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Review: My Name Is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night Join the Arrow Academy

Transformation, whether of theme or person, lies at the heart of Joseph H. Lewis’s cinematic identity.

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My Name Is Julia Ross
Photo: Arrow Academy

When, in 1975, Billy Wilder was asked by author and film historian Robert Porfirio about his conscious pursuit of a noir style, he scoffed at the question, replying, “As a picture-maker…I am not aware of patterns [across films].” Wilder, like every other studio director in the 1940s, had no idea of himself as an auteur, if only because the concept of authorship, like film noir, had not yet become a fluid component of any studio’s production methods. However, certain filmmakers, such as Joseph H. Lewis, did think of their studio work as being “artistic.” When the director died in October 2000, Time titled its obituary of Lewis “Art on a Budget,” emphasizing Lewis’s “wagon wheel” shot, a conceptual designation for the transformation of a nondescript scene into, as Lewis describes it, an artistic one.

Transformation, whether of theme or person, lies at the heart of Lewis’s cinematic identity. In 1945’s My Name Is Julia Ross, an aristocratic family lures Julia Ross (Nina Foch), a young woman seeking employment, into their mansion, then gaslights her into thinking she’s actually Marion, the wife of Ralph Hughes (George Macready), the sadistic son of Mrs. Hughes (May Whitty). In effect, Ralph and his mother use their power over doctors, lawyers, and other hired help to eradicate Julia’s identity and transform her into someone else. As in Hitchcock’s Rebecca, to which Muriel Roy Bolton’s screenplay owes a significant debt, the transformation is more psychological than physical, as Julia’s ability to remain herself depends upon those people around her agreeing that she is, indeed, who she claims to be.

Lewis uses Julia’s increasing desperation to escape from the Hugheses to stage remarkable individual shots that often capture Julia’s eyes in close-up or peering over someone in the foreground, as if probing for any chance to recapture her previous life. And this story about the loss of identity resonates with the terms of Lewis’s own filmmaking within a studio system designed to eliminate individuality, as various aesthetic idiosyncrasies distinguish My Name Is Julia Ross from more conventional genre work of the period.

If one were to consider My Name Is Julia Ross within the context of the “noir pantheon,” as Arrow Academy places it in the film’s cover description on their new Blu-ray release, the film’s gothic premise and female-driven perspective would seem to distinguish it more than a chiaroscuro visual style or urban setting. However, as Kristopher Woofter and Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare argue in Recovering 1940s Horror Cinema: Traces of a Lost Decade, genre films of the decade, ranging from film noir to horror to police procedurals, use similar stylistic devices to articulate their plots. In fact, the authors also mention the “paranoid woman’s picture” as its own subgenre utilizing these very stylistic tools. The irony in My Name Is Julia Ross, then, is that Julia’s paranoia is the product of her manipulation at the hands of those who view her as merely a cipher to be filled with their corruption.

Like My Name Is Julia Ross, 1946’s So Dark the Night could be categorized as film noir, but the designation becomes difficult to sustain given the oddities of the setting and the story’s sharp turns into something more resembling a tale of horror. Henri Cassin (Steven Geray), considered to be Paris’s greatest detective, takes a vacation to the French countryside where, upon his arrival, a string of murders throws the tight-knit community into chaos. Lewis directs the twisty So Dark the Night for maximum shock appeal, hinging the final turn of the screw on Cassin’s transformation from a heralded law enforcer into the subject of suspicion.

There are shades of Fritz Lang’s work in Lewis’s use of shadows and mirrors to indicate fractured identity, and as Cassin starts to doubt his own sanity, So Dark the Night becomes the inverse tale of transformation to My Name Is Julia Ross, prompting viewers to identity with a potential killer rather than the definite victim. In directing films from across genres and tinging his style with a certain je ne sais quoi, it’s no wonder that Lewis was considered a great director among various cinephiles and directors of the 1970s New Hollywood.

Joseph H. Lewis’s My Name Is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night are now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Academy.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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