A poignant and sadly forgotten 1956 black and white British film directed by J Lee Thompson inspired by the story of Ruth Ellis – the last woman to be hanged in Britain.
It’s a powerful and haunting rejection of capital punishment in a civilised society and features a remarkable performance by a young Diana Dors, cast against type as the doomed Mary Hilton, sentenced to hang for shooting a woman who she believes drove her lover Jim Lancaster (Michael Craig) to suicide by having an affair with him behind her back and then leaving him.
In prison, Mary is kept under incredibly strict observation with six officers on rotation watching her at all times and a tedious set of rules and regulations to abide by.
Everything she does is under the watchful gaze of her female prison guards, even sleeping and taking a bath. Dors is great in the prison scenes: resigned, sulky, bored, scared, depressed, hopeful, delirious, philosophical and always very human.
The prison officers start to gradually feel some sympathy for Mary and her constrictive treatment, with the only relief from this ordered monotony a daily walk in the exercise yard to get some fresh air.
As the clock ticks down to Mary’s fate, she continues to work for a reprieve and daydreams about the events that led her to be in this grim situation.
Yield to the Night was made and released at a time when capital punishment was part of a heated debate in society and highly topical. In fact, by the time the film was released an Abolition Bill had already been passed.
Released in the USA as Blonde Sinner.
J. Lee Thompson