s James Dean, and if the comparison makes a modicum of sense at all it has to do with how masculinity can be at one time violent and then sensitive. There would be no other way for him to hold the movie together with Hayley Mills so well. More on that in a moment.

I must take a moment to acknowledge my growing esteem for J. Lee Thompson in recent days because although I am a fan of Cape Fear and not so big an admirer of The Guns of Navarone, it was earlier in his career where he showed his capability with material like Yield to the Night and here in Tiger Bay. The world is easy to place, especially in England with a working-class port town acting as a window to the world. One of the men fresh off one of these ships is the youthful sailor Bronislav Korchinsky, who looks to be reunited with his lover.

Hayley Mills makes her screen debut moments later as a feisty tomboyish pipsqueak ready to roughhouse with all the other street rats. She gleams with a delightful impudence, those large searching eyes of her projecting curiosity and at times rebellion. Her aunt is always scolding her and she always scampers around bumping into neighbors on the stairs or eavesdropping on conversations she has no business in.

One of them is between Korchinsky and his girlfriend Anya. But the scene before us is hardly bliss. It comes seething with angst and vindictive daggers you feel like would hardly have been in vogue across the pond at the same time — at least in mainstream Hollywood. As the woman scoffs at the money he sent home and lets him have it in their native tongue, it becomes apparent this kind of gritty vitriol might only seep into an American noir picture.

In fact, if there is any immediate reference point, it’s possible to find Tiger Bay reminiscent of The Window. However, in this case, Gillie Evans (Mills) is not so much a “kid who’s cried wolf” as a serial annoyance no rational-minded adult looks to take seriously. Still, she’s an eyewitness to what looks to be a shooting. A woman’s dead and the man is on the lam. What’s more, in the moment of initial tumult they crossed paths as he streaked away, and she nicked the evidence to bring back to her aunt’s apartment. For her, this entire scene feels like a novel curiosity, but she thinks little of the consequences in the moment.

Instead, she dodges the inspector’s gentle interrogations (John Mills) before rushing off to drop into church service late, taking up her spot in the choir while still packing the purloined pistol.

It’s fitting that in one moment they seem to be singing a hymn out of Psalm 23 and suddenly the spiritual journey through the valley of the shadow of death becomes all too real. There stands a familiar face in the crowded pews and suddenly her self-assured nonchalance drops off in the middle of her solo. There’s the man!

It feels like a showdown set up for Hitchcockian dread as the church clears out and she’s left to fend for her own against the crazed young man. This can only end poorly. And yet Tiger Bay works because the villain in this equation is not a horrible human being. There are moments he could press his advantage, whether it’s pushing her to her death or doing away with her with the gun, but this is not his character.

In fact, in its best and brightest moments, Buckholtz and young Mills become the welcomed nucleus of the movie, at first as wary adversaries and then companions and finally friends capable of playacting in the morning light. For a few moments, they are able to shed all the worries of the world and enjoy being in one another’s company.

In the latter half, it takes on a different tilt altogether as a little girl, now beholden to her new friend, looks to buy him time as he looks to sneak off on a ship out to sea. We have ticking clocks and stakes, all those storytelling tricks of the trade, but the core of the entire story is the relational capital that we build. It becomes a new, far more compelling kind of movie. Because now a child must live in the ambiguity of the moment and how are they to decipher the difference between right and wrong and what those terms even mean?

The ending feels a bit prolonged and drawn out for its own good though it’s kept afloat by this underlying relational tension. A man’s life hangs in the balance as Mills drags his real-life daughter out to sea to identify the purported killer before he can get away for good.

John Mills feels generally flat and uninteresting if a mostly benevolent authority representing a prevailing moralism. Otherwise, this picture has much to offer and a colorful perspective on the world circa 1959.

Suddenly, British society, cinematography notwithstanding, doesn’t look quite so monochrome. Because of course, it wasn’t. It’s a world of Polish immigrants, vibrant Calypso music on the street corners, and foreign sailors who are not totally subservient to the British powers. It’s a reminder that ports really can be windows to the world even as they can also bring disparate people together.

3.5/5 Stars