Film Reviews: My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
Updated: May 13, 2021
An underseen & intriguing attempt at a Gothic thriller misses its mark.
A down-on-her-luck Julia Ross (Nina Foch) recovering from an appendix operation and looking desperately for a job in rainy London. After looking at a newspaper advertisement, she approaches a new agency and immediately gets hired as a secretary for Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty) and her sinister-looking son Ralph (George McCready).
From an apartment in London, that was supposed to be her place of work, she wakes up two days later to find herself in a Gothic mansion and being referred by the maid as Marion - Ralph's wife!
Director Joseph H. Lewis (of the famous noir Gun Crazy) does not waste time in setting up the plot. The audience is well aware that Julia is being lied to as soon as she leaves the agency office happily clutching the advance she has received.
The rest of the details of the plot are also rather predictable. Hint: Gothic thrillers usually have a dead wife involved.
The film derives its tension from the atmosphere it creates - the camerawork is fluid and Julia's attempts to escape from the clutches of this family. Her visiting neighbors, the maid, etc., all instinctively believe the Hughes'. The film misses the rich vein of suggestive drama about classes here. The only one that comes close to believing Julia is the maid at the house. A woman Julia is herself closest to in societal class.
Foch shows herself to be an able player and it is a wonder that the rest of her career had her relegated to side roles. McCready reveals himself to be a psychopath as soon as he turns away from a window to greet Julia. I say this as praise here. Most interesting for me to watch was Dame Whitty, the kind woman from Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, playing a duplicitous murderer. She plays her role with as much bonhomie as she did the nosy but well-meaning Mrs. Thaites of Gaslight (1944). This makes her come across as more unpredictable than MacCready's character, who likes to slash women's clothes with knives.
I was told that My Name is Julia Ross is one of those forgotten films and I believed it until I watched Kindred (2020). The newer film is an almost (unacknowledged) remake of this film with a race angle added to it.
The film shares its damsel in distress scenario with the superior British chiller Gaslight, which was released one year prior. That film was a true psychological thriller about a woman being driven slowly mad. My name is Julia Ross is interesting and nothing more. It never probes "deep into a woman's soul" as the poster above promises. But its punchy one-hour duration almost makes up for that.