Thursday, June 21, 2018

Hayley and Horst in Tiger Bay

Horst Buccholz and Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay.
It's taken me over 40 years to finally see Tiger Bay, the 1959 film debut of Hayley Mills. I first saw a preview of it on The CBS Late Movie in the 1970s, but missed the movie for reasons I can't remember. It then eluded me over the following decades until I recently discovered it on YouTube--a quality print no less.

Horst Buccholz stars as Korchinsky, a young Polish man who has returned to Wales after working many months on a freighter. Planning to propose to his girlfriend Anya, he is thus taken aback to learn that she has moved without telling him. Even worse, it appears Anya has kept the rent money that Korchinsky sent and shacked up with another man. The angry young sailor sets out to find her.

Concurrently, we follow the story of 11-year-old Gillie (Hayley Mills), a lonely girl shunned by the other children. Gillie is a deceptive child--she pockets the leftover change when her aunt sends her to buy sausages. Her aunt seems nice enough, but thinks nothing of young Gillie staying out alone late at night.

Gillie sees what happened.
Korchinsky finally tracks down Anya to the low-rent apartment house where Gillie lives. He confronts his girlfriend and strikes her. Anya grabs Korchinsky's gun from a drawer, there's a struggle, and Anya is accidentally shot. Gillie watches everything from the hallway and Korchinsky spots her as he hastily departs. Gillie then promptly snatches the gun and hides it in her aunt's apartment.

Tiger Bay is a reasonably compelling film from the outset, but doesn't gel until circumstances pair up Korchinsky and Gillie. That's when its true nature is revealed: This is a study of two lonely people who form an unlikely bond even though they both know it will be short-lived.

Hayley and John Mills.
It's quite a change-of-pace for director J. Lee Thompson, who later became best known for his action films with Charles Bronson. In Tiger Bay, Thompson captures the dark, shabby neighborhoods, which give way to grassy pastures in a scene where Korchinsky and Gillie dream briefly of a better life.

Hayley Mills gives an astonishingly natural performance for a first-time actor. She once said: "Acting is just a natural thing in my family. Other boys and girls go into the family business. So do we." In fact, her finest scene in Tiger Bay is when a Scotland Yard inspector grills her on Korchinsky's whereabouts. That inspector just happens to be played by Hayley's father, the wonderful John Mills.

After gaining popularity in his native Germany, Horst Buccholz made his English-language debut in Tiger Bay. His good looks and sensitive portrayal--especially his natural rapport with the young Mills--likely led to his casting in the following year's boxoffice smash The Magnificent Seven. Buccholz continued to have success with roles in Fanny (1961) and One, Two, Three (1961). He's very funny in the latter, though apparently he and Billy Wilder did not get along.

So, did Tiger Bay live up to my expectations after waiting so long to see it? I would say yes, for the most part. But the moral here is to never give up looking for that movie that you've always wanted to see. And do check YouTube occasionally, because you never known what you might find.


Caftan Woman said...

I have not seen Tiger Bay in decades. Your review conjured up all sorts of feelings. I am so pleased to hear it is on YouTube. I know what I'm doing this afternoon.

rocketdave said...

I'd never heard of Tiger Bay before this year when I rewatched Pollyanna for the first time in forever (it gets mentioned a few times on the DVD commentary), which I did, incidentally, specifically because of this blog's post about that movie. I've been meaning to check out Tiger Bay ever since. I guess I don't have any good excuse why I haven't so far, seeing that it's on YouTube (and I don't even have to pretend to feel a twinge of guilt about watching it on there either, given the fact that it's apparently not available on DVD in the States).

Silver Screenings said...

Haley Mills looks so little and so cute! And look, here it is on YouTube! (The best resource ever.) Thanks!

Along These Lines ... said...

Good review. Always loved this film and Hayley's still delightful.

toto2 said...

It is important to not give up finding things, including movies! YouTube can be a treasure trove. Hayley Mills was quite remarkably natural and it is an extra treat to see her with her father.