My Name is Julia Ross

How do people feel about me writing film reviews? Is that something people would be in to? I tend just to post about the things I want to (witness: Song for a Sunday) and sometimes that turns into something unexpectedly popular (I never imagined anybody would want to read the Bake Off recaps, and now strangers – strangers plural, mind – come up to me at parties – party singular, actually – and tell me they like that.) But I guess the worlds of film and book review aren’t miles apart, only I would consider myself something of an expert about books (if anything at all) and wouldn’t about film.

Enough preamble. I’m going to write about My Name is Julia Ross, and we’ll take it from there. By the by, a nice man called John writes a very book blog called Pretty Sinister Books which has regular film reviews, and he has written about My Name is Julia Ross here. But I actually came across the film when scrolling through the IMDB page for Dame May Whitty, seeing what else she had made.

My Name is Julia Ross is from 1945, and I watched it with my friend Andrea as part of the aptly-named Simon and Andrea’s Film Club. The whole thing is available on YouTube (at the bottom of this post), although a DVD might still be available for all I know. It’s based on a novel called The Woman in Red by Anthony Gilbert, whom I’ve never heard of (have you?) and is about Julia Ross (Nina Foch) who takes on an appointment as a secretary, and is drugged and kidnapped. When she awakes, she is in a clifftop house, and people are calling her Marion Hughes, claiming she is the wife of Ralph Hughes. They have recently moved to the village, and all the villagers know that Ralph’s wife has suffered a breakdown, and doesn’t know what she’s saying…

The rest of the film documents Julia Ross’s attempts to escape from the house – attempts that are repeatedly foiled, of course – and the viewer slowly learns why Ralph and his mother (the mother being played by Dame May) have brought Julia there. In the background, back where Julia was living in penury, are the rather lacklustre romantic hero Dennis and the rather wonderfully snipey housemaid.

To the modern viewer – perhaps even to the 1940s viewer – the actual plot is something of a cliché. It is interesting to see a drama where nothing grimmer or more inventive is needed than repeated unsuccessful escape plans (notes thrown through gates, sneaking into the back of cars, etc.). I don’t know enough about film history to know how unusual this scenario would have been at the time, but it really isn’t all that important. Of course she isn’t going to escape half an hour into the film. What does matter is how it’s shot – and it’s really striking.

There are quite a few things in My Name is Julia Ross that make me think of Hitchcock – not least the looming out over the clifftop; the bedroom window is right on the edge. The setting is so stunning, and dramatic, and the film-maker (dir. Joseph H. Lewis) puts this to the best possible use.

Nina Foch is a very likeable heroine, if a little over the top at times, but it is the eerie calmness of Dame May Whitty that makes the mystery at the heart of the film so tense – not so much ‘what will happen?’ but ‘why has it happened?’ It might have been a more psychologically complex film if we hadn’t seen the drugging – if we hadn’t known whether or not Julia was right; if she could, in fact, be Marion – but even without this element, it’s rather gripping.

I love watching films from this period – unsurprisingly, really – and it’s interesting to find a thriller to watch alongside the Brief Encounters and Mrs Minivers with which we’re already familiar.

18 thoughts on “My Name is Julia Ross

  • October 13, 2014 at 9:53 pm
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    Yes, the popularity of the bake-off recaps is quite entertaining. I was talking to someone at church about the Bakeoff final and they asked me whether I'd seen the recaps on some guy called Simon's blog… When I said that I knew you personally I felt like I was bathing in reflected glory! But yes to film reviews – good idea. x

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    • October 19, 2014 at 10:46 pm
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      Gosh, how funny! I think my moment in the celebrity spotlight is now… over.

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  • October 14, 2014 at 6:33 am
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    Yes to film reviews definitely. This is a good'un. I love films from this period and had never heard of this one so thanks for the review and the link. I shall be watching it.

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    • October 19, 2014 at 10:46 pm
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      Thanks Harriet! And do let me know your recommendations from the period.

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  • October 14, 2014 at 9:22 am
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    Of course you can blog about film reviews. I do it occasionally, and those posts turn out to be rather popular! (ain't it always just so).

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    • October 19, 2014 at 10:46 pm
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      Ha! Yes – we can't predict it. I guess anything that stands out from the usual garners attention?

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    • October 19, 2014 at 10:48 pm
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      It's great fun to see the films that characters in our favourite books might have been watching :)

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  • October 14, 2014 at 10:52 am
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    Great idea simon , and great first choice it is one I 've not seen and not sure why i love the other films you mention in the book .I will have to catch this next time it is on film four or such

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  • October 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm
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    It's funny the issue of whether to post film reviews is something you're debating at the moment because I'm having the same internal debate. Since I've been going to the London Film Festival this past week I've posted a couple reactions to movies. In the past I've only done so when a film has a strong literary connection, but now I figure why not just blog about my reactions to something cultural I'm experiencing? And I think you should feel the same whether that's about the Bake-off or films. As to not feeling qualified, I think people can appreciate a genuine fan's reaction more sometimes than film reviewers who might drop heavy references to other films or camera techniques. My Name is Julia Ross sounds like a really fun thriller/drama.

    Funny you should mention Dame May Whitty as well since I saw the movie Gaslight for the first time recently. Have you seen this? Amazing early performance from Angela Lansbury in it and I love Ingrid Bergman. Interesting literary note – in Colm Toibin's new novel there is a moving family scene where the mother watches this movie with her two sons.
    I really like films from this period too and I'm tempted to reel of a list asking what you've seen and haven't seen and ask for recommendations from you. Maybe we should jointly start a separate literary buff's film blog. :)

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    • October 19, 2014 at 10:50 pm
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      Thanks for your encouraging comment, Eric! I think you're right – there's something to be said for the ignorant enthusiast such as myself. It does feel quite different to write about something I don't know very much about, when I don't feel on very certain ground. But I can do enthusiasm!

      I have seen Gaslight – I thought it was brilliant! And I believe the screenplay (or original play?) is by Patrick Hamilton, whose novel The Slaves of Solitude is so brilliant.

      Please, give me the list! Maybe we can start that film blog once we're immersed a bit :)

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  • October 15, 2014 at 5:33 am
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    Of course you should do film reviews. We book people are all movie people, too, are we not?
    This one sounds right up my alley and I don't recall ever seeing it. That will be remedied ASAP. Thanks, Simon.

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    • October 19, 2014 at 10:51 pm
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      Thanks for your comment, Ellen! Have you seen it? What do you think?

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  • October 15, 2014 at 5:40 am
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    PS I have indeed heard of Anthony Gilbert, who wrote tons of books, 50 or more, and was in fact a woman. When I was in my twenties I was obsessed with mysteries from the 40's and 50's and read them until I could find no more. I may have read the one discussed here but have no memory of it. Occasionally I find some old paperback copies of this type of fiction at used book sales, but they are becoming harder and harder to find. And the covers! you can imagine how cool they are.

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    • October 19, 2014 at 10:52 pm
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      And thank you for filling me in about Anthony Gilbert – I would never have guessed that she was a woman! I'll keep an eye out for her novels. I was in a bookshop the other day that had so, so many vintage crime titles, but I didn't know where to start as I hadn't heard of almost any of the authors…

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  • October 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm
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    I think film reviews would be a wonderful addition to your blog. I too love films from this era – I've just watched The Gentle Sex (1943) about women in the WWII and thought of you as it seemed so close to a lot of the books you review in both tone and subject matter.

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    • October 19, 2014 at 10:52 pm
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      Thanks Catherine! And thanks for that recommendation – I will go hunting it out; it does sound my sort of film.

      Reply

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