Cast & Crew
Philosophy professor Kerry West's wife leaves to visit her sister after purchasing a television set for her husband to keep him company while she is away. Kerry dislikes television, and is stunned when the unplugged television set emits a beam that lights his cigarette for him. Kerry becomes nervous when the television repeats its performance. When Ed, the television serviceman, returns for the down payment, Kerry reveals he has only five dollars, and is unaware that he dropped the bill near the television. Ed intends to take back the set but finds the down payment, all in five dollar bills created by the television set, laid out on the floor. After the serviceman leaves, Kerry attempts to drink some coffee but the television set wobbles into the kitchen and zaps the cup, which disintegrates. The set then removes plates from the dishwasher and levitates them into a cupboard. When Kerry's best friend Coach Trout visits, he makes fun of Kerry's assertions about the television until he sees it in action. The two men then go to Coach's house to drink, where the Coach attempts to psychoanalyze Kerry, but talks about himself instead. As the drunken Coach falls asleep, he mutters that the television is a "Twonky," something that cannot be explained. After Kerry returns home he discovers that the Twonky controls the kind of music to which he may listen and shaves and grooms him as well. When Coach attempts to photograph the Twonky in action, however, the photograph develops as a picture of an infant with Coach's head. Coach surmises that the robotic Twonky perceives Kerry as its master, but when he attempts to test the Twonky's protective response by kicking Kerry, the Twonky paralyzes Coach's leg and he is forced to convalesce in Kerry's home. The Twonky later alters the lecture Kerry writes about individuality so that the next day, Kerry instead lectures about "Passion Through the Ages," prompting his students to laugh uproariously until he runs from the room. Kerry angrily demands that the appliance store take back the television set, but the owner refuses on the grounds that only Caroline is his client. He does, however, agree to replace the set if it is defective. When Coach's football players visit him he asks them to destroy the television, but the Twonky causes them to collapse unconscious. When they awaken, the students dazedly state that they have no complaints and leave. The television repairman returns with a new television set and is affected the same way as the students, after which the Twonky places a telephone call to the operator, identifying itself as a robot for the Bureau of Entertainment, and requests that a female blonde be sent to the house for its lonely proprietor. The shocked telephone operator presumes the location is a house of prostitution and contacts the vice squad. Coach, meanwhile, has learned from scientists that sentient robots have been sent to earth from the future. Coach hypothesizes that every home in the future will possess a similar Twonky which regulates the home according to the dictates of the government. When the Twonky directs a second beam at the repairman's head, inducing a trance-like state, the man departs in a daze. Coach and Kerry decide to destroy the Twonky in order to save the future from government control, but the Twonky detects their threat and, after healing Coach's leg, induces a trance that prompts him to leave. Before Coach can depart, however, the police break in to search for prostitutes and an agent from the Treasury Department arrives to investigate the counterfeit five dollar bills. Kerry attempts to explain what has happened but loses his patience. After the police turn the replacement television on and it displays regular programming, they attempt to arrest Kerry. The Twonky, which had been hiding behind a curtain, emerges and subdues them after which they leave with "no complaints." After a distraught Kerry goes to Coach's house, Caroline telephones while he is out. Caroline is alarmed when the Twonky answers the telephone and prepares to leave her sister's house immediately. Late that night, when Kerry returns home drunk and the Twonky induces sobriety, Kerry retorts that he has the right to be wrong. Eloise, a female bill collector shows up demanding payment for the television and other unpaid department store bills. Because Kerry has no money and she refuses to leave without payment, Eloise spends the night in the house. The next day after Eloise has refused to accept the Twonky as payment, Kerry loudly proclaims that he is going to kill himself and leaves Eloise alone in the room. Moments later he hears Eloise cursing the television set and then screaming. Kerry finds only Eloise's smoking clothes after which Caroline arrives demanding to know why a naked woman was running from their house. Caroline soon understands after Kerry demonstrates the Twonky's strange abilities. He then attempts to get rid of the Twonky by claiming that he is going to a meeting in which he will re-write the Declaration of Independence. As expected, the Twonky accompanies him in the car. When Kerry tries to push the car off a cliff, however, the Twonky puts the car in reverse. Kerry then abandons the vehicle on a road and hitches a ride with an older woman, unaware that the Twonky has climbed into the trunk of her car. The woman's erratic driving prompts the Twonky to push through the back seat and pull the emergency brake which causes a truck to crash into them. In the hospital, Caroline assures Kerry, who has numerous broken bones, that the Twonky was smashed to bits in the accident. However, when Coach arrives moments later with a television as a gift, Kerry becomes hysterical.
R. D. Cook
A. D. Nast Jr.
William H. Weintraub Jr.
The Twonky is a rather loose adaptation of a 1942 short story by the established science fiction author Henry Kuttner (writing with his wife C. L. Moore and using the pseudonym Lewis Padgett). In the original story, a creature from the future appears in a present-day factory that manufactures console radios. The being from the future makes Twonkys in his world, so he turns out a Twonky that looks like a radio. This device is delivered to a home, and the Twonky/ radio proceeds to take over the life of the new owner. In his adaptation, Oboler uses several gags from the story, but overall The Twonky is unsuccessful as a comedy and heavy-handed and clunky as satire. Oboler's little movie, however, is exceedingly strange and contains several images and incidents that are not easily forgotten.
In a pre-credits sequence, an off-screen narrator warns us (in words that echo the famous curtain prologue of Frankenstein (1931), "ladies and gentlemen, we bring you a strange story about a thing out of space. It may frighten you - it may amuse you, but this may happen to you tomorrow." In a small college town, philosophy professor Cary West (Hans Conried) is being left alone for the weekend by his wife Carolyn (Janet Warren), who is off to visit her sister. West tells us "everything was normal, except on the roof of my house, where something new and diabolical was being added." That something is a TV antenna, because West's wife has bought him a television set to keep him company in her absence. West seems appreciative, and promises Carolyn that by the time she comes back he will know "all the latest wrestling holds." When the set is delivered, West is instantly disdainful of the device, but disdain turns to amazement when the 16-inch Admiral - not yet plugged in - emits a beam from its tube, lighting West's cigarette for him! The TV washes dishes, opens his bottle of Coke, and ties the professor's tie for him, but it also makes seemingly arbitrary decisions for the professor. It won't let him have a second cup of coffee, for example, and when West tries to play a classical record on the phonograph, the TV destroys the disc and plays marching music instead!
When the half-witted service man (Ed Max) comes to collect a 100-dollar fee, the TV uses a five-dollar bill of West's and replicates it on the floor until there is enough money to pay the man. Prof. West confides in his friend Coach Trout (Billy Lynn) who seems to have a handy explanation for the device: "That television set is not an hallucination - that's a Twonky. I had Twonkys when I was a child. A Twonky is something you do not know what it is."
The Twonky was probably aiming for a deft blend of creepy science fiction, offbeat whimsy, and satire, but several of Oboler's decisions work against the film. Jack Meakin's music is heavy-handedly "whimsical" and the playing of the actors is broad and peculiar, so while some of the visuals are startling, there is a constant poke in the ribs to not take anything seriously. The satire is far from subtle and falls flat because Oboler insists on spelling everything out. The Coach character has it all conveniently figured out, at one point blatantly saying "in the world of the future where this Twonky comes from, every house, every family has a Twonky of its own to carry out the dictates of the Super State. There is one placed in every home to regulate every thought according to the dictates of the Super State." In another scene, Prof. West is writing a lecture for his students and begins, "Individualism is the basis of all great art" but he is zapped by The Twonky and forced to scratch the line out. Later, a book with the title "LIBERTY" is zapped out of the professor's hand. Subtlety was never a strong point in Oboler's films.
In advertising the film, United Artists was shy about showing just what The Twonky was (odd, since any review would mention it in the first sentence). The movie poster merely showed a line of arrows heading away from a red planet (Mars?) as the cast looked around with shocked or quizzical expressions. The tagline was "OUT OF YOUR OWN TOMORROW... OUT OF TIME AND SPACE A FEARSOME POWER!" The title is shown twice on the poster, both times in a whimsical typeface, indicative of a comedy.
Reviews of the movie were unkind. Variety merely wrote, "Briefly, it's unbelievably bad," while the writer for the Hollywood Reporter said, "There's a cute idea behind The Twonky, but the basic premise is so smothered by a flood of dull dialogue that it becomes completely lost. Arch Oboler produced, directed and scripted, scoring a clean miss on all three counts."
The Twonky provided the first leading film role for Hans Conried, a prolific radio actor who was one of Oboler's stock company of players. Conried had already appeared in dozens of bit parts in movies, often playing exotic magicians (as in the Orson Welles production Journey into Fear, 1943) or fussy, eccentric types. The same year The Twonky was released, the actor landed two of his most notable roles in features, as the lavender-laced Dr. Terwilliker in the live-action Dr. Seuss extravaganza The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), and as the unforgettable voice of Captain Hook in Walt Disney's animated Peter Pan (1953). Conried was interviewed in 1970 and said that he told Oboler during production of The Twonky that he was worried that the film was not working and that it would bomb at the box office. According to Conried, the producer replied, "That's all right. I need a tax write-off this year anyway" - no doubt to offset the enormous profits reaped from Bwana Devil.
Producer: Arch Oboler
Director: Arch Oboler
Screenplay: Arch Oboler; Lewis Padgett (story)
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Special Effects: Robert Bonnig
Music: Jack Meakin
Film Editing: Betty Steinberg
Cast: Hans Conried (Cary West), Janet Warren (Carolyn West), Billy Lynn (Coach Trout), Ed Max (Ed, TV repairman), Gloria Blondell (Lady Bill Collector), Evelyn Beresford (Old Lady Motorist), Norman Field (doctor)
by John M. Miller
The opening title credits read "Arch Oboler's Production of The Twonky." Contemporary news items in Motion Picture Herald and Hollywood Reporter reported that the release of The Twonky, which was produced in 1952, was held up due to production of another Oboler film, Bwana Devil. The copyright statement in the Copyright Catalog indicates that although the copyright year is 1953, the notice submitted by the production was dated 1952. No official release date is listed in contemporary sources. In a modern interview, Sid Pink, a former member of Arch Oboler Productions, Inc., noted that the film, which cost approximately $300,000 to make, had only three theatrical exhibitions when it was released.