Tiger Bay (1959 film)

Tiger Bay is a 1959 British crime drama film based on the short story "Rodolphe et le Revolver" by Noel Calef. It was directed by J. Lee Thompson, produced by John Hawkesworth, and co-written by John Hawkesworth and Shelley Smith (pseudonym of Nancy Hermione Bodington). It stars John Mills as a police superintendent investigating a murder; his real life daughter Hayley Mills, in her first major film role, as a girl who witnesses the murder; and Horst Buchholz as a young sailor who commits the murder in a moment of passion.

Tiger Bay
Tiger Bay-1959.jpg
Directed byJ. Lee Thompson
Produced byJohn Hawkesworth
Written byJohn Hawkesworth
Shelley Smith
Noël Calef (short story)
StarringJohn Mills
Horst Buchholz
Hayley Mills
Music byLaurie Johnson
CinematographyEric Cross
Edited bySidney Hayers
Distributed byRank Organisation (UK), Continental Distributing (USA)
Release date
  • March 1959 (1959-03)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The film was shot mostly on location in the Tiger Bay district of Cardiff, at Newport Transporter Bridge in Newport (12 miles from Cardiff) and at Avonmouth Docks in Bristol. It features many authentic scenes of the children's street culture and the black street culture of the time, along with many dockside shots and scenes in real pubs and the surrounding countryside. It marks a vital transitional moment in the move towards the British New Wave cinema exemplified a few years later by A Taste of Honey.

Unusually the overall ambience is one of sympathy towards the killer, seeing him as a basically good person, and victim of circumstance.


In Cardiff, a young Polish sailor named Bronislav ("Bronek") Korchinsky (Horst Buchholz) returns from his latest voyage to visit his girlfriend Anya (Yvonne Mitchell). He arrives to a clearly multicultural new Britain, with both black and white children playing on the streets. After stowing his belongings in a hallway cupboard, he finds a new person ("Christine") living in his girlfriend's flat, and does not understand where the money he sent for rent has gone. He finds the landlord and presses him for Anya's address, also paying £5 for two weeks back rent and bills.

Meanwhile Gillie is playing with the boys at the dock side. The boys have cap-guns. After some rough-housing she drops the sausages she is carrying home to her aunt. Bronek approaches seeking help in locating the address he has been given. Gillie lives in the same block so they go together.

Gillie Evans (Hayley Mills) is an orphaned tomboy who lives with her Aunt. Gillie's angelic face hides the fact that she is a habitual liar. She dearly wants a cap gun so she can play "Cowboys and Indians" with the boys in her neighbourhood.

Bronek finds Anya in her new flat, but she wants nothing to do with him. Dissatisfied with waiting while he is at sea, she has been seeing another man, a married sportscaster named Barclay (Anthony Dawson). When Bronek, furious with jealousy, assaults her, she defends herself with a gun, but he takes the gun from her and shoots her dead. Gillie witnesses the incident through the letter box in the apartment door. When the landlord investigates the noise, Gillie hides in a cupboard, and when Bronek hides the gun near her, she takes it and runs into her apartment. Barclay then arrives to visit Anya, but, finding her dead, quickly flees. A neighbour discovers the body shortly afterward and summons the police.

Wanting to keep the gun, Gillie lies to police superintendent Graham (John Mills) (and constable Williams a resident of the block who knowns Gillie well) about what she saw. Bronek follows her to a wedding at her church, where she shows the gun to a boy who sings with her in the choir and gives him the sole remaining bullet from the gun, in exchange for two toy cars. Bronek waits for her and subsequently chases her into the attic. After he takes the gun from her, they become friends and he agrees to take her to sea with him when he flees the country.

The police investigation of the murder continues, and Gillie is reported missing. The mother of Gillie's choir friend finds the bullet Gillie gave him, and the boy tells Graham about the gun.

Bronek learns that a Venezuelan merchant ship, the Poloma, will leave port the next day, so Gillie leads him to a hiding place in the countryside, where he entertains her by re-enacting his overseas adventures. At the police station, Barclay arrives to admit to having given his gun to Anna simultaneously with Christine handing in the bag of Bronek's belongings to the police. The desk sergeant curses her for being a prostitute, and accuses her of having taken something from the bag, annoying her. Later, as police officers search the bag, they find a photograph of Bronek and Anna, and recognise Anna. In another part of the police station, Barclay admits to owning the gun and having visited Anya's apartment after she had been shot. When the Poloma is due to sail (the scene of the vessel departing is actually filmed at Avonmouth), Bronek persuades Gillie to let him go alone, retrieves his identification papers from Christine, who is still angry at her treatment by the police. Bronek leaves her with a metal cigarette case which she had already taken from the bag, travels to the docks and signs on with the ship.

Some picnickers find Gillie at the country hideout and take her to the police, where she continues to lie, identifying Barclay as the murderer. With Barclay as a suspect, she admits to having seen the crime and re-enacts it for Graham at the apartment, but accidentally reveals that she knows the killer is Polish. She still denies knowing Bronek, but by now the police know he is the murderer. Both the police and Bronek are aware of the three mile limit for British legal jurisdiction.

Graham drives Gille to the station at Barry Docks and takes her on a pilot boat to the Poloma as the ship approaches the boundary of territorial waters. At this point, Gillie is obviously trying to obstruct Graham's progress. When the inspector confronts Gillie and Bronek now together aboard the Poloma, they deny knowing each other. Nevertheless, Graham attempts to arrest Bronek, but the ship's captain prevents him, saying that his navigation officer has plotted Poloma's position as just outside the three-mile limit, and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of the British police.

Gillie runs around on the ship trying to evade both crew and police, and falls overboard while trying to stow away on the ship in the hope of remaining with Bronek. Being the only person to see her fall, Bronek dives into the water to save her and loses his ship. The pair are rescued by the police boat sent from Barry Island. Bronek admits his guilt after Gillie hugs him, and Graham commends him for his bravery in saving her. The "Poloma" sails off and his chance of freedom has gone.

The film does not consider his punishment. The death penalty for murder remained in force in Great Britain until 1965.


The film has repeated sections showing the Newport Transporter Bridge in action, one of the few travelling bridges in the world.

Although the captain and first officer of the ship are shown speaking Spanish the actors were both Cypriots.


  • Shari as Christine, the new resident of Anna's flat.


The film was popular at the box office.[1]

Awards & nominationsEdit

  • 1960 Won BAFTA Film Award – Most Promising Newcomer to Film, Hayley Mills
  • 1960 Nominated BAFTA Film Award – Best British Film, J. Lee Thompson
  • 1960 Nominated BAFTA Film Award – Best British Screenplay, John Hawkesworth and Shelley Smith
  • 1960 Nominated BAFTA Film Award – Best Film from any Source, J. Lee Thompson
  • 1959 Won Silver Bear, 9th Berlin International Film Festival Special Prize, Hayley Mills[2]
  • 1959 Nominated Golden Berlin Bear, J. Lee Thompson


  1. ^ Murray Schumach (25 July 1961). "J. Lee Thompson Discusses Career: 'Guns Of Navarone' Director Took Devious Path To Films". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "Berlinale: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  • Williams, Melanie (Autumn 2005). "I'm Not A Lady: Tiger Bay (1959) and transitional girlhood in British cinema on the cusp of the 1960s". Screen. 46 (3).

External linksEdit