Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Twonky

TCM is showing two Hans Conried movies as part of TCM Underground overnight tonight. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., which I blogged about back in October 2008, is airing at 3:45 AM. Before that, however, is The Twonky, at 2:15 AM. I thought I had done a full-length post about it before, but apparently not.

Conried stars as Kerry West, a college professor at one of those Anytown, USA small colleges that seem to be a staple of a certain type of Hollywood film from the years just after World War II. Kerry's wife Carolyn (Janet West) is going away to visit family, and ostensibly to keep him company, she bought a new TV, this in the days when TV was starting to become ubiquitous in American homes. Kerry doesn't want a TV, but it's not as if he has to watch it. Still, he's happy when the guy from the TV store comes for the deposit, which Kerry doesn't have. So, Kerry thinks the TV guy is going to take the TV back.

Except that magically, the deposit shows up! It quickly turns out that it's the TV itself that produced the deposit, which of course seems like a bunch of nonsense, but that's the point of the movie, a TV that's seemingly come to life of a sort. Apparently, as the coach of the football team explains to the professor, this TV is a "Twonky", some sort of technology gone bad that can't be explained. And this particular Twonky has gone terribly wrong. Although there are times that it helps Kerry out by doing the vacuuming and putting the dishes away, it wants to do what's "best" for Kerry, with the caveat that it, and not Kerry, gets to decide what's best for Kerry. So, no coffee, no getting to spread ideas that the Twonky doesn't like, or no music that thw Twonky doesn't like. And if you don't like having such a Twonky? Tough patooties. Kerry understandably tries to get rid of the Twonky, but it has a way o fprotecting itself from anybody or anything that it sees as a threat to Kerry, or more importantly to itself. To make matters worse, some of the things the Twonky has done for the professor's "benefit" have run afoul of the law....

The Twonky is a really interesting little movie. Independently produced by radio host Arch Oboler, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, the movie scrapes by on a very low budget, which makes the production vales look not particularly good, especially when it comes to the special effects. And yet, that only adds to the bizarreness of the whole thing. How could this little TV set be evil? Still, it is. In fact, a good case could be made that even if the "for your own good" forces represent the Twonky ever had good intentions, they're always going to step over the line, and The Twonky is a decided allegory for that. Indded, I'd argue it's still relevant today. 30 years ago when I was still in elementary school the anti-smoking crusade was really gathering steam, and I remember people making the argument that the next thing you know, the government is going to tell us what we can and cannot eat. Pshaw, the self-styled do-gooders told us. But 30 years on, we've got politicians trying to mandate maximum portion sizes, or what seasonings can or cannot be used. As if they really even have a clue what's good for us, anyway. It's ironic that the Twonky tries to prevent Kerry from drinking a cup of coffee; over the decades, we've gone from caffeing being acceptable to evil to having possible beneficial effects to today, where he have a professional class that overpays for "exotic" coffee drinks mixed with milk and given foreign names, and a more blue-collar class that consumes its caffeine in the form of energy drinks that the political class thinks are evil, if only because the wrong class consumes it. The Twonky will come for your pleasures, but not its own.

TCM's online schedule lists The Twonky as a horror film. IMDb puts comedy and sci-fi first. I'd say all three fit to one extent or another, with the caveat that the horror is more in the implication of what an out of control Twonky could do. But whatever genre you consider it, The Twonky is still an odd, fascinatingly dystopic tale that's well worth a viewing. It doesn't seem to be on DVD, however, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing overnight tonight.

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