Thoughts on ‘My Name Is Julia Ross’

No one can dispute that contemporary Hollywood has little room for movies with leading roles for female movie stars.  And, those few that do exist are treated as anomalies, as though it is completely strange for a film with a woman protagonist to be of interest to any movie-goer. Most of the time, female stars are stuck in badly written romantic comedies, which are giving the genre a bad name. I am movie-sick (like being “homesick” except it’s a longing for certain types of movies) for the studio days when films showcased a variety of actresses who looked older than 18, weighed more than 90 pounds, and had more than one facial expression.

In addition to enjoying the onscreen talent of the likes of Hepburn, Davis, Crawford, Hayward, Loy, Grable, Harlow, Russell, and countless others, the roles and storylines developed for female movie stars in past Hollywood eras serve as a window into the issues and problems of the women of the day. One of my favorite periods for women’s roles is the post-WWII era, when the film noir and melodrama genres offered some fascinating glimpses into living in a man’s world, circa 1950. My thoughts on the dismal state of contemporary cinema and longings for past leading ladies were stirred up recently when I watched My Name Is Julia Ross, a notable, little b-movie directed by Joseph H. Lewis in 1945, years before his string of well-known noirs such as Gun Crazy and The Big Combo.

THE FILM WAS BASED ON 'THE WOMAN IN RED' BY ANTHONY GILBERT, WHICH WAS A PSEUDONYM FOR LUCY MALLESON.

A fetching 21-year-old Nina Foch starred in the title role as a lonely, unemployed woman cast adrift in postwar London. Broke and owing money to her unsympathetic landlord, she lands a job as a secretary to wealthy matron Mrs. Williamson Hughes, played by Dame May Whitty. The position is a live-in situation, and when Julia arrives at the Hughes mansion late one night with suitcase in hand, she is greeted by Ralph Hughes, portrayed by George Macready in one of his creepiest performances. Poor Julia is shanghaied, as they used to call it back in the day, and wakes up from her drugged state in different clothes and in a room that overlooks the Cornwall seacoast. The members of the Hughes household try to convince Julia that she is really Marian Hughes, Ralph’s wife, and that she is suffering from mental illness. Julia pleads with visitors to help her get away from the estate, but the villagers and even the household staff do not believe her. Each escape effort is thwarted by Mrs. Hughes and Ralph, or simply by fate. In the meantime, Julia learns that the real Marian was killed by Ralph, whose own sanity teeters on the brink each time he spies a sharp knife. The sight of sharp instruments compels dear Ralph to pierce and shred the nearest piece of women’s clothing or lacy, feminine-like material. Julia has been kidnapped to replace the real Marian so that villagers are not suspicious of the whereabouts of the little-seen Mrs. Hughes. Fortunately, a letter that Marian managed to post to love interest Dennis Bruce sends the police and Bruce to the estate just as Ralph prepares to kill Julia.

JULIA TRIES TO GET HELP FROM ALICE THE MAID, BUT ALICE IS TOO ENVIOUS OF JULIA'S LIFESTYLE TO SYMPATHIZE.

Though only 65 minutes long, My Name Is Julia Ross offers a lot to ponder regarding women in the work force and women and marriage. On the surface, the plot is a mystery that uncovers a secret murder and revolves around a suspenseful kidnapping, but the thrust of the narrative involves a family that is continually trying to convince a young woman to be a wife. And, she is having none of it. By all reason, at least according to convention, Julia should be thrilled to be married to a well-dressed, educated member of the upper crust whose family owns multiple homes. As the wife of such a catch, she will have both money and social status. Julia hopes to make an ally of the Hughes’ maid, Alice, but the servant girl chastises her for a lack of appreciation. “You have everything a woman would want,” chides Alice, “nice clothes, a home.” Yet, according to Alice,  Julia can’t be satisfied “like so many other women who have illusions of something else.”

DIRECTOR LEWIS BLOCKS NINA FOCH TO SUGGEST THAT JULIA IS TRAPPED IN HER "MARRIAGE" TO RALPH.

While Alice may be envious of the nice clothes and beautiful seaside home, the subtext of My Name Is Julia Ross suggests that being a wife has its price. The home is perched on a steep cliff next to the rough, choppy sea—a familiar setting in suspense films that suggests a dangerous locale on the edge of the world, a marginal place where extremes of human behavior play out. The front gates to the mansion are chained, the doors to her room are locked, and her windows are barred, so that Julia is literally trapped in the house by the Hughes family just as she—and, by extension, other women—is trapped in the role of wife. To consent to this situation means that Julia must pretend to be someone she is not. Thus, to accept being a wife means entrapment and loss of identity, a point underscored by the costuming. Julia wears a simple suit with clean lines in the opening sequence, but all of her clothes are burned in the fireplace. Marian’s clothes tend to be more traditionally feminine, with white frilly fronts and heavily pleated skirts. Something darker is hinted at as well. While walking Julia around the grounds, Ralph implores her to “remember” the past, especially “the pleasant things like our honeymoon.” He paws at her and forces a kiss on her lips, implying that wives must endure the sexual appetites of their husbands as part of the deal that is marriage. In this context, the title–-My Name Is Julia Ross —is more than an affirmation of identity; it’s a declaration of independence.

MARIAN HUGHES'S MONOGRAM IS EVERYWHERE IS JULIA'S ROOM. EVEN THE MISE-EN-SCENE WANTS JULIA TO GIVE UP HER IDENTITY!

The institution of marriage has its pitfalls in My Name Is Julia Ross, but the working world is not painted as a viable alternative for women. The opening shot of the film shows Julia walking down a dark, foggy street as she comes home to her dreary boarding house after a day of beating the pavement looking for a job. Obviously, jobs are difficult to come by for women in 1945. The other working women in the film are neither happy nor content, because their jobs are pure drudgery. Julia’s hard-bitten landlady has to squeeze her tenants for every penny; the boarding-house cleaning lady is a bitter thief who resents Julia’s youth and beauty. Alice, the Hughes’s hard-working servant in Cornwall, is too blinded by her wish to marry into a wealthy family to see what is going on under her very nose.

A look at the social history of the postwar era finds the themes of My Name Is Julia Ross quite relevant to time. Women had been a major part of the work force during WWII ala “Rosie the Riveter,” stepping in to work in a variety of occupations while the men were off fighting the war. As the war began to wind down, and plans were made to welcome the 11,000,000 troops coming home, pressure mounted for women to step down and let the men have the jobs. Magazine articles, newspaper stories, and ads for appliances and creature comforts reflected this pressure. In June 1945, Atlantic carried an article titled, “Getting Rid of the Women.” In September 1945, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Monthly Labor Review printed “Recommendations on Separation of Women from Wartime Jobs.” Frederick C. Crawford, chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers, noted, “From a humanitarian point of view, too many women should not stay in the labor force. The home is the basic American unit.” Soldiers returning home lamented the way American women had changed during the war. A former correspondent for Stars and Stripes wrote “The American Woman? Not for This G.I.” in The New York Times Magazine in March 1946. His frustrations are quite clear when he wrote, “Being nice is a lost art among American women who. . .swipe your seat at bars. . .Their idea of equality is to enjoy all the rights men are supposed to have with none of the responsibilities. . . I feel I should go back to France and tell them they’re a heck of a lot better . . . .” My Name Is Julia Ross reminds us of the lack of job opportunities for women in the postwar years while simultaneously reflecting society’s discomfort with women who had “illusions of something else” besides marriage.

MARRIAGE EQUALS MURDER

After Julia is found (she participates in her own rescue), and the Hughes are carted away, she and Dennis Bruce drive back to London. Bruce proposes, and Julia readily accepts—an ending that sticks out partly because of its abruptness and partly because it seems to contradict all that preceded it. But two systems and practices make such an ending inevitable. First, the Production Code had strict guidelines on how to deal with the institution of marriage, which could never be presented as making a character’s life worse. If the storyline involved a bad marriage, then a good marriage had to be included to validate it as a positive institution. In parlance of the Code, this was known as compensating moral values. Second, the traditional Hollywood ending is a happy one in which all loose ends are tied up and all our social institutions, ideals, and values have been validated. The union of the leading male and female as the final image in a Hollywood movie is a visual signifier of that happy ending.

DIRECTOR LEWIS USES THE VISUAL STYLE OF FILM NOIR TO SUGGEST HIDDEN INFORMATION, LOSS OF IDENTITY, AND ENTRAPMENT.

While researching My Name Is Julia Ross, I found many authors and scholars refer to it as a film noir. Given Lewis’s identification with that genre and the film’s use of low-key lighting, deliberate shadows, mirrors and reflective surfaces, and imagery of entrapment, this is perhaps understandable. Yet, I find it a problematic fit for film noir; there are not enough narrative conventions to make it a strong candidate for this genre. Instead, I see My Name Is Julia Ross as a romantic melodrama—that much-maligned women’s genre that reflected, celebrated, and ruminated on issues and problems important to women. Considering that Hollywood has long abandoned romantic melodramas, along with other films with women characters, it’s logical that no one recognizes this genre today, let alone its strengths.

Hirsch, Foster. The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. 2nd Ed., DaCapo Press, 2001.

Rosen, Marjorie. Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the American Dream. New York City: Avon, 1973.

Silver, Alain and Elizabeth Ward. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1979.

24 Responses Thoughts on ‘My Name Is Julia Ross’
Posted By Surly : February 8, 2010 2:46 pm

Great take on a great film, Suzi. I agree that Julia Ross is more of a romantic, perhaps Gothic, melodrama than it is a noir.

Posted By Surly : February 8, 2010 2:46 pm

Great take on a great film, Suzi. I agree that Julia Ross is more of a romantic, perhaps Gothic, melodrama than it is a noir.

Posted By debbe : February 8, 2010 4:16 pm

never saw it, never heard of it.. but it sounds like a great film. will try and find it… you bring up some good points. yet another great blog.

Posted By debbe : February 8, 2010 4:16 pm

never saw it, never heard of it.. but it sounds like a great film. will try and find it… you bring up some good points. yet another great blog.

Posted By Jenni : February 8, 2010 10:28 pm

I tivoed this movie a year ago, and really enjoyed it. I was frustrated for Julia, who every time she tried to get help or escape, her efforts were foiled. I think an interesting blog would be on Hollywood portrayals of marriage that were realistic and positive, i.e. Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver, Frederic March and Myrna Loy in The Best Years of Our Lives; those were portrayals of marriages where there was love,trust, honesty, and respect towards one another.

Posted By Jenni : February 8, 2010 10:28 pm

I tivoed this movie a year ago, and really enjoyed it. I was frustrated for Julia, who every time she tried to get help or escape, her efforts were foiled. I think an interesting blog would be on Hollywood portrayals of marriage that were realistic and positive, i.e. Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver, Frederic March and Myrna Loy in The Best Years of Our Lives; those were portrayals of marriages where there was love,trust, honesty, and respect towards one another.

Posted By Surly : February 9, 2010 12:58 pm

Jenni- Well, there’s no drama in getting along, is there? For some reason you made me think of the conversation between the husband and wife at the end of Pitfall, one of Hollywood’s rare and sober take on a troubled marriage.

Posted By Surly : February 9, 2010 12:58 pm

Jenni- Well, there’s no drama in getting along, is there? For some reason you made me think of the conversation between the husband and wife at the end of Pitfall, one of Hollywood’s rare and sober take on a troubled marriage.

Posted By Jenni : February 9, 2010 9:57 pm

Not heard of Pitfall. Will have to check it out.

Posted By Jenni : February 9, 2010 9:57 pm

Not heard of Pitfall. Will have to check it out.

Posted By Al Lowe : February 10, 2010 7:44 am

I know GUN CRAZY and THE BIG COMBO well. I have VHS tapes of them. I never saw JULIA ROSS. But I have some information on it gleaned from a 1978 book, THE GOLDEN AGE OF B MOVIES, written by Doug McClelland.
He discusses 50 such movies from the 1940s separately, such as: AMONG THE LIVING, BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL, BISCUIT EATER, CRIME BY NIGHT, DETOUR, EYES IN THE NIGHT, FALCON AND THE COEDS, GIVE OUT SISTERS, GOOD MORNING JUDGE, MAD GHOUL, REVILLE WITH BEVERLY, SAN DIEGO I LOVE YOU, SEVENTH VICTIM, STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, WEIRD WOMAN, WHISTLING IN THE DARK.
And MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS.

He does not discuss feminist issues. McClelland quotes James Agee in The Nation: “The film is well planned, mostly well played, well directed, and in a somewhat boom happy way, well photographed- all around a likeable, unpretentious, generally successful attempt to turn good trash into decently artful entertainment.” According to McClelland, “Thanks to augmented promotion by Columbia, which was experiencing a temporary paucity of product, the film was lavishly and laudably reviewed and became one of the decade’s most highly regarded low budget productions.”
McClelland compliments Foch as “an unconventionally attractive, robust blonde with an intense intelligence about her sharp features.” He said she was born in Holland, raised in the States and overcame industry turmoil to become a respected actress “and today (1978) also teaches acting.”
The discussion of the plot is similar to yours, although he quotes more from the movie.
You did a good job, Suzie. I know you wouldn’t mind if I tried to help.

Posted By Al Lowe : February 10, 2010 7:44 am

I know GUN CRAZY and THE BIG COMBO well. I have VHS tapes of them. I never saw JULIA ROSS. But I have some information on it gleaned from a 1978 book, THE GOLDEN AGE OF B MOVIES, written by Doug McClelland.
He discusses 50 such movies from the 1940s separately, such as: AMONG THE LIVING, BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL, BISCUIT EATER, CRIME BY NIGHT, DETOUR, EYES IN THE NIGHT, FALCON AND THE COEDS, GIVE OUT SISTERS, GOOD MORNING JUDGE, MAD GHOUL, REVILLE WITH BEVERLY, SAN DIEGO I LOVE YOU, SEVENTH VICTIM, STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, WEIRD WOMAN, WHISTLING IN THE DARK.
And MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS.

He does not discuss feminist issues. McClelland quotes James Agee in The Nation: “The film is well planned, mostly well played, well directed, and in a somewhat boom happy way, well photographed- all around a likeable, unpretentious, generally successful attempt to turn good trash into decently artful entertainment.” According to McClelland, “Thanks to augmented promotion by Columbia, which was experiencing a temporary paucity of product, the film was lavishly and laudably reviewed and became one of the decade’s most highly regarded low budget productions.”
McClelland compliments Foch as “an unconventionally attractive, robust blonde with an intense intelligence about her sharp features.” He said she was born in Holland, raised in the States and overcame industry turmoil to become a respected actress “and today (1978) also teaches acting.”
The discussion of the plot is similar to yours, although he quotes more from the movie.
You did a good job, Suzie. I know you wouldn’t mind if I tried to help.

Posted By Al Lowe : February 10, 2010 8:02 am

An additional note.
I was just reading McClelland’s description of REVILLE WITH BEVERLY. If it hasn’t played on TCM recently, it really should be featured.
The plot has Ann Miller convincing radio station manager Franklin Pangborn to take a rest while she becomes a Disc Jockey for him. As she spins each record we see a musical number by such artists as the Mills Brothers, Frank Sinatra, the blonde pretty Wilde Twins and the bands of Bob Crosby, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. (McClelland mentions that Lawrence Welk once introduced “Take the A Train” on his program as “Take Thee A Train.”) The supporting cast includes Irene Ryan, who played Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. The finale features the dancing Miller and her gams.
It probably isn’t as great as it sounds. But it sounds great, doesn’t it?

Posted By Al Lowe : February 10, 2010 8:02 am

An additional note.
I was just reading McClelland’s description of REVILLE WITH BEVERLY. If it hasn’t played on TCM recently, it really should be featured.
The plot has Ann Miller convincing radio station manager Franklin Pangborn to take a rest while she becomes a Disc Jockey for him. As she spins each record we see a musical number by such artists as the Mills Brothers, Frank Sinatra, the blonde pretty Wilde Twins and the bands of Bob Crosby, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. (McClelland mentions that Lawrence Welk once introduced “Take the A Train” on his program as “Take Thee A Train.”) The supporting cast includes Irene Ryan, who played Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. The finale features the dancing Miller and her gams.
It probably isn’t as great as it sounds. But it sounds great, doesn’t it?

Posted By Surly : February 10, 2010 12:11 pm

Al, I believe that unlike the other Bs you list, Julia Ross was a big sleeper hit, like The Cat People before it.

Posted By Surly : February 10, 2010 12:11 pm

Al, I believe that unlike the other Bs you list, Julia Ross was a big sleeper hit, like The Cat People before it.

Posted By Suzi Doll : February 10, 2010 1:57 pm

Al: Thanks for the added info on JULIA ROSS. I wondered where you have been keeping yourself. Haven’t heard from you in a while.

On another note: I would love to see REVILLE WITH BEVERLY with all of those production numbers by musical acts popular at the time, Plus, I am a big Ann Miller fan. I once saw her in HELLO DOLLY in summer stock, which inspired me to take tap dancing. She was terrific; alas, I was not.

Posted By Suzi Doll : February 10, 2010 1:57 pm

Al: Thanks for the added info on JULIA ROSS. I wondered where you have been keeping yourself. Haven’t heard from you in a while.

On another note: I would love to see REVILLE WITH BEVERLY with all of those production numbers by musical acts popular at the time, Plus, I am a big Ann Miller fan. I once saw her in HELLO DOLLY in summer stock, which inspired me to take tap dancing. She was terrific; alas, I was not.

Posted By Jenni : February 11, 2010 7:33 pm

I thought of another movie that is an interesting portrayal of a marriage, The Marrying Kind, directed by George Cukor, starring Aldo Ray as the husband and Judy Holliday as the wife. I saw it on a late show, probably 8 years ago, and it has still stayed with me all these years. Excellently acted, plot told very well, and quite a touching portrayal. I think it deserves a post, and a TCM showing.

Posted By Jenni : February 11, 2010 7:33 pm

I thought of another movie that is an interesting portrayal of a marriage, The Marrying Kind, directed by George Cukor, starring Aldo Ray as the husband and Judy Holliday as the wife. I saw it on a late show, probably 8 years ago, and it has still stayed with me all these years. Excellently acted, plot told very well, and quite a touching portrayal. I think it deserves a post, and a TCM showing.

Posted By suzidoll : February 12, 2010 10:55 am

Jenni: I showed THE MARRYING KIND in a class I taught on Films of the 1950s. I remember it well because I am major Aldo Ray fan. Its take on marriage was to support it as an institution but not to paint it as a fairy tale. It was indeed touching . . . and interesting.

Posted By suzidoll : February 12, 2010 10:55 am

Jenni: I showed THE MARRYING KIND in a class I taught on Films of the 1950s. I remember it well because I am major Aldo Ray fan. Its take on marriage was to support it as an institution but not to paint it as a fairy tale. It was indeed touching . . . and interesting.

Posted By Jenni, St. Louis : February 12, 2010 8:35 pm

Suzi, maybe Aldo Ray deserves a blog one day, hint,hint! My husband and 18 year old son recently watched Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards(I hate the fact that the movie’s title is misspelled! The elementary school teacher in me coming out!) and I caught the tidbit that Brad Pitt’s character’s name is Aldo Raine. Wondering if Tarantino is also a fan of Ray’s. I didn’t watch this flick, but the musical soundtrack I heard is fascinating. Classical music, spaghetti western music, very unique.

Posted By Jenni, St. Louis : February 12, 2010 8:35 pm

Suzi, maybe Aldo Ray deserves a blog one day, hint,hint! My husband and 18 year old son recently watched Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards(I hate the fact that the movie’s title is misspelled! The elementary school teacher in me coming out!) and I caught the tidbit that Brad Pitt’s character’s name is Aldo Raine. Wondering if Tarantino is also a fan of Ray’s. I didn’t watch this flick, but the musical soundtrack I heard is fascinating. Classical music, spaghetti western music, very unique.

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