Most of the Hollywood films I’ve watched over the past few years have been suspense films. And, oddly enough, a disproportionate number of those have ended up following a similar pattern. A wealthy woman falls head over heels in love with a very attractive man and marries him. They’re blissfully happy—and then, the shattering truth emerges: he wants to kill her. In several of these films (Midnight Lace, Sudden Fear, Love From a Stranger), the man’s motive for wanting to kill his wife (and to marry her, in the first place) is to get at her money.
Not so in Julie, where Louis Jourdan’s character, playing the evil husband, is out to kill his wife for a very different reason.
The story begins dramatically. Julie Benton (Doris Day) strides angrily out of a clubhouse and flings herself into her car. Even as she’s struggling, furious with rage, to start the car, her husband, Lyle Benton (Louis Jourdan) gets into the passenger seat. It’s soon obvious that Julie isn’t the only one who’s angry; so is Lyle, and his fury is such that it’s soon manifested itself in behaviour that’s downright dangerous: he puts his foot down on the foot Julie has on the accelerator, and presses. Hard, with such increasing force that Julie struggles to keep control, both of herself and the car.
The car goes careening out of control. Julie is screaming and crying and trying desperately not to ram into other vehicles on the road. Finally, Lyle wrests the wheel from her hands, and swerves the car (after a near-collision) off the road.
The reason for this fight has been Lyle’s jealousy. He saw Julie chatting with her friend Cliff Henderson (Barry Sullivan) at the club, and sprang to the conclusion that Julie was having an affair with Cliff. Julie stormed out of the clubhouse, indignant at this unwarranted suspicion, but Lyle is so mad with jealousy that Julie’s anger has been replaced with a sort of gibbering fear.
Later, we get to know a bit more about these two people. Lyle is Julie’s second husband; her first husband, Bob, had died, seemingly having killed himself. The verdict, at any rate, was suicide. Meanwhile, Lyle and Julie have got married. Lyle is a very successful pianist, and that evening, while Julie frets at home, he sits at his piano and plays a thunderous, furious tune, banging on the keys with all the hate and anger in him.
Later still, Lyle tells Julie that she mustn’t do things that make him jealous. He’s very jealous of any man who comes anywhere close to Julie; he was even jealous of Bob, when Julie was married to him.
The next day, Julie has promised to play golf at the club with a friend, but before that, at the club, she meets Cliff. Their conversation, while it would not give a jealous husband cause for alarm, does go down a route Lyle would not have liked if he had heard it. Cliff is frankly suspicious of Lyle, and suspicious of the way Bob died. Julie, thinking over it, also admits that she has never been able to figure out a motive for why Bob committed suicide. He was perfectly happy, and investigations had proved that he didn’t have financial difficulties or anything of the sort. Why did Bob hang himself, then?
Cliff turns that around and asks if Julie’s ever considered that maybe someone put the noose around Bob’s neck? Julie is horrorstricken, and it’s obvious, from her expression, that she realizes that this isn’t a farfetched assumption. After all, Lyle was a house guest of hers and Bob’s when Bob killed himself. By now, Julie’s mind is racing, trying to get itself around the fact that she could be married to the man who murdered her first husband.
There’s only one thing to do: ask Lyle outright. That could mean risking her own life, Cliff warns her. But Julie has to know; the not knowing is worse than knowing.
In the meantime, Lyle becomes even more suspicious of Julie. While Julie does go off to play golf with the friend, the same friend meets up later with both Julie as well as Lyle (who’s arrived at the club in the meantime) and innocently ribs Julie about coming so late for their game. Lyle, of course, knows that Julie had left for the golf course on time, so there’s a moment when he freezes, watchful; and Julie has a hard time trying to think up a distraction.
She has to find out.
So, that night, as she lies in Lyle’s arms, Julie asks him if he murdered Bob. And Lyle, with all the chilling insouciance of a cold-blooded murderer, admits it. Yes, he tells her. He did murder Bob, he was so jealous of him. And if Julie tries to run away, if Julie tries to leave him, he’ll murder her too.
Julie laughs and assures Lyle that she won’t leave him, but even as she puts her arms around his neck, the terror and anguish in her face are clear.
The next morning, Julie gets up with the express purpose of somehow escaping Lyle. She throws away the cream and the eggs, and makes up an excuse that she’s out of both and needs to go buy them. Lyle insists on coming to the shop, and Julie has to change tactics. Finally, after much to-ing and fro-ing, Lyle goes off alone, but (while Julie scurries about, packing a suitcase etc) he doubles back, calmly disables her car, and then goes off again.
Julie ends up hitching a ride with a passing motorist, and along with Cliff (whom she’s phoned, asking him to meet her at the local police station), goes to the cops. To Julie’s shock, they tell her quite frankly that her complaint won’t float. Even if Lyle confessed to her that he murdered Bob, what proof if there? It’s only her word against his. They’ve come across this before. Though they don’t say it outright, the implication is that embittered wives try to get back at husbands by accusing them of all sorts of misdemeanours.
As it happens, Lyle—ever tenacious—has followed Julie to the police station. He now has the effrontery to request to speak to the cops, and when he does so, he tells them a sob story of how Julie suspects him of all various crimes etc. Of course he cannot have murdered Bob. Why would he? The cops, already not inclined to believe Julie, are even more sceptical now.
The long and short of it is that Julie realizes (and so does Cliff, who’s been with her all this while) that there’s no use depending upon the cops for help. They slip out of the police station without letting Lyle see them and Cliff tells Julie that she has to leave town now. They hire a car at a garage, but even while Cliff and Julie are waiting for the car to be handed over, Lyle drives up outside. He’s not letting Julie go this easily.
But Cliff manages to give Lyle the slip once again, and drives off by the back gate. They go to another city, to a busy hotel where Cliff checks Julie in under an assumed name. Finally feeling secure, Julie goes up to her room to freshen up before she joins Cliff for a drink in the bar… and a phone call comes. For her, under her assumed name. Julie is on the alert, and when the operator connects the call, there blares into her ear the loud recording of Lyle’s piano-playing.
He’s found her.
What is in store for Julie? How long and how far will she have to run to get away from her murderous husband?
What I liked about this film (and some I didn’t like):
John Wilson, who founded the Golden Raspberry Award, listed Julie as one of ‘100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made’. I agree only in part. Yes, it’s not a brilliant film; it goes somewhat over the top in places (somewhat, I must admit, because I grew up on a diet of Hindi cinema, which has given me a high tolerance for melodrama), but all said and done, it’s quite an adventure. And the last half-hour, which has Doris Day flying a plane, is pretty gripping. Interestingly, Julie was one of the earliest films to show a woman aviator. The aviation scenes, both in the cockpit as well as in the Air Traffic Control tower, come across as pretty authentic, and have been commended as being accurate.
Though one thing that riled the feminist in me: the way the Air Traffic Controller keeps addressing Julie as “honey”. Ugh.
Anyway, all said and done: an enjoyable Doris Day film. Not the frolic most people expect of Doris, but interesting nevertheless.