Part One of a Two Part Series
Born in England at the end of World War I, Ida Lupino could trace her family legacy through a long line of performers. As her parents performed in music halls throughout England and then North America, Ida and her sister were enrolled in boarding school, where Ida came to love writing and performing plays. Her beauty and talent soon led to roles in film. She could have left her education behind to pursue her budding career, but she chose to attend The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Eventually, she garnered attention from Paramount.
At Paramount, Ida found herself in small roles opposite stars like Gary Cooper and Bing Crosby. She proved her talent and garnered roles with such mega-stars as Humphrey Bogart in the films: They Drive by Night and High Sierra. Film critics lauded her performances; yet, she was dissatisfied with the roles she was offered by the Hollywood establishment. She decided to try her hand at producing. She and her husband Collier Young invested in the independent film The Judge. That film made a profit, and, buoyed, Ida backed another film called Not Wanted under the name of her new company, Emerald Pictures. She was involved in all aspects of production. However, when Not Wanted director Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack, she took over the director’s chair.
In deference to Clifton, Ida did not take directorial credit on Not Wanted; however, she did follow up with the 1953 noir film, The Hitch-Hiker. Uncharacteristically for Hollywood, the film delved into the fragility of male psychology. By the 1960s, she was involved in a number of television programs, including acting in The Twilight Zone episode“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” and directing another episode, “The Masks.” She was the only woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Because Ida Lupino bucked the established role of women in Hollywood, my colleague Tim and I decided to each have a look into “The Masks” and The Hitch-Hiker. The latter is an excellent example of a woman directing outside of the Hollywood system. The former we felt would fit nicely into Three Horizons Productions’ The Kiss, where masks are prominent throughout.
TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MASKS
By Tim Page
Almost nothing is more iconic or easily recognizable than the opening of The Twilight Zone. The moment the narrator (Rod Serling) begins to speak, the audience immediately knows exactly what they are watching, and the quality of the subject matter. The New Orleans setting has a very colorful, and ‘horror’ specific past that makes it a wonderful cinematic backdrop.
Within the first few seconds, the main complication, presumably, is revealed. The father, Jason, is having heart issues and per the doctor’s diagnosis, ‘could die at any moment’ from it. Immediately, when the family comes into the house; it is apparent that they have ulterior motives, which far surpass a loving family visit.
Wilfred, Jason’s son-in-law, is the most obvious about his intentions. Although he does not come out and blatantly state that he is only there for the money; it’s not hard to decipher his true motivation. Emily, Jason’s daughter, attempts to be more subtle about the awkward nature of their visit. Despite her initial denial regarding the family ignoring Jason until his death; there is subtext in every line that she delivers. At any given time, Paula, Emily’s daughter, has only two things on her mind. First, she is always concerned with the way she looks and the second is her desire to leave and go join the Mardi Gras festivities. Wilfred Jr., whose name only serves the self-serving aspect of his father, is caught up in his own world for a majority of the story. He appears content to just meander from place to place, always waiting to leave.
It is an interesting setup for the story structure. Jason knows that his family is only there for his money, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He just continues to make snide remarks, and he talks with a certain air of confidence, as if he knows something the family does not. After dinner has been eaten, the family waits for Jason to come meet them in his study. The tension is rising among the family members. Paula basically states what all of them are thinking, by explaining her frustration for having to be there and just playing the waiting game until Jason dies.
Eventually Jason does show up, and that is when things get interesting. He goes around the room and picks each one of the family apart. The verbal abuse that Jason uses is so effective and captivating. The best part of the episode is when he states each person’s flaw and gives them a corresponding mask, but he states their flaws sarcastically, by pretending as though he is saying what they don’t do. So he acts as though he was handing out masks that are in direct contrast to who they are at the core. Which is, of course, the brilliance of the episode, for it brings all the metaphoric undertones of ‘wearing masks’ to the surface in a creative artistic method. When the characters would talk while wearing their masks; the audience wonders if this is how Jason was watching them the whole time. He knows their true intentions, so no matter what expression they make; he knows what face lies underneath. The entire scene in the study is not only insightful, but it demands attention. His turn of phrase and articulation of his true feelings is what makes the episode stand out. Without the words he speaks; the story itself would suffer greatly, leaving the end result somewhat lifeless.
At this point, although everyone is clear why they are all here, only Jason has verbalized his motives. It feels apropos because of his open motives that his mask is the only one that allows his eyes to be fully seen. The family reluctantly dons their grotesque masks, as it was one of Jason’s stipulations for handing over all his belongings. When all their masks hold such truth to who each family member is on the inside; it holds a sense of macabre comedy. Jason wore a mask of death, a skeleton head, and at the stroke of midnight; he embodied his mask and so did the family. They walk over to check his pulse, and indeed he is dead. Relieved that this ordeal is finally over; Wilfred reaches to remove his mask only to startle his whole family. When he whirls around to see himself in the mirror; he realizes that his face has become the face that was on the mask. Each family member proceeds to remove their masks, all discovering the same haunting truth. They got what they came there for, but at what cost.
Ida Lupino On the Small Screen
By Colette Finkbiner
Lupino left behind the silver screen in the late 50s for work as an actress and as a director on television. She has the distinction of being the only woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone. She directed the 1964 episode “The Masks,” which was written by series creator Rod Serling. Always a favorite episode in The Twilight Zone repertoire, “The Masks” came to mind because of Three Horizons Productions’ upcoming first feature film, The Kiss. Do the masks we wear reveal our true selves or do they serve to hide the worst parts of our souls?
The episode opens with two servants discussing their ill employer. They speak with disdain about his relatives, who are due to arrive. Symbolically, the maid stabs a flower into a vase as she speaks. It is New Orleans on the eve of Mardi Gras, a festive and fun time in the city. However, the master of the house, Jason Foster, lies dying in his bed.
Jason’s doctor informs him that his death is imminent but feels that his patient possesses inner strength. Jason informs him he only needs to live until midnight. As the doctor leaves his patient, the relatives arrive. We quickly learn that Jason’s daughter Emily is a selfish hypochondriac. Emily’s husband Wilfred is greedy. Their children Paula, the narcissist, and Wilfred Jr., the dull sociopath, are no better than their parents. (Jason mentions that Wilfred Jr. used to like to torture small animals.) To the family’s disappointment; Jason informs them that they will have their own party and will all wear masks as is the Mardi Gras custom. The viewer captures a first glimpse at the hideous masks.
Outside, festivities are gearing up as a parade goes by the house. Paula complains about being stuck inside on a death watch. Jason, now in a wheelchair, overhears her as he enters the room. He moves forward with his “party.”
Jason produces the masks. He informs them that the masks are said to have certain properties and tradition dictates the wearer choose a mask that is the antithesis of his or her own nature. Here the viewer has the sense that Jason is referring to the Voodoo ritualistic use of masks. (Time and place of the story inevitably leads the viewer to imagine Jason utilizing a mysterious power for what he has in store for his family.)
He starts with Wilfred who he describes as “affable.” He says the perfect mask for Wilfred is the one that represents greed. Next, for Emily, he chooses a mask representing self-centeredness in contrast to her “valor.” Paula is given ugliness unlike her “beauty.” Wilfred Jr. receives a dull, stupid mask which is not representative of his “courteous civility.” For himself, Jason chooses the face of death, which is stalking him.
At first, the family refuses the masks. Jason insists. He says they will inherit everything he has if they wear the masks until midnight. If they do not, they get nothing. Unhappily, the group agrees. As the night wanes, they beg him to allow them to remove the masks. Jason grows weaker. He calls them caricatures without their masks. As midnight strikes, he dies. Happy, the family takes off their masks one by one to find their faces changed to resemble their masks. Jason’s mask is removed, but his face is calm and at peace in death. The four family members are destined forever to wear all that was inside of them.
Ida Lupino’s versatility in front of the camera and behind the camera is a testament to her independent spirit. Many female filmmakers have followed in her footsteps. Women like Lupino led the way. A gap of parity still exists in Hollywood today, but independent film has proven to be a more equitable place for women.
Three Horizons Productions is a team of independent filmmakers who want to develop, acquire, and produce multi-media projects that showcase inspirational themes, compelling stories, and provocative characters to entertain or educate international audiences. Three Horizons Productions, located in Arizona, has a global outreach.