Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Some screenshots from 'The Twonky' (1953)

Masquerading as light-hearted comedy / sci-fi, 1953's
'The Twonky' was something of a cautionary parable in film, concerning the dangers of the then-new-fangled TV set.

It illustrated the fear that the television would take over people's lives, control thoughts, erase individuality, and dumb us all down as it enforced conformity to the will of the state.

Yes, hard to imagine, certainly...

The movie starred the always-engaging Hans Conried as a college professor left on his own while his wife is out of town.

He's skeptical regarding the merits of the new TV set she's given him to 'keep him company', and soon discovers it's not really at all what it appears to be - - it's actually a mysterious device that's 'fallen through the dimensions of time' from the future, and has disguised itself as a benign household TV.

Part servant, part helpful watchdog, the set marches along on its own, protecting Conried from harm, performing chores, lighting his cigarettes, hypnotizing cops - - anything to please, seemingly - - so long as it falls within its future police-state set of rules.

Tivo meets the Terminator meets Homeland Security and the Invasion of The Body Snatchers. The future machine's agenda and full capabilities are never made clear.

At first, Hans Conried's performance has him playing befuddled straight man to all the various antics, but soon he begins to go mad (as only he can) as his life and free will are taken from him.

Make no mistake, this is a silly, fairly cheesy little low budget film with many rough edges.
But it's also great fun to watch, with some fine over-acting from the supporting players, and a story that's wonderfully rich with possibilities.

The original story was written by science fiction author
Henry Kuttner, and first published in Astounding Magazine in 1942.

In that pre-TV version, 'The Twonky' had been a radio, and the story was reportedly quite darker.

Kuttner's story was adapted for the screen eleven years later by Arch Oboler, who produced and directed the film in addition to writing the screenplay.

Though he did branch out into film and TV, Oboler's background was as a highly successful creator of radio dramas back in that medium's 'golden age'. Likely his views of the 'upstart' responsible for the death of radio flavored his spin on the original story.

There was a time when this film would show up on late-night TV. It's hard to say where one can see it these days.
If you find the opportunity, seize it!

I'd say it's a movie that's ripe for a remake, but it may already be too late...

⬅ The relentless Twonky climbs the stairs.

See also:
- Synopses and notes at AllMovie.Com, Shock Cinema, and Rotten Tomatoes

- The meanings and continuing usage of the word 'twonky' examined at Technovelgy.Com

- A two-part essay about
Arch Oboler's work in film, at Parallax View.

⬅ Hans Conried approaches full froth as Gloria Blondell looks on.

⬅ One of several people zapped by a pacification ray.

Anyone attempting harm towards Conried or the Twonky is left in a dopey and/or blissful state, mumbling "I have no complaints."

⬅ Ed Max in full gape as the TV repairman, upon discovering what's afoot.

⬅ Billed as a 'special appearance', here's a shot of Los Angeles radio personality Jim Hawthorne during his 3 seconds of screen time (literally!) at the beginning of the film.

⬇ Hawthorne showed up in the margins of the promo posters and lobby cards, too...

ADDENDA, 4.15.09: Thanks to readers who have sent word that 'The Twonky' (and other Hans Conried films) will be televised today on Turner Classic Movies.

This is good news, as often a film entering TCM's rotation can increase the likelihood of it being released on DVD.

You can also vote for a DVD release at the TCM website.


Thombeau said...

Wow. I don't even know what to say!

It makes me think of the dramatic climax of Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, when Jane Wyman's children buy her a television set, "The lonely woman's best friend"...

erik hogstrom said...

These are great!

Sleestak said...

I've always wanted to see this.

Anonymous said...

From the first time I saw this on TBS, I thought "this movie is just SCREAMING for the MST3K treatment."

Anonymous said... 1961, The Twonky was fodder for all-night movies. I saw the last 10 minutes of it as a 5-year-old, when I turned on the television (which stood on spindly legs) to watch morning cartoons. Needless to say, what's funny to adults can be traumatizing to a child. I couldn't be in a room with a television that wasn't turned on for many years.

Stephen Spielberg tapped into childhood this fear (along with many others) in his 1982 film Poltergeist, which was, coincidentally, filmed in my hometown, in a tract house very similar to and a few blocks from my parents' home. Any wonder why I've only seen the film once?

James Robert Smith said...

This is one I've never heard of! Wish I could land a copy!

Bob Bourne said...

Saw it this morning on TCM for the first time ever. It was... AMAZING.

Unknown said...

I agree with the anonymous cat above about being traumatised: I saw this when I was 8 or 9 (on the wonderful CBET in Windsor ONT - Secret Shout-Out to all you other Border Chilluns); I'm 43 now and I *still* harbour a deep mistrust of television sets.

gradymagee said...

where do i get the Twonky t-shirt??

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