My Name Is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis / U.S., 1945):

The structure is measured and knit tightly, a reward given Joseph H. Lewis for having stuck it out with tracking shots on cowboys and Dead End Kids. Julia Ross (Nina Foch) is an American in London, she steps into the hallway of her boarding house, drenched from the rain, and trades exposition with a Cockney maid in the first of the film's André-Bazin-on-Poverty-Row exercises; she sees Dame Mae Whitty for a secretary position and, since every one of the 65 minutes is valuable, she's readily transferred to the old widow's Cornwall Coast mansion. Foch is drugged and every last bit of her identity gets tossed into the fireplace, Whitty's son (George Macready) relaxes by taking a switchblade to the guest's undies -- the charade is on, Macready has trouble with "temper" (saturnine glowering turns into a psychotic gleam, controlled by maternal disapproval) so their new prisoner's to be molded into a substitute for the wife he murdered. Rebecca and Gaslight loom too heavily in the wings to allow this shoestring Gothic an original vision, yet this is an important juncture in the evolution of Lewis's visual storytelling, a veritable symposium of earlier images re-tooled (the great staircase shot from The Falcon in San Francisco is modulated into Foch gasping as Macready foils her escape scheme) or sown for future blossoming (the opening downpour, enriched in Gun Crazy). There's also expressionist chiaroscuro (the heroine in bed, eyes flashing in a mirror and a hovering shadow hand), the acrid comedy of the vicar ("touching," Macready's behavior is called), and a speech about the secrets of the ocean and an imaginary honeymoon telescoped into Foch's horrified eyes, trapped between her captor's shoulder and the waves crashing behind her. A calling-card work yet fascinatingly filled with feminist strands, from the assertive title (sent up in a brackish excoriation of "everything a woman wants") to a concluding tilt over the raging sea where the dead spouse rests, avenged at last. With Roland Varno, Anita Sharp-Bolster, and Doris Lloyd. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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