Tiger Bay (1959)

Tiger Bay (1959)

“Why not tell them — the whole thing? Nobody on our street will blame you; they say she gave our place a bad name.”

A young orphan named Gillie (Hayley Mills) befriends a Polish sailor (Horst Buchholz) who has just killed his faithless girlfriend (Yvonne Mitchell), and tries her best to prevent him from being captured by determined police Superintendent Graham (John Mills).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Friendship
  • Fugitives
  • John Mills Films
  • Orphans

12-year-old Hayley Mills made a stunning screen debut in this atmospheric, intelligent thriller about cross-generational friendship and loyalty. Mills’ part was originally meant for a boy, but her bob haircut and tomboyish manner make her entirely suitable for the role — which, given Gillie’s propensity for unrepentant lying and stealing, is about as far removed from Mills’ ensuing Pollyanna image as one could imagine. Indeed, part of what makes Tiger Bay so fascinating is the way in which it presents eminently real, flawed characters and allows us to sympathize with them — while we know that Buchholz must be caught and punished for his actions, for instance, we can entirely relate to both his and Gillie’s desire to run away and live freely at sea. Although the story itself occasionally defies belief (particularly by the end), the special friendship that emerges between Gillie and Buchholz — refreshingly free of any sexual overtones — makes this unusual film well worth watching.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hayley Mills as Gillie
  • Horst Buchholz as Korchinsky
  • John Mills as Superintendent Graham
  • Megs Jenkins as Gillie’s aunt
  • Effective use of Cardiff locales and locals
  • Atmospheric b&w cinematography
  • A highly affecting story of cross-generational friendship

Must See?
Yes, simply for Mills’ stand-out performance. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


One thought on “Tiger Bay (1959)

  1. A must – it’s puzzling that this film is very hard to come by and rarely, if ever, screened; though a number of ffs I know who have seen it talk about it with fond remembrance. Mostly for Hayley Mills but generally for the film itself.

    It’s straightforward and consistently gripping – even (sometimes esp.) in its quieter moments.

    Soon after Buchholz and Mills begin a genuine friendship, he says to her:

    “Soon, in a few years, you’ll be grown up…beautiful. Someone will love you – want to marry you. And then you have all the power in the world for good and bad. Just with your little finger. A few words, to make happy – or unhappy.”

    By extension, that is the overall theme of this very moral film: why we choose to be good (protection of society) or bad (jealousy, anger, guilt, fear, greed, disgust, etc.) or bad in the guise of good (protection of a loved one).

    In all, ‘TB’ is a ripping yarn. Much of director Thompson’s work is little known or of scant distinction; however, he managed at least a handful of very memorable films, and ‘TB’ is right up there with his ‘Cape Fear’. It has a terrifically paced build and the script has a surprising twist with a satisfying, somewhat ambiguous ending.

    Personally, I find myself particularly intrigued by the screen relationship here between Hayley and her real-life father John. The dynamic is at times a harsh one; yet the father/daughter teamwork is impressive.

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