Hayley's the Horst Whisperer
"Tiger Bay" is most noted for featuring the movie debut of Hayley Mills and what a great debut it is with the young Mills not only working alongside her father but also having great chemistry with co-star Horst Buchholz. Ironically it could have been so different because her character of Gillie was originally attended for a boy and it was only when director J. Lee Thompson saw Hayley Mills that he decided to change it. And that for me is they key to why "Tiger Bay" works because whilst we have this thriller about police tracking down a murderer the real entertainment comes from the friendship which forms between young Gillie and the older Korchinsky. And that friendship comes to life because Hayley Mills and Horst Buchholz work so well together, a real naturalness to the way they interact.
Tomboy Gillie (Hayley Mills - The Trouble with Angels) is messing around in the block of flats when she hears an argument coming from a flat upstairs, spying through the letterbox she witnesses Korchinsky (Horst Buchholz - Avalanche Express) shoot and kill Anya (Yvonne Mitchell), his girlfriend who whilst he has been away at sea has been carrying on with a married man. In the heat of the moment young Gillie manages to take the gun leading to Korchinsky trying to catch her. At the same time young Gillie tells the police a pack of lies when they show up to question the residents but soon the police find themselves looking for Gillie when she goes missing with Korchinsky.
For the most "Tiger Bay" is a solid 1950s British thriller, we have a murder, we have chases, we have the police investigating and then a big dramatic ending. It is as I said solid with John Mills doing a good job as Superintendent Graham although it is a familiar performance with Mills being a man of authority. But the actual crime story side of things isn't that special despite having some nice dramatic twists to stop it from being plain sailing.
Where "Tiger Bay" is both interesting and entertaining is in the friendship which forms between Gillie and Korchinsky as they end up going on the run together. Now there is no sexuality, Gillie is no Lolita but there is this wonderful mix of almost brotherly-sisterly love with that little bit more as it almost suggests that Gillie is also besotted with the handsome Korchinsky. I use the word besotted on purpose because Hayley Mills has said that she was besotted with Buchholz whilst making the movie and that comes through in the way Gillie interacts with Korchinsky. It is wonderful to watch and you get a real sense of friendship, loyalty and protection going on between them.
What that means is that "Tiger Bay" is very much a movie about the performances of Hayley Mills and Horst Buchholz and both are very good. Buchholz with his James Dean looks delivers plenty of angst and tension but he also delivers the heart of a man who wants to love, who wants to have someone to care for and protect. But it is of course Hayley Mills in her movie debut who steals the movie, yes there are times when she looks like she is searching for her lines but more often or not it all seems natural, her delivery, the way she interacts, the looks of sadness it is absolutely amazing.
What this all boils down to is that "Tiger Bay" is a very good 50s thriller but it is not because of the actual crime story but the friendship which forms between a young man and a child. It is so well acted and there is such great chemistry between Hayley Mills and Horst Buchholz that it ends up captivating.