Friday, May 17, 2019

Movie Review: My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

My Name Is Julia Ross (1945) 
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis.
Written by: Muriel Roy Bolton based on the novel by Anthony Gilbert.
Starring: Nina Foch (Julia Ross), Dame May Whitty (Mrs. Hughes), George Macready (Ralph Hughes), Roland Varno (Dennis Bruce), Anita Sharp-Bolster (Sparkes), Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Mackie).
My Name is Julia Ross is a brisk little noir thriller – it clocks in at just over 65 minutes, and that’s just about the perfect length for this film. Any longer or more drawn out and the silliness of the plot may well have become too apparent and easier to roll your eyes at. And yet, at this length, My Name is Julia Ross doesn’t waste a second of time, and becomes a stylish and entertaining noir thriller. Also, there is something underneath the surface level that makes this thriller perhaps a little scarier than it otherwise would be. This is a film not unlike Gaslight in terms of its outlook on male/female relationships.
Nina Foch plays the title character – young Julia living by herself in London, currently unemployed and single – one of the other boarders living in the house, Dennis Bruce (Roland Varno) had just left to get married, making her wonder what could have been. At the same time, she gets offered a new job – being the secretary to an elderly lady, and Dennis moves back into the boarding house – the marriage, apparently, having been called off. Things are looking up. That is, until she falls asleep at the house of her new job, and wakes up miles away in a large house on the coast, where everyone acts as if she is the crazy wife of Ralph Hughes (George Macready). The kindly old woman she thought she would be employed by is now saying she is her mother in law – Mrs. Hughes (the wonderful Dame May Whitty) – and that the whole family is here for her, and just want her to get better. We know this is all an elaborate ruse – the details of which we will only get slowly over time.
The film was directed by Joseph H. Lewis – one of those talented craftsman of the studio era who didn’t really get the attention he deserved during his career. He is probably best known for the noir Gun Crazy (1950) – a crime spree thriller that was a forerunner of Bonnie & Clyde (1967) and films of that kind. He made a few dozen films in his time – a lot of Westerns, a lot of film noir – and he spent the last decade of his career directing TV episodes – before retiring, and not directing anything for the last three decades of his life.
In My Name is Julia Ross he kind of directs like Hitchcock on a budget – as if the master of suspense had been hired by Val Lewton. Yes, there are a lot of clichés directorial tricks trotted out throughout the film – but all of them are used to great effect, to keep the plot moving. Lewis just keeps up the tricks – and delivers what on the surface is a highly entertaining film. The ending is probably too upbeat – but then again, that was fairly common in that era.
But there is an undercurrent to My Name is Julia Ross that makes it scarier – and even timelier – than it is at first glance. This really is a female nightmare of a film – a story about a woman who is told she is crazy, whose identity is stolen from her, and who can be controlled and abused, and no one will believe her. Gaslighting has become a term for a type of abuse in intimate relationships – because of the play/movie of that name. My Name is Julia Ross is somewhat in the same vein – and just because its wrapped up in such a stylish, entertaining package, doesn’t make it less terrifying.

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