When you wish upon a star…
A one time leading actress is 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 and photos from CBS Television Distribution
When I first encountered the actress, Ida Lupino it was for a post looking at her work as a director. For that particular post, I reviewed her work directing three episodes from three different 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. I saw this as 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 that was as diverse as they come. Lupino opposite William Shatner, Tom Skerritt and Ernest Borgnine. 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.
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. She directed the celebrated The Masks (1964) Episode as reviewed HERE. It seemed right to review her acting appearance in this episode called The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine (1959). The title of the episode, referring to 16mm film and Lupino’s character Barbara’s obsession with 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.
She sits alone 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). Trenton is 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 watching her in her movies.
Weiss encourages her to come out from her isolation. He invites her to join him in the real life, but she’s dismissive. She ignores 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. She 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). This audition at her old acting studio. Trenton gets excited, she seems almost manically passionate about the role possibilities. She still has a hatred of Marty, Head of the Studio the man she will be meeting with. She’s swept away on a reverie of acting dreams and hopes, such as stardom in a musical or romance.
It’s only when she gets there she finds out she will play someone’s mother and in a small bit part. To 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 “ageing 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, in reality not on film, she sees he’s visibly much older. She discovers he left acting many years ago and is now a successful businessman. Alone in her upset, she wishes and wishes that 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. On meeting her character in that atmospheric opening scene, you note both the younger and older versions played by Lupino. In the present day she appears exactly as she does on-screen in the in episode movie, the episode suggests that she is seeing herself on-screen.
On this giant screen, we are transported to her world as she sees it and it appears she hasn’t accepted that she is older. 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 younger film character. 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 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 someone’s mother and in a small role. 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 meets her co-star, Jerry once more. He however 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. 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 Gillis is asked by a fading movie actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) to assist her in a return to the big screen. This actress also 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 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.
In the world of film and TV, there are many actresses often playing mothers to similarly aged or not much younger actors. Actors are more likely to have a 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 ageing. 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
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. She also directed episodes of Thriller, Bewitched and The Twilight Zone. Martin Balsam in Night of Terror, Murder on the Orient Express and more.