Arrow Academy has released Joseph H. Lewis’ 1945 psychological melodrama My Name is Julia Ross on Blu-Ray. A Columbia B picture that clocks in at a tight 65 minutes, Julia Ross transcends its low budget origins with talented artists behind and in front of the camera at the top of their craft and is more memorable than a lot of the studio’s A budget films of the era.
The Production: 4.5/5
My Name is Julia Ross opens during a down pour with the title character returning to her London boarding house after another futile day of job hunting. Julia (Nina Foch) is several weeks behind in her rent and is desperate. She has no relations to turn to and her only friend is male co-boarder who is about to be married, unaware that Julia is in love with him.
During an antagonistic encounter with the boarding house cleaning woman, Julia sees a newspaper job listing advertising for a personal secretary to a wealthy widow, Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Witty). Julia hurries to the employment agency office where she interviews with Mrs. Sparkes (Anita Sharp-Bolster).
Upon learning that Julia has no ties or relations, Mrs. Sparkes immediately arranges for an interview with the kindly Mrs. Hughes and her son Ralph (George Macready). Finding Julia highly satisfactory, Mrs. Hughes gives Julia a generous advance and insists that she report to work that night.
Julia awakens two days later in a Cornwall seaside estate far away from London only to find herself in a living nightmare; she is told that she is Ralph’s wife Marion, and that she has suffered a nervous breakdown. This is also the story that the mansion staff and town locals are told thereby guaranteeing that Julia’s objections would be met with disbelief.
My Name is Julia Ross is a perfect example of an unpretentious, yet thoroughly satisfying Hollywood studio programmer. Based on the novel, The Woman in Red by Lucy Beatrice Malleson (a cousin of British actor/writer and early Hammer regular, the wonderful Miles Malleson) writing under a male pen name Anthony Gilbert in what was a fairly common practice of the day. The script by the prolific Muriel Roy Bolton is an almost perfectly constructed bit of craftsmanship with so little flab that moves so quickly that one doesn’t have time to question some of the more outrageous elements of the story. The lean script also is effective in what it doesn’t explicitly state – particularly the perverse nature of Ralph whose sadism is only hinted at by his attraction to knives and other sharp objects. This is better left to the viewer’s imagination.
The casting is nearly perfect with the lovely and versatile Nina Foch as Julia. Her Julia is always believable in what is often unbelievable circumstances. Foch is very restrained playing a character that is being driven insane. Dame May Witty and George Macready are perfect as what could be described as genteel forerunner to Norman and Mrs. Bates. Witty’s warm and kindly Mrs. Hughes masks a true monster preying on a young woman’s vulnerability. Macready is his usual wonderful velvety sinister villain. One of the interesting elements to the script is the cooperation of the characters Mrs. Sparkes and Peters (Leonard Mudie). Usually such characters are motivated by greed but because the goal of this charade isn’t a heist, one can only speculate at what the Hughes’ have on them. They are participating in a truly horrible crime. Other supporting standouts include Joy Harrington as the cleaning woman, Bertha and Doris Lloyd as boarding house owner Mrs. Mackie. The only weak link is leading man Roland Varno in a perfunctory one-dimensional B-movie leading man role.
Directed by the criminally underrated Joseph H. Lewis (So Dark The Night, Gun Crazy, The Big Combo, and Terror In A Texas Town). Lewis broke into the industry as a camera assistant, working his way up to editorial supervisor and finally director. The early part of Lewis’ career was spent toiling away in low budget genre pictures where he developed a style of shooting with objects in the foreground, earning him the nickname Wagon Wheel Joe. Lewis states in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich that this style was an effort to inject visual interest in routine scripts. When confident with the script Lewis claims he eschewed this trick and in Julia Ross with exception of a couple of minor instances this is true.
My Name is Julia Ross was shot by one of Columbia’s most talented DPs, Burnett Guffey (Johnny O’Clock, The Reckless Moment, All The King’s Men, Bonnie and Clyde). Guffey is a great cinematographer who never shows off for the sake of showing off. Guffey’s work is always in service of the subject, the ultimate Hollywood craftsmen. One example is the opening shot of the film with Nina Foch walking in the rain with her back to the camera; Burnett uses a fog like filter on the edges of the frame, probably to cover up the fact that this is the Columbia back lot and not a London street. It’s a simple, yet effective illusion. Burnett’s work along with production designer Jerome Pycha, Jr.’s contributions go a long way to disguise what is reported as a $175,000 budget.
My Name is Julia Ross is described as a film noir, but this is inaccurate both thematically and stylistically. It is firmly grounded more in the Woman in Distress genre than noir. It isn’t often that a classic Hollywood movie is based on a novel by a woman as well as adapted by a woman. Julia is a wonderful and rare female character in Hollywood movies – she starts as a victim but extricates herself from danger entirely by her own strength and intelligence. Unlike a noir character Julia is not trying to scam a corrupt system only to be outsmarted and come up short with tragic results. Julia is down on her luck but is sincere and seeking honest employment only to find herself victimized by monsters. Her honesty and goodness prevail when confronted by perversion. It resembles movies like Rebecca, Suspicion, and Gaslight much more than Out of the Past, Lady From Shanghai, or Night and the City. It does ask the question, are there any real female noir (anti) heroes in Hollywood films outside of femme fatales? I guess it doesn’t matter how the picture is sold as long as uninitiated viewers discover this little known gem.
3D Rating: NA
My Name is Julia Ross looks great. Arrow Films claim that the blu ray is from a 2K restoration from Sony Pictures. The Film Foundation logo is featured on the back cover though I found no mention of the film being restored on their website. In any case, it looks very film like with nice contrast and deep blacks. Grain is present throughout the film.
The audio is uncompressed mono and is very good. Dialogue, music, and effects are all clear and loud.
Special Features: 3/5
It is a little light on extras but includes:
A commentary by Alan K. Rode, author of biographies of Michael Curtiz and Charles McGraw. It’s a good, if somewhat unpolished commentary. Rode clearly believes this is a film noir; I disagree. He makes mistakes in describing shots as when he says the first shot of Julia’s face is an insert or when he describes her looking over a room as a 360 degree pan; it’s closer to 180 degrees. Rode gives a lot of information about the production and cast and crew. He spends a great deal of time dissecting some of the personal mythmaking director Lewis engaged in during his long retirement. I think he is a little hard on Lewis at times, but don’t doubt much of what he says.
A video entitled Identity Crisis: Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia featuring The Nitrate Diva, Nora Fiore. Most of what Fiore talks about comes from the Lewis interview in Peter Bogdanovich’s indispensable collection of director interviews, Who The Devil Made It? When she talks about Julia Ross in the context of women’s role in the post WWll workplace I think she is stretching.
The original theatrical trailer.
My Name is Julia Ross is top notch Hollywood studio filmmaking. I find it irresistibly entertaining and hope this stellar release from Arrow helps the film find new fans.