The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Four “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”

Original Air Date: October 23, 1959
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Mitchell Leisen

“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” originally aired on October 23, 1959 on CBS. It was written by Rod Serling and was directed by Mitchell Leisen.

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.

Rod Serling

Barbara “Barbie” Jean Trenton (played by Ida Lupino, a prominent female filmmaker and actor during the Golden Age of Hollywood) is an aging film star from the 1930s who lives in a hazy world of conceit and denial. Her home in Beverly Hills is a dark mansion where she secludes herself from the world, drawing the shades and watching old movies she once starred in. Her agent and caretaker is Danny Weiss (played by Martin Balsam who starred in many classic films including Psycho, On The Waterfront, and 12 Angry Men). He visits regularly despite Barbie’s rejection of the world. “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” pays homage to the Hollywood classic Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Both the film and The Twilight Zone episode share the same theme as well as the musical composer, Franz Waxman. However, whereas Sunset Boulevard ends in tragedy, “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” concludes with Barbara Jean finally achieving her dream. Like Don Quixote, her life is swallowed up by a desire to live inside a work of art.

Barbie suffers from nostalgia. She longs for the “golden age” of old Hollywood when she was young, attending balls with her friends of old tinseltown, and starring in major motion pictures. She now lives in a fantasy world, a fabricated vision of the past, consumed by romanticism, overwhelmed with longing for what cannot be.

One day, Danny orchestrates a meeting with a studio head, Marty Sall (played by Ted de Corsia), but instead of offering Barbie the lead role of a pretty young actress, he offers her the part of an old mother. Offended, she storms out of his office and announces she will throw a party for her many Hollywood friends, but Danny reminds her that most of her friends have either died or moved on from Hollywood.

Again, she retreats to her library (her “sixteen millimeter shrine”) to watch old films from her glory days. One day, Danny arrives to tell her that Jerry Herndon (played by Jerome Cowan), a former lead male counterpart will be paying her a visit. In excitement, Barbara Jean puts on one of her old dresses and greets Jerry only to find, in horror, that he has aged considerably. No longer an actor, he now runs a chain of grocery stores outside Chicago.

In dismay, Barbara Jean locks herself in her library and puts on a film. As she watches the picture she calls out to a younger Jerry onscreen hoping she can be with him once again while the screen fades to a blur. Later the maid enters and shrieks in horror as she gazes upon the screen. Danny is called immediately and when he arrives he cannot find Barbara Jean. He looks up at the screen and watches as she appears in the movie -she has finally returned to her old life. She now lives in a movie. Danny calls out to her on the screen, but she slowly turns to blow him a kiss before she leaves with a younger Jerry, never to return again. As Danny slowly leaves her mansion he finds her scarf lying on the floor where it would have been in the film. He leaves with his own musings: “To wishes, Barbie,” he says. “To the ones that come true.”

“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.”

This episode toys with a well-known theme: the life of an aging Hollywood star who lives alone with her memories. Hollywood is a dream factory -a place of pure imagination and hope, but it is not real. In America, movies, not paintings nor poetry, are the true architects of our collective mythology. Barbara Jean is merely another aging victim of Hollywood sentimentality and nostalgia.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • The title of this episode refers to 16mm motion picture film, a semi-professional format used in homes, schools, and institutions.
  • This is the first episode to feature a female lead character.
  • Many consider this episode to be director Mitchell Leisen’s best.
  • Ida Lupino did not appear on camera again in the series, but she did work behind it, directing the Season 5 episode “The Masks.” She was the only woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone (original series).
  • Martin Balsam is one of the few actors to appear in more than one series of The Twilight Zone.

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