Must-See Movie: My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
My Name is Julia Ross came THISCLOSE to being my TCM film noir pick of the month – it was edged out by a hair by that ever-so-awesome Burt Lancaster starrer, The Sweet Smell of Success. But while you’re making your movie-watching choices for the month of November, I highly recommend that you include this one on your list!
A minor thriller made for the B-movie unit at Columbia Studios, Julia Ross is unusual for noir, as its setting is not a gritty urban locale in the U.S., but in England. This backdrop doesn’t make the film any less noirish, though, which you’ll discover in the first few minutes.
The film centers on Julia Ross (Nina Foch), an out-of-work secretary who is hired through an agency to provide live-in services to a Mrs. Williamson Hughes (Dame May Whitty) and her son, Ralph (George Macready). Although Julia is oblivious to the red flags, we are instantly suspicious of the fact that the owner of the employment agency pointedly confirms the fact that Julia has no family ties and “no young man.” We’re also privy to the creepy man eavesdropping from a nearby room while Julia is being interviewed, and we know something is amiss after Julia leaves and Mrs. Hughes declares, “Well, we better hurry and close up the agency now – we shan’t need it any longer.” (Dun dun DUNN!!)
We soon find that our suspicions are well-founded, when Julia goes to sleep in Mrs. Hughes’s home in London and awakens in a mansion on the Cornwall coast. I won’t say anything more about the plot – this is one you’ve got to enjoy discovering on your own! – but I will say that one of the things that I like the most about this film is that almost no one is what they appear to be. Mrs. Hughes comes across as a very sweet, generous old lady, who doles out cash to Julia on their first meeting so that she can go shopping before starting her new job and vows to “do our best to make you happy with us.” And her son, Ralph, seems to be a normal, polite, thoroughly pleasant young man – that is, until you see him playing with knives. There’s even more than meets the eye to Mrs. Allison (Anita Sharpes-Bolster) from the employment agency and the doctor (Leonard Mudie) who visits Julia at the Hughes mansion.
The film was helmed by Joseph H. Lewis – it was his breakthrough effort, after directing pictures for nearly 10 years. He went on to direct such noir gems as The Undercover Man (1949), Gun Crazy (1950), and The Big Combo (1955). The screenplay, by Muriel Roy Bolton, was based on the 1941 novel The Woman in Red, by Anthony Gilbert; Gilbert was one of five pseudonyms used by London native Lucy Beatrice Malleson. (Malleson published her first mystery as Anthony Gilbert in 1927, and for many years, her true identity was kept secret.)
Although Nina Foch later joked that the film was “shot in about three and a half minutes,” she acknowledged that it provided her with “the first [role] that I really liked.”
You’ll like it, too – I guarantee it. Tune in to TCM on Thursday, November 14th and see!
(You only owe it to yourself.)