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Blu-ray: Yield to the Night | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Yield to the Night

Blu-ray: Yield to the Night

Diana Dors shines in a sombre British noir

'I regret nothing' - Diana Dors and Michael Craig in Yield to the Night

Released in 1956, J. Lee Thompson’s Yield to the Night is remembered by many for what it isn’t, namely a fictional retelling of the events leading to Ruth Ellis’s execution in 1955. Mike Newell’s Dance with a Stranger told that story in 1985 with Miranda Richardson in the lead role. Thompson’s star, Diana Dors, stated that the film "wasn’t about Ruth Ellis at all.

Released in 1956, J. Lee Thompson’s Yield to the Night is remembered by many for what it isn’t, namely a fictional retelling of the events leading to Ruth Ellis’s execution in 1955. Mike Newell’s Dance with a Stranger told that story in 1985 with Miranda Richardson in the lead role. Thompson’s star, Diana Dors, stated that the film "wasn’t about Ruth Ellis at all. Everybody thinks it was but the script was written two years before she committed the murder.” The screenplay was co-written by Thompson’s wife Joan Henry, a former debutante who had spent eight months in Holloway Prison for fraud. Thompson wanted to make an anti-capital punishment film (“you must take somebody who deserves to die, and make the audience feel sorry, and say this is wrong”), and succeeds brilliantly. Dors’ Mary Hilton is a cold-blooded murderer, gunning down her louse of a boyfriend after he’s dumped her for another woman.

Yield Night packshotYield to the Night opens without preamble, Thompson’s camera tracking Hilton’s journey from Trafalgar Square to the mews where her target lives. The killing is over within seconds, Hilton calmly firing eight bullets at close range with the gun she’s stolen from the flat of her recently deceased lover. Played by the underrated Michael Craig, Jim Lancaster has ‘cad’ written all over his face, but he’s irresistible. A handsome charmer and chancer working as a cocktail pianist, his idea of a romantic post-coital supper is a tin of Heinz spaghetti. Hilton is smitten, but it’s not long before Lancaster is two-timing her. Hilton reveals her back story from her prison cell, permanently lit while she’s under suicide watch.

Once incarcerated, Hilton becomes a pale shadow of herself, shorn of lipstick and glamour. She’s unrepentant, telling the prison staff “I regret nothing." Visits from her dull ex-husband and close family break the monotony, Hilton waiting to hear whether her appeal has been successful. Repeated sequences showing Mary Ney’s Governess approaching Hilton’s cell are unbearable; we’re as desperate as she is to learn whether there’s been a change of heart. Hilton ruminates on the passage of time, suffering nightmarish flashbacks as she tries in vain to sleep. The prison staff are a largely likeable bunch, a luminous Yvonne Mitchell the most sympathetic. The inevitable, when it comes, is devastating, Hilton yielding to the night after learning that “the Home Secretary has not seen fit to recommend a reprieve," the gallows just metres away behind a door in her cell. This sober, powerful film has aged well. The location footage of mid 1950s London is beguiling, and there’s a very strong supporting cast. Dors is the main draw though, her unshowy, selfless performance giving us a tantalising glimpse of the serious actor she never became. Studio Canal’s restored print is immaculate, the bonus features including a brief 1956 interview with Dors and a more recent one with the sprightly nonagenarian Craig, recalling in detail the film’s production.

@GrahamRickson

 

Dors' unshowy performance gives us a glimpse of the serious actor she never became

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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