Twilight Zone Sn1 Ep4 “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”

Original Airdate: October 23, 1959

The fourth episode of “Twilight Zone” swings for the fences and is the creepiest episode yet. Barbara Trenton (Ida Lupino, “High Sierra”) is an aging screen star who’s time in the limelight was twenty years past. She now spends her days locking herself in a darkened room and running her 16-mm films, reliving her glory days. This causes deep concern for her friends Danny (Martin Balsam, “Psycho”) and Sally (Alice Frost).

On the surface this episode sounds fairly simple, but this is after all the “Twilight Zone” and the quiet, flickering dark is where the mysterious happens. Ida Lupino blows this performance out of the water. What starts simply as a wallowing screen starlet evolves into full blown madness as time becomes more apparent.

The best scenes are when she is still inhabiting her older role as prima donna when offered a role and confronting the reality of an aged former co-star, Jerry Hearndan (Jerome Cowan, “The Maltese Falcone”). This episode is a detailed plight into madness, it is about a woman unable to move on, who cannot let go of the past and find a place in the present despite the few friends she has left who bestow dedication and love upon her.

The self-imposed alcohol-fueled isolation robs her of her sanity piece-by-piece and the writing is a tautly wound spring ready to viciously unfurl in the creepy closing moments. Tonally this episode maintains a dreary, Victorian isolation as Barbara seals herself in her mausoleum of memories and lauds the days of glories past. Conspicuous consumption dominates every frame further reinforcing her downfall into madness and isolation.

It is the way the ending is handled, moreso than anything, that brings the chills to the episode. Her abrupt shift from a woman on the edge of complete mental obliteration to one engaged with joy and sublime laughter is both real and exudes truth. Watching Martin Balsam sell the ending one can almost envision his character embracing a similar fate.

“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” is an excellent and genuinely creepy episode. It showcases well-written characters performed by fantastic actors. The story is boldly simplified allowing for the characters to be focal point in this episode and to carry its weight. I grew up on the reruns of “Twilight Zone,” but rewatching them now many years later I’m gaining a much greater appreciation for the scope and depth of the this show. The way it shifts from genres, stories, and vastly different character types is breathtaking. Every morning is a new re-discovery and a new discovery.


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