004 – Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine

Original air date – 10/23/59

Written by Rod Serling  |  Directed by Mitchell Leisen

Starring Ida Lupino, Martin Balsam, Jerome Cowan, Ted de Corsia, Alice Frost

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In this fourth episode Ida Lupino is the keeper of the said Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine. Lupino played an aging film star Barbara Jean Trenton who lives in the darkness of her home theater, watching and re-watching her old films. Her agent, Danny Weiss (Martin Balsam, who would later be in another great episode, season 4’s The New Exhibit), successfully gets Barbara a meeting at the studio. However Barbara is not willing to accept the fact that she is 25 years past her prime and the only role for her these days is to play the role of a mother.

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Humiliated by the meeting at the studio, Barbara is further petrified when she is visited by her old friend Jerry (Jerome Cowan). Forever living in the past, Barbara pictures her handsome onscreen leading man as a young matinee idol from two decades ago only to be met in her foyer by a old guy that Jerry is now.

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*Spoiler alert*

The next day, Barbara’s housekeeper, Sally (Alice Frost), walks into the screening room and screams upon seeing the image on the screen. Our POV is only on the expression on her face. Danny, the agent, is called in. Barbara is nowhere to be found in the screening room. Then Danny turns the projector to play…

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What’s on the screen is Barbara standing in her very own foyer, right inside this very house and outside of this screening room, surrounded by her old film actor colleagues.

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Before she walks of the screen, Barbara throws her scarf at the camera. As Danny walks into the foyer, the same spot of the earlier scene, he finds the scarf on the floor.

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Holding onto the scarf, Danny smiles and says, “To wishes, Barbie. To the ones that come true.”

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This episode is too close for comfort to the 1950’s Sunset Boulevard (which is a must-watch, by the way, folks). Nine years its predecessor, I can only wonder what the great Billy Wilder thought about all this.

Like Norma Desmond, Barbara is delusional, but in a less creepy way. Both women live in the past and desperately need to check themselves out in the mirror to get real. Barbara is fortunate to get a parallel universe in the world of Rod Serling to hop onto. But Norma’s screen exit sure beats that of Barbara’s.

A nice footnote here is that Lupino will go on to direct the classic TWZ 5th-season episode, The Mask, five years later. Can’t wait to re-watch that one.

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