(director: J. Lee-Thompson; screenwriters: John Cresswell/Joan Henry/novel by Joan Henry; cinematographer: Gilbert Taylor; editor: Richard Best; music: Ray Martin; cast:  Diana Dors (Mary Hilton), Yvonne Mitchell (Matron Pat MacFarlane), Geoffrey Keene (Prison Chaplain), Michael Craig (Jim Lancaster), Mercia Shaw (Lucy Carpenter), Joyce Blair (Doris), Athene Seyler (Miss Bligh), Olga Lindo (Hill), Marie Ney (Governor), Joan Miller (Barker), Harry Locke (Fred Hilton, Mary’s husband), Michael Ripper (Roy), Mary Mackenzie (Maxwell), Liam Redmond (Doctor), John Charlesworth Alan Hilton, Mary’s brother), Dandy Nicholls (Mrs. Price, Mary’s brother); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kenneth Harper; Allied Artists Pictures; 1956-UK-B/W)

“The downbeat film’s intention was to make an argument

against capital punishment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

J. Lee-Thompson (“The Weak and The Wicked”/”King Solomon’s Mines”) directs this maudlin drama, that has Diana Dors give her career best performance, playing Mary Hilton, who is a surrogate for Ruth Ellis–the last woman executed in Great Britain.

Mary was convicted for the cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder of a society woman named Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw). It’s co-written by John Cresswell and the director’s future wife Joan Henry, whose 1954 novel the film is based on. The downbeat film’s intention was to make an argument against capital punishment.

It’s a flawed film that I nevertheless found intriguing. The story was retold some thirty years later with more style and oomph by Mike Newell, in a film called Dance With A Stranger.

The unhappily married beauty salon sales clerk Mary Hilton (Diana Dors) meets the London nightclub piano player Jim Lancaster (Michael Craig) when he comes into her store to buy perfume for his society girlfriend Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw). Though married Mary starts seeing Jim and
leaves her husband (Harry Locke). Jim then brushes her off after she leaves her husband. One night, when Lucy stands him up, Jim comes by drunk and sleeps over Mary’s place. Mary steals his gun.

Mary is on death row when recalling how she shot Lucy in the street and then learned that Jim afterwards committed suicide.

Waiting for a stay of execution never comes for the frightened Mary, who is treated nicely by her sympathetic prison guard Pat (Yvonne Mitchell). When the time comes for the execution, Mary is taken to the execution chamber after breakfast and hanged.

Diana Dors was England’s blonde bombshell, their answer to Marilyn Monroe. Her presence in such a dreary drama makes it a most curious film.

The director and the author, Joan Henry, were against capital punishment, and when the attractive young blonde model and nightclub worker, the Londoner Ruth Ellis was executed, Joan wrote a book about her that Lee made. Ellis was the last woman executed in England. Though Dors was much praised for her sensitive performance and
film was also mostly praised, it did poorly at the box office.

The film was screened that year for members of parliament and probably influenced a bill to abolish the death penalty, which was eventually passed in 1965.

REVIEWED ON 8/24/2020  GRADE: B-