Noir Nook: Dame-Name Noirs
One of my favorite things about film noir is the female characters. Not just the femmes fatales – although they, of course, are quite the selling point. But all of noir’s dames aren’t bad girls – some are just badass if you know what I mean.
This month’s Noir Nook is the first in a series about films featuring femmes whose badassery earned them their own monikers in the titles – my favorite dame-name noirs.
My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
Set in Britain, this underrated feature stars Nina Foch in the title role of an unemployed Londoner whose fortunes change – but not in the way she’d hoped – when she’s hired to be a live-in private secretary to a wealthy widow (Dame May Whitty). Instead of typing and filing, Julia is drugged and spirited off to the woman’s seaside mansion in Cornwall, where she’s told that her name is Marion and that she’s the wife of Mrs. Hughes’s son, Ralph (an especially creepy George Macready). Not only that, but everyone insists that Marion/Julia has suffered a nervous breakdown and for her own protection cannot be allowed to leave the property. Turns out that the off-his-rocker Ralph has murdered his real wife and he and his mother plan to kill Julia, too, passing her death off as a suicide. Pretty crafty, huh? But they hadn’t reckoned on the fortitude of Julia Ross.
From the time she awakens in her strange, new surroundings, Julia is determined that she’s not going gentle into that good night. She’s fearless, resilient, shrewd. When confronted by her “mother-in-law” and her “husband,” Julia doesn’t weep or cower or show the slightest bit of the “Gaslight effect” that one might anticipate when awakening with a wedding ring and clothes bearing another woman’s monogram. “My name isn’t Marian Hughes and I’m not married to you or anybody,” she says with cool conviction. “I don’t know what this is all about, but I promise you some very serious trouble unless you stop it immediately.” Julia then proceeds to employ a number of (admittedly unsuccessful) strategies in an effort to escape, from trying to sweet-talk the caretaker into opening the gate, to sneaking into the back seat of the visiting local vicar, to pretending to take poison so that a doctor will be called. She finally outwits her captors by managing to mail a letter to a friend in London, only to learn that time is of the essence – her death-by-apparent-suicide is imminent!
Clocking in at an economical 64 minutes, this movie is packed with suspense and brimming with fine performances from the principal players as well as the supporting cast, including Queenie Leonard as a sympathetic housekeeper. My Name is Julia Ross was the first noir directed by Joseph Lewis; after this, he went on to helm such gems as Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955). It was also Nina Foch’s initial foray into the shadowy world of noir – she would later appear in Johnny O’Clock (1947) with Dick Powell and Evelyn Keyes; The Dark Past (1948) opposite William Holden; and The Undercover Man (1949), which was also directed by Lewis.
A pristine print of My Name is Julia Ross can be viewed on YouTube. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
And visit the Noir Nook for future posts on badass noir femmes with their names in the title!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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