The name Joseph H. Lewis has not resonated down the ages from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema in the same manner as a Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks, or particularly the man he seems the most indebted to, Alfred Hitchcock. Yet Lewis, in the annals of film history, was behind some of the most intriguing and beguiling film noir entries of the 1940s, now being revisited by Arrow Video as Lewis’ work is rediscovered. My Name is Julia Ross might be one of his best.
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It is a pure Hitchcockian set-up. The titular Julia (Nina Foch), a young woman in 40’s London in need of a job to pay her rent, takes what she believes is a secretarial job to the aged Mrs Williamson-Hughes (Dame May Whitty in one of her final roles). Only on arrival at her new lodgings at the lady’s Cornish mansion—having been drugged—she awakens and finds everyone is trying to convince her, and those around her, that she is the lady’s son Ralph’s mentally disturbed wife Marion. A game of subterfuge begins from there as Julia claws to hold on to her identity at all costs.
Lewis’ style is swift and out in the open. He is not a showy or tricky filmmaker, letting the narrative play out in a pulp fashion which sometimes is unable to hide the limited budget and resources at his disposal. He is nowhere near as dark or malevolent a filmmaker as Hitchcock, nor does he take as much twisted delight in the suffering of his lead characters, but there are clear similarities in tone and style. Lewis takes a cue but doesn’t directly imitate, rather crafts what he can out of what ultimately is a short, 65 minute narrative we, as the audience, hold most of the cards on.
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My Name is Julia Ross has dated in certain respects. Julia as a character has far less agency than future women in such roles would have, and ultimately looks to a man to rescue her from the calculating trickery of wealthy villains, but if this can be forgiven as indicative of the age, and if you can look past the obviousness of the whole thing likely being filmed in Southern California as a stand in for England, it’s a fairly punchy and likeable slice of noir. Whitty in particular is enjoying herself as a machiavellian matriarch playing a long con.
Arrow once again bring numerous treats to bear in unearthing this picture, including an informative commentary track by Alan K. Rode, the original theatrical trailer, and a documentary called ‘Identity Crisis: Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia’, which gives insights into the background of the film and the director.
My Name is Julia Ross will never enter the pantheon of the finest of film noir but it deserves to be remembered as a fun, if dated, slice of that genre.
My Name is Julia Ross is now available to buy on Arrow Video.