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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S 1 E 4 "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine"

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Left to right: Barbara Jean Trenton and Barbara Jean Trenton.

Rod Serling: Picture of a woman looking at a picture. Movie great of another time, once-brilliant star in a firmament no longer a part of the sky, eclipsed by the movement of earth and time. Barbara Jean Trenton, whose world is a projection room, whose dreams are made out of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit-and-run years and lying on the unhappy pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame.

Air date: Oct. 23, 1959

Aging film star Barbara Jean Trenton (Ida Lupino) secludes herself in her private screening room, where she reminisces about her past by watching her old films. In an attempt to bring her out into the real world, her agent Danny Weiss (Martin Balsam) arranges a part for her in a new movie and brings a former leading man—now also older, many years retired from acting, and managing a chain of grocery stores—to visit her. This horrifies Barbara Jean and only drives her further into seclusion. Then one day, Barbara Jean's maid finds the screening room empty—and is shocked by what she sees on the screen. Danny comes over and sees on the screen the front hall of the house, filled with movie stars and Barbara Jean as they appeared in the old films. He pleads with her to come back, but she throws her scarf toward the camera and departs just before the film ends. In the living room, Danny finds Barbara Jean's scarf. "To wishes, Barbie," he says wistfully, "to the ones that come true..."

Rod Serling: To the wishes that come true, to the strange, mystic strength of the human animal, who can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension of its own. To Barbara Jean Trenton, movie queen of another era, who has changed the blank tomb of an empty projection screen into a private world. It can happen — in the Twilight Zone.

The Sixteen Millimeter Tropes:

  • Damned by Faint Praise: International Studios head Marty Sall's idea of a good part for Barbara is to cast her as a forty-something mother. A vibrant mother, but a mother nonetheless.
  • Dramatic Drop: The maid drops her tea tray when she comes into the projection room and realizes Barbara has entered the movie.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Barbara was given a visit by Jerry Jearnden, who came to her as an old but content man running a chain of grocery stores. Rather than teach her how she could potentially be happy like Jerry (living life to the fullest despite having lost their fame and youth), the visit only makes Barbara more frightened of growing old and obscure, prompting her to further isolate herself.
  • Foil: Jerry Hearnden is one for Barbara. While Barbara is tortured by her lost youth and fame, he appears to have largely moved on and isn't overly upset about the loss of his career or looks and now lives a normal life, running a chain of supermarkets in Chicago.
  • Glory Days: Barbara's despair that the days when she was young, beautiful, and famous are now long over becomes so profound that she ends up entering the world of her films, where she can re-live her glory days indefinitely.
  • Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: In particular, Barbara really disliked the International Studios head Marty Sall.
  • Immortality Field: The Movie Land turned the symbolism of movies preserving a moment forever into reality, essentially giving Barbara an endless life when she moved there.
  • I Reject Your Reality: It becomes increasingly clear how unstable Barbara is when she tells Danny to call up her old co-stars, only for Danny to remind her that one has been dead five years and the other two have long since retired.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Jerry Hearndan was once a handsome leading man but is now an average looking older man with grey hair and glasses and Barbara is clearly shaken to see how he looks now compared to their glory days. He doesn't seem especially bothered by it or his his lost fame.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Barbara is offended that the International Studios head Marty Sall wants to cast her in a new movie as a mother, it's not like someone her age could really play a younger role, even if they tried.
  • Kick the Dog: When she turns her nose up at the role, Marty really twists the knife about how Barbara is just a washed up has-been, and any part she'll ever get will just be "charity". This sends her running out the door in tears.
  • Lady Drunk: Barbara is bitter and disappointed and drinking at 11 am.
  • Loving a Shadow: Barbara remembers her old male lead actor Jerry Hearndan as being a handsome Casanova who swept her off her feet. When she meets him years later as an old man, she comes up to a picture of his younger self and sadly muses to herself: "He's the one I was expecting..."
  • Medium Awareness: An odd In-Universe version. After Barbara goes into movie land, she's definitely aware that she's in movie land, as she can hear Danny calling to her from the real world and throws her scarf at him.
  • Metaphorgotten: The end of Rod Serling’s opening monologue (see page quote). Played for tongue-in-cheek laughs.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Somewhat downplayed when Barbara has a clear recollection of her dislike for the International Studios head Marty Sall. Played straight when she remembers the lead actor Jerry Hearndan as being a dashing Casanova who was just as passionate about acting as she was. Sadly, despite what she remembers about the actor, he's now an aged, humble man who contently owns a chain of grocery stores.
  • Proscenium Reveal: The first scene is Barbara having an emotional farewell with her man, a soldier going off to war. It's soon revealed to be one of Barbara's old movies Farewell Without Tears.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In response to Marty Sall's rather harsh comment, Barbara's agent Danny sincerely hopes that one day Sall will know what it's like to be past his prime and be figuratively kicked in the mouth.
  • Show Within a Show: Barbara Jean Trenton starred in Farewell Without Tears in 1933 and A Night in Paris in 1934.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Most Twilight Zone episodes have a paranormal premise setting up the story, but this one has zero otherwordly aspects until the Twist Ending. As such, it's almost impossible to summarize it without giving it away, whether you're a DVD back-cover writer or Rod Serling himself giving the traditional On the Next spiel.
  • Trapped in TV Land: Barbara voluntarily retreats to Movie Land, where she can escape the ravages of time that have left her old and largely forgotten in the real world.
  • Up the Real Rabbit Hole: Played with in how Danny's reaction changes. Barbara living in her past isn't emotionally unhealthy insofar as she can do it "for real".
  • Vague Age: Barbara Jean's exact age is never stated. Ida Lupino was forty-one years old at the time but Barbara is talked about as though she were considerably older and is considered to play the mother of leading ladies. While that could just be sexism on the part of the studio, one of her old co-stars looked to be in at least his mid-fifties and others are said to be retired or dead.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Barbara Jean. It's not just that she misses being a star; she won't even take supporting parts, angrily refusing one.