"The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine" is the fourth episode of the first season of The Twilight Zone, first broadcast in October of 1959. It starred Ida Lupino as an aging actress and Martin Balsam as her agent.
Barbara Jean Trenton was a famous movie star in the 1930s, but can't find any roles suitable for her. She wants to continue to play a leading lady, but the height of her fame was 25 years ago. Instead, she sits in a darkened room in her mansion and reviews her old films on a sixteen millimeter projector. Her agent tries to get her out of her rut by finding a part for her and even bringing in one of her old co-stars to talk to her. But when she finds out that the role is playing someone's mother, and she realizes that her old co-star is now a middle aged man who manages a chain of supermarkets, she falls even deeper into a depression. And her maid seems to think that there is something weird going on with the projector that she is staring into...
The twist to this episode is heavily foreshadowed throughout, and it didn't come as a surprise to me. What was most interesting about this episode is how many issues are brought up. The story is about social withdrawal and depression, and using entertainment to divert us from "real life". (I also find it interesting that the technology in this episode would have been part of the strangeness for viewers: the idea of watching movies in your home would have seemed pretty mind-bending!). It is a story about the treatment of women in our society, where a woman who is 45 is considered old in the entertainment business (although she is also just as disappointed that her male co-star has become middle aged). And it is a story about narcissism and the selfishness of refusing to accept reality.
All of which themes are ignored and thrown away in the last five minutes. The ending that could have been creepy is instead turned into something saccharine. I don't know if the most famous Twilight Zone episodes were just the ones with the most pessimistic endings, or if the show started out trying to appease the audience more, but this is yet another episode where an eerie set-up is defused by an overly optimistic ending.
13 O'Clock: The 2013 Horrorquest