|Ida Lupino as aging movie star Barbara Jean Trenton|
Season One, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 23, 1959
Barbara Jean Trenton: Ida Lupino
Danny Weiss: Martin Balsam
Marty Sall: Ted de Corsia
Jerry Hearndan: Jerome Cowan
Sally: Alice Frost
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Editor: Bill Mosher
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Set Designer: Rudy Butler, Henry Grace
Art Directors: George W. Davis, William Ferrari
Music: Franz Waxman
And now, Mr. Serling:
“This motion picture projector and this film provide a background to next week’s story when a most distinguished actress takes a journey into The Twilight Zone. Miss Ida Lupino stars in “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine,” a haunting story of a haunted woman that I think you’ll find interesting and perhaps shocking. We hope you’ll join us then. Thank you and good night.”
Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Picture of a woman looking at a picture, movie great of another time, once brilliant star in a firmament no longer part of the sky, eclipsed by the movement of earth and time. Barbara Jean Trenton, whose world is a projection room, whose dreams are made out of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit and run years and lying on the unhappy pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame.”
Barbara Jean Trenton, an aging, reclusive actress, spends nearly all of her time in the darkened screening room of her Beverly Hills mansion, drinking heavily and attempting to recapture the glory days of her youth by endlessly screening the old movies in which she starred. She fantasizes about the leading men that shared the screen with her two decades or more ago. One actor in particular, Jerry Hearndan, has always held a special place in her heart and she watches the movies they made together over and over.
Barbara Jean’s maid, Sally, and her agent, Danny, become increasingly concerned about her unhealthy fixation on the past and the amount of time she spends in the dark watching old movies. Danny, in an attempt to break Barbara Jean out of her unhealthy habits, arranges for an audition with a large movie studio. Barbara Jean excitedly agrees to read for the part, despite the fact that it is for a movie producer she has never liked, Marty Sall. Barbara Jean dreams of a romantic leading role, like the ones she’s had in the past, in a love story or a musical.
When she arrives at Marty Sall’s office, she quickly realizes that the part the producer has lined up for her is a small role that makes her advanced age glaringly apparent. Barbara Jean erupts in anger and refuses to even read the script. Sall gets angry, too. The producer harshly tells the aging actress that she is living in the past and she doesn’t have the clout in the movie industry that she once had. Barbara Jean storms out of his office and Danny, the ever-loyal agent, verbally puts Sall in his place before returning with Barbara Jean to her home.
For Barbara Jean, the horrible encounter with the producer is the breaking point. She has decided to fully live in the past, to allow her fixation to totally consume her. She believes that if she wishes for it hard enough, she can will herself to return to the past she is desperately obsessed with. She tells Danny that she wants to throw a party and invite all of her friends from years ago. Danny, knowing that this regression is not healthy, attempts to convince her to give up the past, to move on, that the other actors from years ago have since moved on or died. Barbara Jean will hear nothing of it. Danny leaves and she resigns herself to the dark screening room.
When Danny returns the next day he is greeted by a very distraught Sally, who tells him that, when she enters the screening room, she swears that Barbara Jean isn’t in the room at all, that she is only up on the screen. Danny brushes this aside. He is excited with good news and he rushes to the screening room to tell Barbara Jean about it. Reluctant to let him in, she finally caves when he mentions that he has asked Jerry Hearndan, her leading man of years past, to visit her home that same afternoon. Excited as a young girl, Barbara Jean rushes off to prepare for his visit.
When she emerges she is faced with a harsh truth in the physical form of Jerry Hearndan. Now aged twenty five years, Heardan is a bald, bespectacled old man that has given up acting to run a chain of supermarkets outside of Chicago. Barbara Jean, in her twisted mental state, refuses to believe this, insisting that the old man is not really Jerry Hearndan but an aged imposter. She turns her back on him and Jerry leaves. Danny, distraught at the disaster of Hearndan’s visit, leaves as well. Barbara Jean is alone and she once again retreats to her screening room where she can see Jerry Hearndan as he was when he was young and handsome. She talks to the screen, willfully wishes it to be real once again. Later, the maid enters the screening room and is greeted with a shocking sight. Screaming, she drops a serving tray with a crash on the floor and runs out.
Danny arrives at the house and, at the behest of Sally, enters the screening room. Sally has turned off the projector and becomes anxious when Danny decides to turn it back on. They both watch the screen. There, on the screen, is a film of Barbara Jean’s home, the very home they now sit in. From the front doors enter a costumed array of young people, all actors from twenty five years ago, all actors from Barbara Jean’s movies, even those actors that have since died. Then Barbara Jean enters the film and greets all of her guest, inviting them to continue the party at the poolside. As she is walking away on the arm of the young Jerry Hearndan, Danny calls out to the screen, calling for Barbara Jean to come back. As though she hears him, Barbara Jean turns and looks. Then, with a goodbye wave, she tosses her scarf across the threshold of the stairway and retreats off screen. The film ends, the screen goes black.
Danny walks out of the room, stunned. In the hallway, on the floor, he finds Barbara Jean’s scarf. He picks it up and holds it near, smiling, knowing that Barbara Jean has indeed wished herself back into the past, forever.
Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“To the wishes that come true, to the strange, mystic strength of the human animal, who can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension of its own. To Barbara Jean Trenton, movie queen of another era, who has changed the blank tomb of a projection screen into a private world. It can happen, in The Twilight Zone.”
|Danny (Martin Balsam) confronts Barbara Jean about her obsessions.|
The episode is chiefly concerned with the fatal allure of the past, but it is also concerned with death, and, metaphorically, the death of old Hollywood, a time romanticized in the cultural mind. The films of this era (1920s-1940s) had the simplicity, and the casual brutality, of fairy tales, films of broad humor or sweeping romantic adventure or brooding Gothic horror.
The episode is structured like a fable, in the sense that the story presents a moral message as well as a fantasy element intrinsic to the realistic setting. This may explain why Rod Serling felt the need to crown the episode with a happy ending that represented hope and sentiment where it was not only uncalled for but illogical. This ending perfectly destroys all of the mood and tension that the episode previously spent building up. It may best be advisable to shut off the episode before Martin Balsam picks up the scarf by the staircase, before he smiles and says, “To wishes, Barbie.” It’s a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn in terms of mood and atmosphere and a major let-down. The creepiness and madness, the strange Poe-meets-Hollywood feel of all that came before, is swept away by the ending.
When Danny views the final footage of Barbara Jean walking off into the fantasy netherworld along with all the dead or long gone actors from the past it's like she’s walking off with ghosts, but ghosts of substance and dimension, which makes them a lot more disturbing. When she walks off and the projector screen goes black, it’s like she’s walked right off the face of the earth.
It's moments like this that make the episode well worth at least a single viewing and perhaps a few additional viewings to fully appreciate what it has to offer. Ida Lupino is simply perfect, an extremely talented woman that became the only person to both star in an episode of the series as well as direct another. She was the only woman to direct an episode of the series, the fifth season episode, "The Masks," from a Rod Serling script. Lupino here plays the role of the obsessed film star with compassion while avoiding the temptation to emulate Gloria Swanson's manic performance in Sunset Boulevard (1950), a film that was the obvious inspiration for the episode. Lupino (1918-1995) was an incredibly versatile actress and director who was particularly well versed in film noir in both capacities. As an actress she appeared in They Drive by Night (1940), High Sierra (1941), alongside Humphrey Bogart, Road House (1948), and On Dangerous Ground (1951). She directed the hard hitting film The Hitch-Hiker in 1953 for RKO. The film is not connected to the Twilight Zone episode with the same title.
Martin Balsam, an Academy Award winning actor that should be a familiar face to genre television and film fans, is stellar as always. Balsam is the type of character actor one comes to appreciate not only for his range but for the way in which he not only adjusts to the character but also adjusts the character to himself. He is not an actor that is going to slip completely into a role but he is guaranteed to be convincing and believable. Balsam held roles in two exceptional thrillers from the sixties (Psycho (1960) and Cape Fear (1962)), starred as the psychologist trying to help a doomed time traveler in Rod Serling's "The Time Element," for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, the de facto Twilight Zone series pilot, and appeared again in the season four episode “The New Exhibit.” A prolific actor, Balsam is also remembered for his role in 12 Angry Men (1957) and appeared in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
As noted earlier, "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" was undoubtedly influenced by director Billy Wilder's 1950 film noir Sunset Boulevard, starring Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a washed up and reclusive film starlet from the silent era who still lives thirty years in the past while remaining secluded in her dilapidated mansion. Norma also, like Barbara Jean Trenton in the episode, spends much of her time watching prints of her old movies, yearning to be young again. By chance, Desmond meets a handsome aspiring screenwriter named Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, and works to keep him as her "pet" writer while he produces a screenplay that will bring her back into the limelight. Of course, it all ends in tragedy with Gillis's death at the hands of Desmond in a desperate act of lover's rage. By the time Serling came to produce "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine," Sunset Boulevard already held a reputation as an exception film.
-Rod Serling went on record several times as saying he held no love for this episode and considered it an all-around failure.
-Ida Lupino also directed the exceptional season five episode “The Masks.”
-Martin Balsam also starred in the unofficial pilot for The Twilight Zone, "The Time Element," and the hour-long season four episode “The New Exhibit.”
-Alice Frost played the part of Aunt Amy in the season three episode “It’s a Good Life.”
-"The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Kathy Garver and Charles Shaughnessy.
-"The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" was adapted into a short story (as "The 16-Millimeter Shrine") by Walter B. Gibson for Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Revisited (Grosset & Dunlap, 1964).