So Dark the Night/My Name is Julia Ross
directed by Joseph H. Lewis
starring Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, Steven Geray
Arrow Academy has released two hybrid film noir classics from director Joseph H. Lewis. So Dark the Night and My Name is Julia Ross are not well known noirs and certainly are dwarfed in reputation by director Lewis’ Gun Crazy, but both have gained a cult following over the years and are far better films than many of the better remembered films of the era. Both films are more than deserving of these gorgeous Blu-ray releases complete with handsome transfers and quality extras.
So Dark the Night
1946 was the year French film critic Nino Frank coined the term Film Noir to describe a particular strain of American mystery movies, it was somehow fitting that is also the year Joseph H. Lewis released So Dark the Night, an decidedly unique film noir set in France. A famed Parisian police detective, Henri Cassin (Steven Geray), takes a much needed vacation to the French countryside. While there he falls in love with the innkeeper’s beautiful young daughter Nanette (Micheline Cheirel) The girl is star struck, dreaming of a glamorous life in Paris. Her boyfriend Leon is none too keen on the infatuation. Soon Nanette turns up murdered. All the suspicion falls on Leon, until his murdered corpse is also discovered and it’s up to the great Henri Cassin to solve the baffling case.
The film is unique in noir given the sunny provincial French setting which is a whole other world from the unforgiving city streets and alleys that you generally associate with noir. The film actually plays like a May/December love story until Cassin beings to investigate the murders. The whole feel of the film shifts and becomes more traditional noir with POV shots, dutch angles, and the shadows get more pronounced as the story progresses and the mystery deepens. The film gets decidedly bleaker as it spirals toward its inevitable yet still shocking twist ending. The film destroys the myth of the master detective as the person the audience most depends on to solve the crime and save the day becomes utterly unreliable both as a narrator and as a crime solver. Although he does solve the mystery and gets his man, it isn’t the way audiences of 1946 could have been expecting.
In addition to a striking black and white transfer the disc also contains two superb extras. A feature length audio commentary from Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme digs deep into the film not only giving background info on the prominent players but giving deep dives into context and analysis on the film. The other important extra is the video essay So Dark… Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia featuring film writer Imogen Sara Smith giving more background and history on So Dark the Night and Lewis’ impact on noir.
My Name is Julia Ross
Blending the look of film noir with gothic fiction My Name is Julia Ross is a unique vision from director Joseph H. Lewis. The film has more in common with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca or Val Lewton’s RKO horror films than it does with Detour or Double Indemnity. Aside from the Cornwall setting, the film also has a female lead that is not a femme fatale but a woman trapped in an increasingly hopeless situation who relies on her wits to save her life.
Julia Ross (Nina Foch) is a single young woman living in a London boarding house, behind on her rent and desperate for a job. She answers an ad for a personal secretary. She goes to the employment agent where she is questioned about her family and relationships of which she has none. She is immediately hired by Mrs. Hughes and her son, Ralph. Mrs. Hughes gives her money for new clothes with orders to be at the family home to start that evening. After she leaves the Hughes and the employment agent agree that they have found the girl they need and to close the agency. Julia reports to her new employers on Thursday evening in London, but awakes two days later in an isolated mansion on the coast of Cornwall. The Hughes family and their servants insist that she is not Julia Ross, but Ralph’s mentally ill wife Marian. The film is basically a series of escape attempts by Julia that in the hands of a lesser director could have gotten quite tedious, but we become invested in Julia, so each foiled escape ratchets up the suspense as she is running out of time before taking the place of the murdered Marian Hughes and allowing Ralph to get away with two murders.
My Name is Julia Ross features a commentary from author Alan K. Rode. Rode gives far more information on the cast and crew than deep insights into the film, but is never boring. His discussion of the unorthodox career of leading lady Nina Foch is by far the best element of the commentary. The Nitrate Dive Nina Fiore goes deeper under the skin of Julia Ross on Identity Crisis: Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia. She theorizes the film being a reflection of the anxiety of women in post WW2 America, an idea supported by the source novel The Woman in Red and the screenplay both being written by women.