The Outer Limits remains one of the most inventive and groundbreaking science-fiction anthology series of the 1960s. The brainchild of writer-producer Leslie Stevens, the show presented serious-minded tales of science fiction, liberally sprinkled with elements of gothic horror, fantasy and a touch of film noir. Stevens was assisted behind the camera by a talented team including fellow writer-producer Joseph Stefano (of Psycho fame), cinematographer Conrad Hall and composer Dominic Frontiere. Actors such as Robert Culp, Nick Adams, Robert Duvall and David McCallum all appeared in the series. One of my favorite episodes is “The Bellero Shield,” which features Martin Landau and Sally Kellerman. This Shakespearean flavored story is a richly textured tale about power, greed and the complicated relationships between fathers and sons and husbands and wives.
Landau plays Richard Bellero, a scientist who never seems to be able to impress his iron-willed father, a man who heads up the company that bears their name. Richard’s father is planning to give control of the company to someone else, and pass over his son for the “throne.” Richard’s scheming and power-hungry wife Judith (played by Kellerman) pushes her husband to talk with his father and change the man’s mind. His attempt is unsuccessful. Richard’s father then has a confrontation with Judith, whom he despises due to her controlling role in her relationship with his son. Then, an experimental laser beam, which Richard has aimed into outer space, brings an alien being down from the skies into the lab. Judith sees this as her husband’s chance for unlimited power and glory, especially when the alien demonstrates an impenetrable shield, which he uses to protect himself.
|Martin Landau & John Hoyt|
Richard wants to share and exchange knowledge with the alien before he has to return his own world. Judith implores him to go get his father and bring him back to the lab, so he can see what has transpired. Unlike her husband, Judith definitely doesn’t have humanitarian goals in mind. She sees the alien’s shield as a means to gain power and influence. While Richard is gone, she tries to prevent the alien from leaving and shoots him. With the aid of her housekeeper, Mrs. Dame, she hides the body in the cellar and removes the shield activation device from his hand. Judith plans to present it as her husband’s discovery, secure him the stewardship of the company, and propel him into being a mover and shaker. The act of violence perpetrated by Judith sets in motion a series of events that will have lasting consequences.
Sally Kellerman gives a richly textured performance. The clever and devious Judith will flirt, cajole, argue and even resort to murder to reach her goal of obtaining power for Richard. She is ably assisted by Chita Rivera, who’s marvelous in a supporting role as Judith’s partner in crime, the mysterious (and barefoot) Mrs. Dame. Neil Hamilton (best known to modern audiences as Commissioner Gordon on the 1960s Batman series) is very good as Richard Bellero, Sr. and gets to deliver the episode’s best line: “Great men are forgiven their murderous wives!” Hamilton had a long Hollywood career dating back to the 1920s; if you only know him from Batman, you may be surprised at his assured, low-key work here. Martin Landau perfectly brings across Richard’s decency, meekness, and quiet nature. He plays off Kellerman, Hamilton and John Hoyt (who portrays the alien) quite well.
“The Bellero Shield” has several allusions to Shakespeare and mythology, in both character and story. Judith is quite similar to Lady Macbeth, and her fate in the episode’s climax will bring that character to mind. Richard’s father is much like a king, ready to turn his business (or throne) over to a worthy successor, but not to his own son. The laser “light bridge” which brings the alien to Earth is compared by Judith to the Bifrost, the bridge between Earth and Asgard (home of the gods) in Norse mythology. The excellent teleplay was written by Joseph Stefano, from a story by Stefano and Lou Morheim, loosely based on a story by Arthur Leo Zagat. But you can tell from the rich dialogue and darker elements of the story that it’s primarily Stefano’s voice here.
The other MVPs in the episode are director John Brahm and cinematographer Conrad Hall. Brahm helmed several memorable films, including The Lodger and Hangover Square. He also did a lot of fine work for television, including episodes of The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller. Hall went on to win Oscars for his work on Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, American Beauty and Road To Perdition. Both artists do stellar work here; with Brahm balancing the work of the stellar cast and Stefano’s fine script with Hall’s superb framing, stunning use of shadows and deep noir-ish visuals. “The Bellero Shield” is one of the strongest episodes of The Outer Limits. Landau and Kellerman both appeared in another episode of the series: Landau in the wonderful “The Man Who Was Never Born” and Kellerman in the eerie “The Human Factor.”
This post is part of the Favorite TV Episode Blogathon hosted by my fellow blogger Terence over at A Shroud of Thoughts. I’d like to thank him for having me join the party. Be sure to check out the other entries by following this link: http://mercurie.blogspot.com/2019/03/the-5th-annual-favourite-tv-show.html.