Monday, January 3, 2011

Farewell, Anne Francis

*spoilers ahead

Anne Francis is probably best known for starring in 1956's Forbidden Planet, one of the first films to take science fiction seriously, and the private eye series "Honey West", but she has long been a Psychobabble favorite for appearing in two of the finest "Twilight Zone" episodes: "The After Hours" and "Jess Belle". "The After Hours" had a strong enough premise that it would probably be regarded as one of the series' best regardless of who starred in it, but it achieves classic status because of Francis's work. She struck a wide arch of emotions as Marcia, a woman initially perturbed then terrified by strange goings on in a shopping mall. Her ultimate realization that she is a mannequin granted a month to live as a human and must now return to modeling mall wares is a moment as heartbreaking as Burgess Meredith shattering his eyeglasses at the climax of "Time Enough at Last".

"Jess Belle" does not sport a script as original or punchy as "The After Hours", but it too is a classic largely for its multidimensional characters (a rarity for "The Twilight Zone", which was so often populated by stereotypes) played with extraordinary skill by a first-rate cast led by Jeanette Nolan, James Best, and Francis as the title witch. Francis was just as effecting as Jess-Belle as she was as Marcia the Mannequin, making this episode one of the few hour-long "Zones" that could stand proudly among the best 30-minute shows. Although it forgoes several of the components we most associate with the series (there's no ninth-inning twist, no parting narration from Rod Serling, no ironic punishments are meted out), "Jess-Belle" is my personal favorite "Zone" largely because of Anne Francis, who plays unrequited love in the episode as convincingly as any other actor I've seen.

Anne Francis may have only starred in two episodes of "The Twilight Zone", but she is the actress most associated with the series because her performances so perfectly reflected the series' humanity, beauty, and poignancy. She died yesterday of complications from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.
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