Yield to the Night is a British film noir, as well as a Death Row film from the time when you could still be executed in the UK. Diana Dors is fantastic in it, which was a departure from her reputation as a Marilyn Monroe clone (of course, Monroe was also often underestimated). The story has some resemblances to the Ruth Ellis case—Ellis was the last woman executed in the UK—but in fact the novel on which the film was based predated Ellis’ execution.
Diane Dors had actually worked with Ellis on a film, Lady Godiva Rides Again, on which Ellis was an extra. Of course the Ellis case made a great tie-in.
Director J. Lee Thompson worked in both the US and his native UK. He made a few classics, including Cape Fear, Guns of Navarone and one of my favourites, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Unfortunately, Thompson ended his career doing really trashy Charles Bronson movies. He was a solid director, and at this point was still very much based in Britain.
People usually think of film noir as a mostly American phenomenon, but there were a bunch of British noirs, most notably The Third Man and Brighton Rock. Yield to the Night came along late, in 1956. Dors plays convicted murderess Mary Hilton, who is pretty clearly guilty since the mistress of her boyfriend has been killed in a really cold-blooded way. The film uses flashbacks to show her memories of what led up to the murder. In the background there is a possibility that she’ll only get life in prison, but that obviously doesn’t happen.
It’s a solid film noir. The source novel was written by Thompson’s wife, Joan Henry—they had met on the set of Young and Wiling, which was also based on one of her books. Dors shows here that she was much more than the British Monroe—it’s very much the equivalent of Monroe’s turn in Don’t Bother to Knock. The flashback narrative, a style used by some American noirs as well, works successfully. It offers a good mixture of location footage and some pretty cool sets at Elstree, all shot in very good black and white. It has a downbeat ending, and very memorable last shot. Certainly worth checking out.
Some viewers may recognise a still from the film, because it was used on the cover of The Smiths’ singles compilation in the 1990s.
The disc includes a newly filmed interview with Michael Craig, who plays the boyfriend, plus an interview with film historian Melanie Williams, an archival interview with Dors, archival video of the premiere, and a behind-the-scenes stills gallery.