Director: Mitchell Leisen
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Rod Serling, Ida Lupino, Martin Balsam, Jerome Cowan, Ted de Corsia, and Alice Frost
Composer: Franz Waxman
Air Date: 10/23/1959
Production Code: 173-3610
Instead of moving forward with her career, aging actress Barbara Jean Trenton (Ida Lupino) isolates herself from the outside world by continuously viewing films in which she starred during the prime of her life. Hoping to encourage Barbara, agent Danny Weiss (Martin Balsam) arranges for his longtime client and friend to meet with a studio executive who needs someone to play a motherly role; however, Barbara’s vanity prevents her from accepting such a part. Barbara is once again left unable to detach herself from the past, this time in a more literal manner than one would likely assume.
“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” offers a decent, albeit obvious, lesson regarding the importance of valuing the present and future over that which cannot be relived or altered. That being said, a lack of justice may irritate viewers who wish for Barbara to be punished as a result of her spiteful and selfish behavior.
Ida Lupino should be commended for embodying the delusional qualities that have thoroughly warped and corrupted Barbara, even though the conceited reasons behind her self-imposed plight hardly make her a sympathetic character. Also worth mentioning is Martin Balsam’s portrayal of Danny, whose generosity only seems to further aggravate Barbara in every instance; a realistic reaction given her egotistical tendencies as outlined above.
While a more delicate approach to the central character might have elicited compassion from audiences of a sensitive inclination, such an outcome is undermined by Barbara’s mean-spirited and downright vicious responses to those who make every effort to lift her spirits. At one point, Barbara responds to the aforementioned studio executive by insulting him rather than declining or accepting his kind offer with a gracious attitude. Sometime later, Barbara’s rudeness and lack of poise reach new levels upon reuniting with a former costar, whose impromptu visit is met with astonishing belligerence when courtesy and gratitude would have been more appropriate. Despite her hateful qualities as indicated through these examples, Barbara never faces any consequences for her actions and instead seems to be rewarded after entering The Twilight Zone.
In addition to emphasizing why individuals should accept life’s natural changes with an open mind, “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” inadvertently stresses the importance of never taking a true friend for granted. Perhaps if Barbara had abandoned her fantasy existence long enough to realize and cherish those people who cared deeply for her personal satisfaction, a perpetual retreat into the past would have never been necessary for her to lead a fulfilling life.
By highlighting the atrocious personality of its primary character, “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” provides a resonating message on why the inevitability of change should never frighten or upset those fortunate enough to possess nostalgic sentiments concerning past memories. Though a bizarre twist ending potentially detracts from the poignancy of Rod Serling’s premise, this episode will no doubt appeal to fans of The Twilight Zone for reasons stated earlier.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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