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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Yield to the Night (1956)
(2020 4K Restoration)


Starring: Diana Dors, Michael Craig, Yvonne Mitchell, Marie Ney, Mercia Shaw and Harry Locke
Distributor: StudioCanal


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 12 October 2020

Intense, unrelenting, ardent, driven in a compression chamber that is inescapable. Human emotion bouncing off walls implacable and indifferent. That is a young Diana Dors as salesgirl Mary Hilton, shorn of her trademark platinum blonde hair, waiting in prison to be hanged. She’s on around-the-clock watch in a cell with three doors, one to the outer hall, one to the toilet and one that is never opened, this is the gallows room. Mary stands at this door occasionally and wants to see what it looks like in there. But no, part of the punishment of the room is to be the last room she will ever see. Its furniture and unique accessories are be seen and appreciated once and once only. The amazement as to its simple efficiency, self evident without need of an instruction manual, instantly knowable without syllabus, lecture or degree.

J. Lee Thompson (Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear, Battle for the Planet of the Apes) counted this film as his favourite. Now restored from original studio negative in 4K to produce a brilliant new HD master, this forgotten classic must shoulder its way onto any “best of” list of the 1950s – best noir, best black and white cinematography (Gilbert Taylor: Dr Stangelove, Star Wars: Ep IV, Flash Gordon). The British Realist Movement begins with this film. There will be arguments. It doesn’t matter what films came immediately ahead, Yield to the Night is a culmination of that wave into its cusp. The original angry young man movie, only the man is a woman and there is no handholding down the alley after the third act brawl, excuse me, the bleedin’ third act brawl.

Angle becomes a dissertation. High angle, low angle, overhead, eye level, shoulder level, hip level, knee level, ground level and the best dictionary of dutch angles I can think of short of Welles or Scorcese. From opening frames we see the argument for having a decent screen (size, sensitivity, contrast, resolution) not a widescreen dildox postage stamp. People who watch movies in gerbil format should have their seat disinfected and wiped before you sit there. Thompson’s axial shot opening scenes are often low angle close ups with millimetric surface detail, foreground razor blade sharp through a deep focus depth of field reaching infinity. Very little wimpy follow focus. None, in fact. Camera on jib may take us aloft or dolly us across a parallel line of vision near and far. Tension comes inbuilt from linear drilling visual cores, plates layered or simultaneously both. This film is a complete text for how to shoot a film.

When Mary Hilton finds the man she loves has died because of his unrequited love of a rich playgirl, she casts aside the Sartrian irony in No Exit, dresses and goes downtown where the woman has been shopping and empties a pistol into her. Each shot has its own personality, its own delivery and its own statement. She tosses the pistol between the trendy dead woman’s legs and just stands there.

We discover such things as how she fell in love, how she knew he wanted the trendy woman more than her through flashbacks on “sticks” in elegant classical form; along the way we hear her mind in whispered voice overs, commingled with how the trial was decided before it started, how she hopes for commutation, how she doesn’t want to go into the gallows room, how she knows she is going to go through that third door.

Dors was sold as the “British Marilyn Monroe” and took that persona to get work until she died in 1984. This was her only work of art. A major case of unrecognised ability because she was judged on her glam appearance and not her considerable dramatic talent.


John Huff

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