Tiger Bay is a 1959 British crime drama film directed by J. Lee Thompson and produced and co-written by John Hawkesworth. It stars John Mills as a police superintendent who investigates a murder, his 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.
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.
In Cardiff, Wales, a young Polish seaman named Bronislav Korchinsky (Horst Buchholz) returns from his latest voyage to visit his girlfriend Anya (Yvonne Mitchell). When he finds a woman named Christine (Shari) living in her apartment, the landlord tells him that he evicted Anya and gives him her new address, which is also the home of a young girl named Gillie Evans (Hayley Mills), an orphaned tomboy who lives with her Aunt. Gillie’s angelic face hides the fact that she is a habitual liar, and she dearly wants a cap gun so she can play “Cowboys and Indians” with the boys in her neighbourhood. Korchinsky arrives shortly after she gets into a fight, and she begins to like him as she leads him to her apartment building.
Korchinsky finds Anya in her new apartment, but she wants nothing to do with him. Dissatisfied with waiting while he is at sea, she has been seeing another man, a sports caster named Barkley (Anthony Dawson). When Korchinsky assaults her, she defends herself with a gun, but he takes the gun from her, becomes furious with jealousy, and shoots her dead. Gillie witnesses the incident through the mail slot in the apartment door. When the landlord investigates the noise, Gillie hides in a closet, and when Korchinsky hides the gun near her, she takes it and runs into her apartment.
Wanting to keep the gun, Gillie lies to police superintendent Graham (John Mills) about what she saw. Korchinsky follows her to a wedding at her church, where she shows the gun to a boy who sings with her in the choir, and afterwards he chases her into the attic. After he takes the gun from her, they make friends and he agrees to take her to sea with him as he flees the country. He learns that a Venezuelan merchant ship, the Poloma, will leave port the next day, and Gillie leads him to a hiding place in the countryside, where he entertains her by re-enacting his overseas adventures. When the Poloma is due to sail, and the scene of the vessel locking out is actually filmed at Avonmouth, he persuades Gillie to let him go alone, retrieves his identification papers from Christine, and signs on to the ship.
Meanwhile, the police investigate the murder. The mother of Gillie’s choir friend finds the bullet Gillie gave him, the boy tells Graham about the gun, Christine brings a photograph of Korchinsky to the police, and Barkley admits to owning the gun and seeing Anya after she was shot. Some men find Gillie at the hideout and take her to the police, where she continues to lie, identifying Barkley as the murderer. With Barkley as a suspect, she admits to having seen the crime and re-enacts it for Graham at the apartment, but she accidentally reveals that she knows the killer is Polish. She still denies knowing Korchinksy, but Graham drives her to the pilot Station at Barry Docks and takes her on a Pilot Boat to the Poloma as it approaches the boundary of territorial waters three miles from shore.
At this point Gillie is obviously trying to obstruct Graham’s progress. When he confronts her and Korchinsky aboard the Poloma, they deny knowing each other, and the captain stops him when he arrests Korchinsky because the ships navigating officer plots Poloma’s position just outside the three mile limit which is beyond the jurisdiction of the British police
Finally, Gillie falls overboard while trying to stow away on the ship so she can remain with Korchinksy. Being the only person to see her fall, Korchinsky ignores the risk of arrest and dives into the water to save her and they are both rescued by the police boat. Korchinsky admits his guilt after Gillie hugs him, and Graham commends him for his bravery in saving her.
John Mills as Police Superintendent Graham
Horst Buchholz as Bronislav Korchinsky, a professional Polish seaman
Hayley Mills as Gillie Evans, a wayward young girl
Yvonne Mitchell as Anya Haluba, Korchinksy’s long-time girlfriend
Megs Jenkins as Mrs Phillips
Anthony Dawson as Barclay, Anya’s new boyfriend
George Selway as Detective Sergeant Harvey
Shari as Christine
George Pastell as Poloma Captain
Paul Stassino as Poloma First Officer
Marne Maitland as Dr. Das
Meredith Edwards as PC Williams
Marianne Stone as Mrs Williams
Rachel Thomas as Mrs Parry
Brian Hammond as Dai Parry
Kenneth Griffith as Choirmaster
Eynon Evans as Mr. Morgan
Christopher Rhodes as Inspector Bridges
Edward Cast as Detective Constable Thomas
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
1959 Nominated Golden Berlin Bear , J. Lee Thompson