‘My Name Is Julia Ross’ – ‘Gaslight’ on a budget on Criterion Channel

Joseph H. Lewis had over 20 features to his credit, all of them B-movies and most produced on bargain-basement budgets and whirlwind shooting schedules for Poverty Row companies, when he was handed a project that would change his career.

My Name Is Julia Ross (1945) is a Gothic psychodrama with a contemporary British setting seeped in old world flavor and a Gaslight-like plot. Nina Foch stars as an unemployed secretary in London who answers an ad for a private secretary and ends up the prisoner of a psychotic killer (a twitchy, intense George Macready) and his controlling mother (Dame May Whitty).

The cool, elegant Foch brings the strength and smarts of a Hitchcock heroine to Julia, not simply a victim but a resourceful woman who plots her own rescue. Whitty reveals a cold, conniving mind under her charming front, and Macready is creepily malevolent as the psychotic son whose eyes flash as he tears Julia’s clothes to tatters with a knife, as if imagining it’s her flesh.

My Name Is Julia Ross was produced for the B-unit of Columbia Pictures as an upgraded offering, part of the studio’s “fewer and better” B-movie initiative, with a slightly bigger budget and longer shooting schedule. Lewis made the most of his opportunity and his resources.



Working with cinematographer Burnett Guffey (who went on to help forge the Columbia noir style), Lewis creates London and Cornwall settings on the studio backlot and a few location shots on a seaside cliff, and he makes the interiors look both more lavish and more ominous than you might think his budget would allow. He became a master of evocative camerawork and striking compositions and he shows his stuff here, creating suspense with graceful camerawork and dramatic compositions spiked with threatening shadows.

Ornate rooms turn threatening in the dark, bars across her window turns the manor into a virtual prison, the criss-crossing shadows become an entrapping web when night falls on the film (and its heroine). It becomes a dream-like miniature world as idealized fantasy. It’s such a moody atmosphere and dramatic tension that you might not notice the flimsiness of the script. And if the narrative twist has no psychological grounding, it reverberates with emotional weight.

A few years later, Lewis created his thrilling low-budget masterpiece Gun Crazy. My Name is Julia Ross led the way, a minor but impressive showpiece: crisply directed, smartly shot, handsomely mounted, and quite entertaining.

Black and white

For more on the film’s backstory and production, here’s an article on the TCM website.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
My Name is Julia Ross [Blu-ray]
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics III (The Mob / My Name is Julia Ross / The Burglar / Drive a Crooked Road / Tight Spot) [DVD]

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The Blu-ray release from Arrow features commentary by film noir expert Alan K. Rode and the featurette “Identity Crisis” on the style and themes of the film, plus a handsome booklet with an essay and artwork.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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