Quiggy, of The Midnite Drive-In, is hosting The Film Noir Blogathon this week, celebrating those atmospheric black and white thrillers commonly known as "noirs".
Noirs have long been a favorite genre of classic film fans, most likely because it was a style of filming that is no longer seen in films today. Noirs were a short-lived genre. They originated in the late 1930s, were perfected throughout the 1940s, and then petered out by the late 1950s. However, within that twenty year span nearly 750 noirs were released, many of which are counted among the best films ever made.
We would like to turn the spotlight on My Name is Julia Ross ( 1945 ) which was certainly one of the best film noirs to come out of Columbia's B-movie unit. It was a Gothic thriller along the lines of Gaslight with an equally engrossing script, a great cast ( Dame May Whitty adds prestige to any film she appears in ), and remarkable production values, especially considering its budget.
Nina Foch stars as Julia, an unemployed London secretary, who is hired to become a live-in assistant to a kindly old lady ( Whitty )....or so she was told. In truth, she was hired because of her amazing resemblance to Marion, the dead wife of the old gal's psychotic son Ralph, portrayed with aloof malevolence by the scar-faced George Macready. Mother and son are plotting to convince the town that Marion is still alive, but has gone mad, and is on the brink of committing suicide.
"You haven't forgotten us again, have you, Marion?"
My Name is Julia Ross was directed by Joseph H. Lewis who was an old hand at cranking out low-budget westerns on a weekly basis for studios such as Universal, RKO, and Monogram. Lewis viewed each production he was assigned as a chance to hone his directorial skills and experiment with lighting, camerawork, framing, and other stylistic devices. During the mid-1940s, Columbia began a "fewer and better" B-movie initiative with a bigger budget ( $200,000 ) and a shooting schedule of 12 days, twice as long as the average western that Lewis was accustomed to filming.
When Lewis first read the script to the film he knew he had a gem in the making, and so, with such time and resources at hand, he made the most of his experience and lavished his attention on creating a stand-out B-noir. The result was striking. Like most noirs, Lewis builds on the suspense of the film visually using dramatic camerawork and compositions filled with shadows to create a sinister atmosphere.
"Why try to save her? Let her die. That's what we want." - Ralph
"Don't be stupid, Ralph. If she's taken poison, we must act as though we cared." - Mama
B-movie productions done well always seem more impressive than full-length features because, like a short story, there is no room for wasted words or action. The editing is measured precisely and each scene counts towards furthering the story. My Name is Julia Ross certainly packs a punch in its brief 65 minute run-time. It also offers a foretaste of Lewis' later work, which included two more classic noirs - Gun Crazy ( 1950 ) and The Big Combo ( 1955 ).
The preview footage of My Name is Julia Ross impressed the front office at Columbia so much that they decided to release the film as a top-of-the-bill feature. It was a wise decision because the picture earned nearly $4,000,000 in box-office returns.
Be sure to head on over to The Midnite Drive-In to check out more reviews of famous film-noirs through the ages.