Dir. John Newland
Written by: Lawrence Marcus
Aired: May 10, 1960
“The Visitor” is an interesting example of television in transition. The action takes place nearly exclusively in one room and while it’s shot with a single camera, the camera movement and blocking are more at home in 1950’s live TV. It’s not nearly as visually interesting as its contemporary anthology series, excessive talki-ness in cramped locations was a hallmark of TV from the 50s, but while the last two acts of this episode involves only 2 characters talking in a living room, it’s actually quite effective, in large part because of the strength of the actors and some warm, well-timed closeups. In addition, story-wise this is a rather sophisticated and surprisingly moving half-hour of television.
Despite a rather bare-bones appearance, lot of talent is involved: the episode stars the great Joan Fontaine and a very young Warren Beatty, was directed by prolific TV director John Newland (Peyton Place), and was written by Lawrence Marcus (Witness for the Prosecution).
After 17 years of marriage, (it’s a weird sensation at first seeing a very young Beatty in old-man make-up) Ellen and Harry’s marriage appears to have ended. The two seem to only have contempt for each other, Ellen is an alcoholic, and Harry has given up on trying to help her. He angrily leaves during a snow storm, wrecks his car, is knocked unconscious, and is trapped in a burning car. Somehow, during this time his younger self, lost in the snow on the way to visit a younger and pregnant Ellen in the hospital 17 years earlier, arrives at the door asking Ellen for help. Taking shelter, the younger Harry provides the audience with the backstory of what happened to Ellen and Harry’s relationship, but also gives pivotal insight into his version of an event which has been eating away at Ellen for years and provides both with a sense of hope.
As in this story, many time-travel or time slipping stories outside of contemporary literature care less about mechanics and more about a kind of spiritual movement out of the present time and place. And perhaps that’s because the episode’s lineage feels less like the weird tale and more from Strindberg, from his classic period; the battling couple in a relationship that seems to be draining both of life, and his later period; a supernatural intervention which promises redemption. While the episode as a whole may suffer from some of the limitations of time and budget, the final reconciliation, as much as it challenges a suspension of disbelief (even for an episode of a supernatural series), is quite effective and moving.