Day 26 of Noirvember: Brit Noir — Yield to the Night
Within the first eight minutes of Yield to the Night, a British noir released in 1956, I was in love with this movie. Here’s why:
1. It opens with not a word of dialogue – just two women, one blonde, one brunette. The blonde is traveling to an unknown destination – first walking through streets teeming with pigeons, then riding in a taxi – the brunette has just arrived home with her car laden with packages. As the brunette unpacks her car, we see the blonde standing outside her house. The blonde removes a gun from her handbag and, after a few moments, begins firing solemnly but purposefully at the other woman. Over and over and over again. Seven shots. As the brunette falls dead on the street, a shocked crowd gathers. The blonde doesn’t move. She only stands watching the scene. Silent. Unmoved and unmoving. Cue credits.
2. In the next scene we see, the blonde – her name is Mrs. Hilton, we learn – is in prison, just having learned that she will be put to death for the murder unless she receives a last-minute reprieve from the governor. She’s visited first by a chaplain and then by her lawyer. But it’s not these interactions that kept me riveted to the screen, but the camera angles. I’ll admit, here and now, that I’m not usually one for noticing cinematography, lights and shadows, and the like. But these scenes, with their claustrophobic close-ups and unusual points of view – like the one that appears like the camera is hiding on the floor in the room, eavesdropping on the conversation – left me veritably breathless. Other camera shots later in the film include views from inside of a refrigerator, from behind the slats of a chair, and one particularly memorable one that followed Mrs. Hilton as she walked across the room in a nightclub – the camera followed her as if it were a voyeur, from behind plants and tables, and poles, and couples on the dance floor, until she reaches her destination.
Mary Hilton is played by Diana Dors, and the bulk of the movie focuses on showing us, in flashback, how she came to murder the other woman, even as she waits to find out if her life will be spared. We learn that Mary, a perfume salesperson in a department store, fell in love with a teacher/piano player by the name of Jim Lancaster, despite the fact that she had a husband at home. For a while, the relationship seemed idyllic – at least for Mary: “I must’ve been blind,” she said. “Or maybe I wouldn’t let myself believe that Jim never loved me the way I did him.” Instead, Jim’s attentions were focused on a wealthy socialite, Amy Carpenter – the brunette from the opening scene who wound up dead on the pavement by her car. I won’t give away anything more; I’ll just leave you with one of my favorite exchanges from the film, which comes after Mary leaves her husband and shows up on Jim’s doorstep with her suitcase in tow.
Mary: You’re not angry, are you?
Jim: No, I’m not angry, but – you can’t stay here.
Mary: No. Of course not. I’ll go to a hotel tonight and then tomorrow I’ll find myself somewhere.
Jim: Your husband. What’s he going to say about all this?
Mary: Oh, he’ll get over it. All he ever thinks about is his work. He hardly ever seems to notice whether I’m there or not.
Jim: That’s marriage, I guess.
Mary: What do you know about it? You’ve never been married.
Jim: What difference does that make? You don’t have to go down a coal mine to know it’s dark and dirty.
Also known as Blonde Sinner, Yield to the Night isn’t easy to find on DVD (although it is available on Region 2 DVDs, both on a single disk and as part of a box set titled The Diana Dors Collection). But if you can get your hands on it, do.
And join me tomorrow for Day 27 of Noirvember.