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Fraction of a Second


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Drama, USA, 1958, 60 min.

Synopsis Mrs. Wilfred Ellis (Bette Davis) is enjoying a happy morning with her young daughter, Susan (Wendy Winkelman). After serving the girl breakfast in bed, Mrs. Ellis has a conversation with her housekeeper, Grace Jackson (Dorothy Adams). The three of them live in the house alone, and Mrs. Ellis reveals herself to be a very proper and proud woman obsessed with the cleanliness and order of her home. She tells Grace that her motivation for being that way is her daughter Susan. It seems Mr. Ellis passed away when Susan was very young, and Mrs. Ellis feels devoted to bringing her up in a proper household. Susan goes to a boarding school throughout the week, visiting her mother on the weekends. It being Monday morning, Mrs. Ellis and Grace pack up Susan's belongings and Mrs. Ellis walks her to the spot where Susan joins a group of other students waiting to be driven to the school. As Mrs. Ellis turns to leave her there, she is startled when a crane carrying a large bundle of lumber suddenly passes by, the wood swinging toward her unexpectedly. Mrs. Ellis screams.Suddenly Mrs. Ellis finds herself standing dazed in the street, the truck no longer a threat. Passersby look at her oddly, but she seems alright and excuses herself. She goes back to her home and finds it somehow different, more rundown and shabby than she left it that morning. Calling out for the housekeeper, Mrs. Ellis is startled when a strange man opens the door and seems to not understand who she is or why she's there. Barging into the home, Mrs. Ellis discovers that it is totally different inside, with unfamiliar furnishings and uncharacteristically dirty. Furthermore, it is full of people she does not know, occupying rooms that were previously her living room, her own bedroom, and her daughter's bedroom. Each person is baffled by her presence there; she encounters a female photographer and her husband, as well as another couple living in the house. Mrs. Ellis considers them trespassers and phones the police, although at some level she knows something very strange has happened to her.When the police arrive, Mrs. Ellis is considered the interloper. Carrying no identification, she cannot prove she lives there, and she is taken to the police station. The Sergeant is unable to locate Mrs. Ellis's name in any kind of directory. When he investigates the whereabouts of a friend Mrs. Ellis says will verify her identity, it is learned that the buildings at the address Mrs. Ellis gives were torn down over 20 years prior. Likewise, the school she says that Susan attends is no longer a school for girls, but has switched to co-education. Mrs. Ellis is visited by a psychiatrist, who is unable to calm her.Finally a Matron arrives to escort Mrs. Ellis to a "rest home", but they also plan to take her to see the one person they were able to locate: a woman whose maiden name was Susan Ellis. Susan now lives in a shabby house and works as a seamstress. Mrs. Ellis is still confused; when she meets an adult Susan, she assumes it is an adult looking after her young Susan. Suddenly a little girl appears, and Susan tells Mrs. Ellis it is her own little girl, Judy. Judy takes to Mrs. Ellis right away, even though Susan seems surprised by it and says Judy is normally very shy. Susan tells Mrs. Ellis that her own mother died when she was just seven years old, and that she doesn't remember much about her, but as the two of them talk, she says that Mrs. Ellis reminds her very much of her mother. Mrs. Ellis seems to have some kind of internal revelation and becomes desperate. Susan senses this and takes Judy out of the room, leaving Mrs. Ellis alone with the Matron. When the Matron tries to lead Mrs. Ellis back out to the car, where she will be taken away to the mental hospital, Mrs. Ellis resists by arming herself with a pair of shears and threatening to stab the Matron if she touches her. Convinced that Mrs. Ellis will do it, the Matron leaves and goes out to the car to get the accompanying policeman. Judy comes into the room alone and sees Mrs. Ellis hiding in a closet, but she conspires to keep it a secret and the Matron leaves with the policeman, convinced Mrs. Ellis has somehow slipped by them and is now outside. After exchanging a few words with Judy, Mrs. Ellis leaves the building and passes by Grace, now a haggard looking woman lurking in an alleyway. Although they don't acknowledge that they know one another, they have a brief exchange where Mrs. Ellis tells her that she is headed back to her previous address. "You're a long way from home," Grace says. Mrs. Ellis walks down the alleyway. When she reaches the end, she finds herself back at the old intersection, with the large bundle of lumber swinging toward her. This time it connects and Mrs. Ellis falls down into the street, dead.


Directed by John Brahm  

Starring Bette Davis, Barry Atwater, Marian Seldes, Judson Pratt, Linda Watkins, more...

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