My Name is Julia Ross is as lean as thrillers come. Being only 65 minutes long isn’t a virtue in and of itself, but when a movie can deliver the goods in that amount of time, the efficiency has to be appreciated.
Nina Foch plays a woman – no points for guessing her name – who takes a job out of desperation to be a live-in secretary to the elder Mrs. Hughes (May Whitty). Julia meets the job’s prerequisites of having no close relations, a willingness to follow a strict curfew, and availability the very night she hears about it. Ignoring these red flags turns out to be a mistake, and she soon finds herself trapped in a remote seaside manor with all the members of the household insisting that she is Marion Hughes, wife of her employer’s son Ralph (George Macready), a man with concerning habits involving knives. The staff assures her she just suffered a nervous breakdown, and she insists right back that this isn’t so – but of course that’s just what the mentally ill Marion would say!
This plays like Hitchcock’s Rebecca with the duller second half lopped off, but at first blush the film it most resembles is Gaslight, which had been adapted a second time by George Cuckor the year before (and, incidentally, also features Whitty). But the delightful thing about Julia Ross is no matter how pervasive the gaslighting, Ross refuses to get caught in the flame. She’s sure of her identity, starting from the title and never wavering, as she makes a series of attempts to outwit her captors and escape. She devises a clever means to reach out to her one ally, an old flame she ran into just prior to taking the job, but there’s no rescuer on the way. Julia Ross is a strong, resourceful hero which in turns makes her captors all the more menacing when they thwart her plans.
Director Joseph H. Lewis specialized in these quickies like gangster classic The Big Combo and the spectacular Gun Crazy that proved a strong eye and creative camera placement made up for what the budgets couldn’t provide. My Name is Julia Ross has their thrills and the sharpest lead to boot. A great way to spend an hour.
If this film sounds familiar, it’s an adaptation of the same book as FOTI Feature Dead of Winter. Think of this as a FOTI Follow-up. (This was written up by Gillianren as part of a Movie Gifts unwrapping).