“For the night is already at hand, and it is well to yield to the night.”
Mary Hilton (Diana Dors) has committed a serious crime. In broad daylight, she shot and killed another woman. Now she sits in prison, awaiting her own execution.
What could possess a young salesgirl, with her entire life ahead of her, to become a cold-blooded killer? And does she truly deserve to die for her crime?
Told partially in flashback, Yield to the Night (sometimes known as Blonde Sinner) reveals the truth about Mary’s past as well as sharing the reality of her life on death row.
The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson. It is based on a book by Joan Henry, who is also credited for the screenplay along with John Cresswell. I watched this film on FilmStruck, in their “Brit Noir” spotlight section.
Diana Dors is mostly remembered as a tiny-waisted “bombshell,” sort of the British answer to Marilyn Monroe. But like Monroe, she deserves a lot more credit than she gets as an actress. Her performance here is very good — the best I’ve seen from her, yet. Legitimately fantastic, at times! She goes from naïve, lovesick woman to murderess to depressive prisoner on the brink of death, and plays all of these facets of her character’s life convincingly.
As mentioned above, the film is told partially in flashback, as Mary reminisces during her daily walks through the prison yard (her mandated exercise). I really enjoyed the use of flashbacks in this film. They’re interspersed with scenes of Mary in prison in the weeks leading up to her execution, offering fascinating insight into her crime as well as the psychological turmoil of knowing her death is on the horizon.
The in-prison side of the plot was particularly gripping to me, much more unique than the love-triangle-turned murderous (though that side does add some wonderful touches of noir). The way the film puts the viewer in Mary’s head is very impactful, drawing sympathy for the character despite her crime.
Compared to its thrilling beginning, which shows Mary’s cold-blooded crime with no dialogue and nightmarish camera angles, the rest of the film can feel a bit slowly-paced. Still, it more than held my attention.
The big takeaway is Mary’s emotional turmoil as she awaits her death. Though she is a criminal and she didn’t always show remorse for her crime, she’s still human, not the monster many would paint her as based on the facts of the case.
The opening had me expecting a high-tension noir, but what I got was perhaps even better — a hidden gem of a drama with thought-provoking commentary on the death penalty. Highly recommended.