It’s raining when Julia Ross arrives back at her rooms at Mrs Mackie’s guest house on Carrington Street after another futile day of hunting for employment in London; her rent is overdue and the only letter for her is a late-delivered invitation to the wedding of her former boyfriend who was married the day before.
Julia is young and determined, but recovering from a recent operation her life has become a struggle until she sees an advertisement for a new agency seeking a personal secretary. Leaving directly for an interview, she is asked to offer assurances that she will not disappoint her prospective employer by leaving for a family emergency or to marry, that she is entirely alone in the world.
Asked to begin that night as live-in secretary for wealthy widow Mrs Hughes and to move her belongings into her home on the prestigious Henrique Square, Julia accepts; when she awakes, she finds herself in a different house on the Cornish coast, that a full day has vanished for which she cannot account and that Mrs Hughes insists that she is Marion, wife of her son Ralph.
Directed by Joseph H Lewis from the novel The Woman in Red by Anthony Gilbert, actually a pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson, My Name is Julia Ross was written by Muriel Roy Bolton, and atypically for the era in which it was produced, likely due to it being a novel written by one woman and adapted by another, it is the female roles which are by far the best.
With later appearances in An American in Paris, Executive Suite, The Ten Commandments and Spartacus, Nina Foch is the titular Julia Ross, self-possessed and crafty in her attempts to escape from her imprisonment and to convince any visitors to Sea House that she is not who her captors claim she is, but having seeded the village with rumours that Marion is an unstable fantasist Julia’s pleas find no purchase.
In fact, played with cruel glee by Paths of Glory‘s George Macready, it is Ralph who is unstable; that he has murdered the real Marion is made clear in the opening scenes of a film which places its cards on the table face up, but it is the formidable Dame May Whitty of Hitchcock’s Suspicion as his apparently jolly mother Mrs Hughes who is the devious mastermind who manipulates events to protect her son and guarantee his future.
Produced as a B-movie intended to fill a supporting slot on a double bill with a higher profile film, My Name is Julia Ross was well received by contemporary audiences and achieved success beyond expectation, though narratively it remains slight. Running to only a few minutes over an hour, no attempt is made to conceal the identity or motivation of the villains from the audience or Julia, who despite her independence remains a product of the standards of her time, never resorting to force to ensure her escape even when threatened with death.
Originally released in 1945 and now presented from a flawless print on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy, My Name in Julia Ross is accompanied by an analysis by Nora Fiore who observes that it was atypical for a thriller to be a woman’s picture at a time when such were most often musicals or light comedies, but with the post-war female workforce presumed to be grateful for their return to domestic duties it found an audience with those looking to broaden their opportunities.
Although My Name in Julia Ross presents aspects of film noir, Fiore points out that Julia is neither the victim nor the femme fatale as usually presented in such and that the focus is instead on a fear of loss of identity, Lewis often framing Foch so that she is dominated by the other characters, particularly Ralph, even by the inanimate objects of the house.
Also included is an informative commentary by noir expert Alan K Rode who talks about the cast and creatives and their careers, particularly Foch, as determined yet as trapped as Julia Ross in an industry where women were not well-treated or encouraged to succeed, unable to achieve her ambition of directing motion pictures but later becoming a well-regarded acting coach, ironically achieving her happy ending in a different life than the one she imagined.