Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spotlight on "The Bellero Shield"


By Christa Faust 


By Which Sin the Angels Fell: Ambitious Broads, Film Noir and “The Bellero Shield” 
  “The Bellero Shield” has always been one of my favorite Outer Limits episodes. And not just because it's the only episode with an overt foot fetish.

  Pussywhipped scientist Dr. Bellero (Martin Landau) accidentally transports an alien being down to Earth on a beam of light, a classic example of whimsical, poetic and utterly unscientific Outer Limits "science."  Bellero just wants to hang and talk shop with his sparkly new friend, but Mrs. Bellero (Sally Kellerman) has bigger ideas. She's got her sights set on the alien's nifty shielding device, which she thinks will get hubby a shot at taking over his father's company. So she offs the alien, steals the shield and her barefoot housekeeper Mrs. Dame (Chita Rivera) helps her hide the body. I'm not gonna give away the ending for those who haven't seen it yet, but needless to say, things don't go according to plan.

  This episode has been compared to Shakespeare by smarter writers than me. Specifically MacBeth, and I can see why. The bombastic dialog. Blood (or in this case glowing white alien "fluid") on an ambitious woman's hand. Descent into madness. The whole nine. But me, I'm not a fan of the Bard. Yeah, I know it's great literature and all that, but I'm more of a Film Noir kinda gal. And “The Bellero Shield” hits me in all the dark, shadowy sweet spots.

  Sexy, scheming Femme Fatale willing to seduce, steal or kill her way to the top? Check. Well-meaning sap of a husband who thinks she might be cheating but is too whipped to do anything about it? Check. One impulsive crime that spirals out of control, leading ultimately to the downfall of everyone involved? Check. Throw in a lurid, downer ending and I'm in Noir heaven.

  Funny too how, like the best Film Noir, this episode is all about light and shadow. Not just in the visual sense, but metaphorically as well. The alien is pulled down to Earth by a beam of light. It's made of light and comes from a place that is "not a planet, but an amplification of light."  On the other hand, the mysterious, murderous housekeeper is always lurking in the shadows, with only her bare feet visible. Mrs. Bellero is often shot with her face either partially or completely in shadow and much of her key interaction with Mrs. Dame takes place in the shadowy basement.

  Also, the angelic alien seems almost asexual, a delicate, fey creature with a keen intellect and no real connection to the physical world. Mrs. Bellero is earthy, sensual and animalistic with her fur collar and imposing, statuesque physique. Scholarly types could probably make all kinds of brainy connections and conclusions about that, but lucky for you guys, I'm not one of them. I get right to the stuff that really matters.

  So, are Mrs. Bellero and Mrs. Dame doing it or what? I know I'm not the only one who sees a strong lesbian undercurrent to this episode. Which is, of course, another reason why it's my fave. In a way, Mrs. Dame is John Garfield to Mrs. Bellero's Lana Turner. You know, like in The Postman Always Rings Twice. The swarthy, working-class employee who's banging the boss' wife right under his nose. Willing to do anything for his/her mistress, including murder.

  And I got news for Daddy Bellero, who tosses off the juicy, preposterous line "Great men are forgiven their murderous wives!" just before he gets tossed down the stairs, Tommy Udo style, by his daughter-in-law's lesbian lover. That ain't necessarily so, Daddy-O. Not in Noir City, and not in the Outer Limits either.


Christa Faust is the author of ten novels including the Edgar and Anthony award nominated Money Shot and her latest, Choke Hold, forthcoming from Hard Case Crime. She lives in Los Angeles.
 
www.christafaust.com

18 comments:

  1. Great essay on this most noirish of episodes in the original canon of the Outer Limits series, Christa. Good point, too, on the undercurrent vibe within. Fun read. Thanks.

    p.s., good to have seen you at the farewell party for The Mystery Bookstore Monday night, and that CHOKE HOLD is coming out this year. Cheers.

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  2. Crackling and right to the point, like the best crime fiction---welcome, Christa! Your take is a refreshing new slant, and your voice a much-needed colloquial bullshit-basher!

    It can get awfully stuffy in here. (*guilty*---damn!) Thanks for opening a window in this occasionally dark and fusty room.

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  3. Well Christa, don't write Shakespeare off. I'm a big fan of his and getting ready to reread his plays for probably the last time since I'm running out of time. But I'm also a big fan of film noir and for several years I usually watched a film noir movie at midnight. Just the right time in the dead of night.

    I also picked up the lesbian vibe because it is so obvious. By the way according to IMDB.com Chita Rivera was born in 1933 which makes her only 30 or 31 for this episode. Which is a shock because she looks to be at least in her forties or even 50. Scariest foot fetish scenes I've ever seen!

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  4. I'm so sick of Ted with his Shakespeare this, and Shakespeare that, thee thou thine, blah blah blah...Givest me a break.

    Okay, actually I do like Shakespeare--yes, there, I've said it...but only to a point (you won't catch me near Timon of Athens). I'm also a huge film noir fan and what you say speaks true--and I like that Garfield/Turner Dame/Judith analogy. No question I think about their relationship. Trying to remember the most blatant reveal; Dame's line about hearing Judith's dreams or something.

    Also re: film noir: I've always felt Hall was the logical successor to the great John Alton.

    Hey, thanks for a fun read!

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  5. John Hoyt is another OUTER LIMITS "immortal," being a 3-fer (he appears later in "I, Robot" in addition to this and "Doomsday"). In many ways, Stefano's five-characters-no-waiting approach reveals a deadly focus to his comfort zone of Gothic horrors within THE OUTER LIMITS, soon to go completely over the top with THE UNKNOWN. Fewer characters, almost no truck with the "real" world whatsoever, characters not encumbered by day jobs or commuter traffic — and the furthest remove from TWILIGHT ZONE's "ordinary people" as one could imagine. (Although it is slightly comical to consider Bellero Sr's back-and-forth to the house ... I hope he lived nearby! Or had a car phone ...)

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  6. "Hie thee home, Blamire!"

    I don't recall belaboring the Bard all that much, Larry, but if I get the urge to speechify, orate, soliloquize or otherwise pontificate, I'll try to stifle it. We'll call it The Blamire Shield.

    DJS--- I know! I remember joking in the past about Bellero Sr.'s carousel visits to his son and despised daughter-in-law. Why would he maintain digs so close by?!

    Ooh---Larry B! Look out...I...I feel one coming on--- Must...resist...for Larry's sake---NOOOO!! "Such tricks hath strong imagination, That, if it would but apprehend---" (*zzzaappp*)

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  7. Cool spotlight! Stefano clearly had Shakespeare in mind, but all the noir elements you check off are definitely here, and this really seems a fresh way to look at it. Unless . . . hey . . . maybe Shakespeare was a little noir himself sometimes!

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  8. Guess film noir is just a reflection of species noir. Shakespeare knew that, so did Joe Stefano and just about every great writer who dared to hold a mirror to humanity. Thanks, Christa, for a sharp read and some stimulating thoughts.

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  9. Doh! All I can say is, "Nun thee to a gettery", Ted!

    True detour: once played king of France in King Lear, like 4 lines at top of the show. Went up--total blank--proceeded to spout 25 seconds of gibberish. Lear stared at me, audience never knew.

    Macbeth = proto-noir.

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  10. EVERY Shakespearean tragedy is arguably proto-noir. The guy simply understood that most of "the good stuff" in entertainment (not to mention understanding human nature) can be mined best from The Dark Side.

    Lear deserved no better than what you gave him, King Laurence. "Vive le roi!"

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  11. Christa Faust-

    As Ted Rypel posted, it does get a little stuffy with the comments, once in awhile. Nice to see a no nonsense dame, lay an episode out on the line for what it is.

    Looking forward to hopefully reading more of your OL opinions in the future.

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  12. Yep, sounds pretty NOIR to me...at least the way Christa convincingly lays it out. (But, hey----if "Noir" is as tough, gritty and elemental as all that, why is it called "Noir"? Ain't that one of them fancy foreign words?).

    Anyway, it's fascinating to see the array of influences--both prominent and incidental--that seem to be jumbled into Stefano's scripts; that's one of the many reasons this blog is so enjoyable...with every new post and/or contributor we have some new perspective on TOL to ponder.

    And while we're talkin' Stefano's re-do of Shakespeare, let's not overlook one more connection here, intentional or not: Chita Rivera's most famous role, that of ANITA in another re-do of the bard - West Side Story/Romeo & Juliet.

    Where will it end?

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  13. LR-
    As a new fan, that's what I find the most interesting and enjoying of OL.....I had no idea how many noir elements were involved in each episode of the series. How's Indiana? Hit as bad as Chicago with the blizzard?

    Now, slightly off-thread, but here's my top ten list of film noir movies, in no particular order:

    1) The Set-Up
    2) 99 River Street
    3) Odds Against Tomorrow
    4) The Asphalt Jungle
    5) The Burglar
    6) Raw Deal
    7) The Armored Car Robbery
    8) His Kind of Woman
    9) Criss Cross
    10) Pickup on South Street

    Honorable mention goes to the first 15 minutes of 'Born To Kill.' Sadly, I still haven't seen
    'The Devil Thumb's a Ride.'

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  14. UTW--
    Indiana's a mess; I shovelled myself silly today
    (but it put me in a sort of Norse-mythological haziness---so the stream-of-consciousness Bifrost/Bellero Shield thing ultimately kicked in).

    Incidentally (#1)- years ago I wrote a work for cello and orchestra entitled "Bifrost", based on the Norse rainbow bridge that Kellerman and Landau discuss. One performance and that was IT!

    Incidentally (#2)- I'm thinking about your idea for a revised "Bellero" ending for Judith that you mentioned in your other post. Sounds pretty "Noir-ish" to me.

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  15. LR-

    I'm guessing your a big 'The Vikings' fan with Tony Curtis. Sorry to hear your state is as bad as Chicago. I've never wished I lived in Florida as much as I do now.

    Incidentally #1- I'd still like to hear it!

    Incidentally #2- Thanks. In all seriousness I look at you and the other commentators as graduates from Harvard, while I'm starting sophomore year in remedial high school. Still, that ending was tolerable, yet didn't seem to be as satisfactory as I would have liked.

    The best part about this blog is how I can never be sure how Peter or John will review an ep. and subsequently, how I disdain favorites such as 'The Sixth Finger,' and 'The Man Who Was Never Born,' yet still love eps. like 'Don't Open Til Doomsday,' and 'Architects of Fear.'

    Thanks for your response. You are a gentlemen in the 'Boris Karloff,' mold.

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  16. As both a noir kinda gal AND a Shakespeare kinda gal, I have to say that this is a great write-up. Thanks also for introducing me to a neat new blog (I found this via your Facebook).

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  17. Never realized the MacBeth connection; I do think Manchurian Candidate is the best version of Hamlet

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  18. Gosh, no one has written here in 4 years except me? So, I'm still binge-watching all OL episodes. I keep coming back and watching yet again, my favorite 5 or 10 eps. I've seen this one probably 5 times now. REALLY well done show. Music and atmosphere is always great. The whole lesbian undercurrents, great looking BEAR. The dad, coming and going. Landau great but understated. Just all works really well. And the Elmer's Glue is even fun!

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