“A beautiful face in the mirror, a pitiful old face at the door, could they have been one in the same” ” And sometimes its better not to see too deeply into the darkness behind our mirror; For there live things beyond our imagination as sure as my name is Boris Karloff “
The Hungry Glass aired Jan 3 1961 ~
Written and Directed by Douglas Heyes (Kitten With a Whip ’64) from a short story by Robert Bloch (Psycho) with music by Jerry Goldsmith & Pete Rugolo. The episode stars William Shatner and Joanna Heyes (wife of Douglas) as Gil and Marsha Thrasher. Russell Johnson and Elizabeth Allen as Adam and Liz Talmadge Donna Douglas (Ellie May Klampet-The Beverly Hillbillies) as Young Laura Bellman and Ottola Nesmith as Old Laura Bellman. Heyes also directed the iconic Twilight Zone episode Eye of the Beholder which also featured Donna Douglas as the ‘ugly’ girl.
At first we see the young and audaciously cute Donna Douglas as young Laura Bellman,fanning herself like a peacock in the myriad of mirrors. There is a themed waltz accompanying her, which reprises itself later on in the episode, a delirious little melody that merely hints at dementia. Then, a sea captain with a hook for a hand comes rapping on the door with his metal claw, in the company of several of the town folk, “I know she’s in there, she’s always in there with her cursed mirrors!”
Once the door is open only partially to reveal the very grotesquely painted face of Old Laura Bellman, wearing white gloves , her lips smudged in presumably bright red lipstick, like she had just drank the blood from a freshly killed carcass. The exaggerated outline distorting her already sagging and wrinkled mouth.“Oh leave me alone won’t you, leave me alone… with my mirrors!”
Boris Karloff once again steps in to introduce the evening’s story dressed in black cape and top hat in front of a very ornate mirror holding a lantern.
William Shatner gives a very compelling albeit high-strung performance as a photographer Gil Thrasher who, with his wife Marcia (Joanna Heyes) have purchased a house that is purported to be haunted by the locals–(remember Shatner as airplane passenger Bob Wilson in Twilight Zone’s Nightmare at 20,000 Feet-10/11/63 or his superstitious Don Carter trapped in a small Midwestern diner at the mercy of a bobble head diamond eyed devil napkin holder who serves out 1 cent per question fate in… Nick of Time -18 Nov. 1960 one of my favorite episodes in the series)
The previous owner of the house was Old Laura Bellman, played as the quintessential hag by Ottola Nesmith, (The Wolfman 1941 & Mrs Lowood,Highcliff Headmistress in Val Lewton’s 1946 The 7th Victim ) who locks herself away in the house and spends all her time gazing at her own reflection in her palace of mirrors.
After having met the caustically provincial locals of Cape Caution New England, who warn the couple “that tarnation property comes full equip with visitors, nary a looking glass in the whole of it” Gil and Marcia move into the house on a very stormy night. Soon, they and their two new friends Russell Johnson and Elizabeth Allen as Adam the realtor and wife Liz Talmadge who sold them the place at a suspiciously low cost, begin to see apparitions in various windows of the house. There are no mirrors when they first move in because they’ve been removed and secretly hidden away and padlocked in the attic. Seems the local superstition holds that not only is the house unlucky but the Bellman place has had its share of nasty accidents all having to do with broken mirrors, and a couple of people were killed by shattered glass. Adam Talmadge explains that the locals have worked themselves up to believe that these people were actually murdered by the mirrors with malice of forethought.
The four get into their station wagon and amuse themselves while speculating about the lack of mirrors meaning the house was previously owned by vampires, superstition and a series of mysterious accidents
The jovial couples arrive at the Bellman house which in the dark of the storm still appears to be a showplace with the vastness of the ocean view as the center attraction. The Thrashers start to imagine all the things they will do to fix up the grand old house, Marcia is a decorator. Suddenly Liz catches sight of an apparition, a ghostly figure reaching for Marcia in the window. Liz screams and startles Adam into dropping the celebratory bottle of champagne, the broken glass cutting his hand, a small homage to the history of the odd accidents that plague the Bellman place.
Once the visions start, Korean war vet Gil is driven half crazy by suspicion and fears that it’s his post traumatic stress disorder,“When I had the fever in Korea, I saw things you wouldn’t believe… They said I was delirious -but what I saw was real!”
Or thinking that maybe it was the power of suggestions brought on by the collective hysteria of the local superstitious gossip. Various incidents occur where Gil, Marcia and even Liz see ghostly images floating in the glass, but everyone keeps justifying it somehow. Although Marcia feels very unwelcome in the house and Gil truly knows that something is not right, they decide to stay and try and make it work, regardless of the bogeyman in the looking glass.
Until one night while Gil is down in his dark room developing some film. he actually captures the image of a little girl who we find out later, had gone missing while playing by the house years ago.
The Hungry Glass, dealt with themes that were so ahead of their time for that era on television~ Shatner’s character is struggling with a form of Post Traumatic Stress disorder from the effects of war, and the idea of narcissism as a devouring entity that can feed on itself. A life force. like the classical myth that vanity = death and is capable of sucking you into a mirrored void is absolutely chilling.
The effectively imposing New England house on the cliff that no one will rent, somewhat like the house in 1944’s The Uninvited.The idea that a woman could manifest an actual malevolently life force because of her obsession with her youth and beauty. The haunting as it were, works on so many levels in this episode. There’s a claustrophobic quality, in terms of feeling like everything is hurling towards being sucked into the mirrored void, the voyeuristic quality of feeling like you’re being watched by the ghostly inhabitants of the reflective world that gazes back at us.
Mirrors are usually used to create gateways or portals, or for divination purposes. When a mirror breaks it can symbolize such things as a loss of beauty or innocence, foreshadow a loss in general, a spell or dream being broken. In the case of Old Lady Bellman, her tragic obsession with her beauty created a conduit between life and death. Her loss of youth, the end of life.
While Gil is looking at his child specter in print through a magnifying glass, Marcia is exploring the attic when she stumbles onto the pad locked door. She breaks it open and discovers dozens of mirrors that had been hidden away. They stare back at her like thousands of eyes from an insect’s gaze flashing at her. This is where Laura Bellman’s waltz motif begins to play again. Marcia has opened Pandora’s box. She starts an outer monologue “Well Well now Marcia, you’re not afraid of mirrors are you? Why should you be, you have nothing to fear, not yet anyway. Not for a few more years”
Again, the emphasis on loss of youth and beauty. Gil finds her in the attic amidst all the mirrors. She tells him it’s like a funhouse. Well it sort of is, since everything about the idea of looking at yourself is distorted in this episode. Gil tells her he doesn’t even like to look in one mirror let alone fifty, and Marcia tells him
In the story of The Hungry Glass the legend that circulates amongst the locals is that Jonah Bellman built the house to be a show place, he said he’d make it a jewel box (again a reference to symbolism often used in paintings where the theme is Vanity) As retold by Adam Talmadge–
This is where I leave off… I won’t spoil the story for you by giving away the ending… this time.
The symbolism of vanity
The idea that mirrors are a living realm unto themselves and yet another thread running through The Hungry Glass is the idea that narcissism and Vanity are not only inherent in woman but isolated to the female gender, and certain male’s assumptions that women are fixated on their own image~ I find it an odd contradiction that The Narcissus myth was a male gazing at himself in the water!
Some excerpts taken from Wikipedia Vanity ;
Seven Deadly Sins. Hieronymus Bosch depicts a bourgeois woman admiring herself in a mirror held up by a devil. Behind her is an open jewelry box. A painting attributed to Nicolas Tournier, which hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, is An Allegory of Justice and Vanity. A young woman holds a balance symbolizing justice; she does not look at the mirror or the skull on the table before her.
In many religions vanity is considered a form of self-idolatry in which one rejects God for the sake of one’s own image and thereby becomes divorced from the graces of God.
Given all these different references to Vanity, The Hungry Glass, with it’s focus on the female gaze and the correlation with beauty,obsession, life and death, is a very layered concept within a very simply haunting story on the surface.
MonsterGirl- Beware of mirrors and their contents!