Twilight Zone Tuesday: The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine
Barbara Jean Trenton – Ida Lupino
Danny Weiss – Martin Balsam
Jerry Hearndan – Jerome Cowan
Marty Sall – Ted de Corsia
Sally – Alice Frost
Narrator – Rod Serling
We pan down from the intro stars to what seems to be a romance set in a combination of World War 1 and…Robin Hood? It’s definitely a war but the hat screams Robin Hood.
Surprise! It’s a movie and the actress is siting in a chair, watching herself on the screen. Which seems a little vain to me. Vainception.
Picture of a woman looking at a picture. Movie great of another time. A once brilliant star in a firmament, no longer part of the sky. Eclipsed by the movement of Earth and Time. Barbara Jean Trenton, whose entire world is a projection world, whose dreams are made of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit-and-run years. Lying on the unhappy pavement and trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame.
Barbara is sitting in her projection room. A maid brings her some coffee. It looks like Barbara has done alright for herself, the place looks pretty swanky. Sally the maid has interrupted Barbara acting out the part on the screen. That would be pretty embarrassing to me but Barbara takes it in stride. Methinks she has pretend time with her movies a lot.
The doorbell rings and it’s Barbara’s old friend, Danny Weiss. He knows all about Barbara’s predilection for watching herself on-screen. Sally is worried that Barbara seems more interested in her movies than real life. I can’t really blame her for being worried. The woman shuts herself in a dark room chain-smoking, drinking and role-playing her own movies. It does seem a trifle unhealthy.
Danny invites himself into The Shrine. It’s only eleven in the morning and the first thing she offers him is a drink. Danny gives a rundown of the L.A. weather (nice, no smog and sunny, thanks Danny!)
He asks what movie she was watching and she gets a trifle annoyed when he says each year they came out. Barbara does not like to be reminded of how long ago they were and the insinuation that she’s *gasp!* aging. Apparently she pours herself into the room and watches her own movies all day, every day. Gee, can’t imagine why he’d be worried about her. It seems like he’s a bit in love with her but it’s a little hard to tell why. She’s pretty snippy to him.
She perks up when he says that he’s arranged an audition for her at a (sort of) made up studio called International. There was an American International Pictures (A.I.P. for short) back in the day but I’m guessing they were going for a more generic title. My only problem with this episode is it makes such a big deal that she’s aging but they really should have done a bit better on the age make-up. She really doesn’t look that much older than she does in the movies that are supposed to have been filmed twenty years ago.
She’s also weirdly proud that Marty Sall, the head of the studio, called her “the most difficult star he’d ever worked with”. Um, that isn’t a compliment, lady.
She calls Danny a dear, sweet boy and that she’s in love with him, “in her own, selfish, devious way”. At least she’s honest, I guess.
She’s getting all excited about the part, hoping for a musical or a love story. Danny has the “how can I tell her they want her to play a mother” look on his face. It’s a little wussy of him to not tell her but he knows how touchy she is about her age. It’s also pretty clear he’s hoping she’ll take the part. He does risk incurring her wrath by implying that she’s aged but quickly tells her to get herself prettied up for the audition. She’s still a little pissy but agrees.
At the studio they’re greeted by the head of the studio, Marty Sall. Danny weasels out of telling her about the part, again, leaving it to Marty. So you just know they want her to play a mother or grandmother or something equally sinister. Knowing her as well as he does Danny still thinks this is a good idea.
They dance around a bit about the part but finally Marty drops the dreaded “M” word. He describes the part as a mother but “forty-ish, vibrant and alive”. She zings back, “As opposed to what? A corpse?!”
She gets her panties in a twist about being asked to play a mother. And she doesn’t take bit parts. Considering it’s been at least twenty years since she last acted you’d think she’d be a little less picky. Danny tries to get her to at least look at the part but she’s having none of it. If she isn’t the lead then she wants nothing to do with it. She calls Marty Sall crude and tasteless. Sall fires back at her that she’s older now, no longer at the top and any parts she gets from then on will be strictly charity. Ouch.
Danny bitches Sall out for kicking her when she’s down but, um, Danny? You could have prevented this whole thing by telling her the truth back at the house. Did you really think she’d be open to playing a mother? In fact, you specifically avoided telling her because you knew she wouldn’t even look at it if she knew what kind of part it was.
Weirdly, I think we’re supposed to feel more sympathetic towards her. To a certain extent, I do. I think Serling was trying to say something about how, in Hollywood, once a woman gets to a certain age she’s no longer ‘desirable’ for certain parts. That a woman over thirty is reduced to playing only mothers, aunts and grandmothers. My problem with it is that she’s so vain, self-centered and just generally unappealing. It makes her unattractive to me, no matter her age. I think Serling was going for something like that because typically he skewers vanity. And seems to take great pleasure in doing so.
Back at The Shrine. Danny tries to soothe Barbara’s ego by agreeing that Marty Sall is a jerk. Barbara has decided to close the drapes and say to hell with the world and it’s crappy movies (i.e. movies where she’s not the star and they play *eek!* rock ‘n’ roll). She has decided to remain in her own little bubble where she’s always young and always the star. She declares it’s 1930 in her house from now on and wants to give a party for her friends. All three of them. Except, one has been dead for five years, one has moved away and the other hasn’t been heard of in a long time. Finally, even Danny has had enough and huffs out.
After the Not-Commercial Break, Barbara is happily downing whiskey and watching (surprise) her movies. It’s been quite a while since Barbara has left her Shrine to Barbara and Sally is worried. She tells Danny that she swears she sees Barbara up on the screen sometimes. Which would be natural if all Barbara watches are her own movies. But I’m guessing she means Barbara the person, not the character Barbara is playing. Either way it’s a weirdly written line.
Danny must be a masochist or sadist (I’m not sure which). He can’t help but be concerned about her being depressed (and a tad delusional) but also constantly reminds her about her age.
He’s brought Barbara a special treat: Jerry Hearndan, her former leading man and wearer of the Robin Hood hat. I’m thinking this is a bad idea all around. This Jerry is not the Jerry she wants. She wants Robin Hood Jerry.
Danny goes to get Barbara and they mean-banter a bit. Well, mean on her side, concerned on his. She gets all excited when he tells her that Jerry Hearndan is coming and rushes off to (hopefully) shower and pretty up.
She comes down all smiles but DRAMATIC MUSIC! He’s old. She was expecting young, movie Jerry. Danny, because he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, hasn’t mentioned Barbara’s aging issues because the first words out of Jerry’s mouth are, “Been a long time, Barbara Ann, lot of water over the dam”. Which isn’t really cruel or anything but since Barbara likes playing pretend it’s a slap in the face to her.
She at least does try to be gracious and admits that she expected him to be younger. She also confesses to the crazy notion of doing another movie together. I actually do like her here. She’s very vulnerable looking and trying to keep up the gracious hostess charade. Jerry tells her that he’s not acting anymore, that he left that behind in his youth. She wants to know what he does now and, horror of horrors, he runs a chain of supermarkets.
Barbara looks pretty flummoxed with that news. Yet another blow to her carefully built up world. And the pang of sympathy I had for her is now gone because she tells him that she didn’t want Jerry Hearndan the person to come and see her. She wanted the characters he’s played. She kicks them out because they’re yet another reminder of the glory days she can’t let go of.
To give Jerry credit he tries to gently tell her goodbye and touch her shoulder but she pulls away from him like he’s got cooties or something. She might catch ‘Old’ from him. Danny is disappointed but all I can do is stare at the weird pineapple on the back of her dress. And the front. Were they really such a fashionable fruit?
After they leave she figures she’s all dressed up, why not do something fun! Like watch her movies some more. Because those are the only people that matter to her. She’s trying to wish it all away and you just know some Twilight Zone is going down because the screen gets a bit blurry.
Sally brings her some coffee but does not see Barbara anywhere. She does, however, see something that makes her scream. Sally calls Danny and he comes rushing over. After a thorough house search they realize that Barbara is nowhere to be found.
Danny turns on the projector and there’s a party going on in Barbara’s foyer, on-screen. All the characters from her movies are there, waiting breathlessly for the enchanting Barbara. I’m actually a little surprised that she’s letting other women into her fantasy domain. Of course, what fun is being the Queen if you have no one to lord it over.
She’s about to go outside on Robin Hood/Jerry Hearndan’s arm but Danny is begging her to come back. She blows him a kiss, throws him her scarf and goes to hang out with her real/fake friends. Poor Danny.
Danny leaves the room, looking a bit heart-broken. He finds the scarf in the foyer where Movie Barbara dropped it. He’s happy her wish came true.
To wishes that come true. To the strange, mystic strength of the human animal who can take a wish and give it a dimension of it’s own. To Barbara Jean Trenton, movie queen of another era, who has changed the blank, empty tomb of a projection screen into a private world. It can happen, in the Twilight Zone.
As you can probably tell I didn’t like this one much. I think Barbara was vain and self-centered and I’m a little miffed she gets what she wants in the end. Oh well, Serling’s happy about it, I guess.
Join me for next week’s Twilight Zone Tuesday – Walking Distance