Wednesday, February 27, 2019

SO DARK THE NIGHT/MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS: Arrow's Blu-ray debut of two gems from Joseph H. Lewis

OK: one of these films -- MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS -- has maybe got not so many carats, but it still offers a lot of good, old-fashioned mystery fun.

The other, however -- SO DARK THE NIGHT -- is a compelling little diamond in nowhere near the rough. It is such a stylistic gem, in fact, that TrustMovies suspects only the unduly delayed rise of filmmaker Joseph H. Lewis (shown below) into the pantheon of important movie-makers is responsible for its too-little-known reputation.

Lewis could work in just about any genre but may best be known, particularly after the current Blu-ray release of these two films, for his near-film-noir endeavors. Most movie buffs know Gun Crazy, certainly one of the filmmaker's best and most original works, along with The Big Combo. But his noir-ish western Terror in a Texas Town also deserves a place at the table.

As a kid I was particularly taken with Lewis' The Undercover Man, and A Lady Without a Passport, and much later his war film, Retreat, Hell! Once Lewis moved over to television, never to return to films, I rather forgot about him and his work. Thankfully, Arrow Academy/Arrow Home Video is bringing Lewis and that fine work back into our sites and sight.

My Name is Julia Ross stars an upcoming Nina Foch (above), quite good as the smart and energetic young lady trying to find a decent job in postwar London. To give away almost anything about the plot of the film risks major spoilers, so I'll just say that the movie is awash in mystery of the what-the-hell-is-going-on? variety and features some witty and delightful performances from a terrific supporting cast that includes the likes of Dame May Whitty (below), while offering up a mother-son relationship that is surely one for the books.

The black-and-white cinematography is crisp and bright in this beautiful new transfer, and as usual with Arrow product, the "extras" are definitely worth viewing, in particular the background to and analysis of the film by The Nitrate Diva (Nora Fiore). Ms Fiore stretches her theories a bit, but what she has to say is often fun and worth hearing.

My Name is Julia Ross runs but 65 minutes and was clearly meant to be "filler" on the second half of a double bill. But it proved popular enough to be itself be a hit for its studio (Columbia Pictures) and thus gave Lewis the opportunity to work on other, more important films. From Arrow Films, distributed here on the USA via MVD Visual, the movie arrived on Blu-ray earlier this month and is available now for purchase and (I hope) rental.

One of these "more important" movies for Lewis -- and one of the director's best -- was So Dark the Night, which, among other things, gave the well-known character actor, Hungarian-born Steven Geray (shown at right and below), a role the likes of which he would never again see, and which he filled so well that, had our always-nonsensical Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences been paying any attention to "little" movies, this fine actor would have garnered a nomination, if not the Oscar itself.

Filmmaker Lewis creates here an almost shockingly charming beginning, as our hero, a famous and very bright Parisian detective goes on vacation to a small provincial town where he hopes to relax and forget his cares. Are we surprised when trouble brews?

Not at all, but what holds us for so long is how delightful Lewis makes this town and its citizens -- almost so French-ified that they come close to cliche -- yet with something just a little bit "off." Lewis also manages a feat that few film directors ever dared: He shows us what's wrong with that typical Hollywood relationship between an older man and girl 30 years his junior.

All the sweetness and charm soon evaporate, once murder after murder arrives. You will imagine you've nailed the killer, but don't be too sure. By the end of this highly unusual, profoundly sad film, you and our hero will have gone places neither of you ever imagined.

Running only 71 minutes, So Dark the Night hit the street earlier this month via Arrow Academy, distributed here in the USA by MVD Visual. It's available now for purchase and (I hope) rental. Again, the Bonus Features are first-rate -- even better than those on the My Name is Julia Ross disc. And why not -- for this is by far the superior movie.

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