Sally Field in a pre-Sybil multiple-personality role co-stars with Dean Stockwell in the Night Gallery story “Whisper” reviewed here.

Season 3 Episode 13—aired 5/13/73

“Whisper” ***1/2

Teleplay by David Rayfiel • Story by Martin Waddell
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Dean Stockwell as Charlie Evens
Sally Field as Irene Evens
Kent Smith as Dr. Kennaway

A high-point of the final season, “Whisper” reminds one of the good old days of the first two seasons with its serious, complex script and performances along with direction by Jeannot Szwarc that make it instantly recognizable as a “late” production with his very interesting decision to have on-screen narration that is at times spoken by Dean Stockwell’s character directly to the camera. A challenging episode, not completely successful, but this is what Night Gallery could and did do in its finest, most ambitious moments.

Field and Stockwell play young married couple Irene and Charlie Evans. Charlie, an architect by trade, has recently given up his profession and moved with his wife to rural Mississippi to, simply stated, try to make Irene herself again.

Irene channels the personalities of deceased people. She is not completely taken over by these voices and, in fact, Charlie accepts this in a way as part of her makeup. He finds it charming to a degree and is a most, perhaps, too, understanding of a husband.

Lately, however, the “occupants” inside Irene have become more insistent, more dominant. Irene always “comes back” from these experiences but of late, they have been harder to shake.

Some of this is explained by Charlie in voice-over narration which he delivers facing the camera. It is a highly unusual directorial gambit by Jeannot Szwarc, the kind of experimentation that was seen onscreen in its time (the mid-1970s).

Irene becomes frustrated by her inability to fully understand what the voice in her head, particularly a young mother named Rachel, are asking of her, and after one such attempt to get some clear answer regarding Rachel’s insistence at a cemetery that she track down some summer house, she agrees to leave with Charlie, to try to get away from the voices.

On the night before they are to leave, while enjoying a fine last dinner at home, Irene suddenly leaves the dinner table and goes outside. Charlie follows her into a nearby wooded area where he finds Irene who is speaking in a southern accent, referring to him as “Johnny.” She is now channeling Rachel.

She asks for Johnny’s assistance in pulling some stones away from a pile that seems to have been made by people in order to conceal something. After she is satisfied with his work, she opens her shawl to produce a perhaps two-foot bundle wrapped in cloth.

She says that it is their baby and that it deserves a proper burial this time. Charlie, getting more concerned at this scene, tries to open the cloth to see what is truly inside—perhaps a dead cat?—but Irene/Rachel forbids him.

She tells him to finish the job and, as she is tired, she retreats to a nearby bench to watch him finish. He places the bundle inside the rocky tomb, replaces the stones and returns to his wife, hoping that she will once again be Irene and no longer Rachel.

When he gets to the bench, he reaches out to her, but she falls back and we hear her voice say “Oh, Charlie, I can’t get back. I can’t get back!”

For me, this was some highly satisfying mid-70s cinema, truly ahead of its time, shot in late 1972. Jeannot Szwarc is to be highly complimented for what he did with this script. Sallie Field would go on to perfect this performance in the highly acclaimed tv movie Sybil a few years later. Although if I were Dean Stockwell’s character I would have been more concerned about my wife’s mental situation, but hey, I guess in the early/mid 70s things were different, at least in the realm of supernatural television.

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