A 1960s TV Trio with a Wee Twist…
Looking at this famous Hollywood name – as not just an actress – in her director role for 1960s episodes of Bewitched, Thriller and The Twilight Zone.
Ida Lupino is remembered as a lady with many talents. She was a singer, actress, writer, producer and director. She directed or starred in a wide range of genres including horror, drama, comedies and Westerns. She also acted in a series about a superhero. She is the only person to both star in and direct the same episode of The Twilight Zone on television. However, this review will concentrate primarily on her role as a director in relation to three of her television works from the 1960s which all had a wee twist in the tale…
A is for Aardvark, Bewitched (1965), S1, Ep 17
Bewitched (1964-72), an American comedy series tells of Sam (Elizabeth Montgomery), your friendly neighbourhood witch, who gives up the Hocus Pocus way of life to live a normal life. Husband Darrin (Dick Yorke) disapproves of her using her magic powers. Sam’s mother Endora (Agnes Moorehead) often interferes leading to temporary tensions between the couple. I remember this series as a kid, trying to wiggle my nose like Samantha, when she succumbs to her witching side.
Lupino directs this episode where Darrin sprains his ankle one night after falling down the stairs. As he’s laid up in bed, Sam becomes tired when juggling his constant requests and doing the housework. The couple reach a compromise, Sam giving the house magic powers to meet his every need while she gets on with the more menial chores of ironing and hoovering. Sam’s mother appears and disappears to stir things up a bit between the couple. In a wee twist of roles, Darrin enjoys this power at first and then pampering his wife, however he gets carried away giving her all sorts of treats and surprises..
I loved the way this story was delivered from the start with Sam sending a pencil upstairs to her bedridden husband using magic. Later, there are some fun comic moments as Sam got the house to “co-operate” with Darrin’s demands. Using magic – natty special effects that Michael Bay would be proud of – to create his favourite sandwich being made to the exact detail in a way that Sally – from When Harry Met Sally (1989) – would be inspired by. The delivery of the comedy was engaging too – Moorehead almost relishing her part of the meddling mother-in-law. The soundtrack’s tunes responded to the storyline, with a signature tune as Sam wiggled her nose. This is a great episode to introduce you to the characters and the back plot. It also explored the characters feelings towards magic with Sam only using it sparingly and reinforced as she carried out the more conventional tasks without magic keeping her normal housewife role. Darrin realising that magicking everything he wants for his wife doesn’t move her, yet a previously bought present has more value in a touching scene between husband and wife. This was the only episode directed by Lupino and it is often commended for its excellent delivery in exploring the themes of the show, and was reportedly one of Montgomery’s favourites.
The Masks, The Twilight Zone (1964), S5, Ep 25
Having seen the 1980s film and heard of the rumoured curse surrounding it, I settled down to watch this episode of the original TV series, finding myself a suspense ridden series to watch in the process. I love these old TV shows and films with a twist in the tale that keep you glued to your seat throughout, and this was no exception. The lack of colour along with the cast’s acting added to the almost macabre atmosphere. Combined with the familiar opening theme music of the show it made compelling, hypnotic viewing from start to finish. The music used here is spot on here emphasising the dramatic parts of the storyline.
Rod Serling – the show’s creator – announced and narrated the episode in his own engagingly sinister style. The episode is set at Mardi Gras, New Orleans, where the ailing Jason Foster (Robert Keith) is visited by his family in his final hours. His family consisting of his hypochondriac daughter Emily (Virginia Gregg) and son-in-law, money obsessed Wilfred (Milton Selzer), and two grown up grandchildren the self-obsessed and vain Paula and the incredibly dim bully, Wilfred Jnr. The family appear insincere and unconcerned by his failing condition, and are more interested in his estate, themselves or the party they are missing outside. Initially Foster insults them provoking their anger and upsetting his daughter with some home truths about the family.
Yet later, Foster flatters them, inviting them to try one of five masks – that an old Cajun made for him – representing the opposite of how they see themselves. He puts on a mask of this own, his he says is representing death as he is alive. These masks are pretty ghoulish and grotesque in comparison to his family’s physical features. However, Foster stipulates they will only get money for their train home and forfeit the estate if they all don’t comply with his last request. Unwillingly, the family put on their masks until midnight. The family feel increasingly uncomfortable in their masks, as midnight strikes…
The Last of the Sommervilles, Thriller (1961), S2, Ep 7
This episode of the series was both written and directed by Ida Lupino. George Lupino co-wrote the episode. This series is similar to The Twilight Zone telling a tale with a twist which has you gripped from start to finish. It’s also ghoulishly presented by Boris Karloff, who introduces us to the main cast and their characters as they look out the window of Sommerville Manor adding to the eerie, creepy ambience.
Set in the Victorian era, the tale is also filmed in black and white with a storm, smoke and shadows all contribute to the episode’s setting along with chilling plot. The storyline tells of Ursula Sommerville (Phyllis Thaxter), housekeeper and carer to her ageing rich and dotty, old Aunt Celia (Martita Hunt), a distant relative. We see Ursula burying an unknown body at the beginning of the episode. Her cousin Rutherford Sommerville (Peter Walker) visits, and after she manipulates the pair, Ursula sees this as an opportunity to incite him to join her in a plan to murder the old lady…however the tale takes many twists and turns. The characters are fun and almost over exaggerated adding to the dark humour of this piece. Ursula in turns plays conniving, manipulating and pure evil.
Aunt Cecilia was wonderfully over the top and reminded me of the lady romance novelist, Matt Lucas played in Little Britain (2003-6). With her dramatic pouting and flouncing, she stole every scene as she almost flirted with her nephew, Rutherford and her doctor. The scene where her murder takes place, is fantastically set up with using sound effects and the use of props conveying the set up to, the murder and the scene following the murder. The use of these devices adding to these scenes in a more hypnotic and original way than a by the numbers action scene. Karloff hams it up in his role as narrator, presenter and Cecilia’s doctor.
And as for the ending for these episodes.. they are all so worth the wait. So now after watching these three wonderful TV episodes from the 60s, I’m off to hunt down more of this wonderful lady’s work both in front of and behind the camera. Having seen this character in many a movie, and with a stepdude who loves this classic Superhero series and films, I’m particularly interested in her interpretation of her role in Batman. Like Batman is a person of many faces, being both a man and Batman, Lupino is a talented lady of so many roles, an actress and not just a director.. but also superheroine in pioneering the way for a wave of women directors such as Kathryn Bigelow and Penny Marshall.
Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon 2017, No 11
This was added to the Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. Other reviews with this cast include Charlotte’s Web (1973) with Agnes Moorehead and Thriller’s Phyllis Thaxter in Superman (1978). Stars in the Twilight Zone featured in this blog include Morgan Brittany (star of Dallas and Glitter) and William Shatner in Horror at 37,000 Feet and with Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek VI. Thriller cast members include William Shatner (again) and Leslie Nielson from Dracula Dead and Loving it and the Naked Gun series.