After a career of working his way up through the rungs of the film industry, Joseph H. Lewis’ broke through the B-movie ceiling with My Name is Julia Ross, what you might call a B-plus picture: a little more time, a little more money. But what makes the difference is a lot more care and creative engagement on the part of a director determined to show the studio just what he has to offer. The film plays as part of a tribute to Lewis on TCM this month and I wrote an essay on it for the website.
Lewis’ first film for the studio since 1939, My Name Is Julia Ross was part of the “fewer and better” B-movie initiative, with a bigger budget usually accorded such productions and a 12-day shooting schedule, twice as long as he was given for the westerns he used to crank out for the studio. Lewis made the most of his limited resources, with judicious use of stock footage and back projection to establish the London and Cornwall settings and careful backlot shooting to put the characters on English streets and country roads, or high upon a seaside cliff looking dramatically down at a rocky, lonely beach. He lavished his attention on the mansion sets, giving the interiors a distinctive sense of old-money history and aristocratic elegance; he also photographed many of the scenes framed by foreground objects or through doorways and windows (looking at Julia through the bars of her upstairs window brings the feeling of imprisonment home simply and evocatively). While the characters work to establish a surface of normalcy, Lewis injects a sense of unease into the situation with oblique angles and webs of shadows.
To get greater depth of focus (which would become a hallmark of Lewis’ best work) he had cinematographer Burnett Guffey (then just another cameraman churning out low-budget features but later responsible for shooting In a Lonely Place , From Here to Eternity  and Bonnie and Clyde ) flood the studio with extra lights and then close down the aperture, which darkened the image while still providing a sharp focus. It’s especially effective in night scenes, as Ralph lurks in the shadows and waits for Julia, who wanders the dark halls while keeping an eye out for her captors. Lewis choreographs the scenes smoothly and builds suspense with graceful camerawork, measured editing and dramatic compositions criss-crossed with threatening shadows.
Read the complete feature here. My Name Is Julia Ross, which is not on DVD, plays Wednesday, July 14 on Turner Classic Movies.