This is a rather interesting little movie. It’s a gothic film noir. According to Wikipedia, “gothic fiction” is sometimes called “gothic horror” and “is a loose literary aesthetic of fear and haunting.”

On that note, it’ll come as little or no surprise that when Julia Ross (played by Nina Foch), a single woman without family or many connections (other than a slim one with her landlady and a slightly more than passing interest in a certain gentleman), is hired by a wealthy widow, Mrs. Hughes (played by Dame May Whitty) to be her live-in personal secretary, things aren’t going to go well.

So she agrees to live (and presumably work) in a house in London, but wakes up in another one. Two days later. And the house is in an isolated coastal town.

Plus she discovers all her clothes are gone. In fact, all her stuff is gone. Including identification. On top of which she is told repeatedly by a seemingly well-meaning nurse and a definitely not-so-well-meaning Mrs. Hughes and her son, Ralph, that her name is Marion and she’s married to Ralph.

And whenever she gets a chance to dispute this with impartial witnesses, those witnesses get turned when Hughes and Son start feeding them bull about how poor Marion is suffering some kind mental breakdown.

So, there are two major goals for our protagonist here. One is to escape what’s turned out to be a prison. The other is to figure out the answer to: Seriously? WTF? Why on earth would they do this?

Okay, first, this movie tells the whole story in a very compact 64 minutes. That’s saying something. Not only do I love a short feature, but in this case, I think it forced the writers to really ratchet up the tension fast. And the plot devices didn’t seem forced or untrue to the characters.

Second, I couldn’t help but see echoes of The Prisoner in this film. A woman is held against her will, stripped of her identity, in an isolated seaside community. For mysterious purposes, though none related to spying. Even so, Patrick McGoohan would’ve been in his late teens when this came out. I wonder if he saw it.

Finally, I’d never heard of this movie until I watched it on TCM’s Noir Alley. I can never say enough good things about Eddie Muller and his work with the Film Noir Foundation.

Reviewers were tepid about the film. But, frankly, it kept my interest. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering if the ending would be straight noir or not.

And here’s the trailer (contains “minor” spoilers):

*****

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Produced by Wallace MacDonald
Screenplay by Muriel Roy Bolton (based on the novel The Woman in Red by Anthony Gilbert)

PS: This film’s screenplay was adapted from a novel by Muriel Roy Bolton, a native of Chicago who moved to Hollywood and worked as film and television screenwriter from the 1940s to the 1960s. She also wrote plays and even a novel called The Golden Porcupine, a historical romance set in 15th-century France.

As I understand it, there was a lot more in the second half of the book that didn’t make it into the movie. Now, I’m curious about what got left out. :)

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Debbi Mack

Debbi Mack

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.