blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

My Name is Julia Ross (1945, Joseph H. Lewis)

The funniest part of My Name is Julia Ross is when May Whitty, just after having local vicar Olaf Hytten visit, says son George Macready needs to kill Nina Foch before a doctor shows up because while they might be able to convince no-nothings like the vicar, a doctor would be able to tell she’s not mentally unwell.

Whitty’s worried a doctor might listen to a woman, which would foil their plans, and obviously, a vicar would not. If ever there were a moment for Whitty to mention she wore a mask during the influenza pandemic.

Ross is the tale of Foch’s very bad job placement. She’s a single girl living in London; her landlady, Doris Lloyd, is a mean jerk, and the building’s maid, an enthusiastic Joy Harington, is a mean jerk who’s also a thief. The film opens with Foch back from another unfruitful job hunt. She finds a letter awaiting her—a wedding invitation from former co-lodger Roland Varno. He’s off and gotten married, even though Lloyd thought Foch would seduce Varno away from his fiancée. There probably ought to be a pin in that detail—and there’s sort of a half-pin—but Ross only runs an hour and five minutes, so there’s no time for subplots.

Besides the wedding invitation, Foch also finds an advertisement in the newspaper for an employment agency she’s never visited before. So she hurries off and has such a great interview with Anita Sharp-Bolster (who’s not in Ross enough; in fact, she inexplicably disappears around the halfway mark) she gets the job on the spot. Well, after Sharp-Bolster can bring Whitty and Macready in for the final interview.

See, the employment agency is a sham. Whitty and Macready are looking for someone to replace Macready’s absent wife, but just in body. Can’t collect on life insurance without a body.

Before Whitty and Macready can drug Foch and whisk her off to the seashore for the main part of their scheme, Foch has to go home and see Varno one more time. His fiancée dumped him at the last minute for moaning Julia Ross at inappropriate times. The scene where Varno explains it to Foch is somewhat painful, as the film flexes Varno’s confusion at the fiancée’s problem. It also reveals Varno’s going to be a weak link in the cast. Foch has to hold their slight scene up entirely.

It also might not help Varno’s next scene is during some of the film’s day-for-night shooting, which looks terrible even on the backlot. Burnett Guffey’s photography is usually one of the film’s strongest technicals, but the day-for-night’s bad. Luckily it’s only a couple scenes throughout. Ross is technically solid—especially for a B picture—with director Lewis having some strong scenes. Editor Henry Batista doesn’t seem to know how to cut them, though, so there aren’t any breakout scenes.

Most of the film consists of Foch in her prison—a seaside manor house—where maid Queenie Leonard can’t figure out why Foch isn’t happy to be married to a rich guy; she’s got such nice clothes, after all. Leonard’s not in on the scheme, so Foch is usually trying to convince her to help. But Leonard’s also not going to be believing any women, especially not over upper-crust Whitty’s say-so.

Throw in regular implications Macready is uncontrollably violent, and they’ve got a reasonably compelling hour-long mystery.

It doesn’t pay off in the finish, with the finale being particularly contrived, but it’s an okay B suspense thriller. Whitty’s good, but not singular. Ditto Macready, who Lewis knows how to direct… while Macready doesn’t understand how Lewis is directing him. It’s a peculiar situation. Finally, Varno’s a lukewarm, slightly damp towel (at best).

And Foch’s okay. She’s never not successful in the part, but never anything more.

My Name is Julia Ross is okay. It’s a suspense thriller told from the perspective of the people causing the suspense, not the person experiencing it, which isn’t a sound narrative structure; it’s also only sixty-five minutes.

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