Yield to the Night
J. Lee Thompson
- Diana Dors as Mary Hilton
- Yvonne Mitchell as Matron MacFarlane
- Michael Craig as Jim Lancaster
- Geoffrey Keen as Prison Chaplain
A crime drama that also functions as an impassioned plea against the death penalty, Yield to the Night chronicles the last days of a murderess’ life by revealing what drove her to the act in flashback. Grimly powerful and featuring a truly convincing performance from Diana Dors, it really makes a startling impact and still holds up remarkably well today.
The movie begins with a beautiful young blonde woman calmly approaching a glamorous woman as she enters her London home. Without warning, the approaching blonde woman unloads the contents of her gun into the other woman and stands emotionless as a crowd gathers around the dead body. We soon learn that the blonde woman is Mary Hilton and that she has been sentenced to death for her crime, unless she is given a reprieve. As she shuts herself away, has no remorse for her crime and refuses the kind treatment of the matrons; Mary begins to think back on what lead her to killing the woman, whose name was Lucy. Through a series of flashbacks, a lot is revealed about the ultimately tragic story of Mary. The beautiful Mary was a sales girl who fell hopelessly in love with the charming Jim Lancaster. Crazy for him and holding onto the naive notion of true love, she leaves her own husband who is never really around to be with Jim. But while everything is initially idyllic for Mary, Jim begins to string her along as he grows attracted to the very rich Lucy. Mary can’t take this rejection and sinks into depression as the man she loves chases another woman, who it turns out is using him. It’s when events take a tragic turn, that Mary snaps and thoughts of revenge invade her mind. And while now in prison, as she begins to reflect on what she did, the hours begin to tick away with intent as her life hangs in the balance and at the hands of the justice system.
Yield to the Night is very much a movie that calls for the abolition of the death penalty, but it never feels preachy and in your face. Instead, director J. Lee Thompson employs an up close and personal story of a woman driven by her passion and sense of betrayal to kill. His visual style of unusual angles that frame Mary as a prisoner of her own desire and a vulnerable woman taken advantage of who snaps with jealousy with deadly results is striking to say the least. We are put like flies on the wall into this film, as the setting of her prison cell is confined and restrictive. It is like we are living through the turmoil of knowing that death is going to come very soon to her and the torturous wait endured. As a film, Yield to the Night doesn’t justify Mary’s actions as right. It shows us the sad circumstances that lead to it and gets us to sympathise with her as she has been used so much and feels the only way to deal with it is to take matters into her own hands. The black and white that the film is shot in is very beneficial to such a grim story and gives it a bleak sense of purpose. This is the kind of movie that wouldn’t be very effective in colour as it is so dramatic and gritty. A stark but dramatic score compliments the inevitable sadness of the tale with monotonous drums and brass.
Now before watching Yield to the Night, I only knew Diana Dors as being a glamour girl and buxom bombshell. Well I was so surprised at her performance here, that I want to check out more of her work. Shunning her seductive image, Dors digs deep into the romantic soul of a woman who couldn’t live without taking matters into her own hands as a result of the tragedy that devastated her. Virtually make up free, Dors exudes a weariness, sadness and numbness that gets the audience to feel for Mary as the time passes and we glimpse her sad tale. Her eyes have this haunting quality that is featured heavily throughout the film and I don’t think I will ever forget the look of fear in them. While Yield to the Night belongs to the convincing performance of great depth from Dors, the rest of the cast is very fine. Yvonne Mitchell in particular stands out as the main matron who becomes fond of Mary and becomes very close with her in the weeks prior to her sentence. Michael Craig is a suitable louse as Jim, whose selfish stringing along of Mary and obsession with Lucy cost him very dearly. Geoffrey Keen is well cast as the prison chaplain, who is kind to Mary and wants to help her while she is still alive.
Striking but impassioned and very topical upon its release, Yield to the Night is a grimly powerful film that benefits from the immensely committed performance by Diana Dors and sympathetic direction.