Joseph H. Lewis was a great noir director, best known for Gun Crazy (one of the greatest movies made ever) and The Big Combo. There was a big retrospective of his films at the Scala in London in the late 70s or early 80s, during which I believe Time Out tagged The Big Combo as the headiest movie ever made, triggering a huge queue that included every hip young film fan and director. The strength of that screening caused the Scala to do monthly screening of Lewis’s films, which they eventually had to stop when they started to get to the bottom-scrapings.
My Name Is Julia Ross is certainly not in that category, but So Dark the Night might be.
My Name Is Julia Ross was obviously a quickie, at 65 minutes long. Set in London, it’s a Britain-set noir about Julia Ross (Nina Foch). Ross takes a live-in private secretarial job. However, on her first day, she wakes up in a mansion somewhere near Cornwall. She’s been drugged, and her kidnapper is trying to convince her that she is Marion, the wife of her boss Miss Williamson Hughes’s son, Ralph. Williamson Hughes is played by Dame May Whitty. All her belongings have been mysteriously destroyed, and all the locals think she is Marion. She’s left trying to find some way to alert the authorities to her situation.
It’s an odd little noir, maybe not one of Lewis’s best but it’s up against stiff competition. It has a plot that revolves around identity, and is one of the few American noirs set in Britain, like Gaslight and Night and the City. And come to think of it, My Name Is Julia Ross is also set around a prime example of “gaslighting,” coming to the screen not long after the original Gaslight (and perhaps an overt rip-off). It has a lot of gothic elements too, with the heroine held in a castle-like house against her will. The film was based on a book, The Woman in Red, by Anthony Gilbert, whose work was also adapted by Alfred Hitchcock. It was also remade in 1987 as Dead of Winter, directed by Arthur Penn (his penultimate feature film).
Visually it has some memorable moments, but it doesn’t match up to either The Big Combo, which is a masterclass in noir lighting, or Gun Crazy, which basically has everything you could want from a film. Still, it’s an interesting noir by a slightly neglected director in the genre. His later work gets all the retrospective screenings, but there are others, like My Name Is Julia Ross, that are worth seeing too.
This package includes a commentary by noir expert Alan P. Rode, an appreciation of the film by the nitrate diva Nora Fior, the theatrical trailer and, in the first pressing only, a booklet with writing by Adrian Martin.
So Dark the Night is a short (69 minutes) noir that Lewis did right after My Name is Julia Ross. While both were intended as B movies to run on double bills, My Name is Julia Ross moved up to A billing due to its high quality, but So Dark the Night was a much lesser film.
Inspector Cassin, supposedly the most famous detective in Paris, needs a break. He goes to the countryside, where he falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, who is engaged to someone else. At their engagement party, she and her fiancée both disappear. The Inspector quickly takes on the case—who do you think might be at fault?
There’s a good twist, but the whole thing is a bit of a mess. It predates Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, which covers a similar story but is much better. It’s an unusual setting for an American-made noir, though.
There are a few extras: an audio commentary by Glenn Kenny and Ferran Smith Nehme, an interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith, who fills viewers in on the film’s background and analyses it, the theatrical trailer, and for buyers of the first pressing, a booklet with writing on film by critic David Cairns.
It would have been smarter for Arrow to put both of these short films on a single disc.