Original Air Date: October 23rd, 1959
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Writer: Rod Serling
The Story: A middle aged actress who’s seen her glory days rapidly slide by suffers from the reality that she’s no longer a leading young starlet. Entangled in empty vanity and waning career relevance, Ms. Barbara Jean Trenton is slowly going insane. She’s completely incapable of digging herself from the depressing rut she’s allowed herself to fall into, but that may not matter, if she can wish herself into a perennial prime picture, stuck on repeat, co-starring the same young leading men who shared screen time with her 25 years prior.
Thoughts: I typically favor the darker episodes of The Twilight Zone. There’s something strangely appealing about that cruel closing note, or terrifying twist that steals the breath away. The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine lacks the noticeably grim climax. In fact, if you’re Barbara Jean Trenton, this story ends on quite the high note. That’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable episode. It is. But it isn’t one of those special episodes that sends goose bumps sprouting across your flesh.
While not frightening, this episode is extremely well-acted and features a few of the more convincing sets produced by Rod Serling’s game-changing series. Barbara Jean’s shrine is an easy sell, so believable that there’s little challenge in finding yourself drawn right into her reclusive world. We may not feel that superficial itch that seems to haunt Barbara Jean, but we can settle right into that dark room, projector spinning and clicking to life.
It’s always fantastic when Martin Balsam unexpectedly pops up in a promotion. While most genre fans will recognize him as Arbogast from Hitchcock’s innovative slasher, Psycho, he’s actually been relatively faithful to the genre, popping up in scores of television and feature films, including a few episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, both Cape Fear features and Michael Winner’s The Sentinel. Throwing the television friendly and easy on the eyes Ida Lupino in the equation equals big success.
Verdict: Again, fear is my real preference, so this episode takes a minor hit right off the bat. However, everything about the story is strong, and the characters – love them or hate them – are crisp and lively. All in all, The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine shines.