Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Queen of the Nile" - The Twilight Zone - 1964

“Queen of the Nile” is one of those “Ann Blyth Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before” roles, and though she really did play many of those kinds of parts with remarkable variety in her film career, this Twilight Zone season five episode stands out probably for two reasons.  First, because unlike so many of her other sultry or dastardly roles, apart from Mildred Pierce, this one has been repeated on television often over the years, and is available on DVD, so it is remembered well and familiar to many.  (Some of you have reminded me of this episode through the course of this series, so it certainly is well known.)  It hasn’t been in hibernation like Another Part of the Forest or Swell Guy. 

Second, because by the time this episode was broadcast on March 6, 1964, Ann was the mother of five children, whose last film had been made seven years previously, and by virtue of her absence from the screen, her settled family life, and her, well, virtue as it was dismissed in the press, had created an aura of squeaky-clean dullness about her reputation.  The sultry-but-sinister siren she plays here had to have been a kick for her, and quite a surprise by those who wrote her off as a goody-goody if they were not aware of her previous strong roles.

“Queen of the Nile” is our Halloween celebration, or Samhain, for you Celtic types.

Here Ann plays a Big Movie Star who welcomes a reporter into her home (furnished in a flamboyant combination of 1960s California modern and ancient Egyptian) for an interview.  She is sexy, flirtatious, and very grand in her manner and speech, the way the old stars learned to do when they had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to cover more humble beginnings.  This woman has obviously crafted herself into the Big Movie Star, but from what beginnings?  Though her mansion is light-filled and chic, and she is gracious and smiling, there is an unsettling air of Sunset Blvd. about the encounter between the actress and the reporter.

“Does 38 seem terribly old to you?”

Well, no, it does not, but I guess it depends which side of 38 you’re on.

Beneath her studied air of coyness, there is something of a tigress in her manner.  We don’t know if she’s going to seduce him or chew his face off, which intrigues the reporter, as does her stunning beauty.  He is dumbstruck by it, and starts to do the math.  If she was a movie star of 20 years ago, why does she not look matronly now?  Ann explains she was only a teenager when she started in films.  Okay.  Perhaps that makes sense.  (Especially when one considers that the actress playing this bombshell really was a teen star in the 1940s and really does look stunning in real life…and is 35.)

But according to his notes, she really debuted in the 1930s.  Hmm.  That would make her even older.  She dismisses this with a throaty laugh, chiding him for believing the habitual mistakes that turn up on old newspaper clippings.  He is utterly charmed by her, and though completely under her spell, it seems, when she kisses him, he nevertheless regains some of his objectivity when he leaves.  He goes back to doing the math.  And looking through the morgue.

Uh, that’s newspaper morgue.  Archives of old newspapers.  His editor buddy, played by one of my favorites, Frank Ferguson, digs through his file cabinets while Lee Philips regains his senses in a phone booth.

Ah, phone booths.  Curse you, cell phones, for stripping us of this last private refuge in a noisy urban world.

And Mr. Ferguson, completely without the aid of the IMDb website, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, discovers a possible link to the lady being in films as early as the 1920s.  Hmm.  That would make her even older.

Mr. Ferguson played bit parts in two of Ann’s movies, Free for All (1949), which we covered here, and Swell Guy (1949).  One of his best roles was as the doctor in the noir Caught (1949), discussed here.

Both he and Lee Philips did a lot of episodic TV over many decades.  Rounding out the cast is Celia Lovsky, who plays Ann Blyth’s mother.  A veteran of the stage in Vienna and Berlin, she had a few small roles in films, but like the gentlemen, did a lot of TV guest roles.

Madame Lovsky is a mysterious figure in this episode, only one of a number of offbeat circumstances that makes our Mr. Philips curious, once he has left the spell of the place and Ann Blyth’s knockout beauty and overpowering party girl personality.  Madame Lovsky eventually spills the beans about Ann’s beauty secrets, though Philips, still the ever-curious reporter, must learn for himself.  The ending is pretty creepy.  

A few favorite scenes: when Lee Philips waits alone in Ann’s living room and studies the enormous, and quite stunning, painting of her purportedly done in the 1940s.  I’d love to know if that painting exists somewhere.  Then he turns to see a row of portrait photos of Ann on the piano, which actually were her official head shots used for press photos, some of which would later adorn some of her theatre playbills.

The scene of Ann swimming in her movie star’s pool, and emerging like Venus from the sea, tended to by her maid (who must have her own inside scoop on her employer, but the writers, the director, and Ann all dismiss her).  Just as Ann seems goddess-like, she comes down to earth by having a fight with her mother.  Nothing like a family squabble to make things seem instantly normal.  Or, is that really her mother?

This episode is available on DVD here, and is also currently running on the Hulu website here where you can watch it online.

Did I mention the ending is really creepy?

Happy Halloween.

Come back next Thursday when we discuss Ann Blyth’s “third act” career as a singer who performed on television, town auditoriums, Las Vegas nightclubs, and New York’s famous Rainbow Room.

PASS THE WORD!!!!!   Looking for photos and shared memories of the recent TCM Cruise regarding Ann Blyth's talks.  This material will be used for my upcoming book on Ann Blyth's career. Please contact me at:

 THANK the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.
TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.

A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.


Caftan Woman said...

Yep. "Creepy" is the word.

Love your comment on telephone booths and the noisy urban world. There's a "Twilight Zone" episode in there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

This episode of The Twilight Zone is one of my favorites! It is spooky, and the eeriness of Madame Celia Lovsky adds to those spine-tingling moments. And she was "Lutsi" in The Opposite Sex, one of my guilty pleasure! :-)

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by, ladies. Here's a "fun size" Snickers for your trick or treat bags.

I think Madame Celia was actually married to Peter Lorre for a bit, which I think conveys enough creepiness to last us until next Halloween -- not to disparage the great Mr. Lorre, only a comment on the general tone of his movie roles.

I've never seen THE OPPOSITE SEX, not that I'm against remakes, but that's just one I haven't run into.

CW, the saddest, creepiest thing I've seen recently is a row of vintage wooden telephone booths in an old train station with the phones yanked out of them. I wanted to bawl.

mel said...

I consulted David Meeker's authoritative and exhaustive book "Jazz On The Screen - a Jazz And Blues Filmography" (2008) and Albert Ammons is not mentioned as performing in Dillinger (1945).

So my educated guess is a negative.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks so much, Mel. I really appreciate your tackling that for us. I'll post your answer for the trivia question.

Cosplasyky UK said...

Thanks for your sharing , love your review especially on the episode of the Twilight Zone, keep us writing

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