Writers: Joan Henry and John Cresswell
Director: J. Lee Thompson
British noir is a much-underrated genre and while it may be less showy and star studded than its Hollywood counterpart, the technical achievement of camerawork, lighting and claustrophobic storytelling is to be much admired. One of the most interesting examples is Yield to the Night, the story of a classic femme fatale who murders her rival, and which is now given its first Blu-ray and digital release along with a DVD version in an impressive 4K restoration.
Mary Hilton works on the beauty counter when she meets pianist Jim Lancaster, and when the pair cross paths at a bar an affair begins. But as Mary sacrifices her marriage to him, Jim’s heart is captured by a wealthy socialite. When tragedy strikes, Mary’s jealousy is unleashed and her own demise beckons.
This StudioCanal restoration looks fantastic, particularly in the off-kilter opening sequence filmed from unusual angles and through grilles to build the tension. Director J. Lee Thompson splices together the dramatic technique of noir with its shots of feet walking purposefully, filmed under benches and tables to create unexpected perspectives, with the topical kitchen sink narrative that dominated drama in 1956 with its focus on broken marriages, rented rooms and the emotional pull of unsuitable relationships lasting far beyond their time.
But Yield to the Night is really a prison film and a rare female-centric one at that. Based on the novel by Joan Henry who co-wrote the screenplay, and focusing on the interactions between Mary and her collection of female jailers, there is a last days of Anne Boleyn feel to the drama dominated by the routines of dressing, eating, prison visits and her seemingly inevitable date with the hangman.
The stark and orderly nature of Mary’s cell is clear in this restoration, a barefaced Diana Dors in the leading role contrasts notably with the richness of the more typical noirish scenes set in bars and nice flats with Dors exuding the glamour for which she is best remembered. The film perhaps lingers too little on these contextual scenes told in characteristic flashbacks, so the long wait to hear whether a reprieve will be granted makes some of the film’s 100-minutes a little repetitive, particularly in the final section that is more a showcase for Dors’ excellent performance than a pacey conclusion.
The re-release comes with plenty of interesting extras including interviews with Michael Craig who plays Jim, film historian Melanie Williams and a contemporary discussion with Dors herself from the year of release. Returning to its original title Yield to the Night (also known as Blonde Sinner) is a great British noir, a female-led film that in this new format has never looked better.
Released on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Formats on 12 October 2020