Sometimes a movie is just so weird I have to write about it in order to prove it wasn’t something I dreamed up. Doris Day was a recent honoree during TCM’s month-long Summer Under the Stars and Julie had been on my watch-list for awhile, mostly because of Louis Jourdan. In David Kaufman’s biography of Doris Day he cites Julie as a film that physically taxed the actress because of her own abusive relationship and so you’d assume Julie would be a dark, twisted thriller about a woman escaping domestic violence. This certainly is how the film begins, but it soon loses steam with a series of silly plot threads, a tenuous fear of its own subject matter, and an ending that I have to believe inspired Airplane! (1980).
Julie (Day) is a recently widowed newlywed. How is that? Her husband died under mysterious circumstances, leading her to quickly marry their mutual friend, Lyle Benton (Jourdan). When Julie discovers Lyle was responsible for her husband’s death she flees, but Lyle refuses to let her go.
Director and screenwriter Andrew L. Stone must have been writing under a gun of his own because there is absolutely no introduction to our characters before the plot kickstarts. We met Julie and Lyle in the midst of an argument while driving; Lyle’s gotten jealous that Julie was talking to another man. A breathless ten-minute drive ensues with Julie attempting to navigate the car on a canyon road. Unlike other movies involving jealous spouses, Stone doesn’t ease into things or gaslight the viewer into seeing Lyle in a different way as we watch Jourdan step down on Day’s foot to increase the car’s speed. This is all well and good, but the same absence of exposition colors the narrative. Julie can’t stop bringing up her first husband, though it’s unclear the timeline of events immediately. Did Dennis die six years ago, or yesterday? The same can be said for Lyle and Julie’s marriage; they’re newlyweds, but this is inferred mostly because of how little the two lovebirds seem to know about each other. Being only 99 minutes, it would have been nice to see some pleasant moments between Lyle and Julie to at least help us see why Julie married him.
That being said, the assumption is they’re married because they’re Doris Day and Louis Jourdan. They just seem meant for each other, right? To her credit, Day is fantastic in this, possibly because of Kaufman’s claims that she had been in a similar situation. Day conveys the fear and horror of being trapped under a watchful husband’s eye, particularly during a scene where she tries to pack while Lyle is off on an errand. But for 1956 there’s a fear to depict domestic violence in all its stark horror. So, instead, Julie ends up fleeing around the halfway mark and never interacts with Lyle. The violence he plays on is all psychological, done through phone calls not unlike another Day vehicle, 1960’s Midnight Lace. Even then, the distance between the two characters and lack of tangible interaction comes off as confusion of what domestic violence looks like. Jourdan doesn’t even get to revel in being evil! If anything, it’s certainly evident in the surrounding police characters, who treat Day’s claims with all the flippancy of a stubbed toe. The sergeant admits to Julie that Lyle won’t be content till he kills her, so best take a job that requires her to move around a lot.
And without you know it? Julie was once a stewardess! Yes, the third act goes all manner of silly on us. A series of events sees Lyle and Julie on the same plane, with Julie realizing and having to stop him from…..actually no one’s really sure what he plans to do once the plane lands. The police, pilots, and crew just know he’s dangerous. Unfortunately, Julie’s schemes end up with the pilot and Lyle dying and Julie having to land a plane. A movie about an abusive relationship becomes a thriller involving Day becoming a pilot. Hell, Jourdan doesn’t even warrant a proper villainy send-off.
Julie is a weird bird. It’s a movie I can’t say is terrible because it’s so wacky that I was curious how things would play out. But in terms of what it’s advertising, it’s a failure. The script is underwritten leaving the actors to struggle for proper motivation, and there’s little context for their actions. If you’re looking for a movie that starts in one genre, then diverges into another this is perfect.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.