Message From Clara is a minimalist, tightly wound half-hour of One Step Beyond, a series that dealt with the paranormal, a rather broad category under which I think it's fair to say automatic writing neatly fits. It tells the tale of a night school teacher of what we'd now call ESL, whom a homely east European butcher takes a liking to, and the consequences of his interest in her.
Our first sense that something is wrong with this picture comes early, when the teacher, while writing on a blackboard, begins to inexplicably start writing in a language she does not know. She becomes acquainted with her student, finds herself uneasy in his presence, is incapable of signing her name to a traffic ticket, after which she spends a few hours in the hospital. Events come to a head when the teacher, while on the phone with her student's landlady, comes to learn what the words mean, as they come from Clara, a now deceased woman from the old country with whom her student was in love.
As One Step Beyonds go, this is a high end episode. Its low budget works in its favor; and the intense, heartfelt performances of its lead players, Barbara Baxley and Robert Ellenstein, help enormously. As was usually the case in this series someone or something was up to no good. There was an air of heightened realism to this episode, and most in the series, that made its "horror moments", while no big deal by today's standards, deeply unsettling. One has to be patient with old shows like this. They deliver the goods, but do so in a manner wholly different from how television series are made today. If one is willing to give them a chance, accept the black and white photography, the often drab, generic sets, shows such as this can be richly rewarding.
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