When you wish upon a star…
A one time leading actress now a fading star and recluse who watches her old movies alone. Her illusion of life is shattered when real life intervenes.
Ida Lupino – Twilight Zone (16mm Shrine) Teaser, Aaron Joseph, http://www.youtube.com
When I first encountered the actress, Ida Lupino it was for a Behind the Cameras post, looking at her work as a director. And for that particular post, I reviewed her work directing three episodes from some famous television series of the 1960s. These were episodes of Thriller (1961-62), Bewitched (1965) and The Twilight Zone (1964), and all these told of tales with a sting in the tale. After the Ida Lupino Blogathon was announced more recently, I joined with a review choice, seeing this the perfect opportunity to watch Lupino in front of the camera.
My first choice for the blogathon, however was sadly a wee bit of a disappointment after I tried and failed to get into her 1975 horror The Devil’s Rain. This despite a promising cast which was as diverse as they come with Lupino opposite William Shatner. Tom Skerritt and Ernest Borgnine. And it even had the debut of John Travolta included in the supporting cast. But watch this space, as I never say never when it comes to movies unless it’s an Adam Sandler movie. Or that late 1970s cartoon which shall not be mentioned which was er.. written about here, but in the Movies I Hate tagging post.
So looking at her other roles, I noted that Lupino had the honour of being the only famous name to direct and star in The Twilight Zone. With her directing the celebrated The Masks (1964) Episode as reviewed HERE. So it seemed right to review her acting appearance in this, in the episode called The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine (1959). With the title of the episode, referring to 16mm film and Lupino’s character Barbara’s obsession of her film career of the 1930s..
The episode is set in 1959, and centres around a now ageing actress, Barbara Jean Trenton (Lupino) who is now not as famous as she was in her heyday of the mid 1930s. Trenton is no longer getting those coveted headlining roles as she used to. Twenty five years have come and gone, since her leading roles with dashing co-stars.
This episode starts showing a film of Trenton with her handsome leading man, in what appears to be a romantic drama. Her co-star looking like an Errol Flynn lookalike from his more dashing swashbuckling roles. The episode then cuts to a darkened room, where this one time actress has secluded herself from the outside world. With her curtains shut, and the flicker of the giant screen we see her watching this film alone. It is revealed, that Trenton spends her days watching her old films, cigarette in hand and drinking. She often needing prompting to eat and drink coffee from her maid Sally (Alice Frost).
Her maid is concerned about Trenton’s self imposed isolation, as is her agent, Danny Weiss (Martin Balsam). With Trenton oblivious to life changing around her, the weather, the time of day and even her friends lives. She’s so lost in her movie world. Weiss encourages her to come out from her isolation as he invites to join him into the real life, but she’s dismissive. Even his weather updates, preferring her own world of celluloid. When guided to the present in the late 1950s, she’s blunt and feels he’s ridiculing her. As she’s still firmly believes the 1930s are much better than the present day.
Not giving up, Weiss invites her to come for an audition with him and visit her old colleague, Marty Sall (Ted de Corsia), at her old acting studio. Trenton gets excited, almost manically passionate about the role possibilities despite her hatred of remeeting Marty, Head of the Studio. She’s swept away on a reverie of acting dreams and hopes, such as stardom in a musical or romance. Its only when she gets there she finds out she will playing someone’s mother and in a bit part. For her this acting offer is insulting at her age, her early forties. It’s most definitely not what she’s used to, and when he calls her an “aging broad”, she’s livid. Angry words are spoken between the pair, with her leaving irate and upset, and no longer on his books.
Trenton becomes more reclusive, cutting the real world out as much as she’s able. Later, Trenton suggests a party and inviting her friends. The fates of her friends apparently forgotten – as Weiss gently reminds her – that her leading men have moved away, are dead or retired from acting. Trenton becomes more solitary, and even stops sleeping losing herself, so much in this on-screen fantasy world.
Danny suggests that she meets her former handsome co-star, Jerry (Jerome Cowan). On meeting Jerry she’s shocked, failing miserably to control herself and her feelings in an uncontrolled outburst. As on meeting him, and seeing he’s visibly much older. She discovers he left acting many years ago and is now a successful business man. Alone in her upset, she wishes and wishes things could be different…
The opening scene shows a movie from Trenton’s earlier flourishing film career from the 1930s, with her appearing older than her gallant co-star. And on meeting her character in that atmospheric opening scene, almost 25 years later with the now older Trenton – both the younger and older versions played by Lupino – appearing exactly as she does off-screen, the episode suggests that she is seeing herself on-screen, as she looks now (in 1959). On the giant screen, we are transported to her world. As she sees it. The pair even mirroring each other’s actions when the maid visits her room in the present day.
These opening scenes indicating she is lost in this movie so much, that she sees the present day likeness of herself as this film character. As opposed to herself as she looked in her younger years. Lupino then gives us a passionate touchingly real portrayal of this actress and Trenton’s lack of insight into those passing years. This apparent when Danny tells her of an audition. She sees it as her chance to shine in a leading romantic role or a musical, but not as a return to acting. On this occasion – and when she remeets her co-star Jerry – she’s almost girlish. She dresses and acts like a young girl would, for a Tennessee Williams inspired gentleman caller. So with this lack of awareness, she’s angry with Marty at the studio suggesting she playing someones mother and in small role. And you feel this anger, as Lupino makes this character react in such a strong unaccepting manner, and this markedly out of proportion for the situation.
This denial of time moving on, is also evident as she remeets her co-star, Jerry who has more physically changed in age over this time. Meeting Jerry in the present day finds Trenton difficult to conceal her shock and horror as she greets the more elderly Jerry who visits her. To her he’s no longer resembles the man she knew (and we saw) on-screen, she even accuses him of being an imposter. Also acting this almost over the top and inappropriate way, when her co-star arrives and her delusion is shattered. As Lupino making this character fumble for words, as if in shock at this alternative and true reality.
It was interesting that this story was told from an actress’s view rather than an actors. Although many sources suggest the story mirroring that of Sunset Boulevard (1950). In this film William Holden’s unsuccessful screenwriter Joe Gilllis is asked by a fading movie actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) to assist her in a return to the big screen. With this actress too in a fantasy world.
This Twilight Zone tale highlighting that there are few good roles for women after a certain age. I feel this anger is also seen in the film The First Wives Club (1996) where an actress is seen to go to desperate measures…
- Morris:You’re 45! If I give you one more facelift, you’re going to be able to blink your lips. I mean, don’t you want to be able to play a part your own age?
- Elise:”My own age?” No no. You don’t understand. There are only three ages for women in Hollywood; “Babe”, “District Attorney”, and “Driving Ms. Daisy.” And right now, I want to be young. Science-fiction young.
In recent years, there have been many actresses speaking on how there are fewer great roles for older women than for men after a certain age. And this with only a few select actresses getting these roles. As then and now it has been reported there are many middle-aged actresses refusing to accept roles that they feel are “too old for them”. Or complaining there are not enough strong roles for their age.
And there are many actresses often playing mothers to similarly aged or not much younger actors. Where as actors are more likely to have a much ( in some cases more than much, much ) younger co-star romance. However this not always the case, if you remember those older women – younger men films of the 1980s, or the soaps. But this a trend, rather than the reality.
In an article written in the Telegraph the actor Russell Crowe argues that women should accept their age and the roles within this. However, it was interesting to see that it now is also reflecting on actors too, and that actors should also accept their aging. With this comment from Crowe;
The point is, you do have to be prepared to accept that there are stages in life. So I can’t be the Gladiator forever.
Weeper Rating: 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 10
Hulk Rating: /10
Additional Trailer: No
This post was added to Maddie Loves Her Classic Films Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon. My other posts with this cast include Ida Lupino in Columbo also starring in that featured episode with Johnny Cash. She also directed episodes of Thriller, Bewitched and The Twilight Zone. Martin Balsam starred in posts for in Glitter, Hotel, Murder She Wrote, St. Elmo’s Fire and Murder on the Orient Express. Alice Frost also appeared in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Fantasy Island.