My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

Film Review

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS

Release Date: 8 November 1945

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Stars: Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready, Roland Vanno

Screenplay: Muriel Roy Bolton; from a novel by Anthony Gilbert

Cinematographer: Burnett Guffey

Synopsis

In London, Julia Ross (Foch), single and without a family, takes a position as a live-in secretary to Mrs. Williamson Hughes (Whitty). The day she takes the position with Mrs. Hughes, Julia meets Dennis Bruce (Roland Varno), a former boyfriend, who asks her out for dinner the next night. During her first night in Mrs. Hughes’ London house, Mrs. Hughes and her son, Ralph (Macready), drug Julia and take her to their house in Cornwall.

Two days later, Julia awakens in a strange room. She is greeted by the maid as "Marion", Ralph’s wife. Ralph and Mrs. Hughes call her "Marion" and keep her confined to her bedroom. The bedroom, on an upper floor of the house, has a single window overlooking the sea. The Hughes’ convince the servants and the neighbors that “Marion” is mentally disturbed. Soon, Julia learns that the deranged Ralph killed his wife and tossed her body into the sea. Ralph and his mother plan to kill Julia and convince the authorities that Ralph’s "wife" was a suicide.

Julia makes several attempts to escape but is unsuccessful. Mrs. Hughes intercepts a letter she tries to mail Dennis. Finally, she manages to send Dennis a letter at her former lodgings. With Mrs. Hughes and Ralph planning to kill her at any time, Julia finds a secret passage into her room. She manages to pry the bars out of the window, and escapes through the passage. Julia makes it appear that she fell from the window onto the rocks below.

Ralph approaches the "body", actually Julia’s robe spread on the rocks. Julia has escaped from the house. She runs from Ralph into her rescuers. Dennis and a detective have arrived. Ralph flees, and the detective shoots him. Mrs Hughes is distraught at her son’s death. Julia is grateful to be alive. She and Dennis return happily to London.

Discussion

This gothic thriller features a fine script, good production values, vivid camera work, and a first rate cast. The many gothic elements include an innocent heroine held in isolation against her will, the psychological menace of the seemingly friendly, but actually malevolent, villains, and her imprisonment in a castle-like mansion (complete with hidden passages), poised over the rocky edge of the sea. The oppressive atmosphere of suspense and terror is well sustained until the end.

The limitations inherent in a low budget production are minimized with fine interior sets and excellent camerawork, for instance shots made through doorways and windows. Julia prowls her elegant, yet antiquated, room and the shadowed halls of the mansion.

Scenarist Muriel Roy Bolton (1908-1983) turned out the best script of her career. She had been writing pleasant scripts for the Henry Aldrich family comedy series (1942-1944) and other low budget comedies. The suspense filled script of Julia Ross is an exception in her filmography. In the fifties, Bolton wrote for television, including as head writer and story consultant for the popularThe Millionaire series (1955-1960).

Despite her considerable ability, youth and attractiveness, Nina Foch never approached stardom. The cool, aloof demeanor that came to epitomize her was probably incompatible with gaining the audience affection necessary for a starring career.

After My Name is Julia Ross, her first standout role, Foch’s career continued with mostly supporting parts in A-level productions. From the 1950s she had major character roles in films such as An American in Paris (1951), Executive Suite (1954) for which she was nominated for a Supporting Actress Academy Award, and Spartacus (1960). She appeared frequently on television, her final role, at age 83, was in an episode of The Closer (2007). Foch also appeared on Broadway where she starred in four Shakespeare plays. However, her greatest satisfaction came from her forty year teaching career at the University of Southern California film school, coaching aspiring actors and directors.

Dame May Whitty had been a legitimate actress in England and America for over fifty years before she settled in Hollywood in 1937. She made more than twenty five films, mostly for MGM, from the mid 1930s to her death at age 82 in 1948. Although an elderly woman, Whitty’s strong voice and screen presence made her a commanding actress. She effectively played a range of characters, from charming (the spy in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938)) or sweet and lovable (an old homebody who takes in Lassie in Lassie Come Home (1943)), to nosey (Mrs. Thaites in Gaslight (1944)), nasty (Mrs. Bramson in Night Must Fall (1937)), to the unapologetically murderous Mrs. Hughes in Julia Ross. As Mrs. Hughes, Dame Whitty is especially chilling, a sweet talking old lady who turns out to be slightly demented and full of menace. Never beloved by the American public as were Marie Dressler or May Robson, Whitty’s image was as a versatile and respected older character actress.

After a fifteen year career in the theater, George Macready appeared in his first film at age 43 in The Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942). His scarred, shifty-eyed, high-cheek-boned face and his polished, breathy voice gave him a sly and treacherous demeanor well suited for portraying unscrupulous and psychotic individuals. In an extensive film and television career, he played numerous treacherous characters.

Director Joseph H. Lewis is best known for one extraordinary film, Gun Crazy (1950). My Name is Julia Ross and The Big Combo (1955) are only slightly lesser achievements. Despite his obvious talent, Lewis always worked with limited budgets, producing interesting films dominated by his unique visual style. His other films include So Dark the Night (1946), Retreat, Hell (1952), The Halliday Brand (1955), Terror in a Texas Town (1958).

Lewis began as an editor from 1935 to 1937 at Universal Studios and the low-budget studio Grand National. His directorial career began with programmers, including the Bowery Boys series and B-westerns from 1937 to 1942. Lewis' The Silver Bullet (1942), a series western starring Johnny Mack Brown, is regarded by many western fans as one of the best films of its type, notable for the staging of exterior scenes. In the latter part of his career, Lewis directed numerous episodes of television series, especially westerns, including 51 episodes of The Rifleman (1958-1963).

References

Muriel Roy Bolton. Variety Obituary. March 8, 1983

Nina Foch, Actress in Sophisticated Roles, Dies at 84. by Anita Gates. New York Times. December 8, 2008

The Encyclopedia of Western Movies. Phil Hardy. Woodbury Press. 1984