MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS
(director: Joseph H. Lewis; screenwriters: from the novel “The Woman in Red” by Anthony Gilbert/ Muriel Roy Bolton; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Henry Batista; cast: Nina Foch (Julia Ross), Dame May Whitty (Mrs. Hughes), George Macready (Ralph Hughes), Roland Varno (Dennis Bruce), Anita Bolster (Sparkes), Leonard Mudie (Peters, the Butler), Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Mackie), Joy Harrington (Bertha, Cleaning Lady), Queenie Leonard (Alice, Maid), Harry Hays Morgan (Robinson), Olaf Hytten (Reverend Lewis), Evan Thomas (Dr. Keller); Runtime: 64; Columbia; 1945)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, gave Joseph H. Lewis his first break to make a classier picture than his previous low-budget ones. When he saw the early rushes of the film, he elevated “My Name Is Julia Ross” from a 10-day “B” to an 18-day “A” picture.
Though not original in motif, nevertheless, this film is a beauty, it is one that is able through its visualizations to strike a fresh chord. It is noted for its brooding atmosphere shots and its classical noir camera work. In one such shot, the heroine is seen forlornly looking out of windows with bars on them. The film is also particularly noteworthy for the fine performances of its stars: Nina Foch as Julia Ross, Dame May Whitty as Mrs. Hughes, and George Macready as Ralph Hughes.
Warning: spoilers throughout.
Julia Ross is an American who came to London to see a doctor for her illness. She might or might not have a boyfriend in Dennis Bruce (Varno), as that relationship is unclear. The two met and exchange pleasantries, and plan to meet again.
Julia needs money, as she owes her landlady three weeks back rent. She has just gone to an employment agency and after being questioned by a Miss Sparkes (Bolster) about having no family or friends in London, she is hired as a live-in secretary for Mrs. Hughes.
Julia departs that night to go to her new residence and leaves a note to Dennis, and also leaves the back rent with the cleaning lady (Harrington). When Dennis comes by to see her, he is surprised that she is not there and that the cleaning lady tells him nothing as she plans to keep the rent money after ripping up Julia’s note.
The suspense builds as Julia wakes up in a Cornwall mansion that looks out at the sea, and the camera pans completely around her strange room. She is told that she just got released from a mental institution and is married to Ralph, Mrs. Hughes’ son. Julia realizes that she has been drugged last night and brought here from London, but can’t explain this to the maid, Alice (Queenie), who comes from the village and is not part of Mrs. Hughes’ scheme. When Julia tells her she is not crazy and just wants to get out of here, the maid is puzzled at what to do.
Meanwhile, Dennis senses something is wrong by her unexplained absence and when he returns to Julia’s boarding house he confronts the cleaning lady and gets her to admit that Julia left him a note. When he goes to the employment agency, he is told they moved out in the night and left no forwarding address.
Julia tries to escape, but finds she is blocked by a high wall around the house and a locked gate in front. She makes another attempt to escape in the vicar’s car, but he falls for Mrs. Hughes’ explanation that she’s mentally ill and dutifully returns her to Ralph.
Ralph is a rather frightening character, often whittling intensely away with his knife. Julia pumps Ralph by surreptitiously questioning him and learns that she is supposedly his wife Marian. She overhears a conversation between Ralph and his mother about how they plan to kill her and make it look like a suicide, and substitute her body for the real Marian. She had found out that Ralph married Marian for money and had lied about his financial circumstances and when she slapped him, the quick-tempered Ralph went berserk and knifed her to death — dumping her body out to sea.
Julia fights desperately to save her life, figuring her best chance is to get word to Dennis. She leaves a letter out in the open in her room that is addressed to Dennis about Mrs. Hughes’ plans to kill her. The foxy Mrs. Hughes discovers that letter and tells her son to drive Marian into town and let her post the letter she just switched. Julia is able to empty that phony letter out the car window and substitute her real letter, which Ralph lets her post.
But when Julia hears that they plan to murder her right away, she fakes taking poison and demands to see a doctor. Mrs. Hughes cleverly gets her butler, Peters (Mudie), whom she keeps on the job by blackmailing him, to act as a doctor. Julia is fooled into thinking that he is really a doctor and tells him about the letter she sent Dennis.
Mrs. Hughes sends Peters to Dennis’ house to retrieve the letter but when he steals it from under the nose of Dennis’ landlady, she spots him and has him arrested. The police are able to get it out of him what Mrs. Hughes plans to do to Julia, as they set a trap for Ralph back in Cornwall.
The last scene has Dennis and Julia riding away to be married, as she tells him before they kiss “that the next time I ask for a job, I’ll ask for their references.” The result is a pretty good suspense story and the beginning of Lewis’s illustrious career in directing a better type of a film.
REVIEWED ON 1/29/2000 GRADE: B