Sunday, October 26, 2014


Columbia Pictures, 64m 58s

An adaptation of the Anthony Gilbert novel THE WOMAN IN RED, written for the screen by Muriel Roy Bolton, this rousing B-picture was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, who would go on to direct two of the most deservedly famous film noirsGUN CRAZY (1950) and THE BIG COMBO (1955).

Fire destroys an image of Julia Ross (Nina Foch)
Interestingly, the restoration of Ross involves water

Shot in 18 days on Columbia's backlots, MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS begins properly enough for a noir film, with our protagonist introduced upon rain-soaked streets. Londoner Julia Ross (Nina Foch) is looking for work with a certain sense of desperation. She learns of a secretarial position available with a Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty), who seeks an applicant of unwavering commitment. Ross pledges she has no personal life to speak of that may interfere with her job performance, and agrees to move in with Hughes. Soon after that, the Hughes family leaves London behind for an isolated seaside estate in Cornwall. Ross awakens from a lengthy drug-induced slumber to be greeted as Marion Hughes. Her "husband" Ralph Hughes (George Macready) does not seem to be all there, as he makes a habit of destroying household fixtures with obsessive knifework in repeated displays of symbolic impotence. Sort of makes you wonder what happened to the original Marion Hughes.

The unlucky Ross falls into an extremely dark place through no fault of her own—all she wanted was a job! Her disorientation begins with being drugged, then she must endure being treated as someone she knows very well she is not. MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS anticipates the better-known noir films SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948) and SUDDEN FEAR (1952), both of which feature women being targeted by their own husbands. There is also a connection to "walking dead" noir permutations like DETOUR (1945) and DECOY (1946). In terms of setting, MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS involves a woman being menaced within the confines of a gated gothic environment, similar to the same year's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945). Ross even encounters a treacherous staircase in a particularly suspenseful sequence (staircase danger is an overused but stylistically bankable noir trope).

A Nosferatu-like presence torments Ross (Nina Foch)

Some traditional elements of the horror narrative come into play in MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, especially in regard to visuals. Cinematographer Burnett Guffey's compositions recurrently emphasize the presence of closed doors, barred windows, elaborate fences, and imprisoning shadows. Guffey would work on a large number of high quality noir productions, including JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947), IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), and THE SNIPER (1952), to name just a few. He teamed with Lewis again on SO DARK THE NIGHT (1946) and THE UNDERCOVER MAN (1949).

A personality oppressed via imagery

A commercial success, MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS likely influenced future noir films with horrific sequences like NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) and THE WINDOW (1949), as well as color thrillers that emerged in the '60s, i.e. DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! (1965) and THE COLLECTOR (1965). MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS would be remade as DEAD OF WINTER in 1987.

The noir psychopath usually comes to a bad end, as he does in MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS

Part of the Turner Classic Movies Vault Collection from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics III 5-disc DVD set contains a 1.33:1 presentation of MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, along with some worthwhile supplemental material.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Columbia Pictures, 78m 54s

The archetypal money satchel gets a workout in NIGHTFALL, an ambitious outing from the great director Jacques Tourneur, a pioneer in the art of horror noir, i.e. CAT PEOPLE (1942) and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943). Written for the screen by Stirling Silliphant (5 AGAINST THE HOUSE [1955], THE LINEUP [1958]) and based on a novel by crime fiction writer David Goodis, NIGHTFALL concentrates on the whereabouts of the aforementioned satchel and its $350,000 of stolen money inside.

Heavy machinery spells danger in Jacques Tourneur's NIGHTFALL

In a nod to the noir form popularized in the ‘40s, and Tourneur’s own OUT OF THE PAST (1947) constitutes a prime example, present day complications have their basis in past events that are revealed via multiple flashbacks. The lead protagonist is Chicago-based commercial artist and veteran Art Rayburn (Aldo Ray in a likeable turn), who currently masquerades as James Vanning for reasons that are not apparent at the outset. So alienated from society is Rayburn that he carries no identification. He picks up model Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft) only to become entrapped by John (Brian Keith) and his unbalanced accomplice Red (Rudy Bond in the noir psychopath role), a couple of bank robbers in search of their lost heist money, which lies somewhere in the vast mountainous wilderness of Wyoming. Rayburn knows—roughly, anyway—where the loot is.

Art Rayburn (Aldo Ray) and Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft)

In a departure from the noir form of tarnished characters, our point of identification in NIGHTFALL is at no fault for his predicament. The wrong-man-on-the-run Rayburn finds himself pursued by not only the two crooks, but determined insurance man Ben Fraser (James Gregory). Rayburn is deceived, beat down, shot at, chased relentlessly, and suspected of getting rid of his hunting and fishing buddy Ed Gurston (Frank Albertson), who left behind a widow linked romantically to Rayburn. The classic noir element of randomness is palpable, especially when Rayburn explains to Gardner in no uncertain terms that fate brought them together, “Because you were unlucky enough to talk to me tonight.”

Red (Rudy Bond) toys with Art Rayburn (Aldo Ray)

The narrative is introduced in the traditional urban locales in which noir stories so often play out, then Tourneur and cinematographer Burnett Guffey (IN A LONELY PLACE [1950]) explore rural exteriors—atypical staging for the noir film, but not unique (ROAD HOUSE [1948], ON DANGEROUS GROUND [1951], CRY VENGEANCE [1954]). The mise-en-scène comes exceptionally tough for 1957, as when John and Red confront Rayburn at an oil field. And whenever the expansive snow-covered landscape is emphasized, as when Rayburn flees a murder scene while carrying the money satchel, and when a character meets a grisly fate via a most unforgiving snow blower truck, the progenitor of FARGO (1996) is strikingly evident.

My best fiend

The title track performed by Al Hibbler does not compliment this otherwise outstanding film noir, by far one of the most accomplished of programmer length. Tourneur’s suspenseful CURSE OF THE DEMON also was released in 1957. A clean-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation of NIGHTFALL is available as part of the 5-film Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II DVD set available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.