Twilight Zone – Dead Woman’s Shoes (11/22/85)

In the 1962 Twilight Zone episode Dead Man’s Shoes, hobo-American Warren Stevens puts on the titular dead man’s titular shoes but strangely not the dead man’s socks as he goes commando. Possessed by the soul of the previous owner, he becomes a confident gangster seeking revenge.

In this 1985 version, 71 year old Helen Mirren puts on the titular dead woman’s shoes and becomes 40 year old Helen Mirren.  Better.

OK, to be fair, she starts out at 40 in the episode.  She is such a frumpy bundle of nerves, though, it is hard to recognize the elegant woman I’ve seen in roles in her 60s and 70s.  When she puts on the shoes, she transforms into a beautiful woman that I also have trouble squaring with the actress at her current age [1].  So her performance gets a freakish time-warping boost from this episode being 31 years old.  However, even viewed in 1985, her performance would have been amazing.

Hot maid Inez [2] is packing up Susan Montgomery’s clothes to give to a thrift store.  Susan’s husband Kyle says it still pains him to see his dead wife’s things but, you know, get a receipt.  He is played by Jeffrey Tambor who is hideous in a huge bushy beard, silly in white shorty-short tennis togs, and unconvincingly named Kyle.  But it’s nice to see him him men’s clothes again.

tzdeadwomansshoes3The introduction of Maddie (Helen Mirren) is creatively shot from the knee down as she awkwardly makes her way to work.  Framed from the hem of her drab dress to her sensible shoes, she is constantly in the way, startled, apologizing, stumbling.  Her job at the thrift shop is no less nerve-wracking as she is forced to wait on two obnoxious teenage girls.  Then an Elvissy jerk with huge hair, massive sideburns, and several buttons open on his shirt crudely hits on her.

She retreats to the back room.  Needing a boost, she tries on the fabulous shoes that just came in from the Montgomery house.  She walks confidently back out into the shop. Again shot from the knee down, her stride is now straight and purposeful.  She tells Elvis to “buzz off” and leaves the building.

She takes a cab to the Montgomery house.  She is greeted at the door by Inez, who jumps around giddily and licks her face.  No wait, that is Susan’s poodle Fritz.  Inez is baffled as the stranger picks up Fritz and walks right in.  She further stuns Inez by mentioning her cheating husband Carlito.  She prepares to take a shower, but when she removes the shoes, she is Maddie again and baffled by how she got there.

tzdeadwomansshoes4Inez comes in and busts her, but sees that Maddie is genuinely confused.  Despite recognizing the shoes as Susan’s, Inez gives them back to Maddie.  She slips them back on and becomes Susan again. Despite Inez being told twice to get rid of Susan’s clothes, Maddie walks out of the house in a snappy black number.  Or maybe Kyle was hanging on to that one for himself.

Susan calls Kyle at his law office.  He threatens to sue this person with the poor taste to imitate his wife.  Then she mentions how Kyle killed her.  He rushes home and we are treated to an outstanding an shot from the second floor — Kyle walks in the front door, the camera pans past Inez cleaning the 2nd-floor bedroom, and continues to shoot over a balcony overlooking the living room where Kyle confronts Susan.

And by confronts, I mean punches in the face — a really solid one, right on the kisser.  He goes for a gun they keep handy in the living room, but she has already taken it.  She fires at him as he flees the house.  She chases him down the street.  Unable to run on high heels, Susan removes them and instantly reverts to Maddie.  She drops the gun and places the shoes in a convenient Garbage Can, although the Recycle Bin would have been a more appropriate choice for this episode.

The maid at the house the garbage can belongs to sees the shoes in the can and slips them on.  Now she is possessed by Susan. She picks up the gun, crosses Easy Street where this episode apparently takes place, and walks up the Montgomery’s driveway.  A crane shot shows her approaching the house, climbing the steps, and opening the door. The door closes and there is legitimate suspense for a few seconds until a gunshot is heard.

tzdeadwomansshoes5As mentioned, Helen Mirren is just great here.  Theresa Saldana is not given much to do, but is a fine presence.  The only weaknesses are a melodramatic score and Tambor’s performance.  His leaden line readings combined with that absurd beard work against every scene he is in.  Nevertheless, I was wrong to assume this would be a watered down rip-off of the original episode.  It might be the 2nd best segment so far.

I rate it a 13 EEE.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  If 70 year old women are your thing, she is pretty awesome.
  • [2] The lovely Theresa Saldana, who died this year.
  • TZ Legacy:  Maybe one time ripping off a classic title for Little Boy Lost was OK, but don’t make a habit of it.  Both “homages” were written by Lynn Baker.  Her next IMDb writing credit was 17 years later.  What do these people in between gigs?
  • Director Peter Medak completely redeems himself after the dreadful Ye Gods.
  • Kyle’s secretary is played by Nana Visitor from Deep Space Nine.
  • Charles Beaumont gets a story-by credit.

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