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  Twonky, The Drug Of A Nation
Year: 1953
Director: Arch Oboler
Stars: Hans Conried, Janet Warren, William H. Lynn, Edwin Max, Gloria Blondell, Evelyn Beresford, Norman Field, Al Jarvis, Bob Jellison, Connie Marshall
Genre: Comedy, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Professor Kerry West (Hans Conried) woke up one Saturday morning with the business in mind of writing his latest lecture, but his wife Carolyn (Janet Warren) had other ideas for she was going away for the weekend to visit her sister and didn't want her husband to feel lonely. Therefore she has introduced the latest trend into their home, a television, which West doesn't think he really needs, but wishes to humour her so agrees to spend time with it once she has left. She does so, and he settles down with a cigarette - but a beam of energy shoots out from the screen and lights it for him!

If there was one thing Arch Oboler hated it was television, and that was much of the impetus for adapting a jokey short story about a meddling set with incredible powers into a movie. The studio, possibly recognising it might not be the right time for this project, sat on the finished effort for a couple of years till 1953 by which stage satires of the goggle box were becoming more prevalent in Hollywood when it was seen how powerful the medium was in relation to the movies, which were suffering in comparison. In Britain there was Meet Mr. Lucifer to tackle the issue - in the States there was The Twonky.

Not that either of them made any lasting damage of viewing figures for the small screen, but Oboler's true love was radio, best recalled now for his horror-themed show over the airwaves entitled Lights Out, though he enjoyed comedy as well. Once he saw he could make movies too, he became one of the early pioneers of 3D with his Bwana Devil, one of the first hits of the three-dimensional boom of the fifties, yet while he liked the visuals for some reason he never warmed to television, even though he broadcast a few projects there. Thus The Twonky told you all you needed to know about the anti-television lobby.

Hence the protagonist was a learned character (though the always welcome Conried acted loopy throughout), the sort who would be able to see through what nowadays we would call the "dumbing down" of society put into effect by the TVs of America. But there was a typically Oboler twist to this, no, not the preachy tone but the science fiction take on the material as West's friend Coach Trout (William H. Lynn, who was dead by the point this had been released, sadly) realises, being a fan of sci-fi, that this new set is from the future which is why it has such outlandish abilities. Things like using that beam to manipulate objects, creating money, and even mind control over those who attempt to either get in West's way or try to stop the Twonky, as Trout calls it, from doing as it pleases.

There follow a number of sitcom-style sequences with special effects which may be plentiful, but not exactly the pinnacle of their art as the Twonky makes its owner's life hell thanks to its overeager methods of improving his everyday existence. Much of this is very silly, but it does raise a few good laughs thanks to that very daftness: see West trying to compose his lecture on individualism and how it relates to creativity, which the contraption turns into a treatise on "Passion through the Ages", much to the hilarity of his students. He is driven to distraction by these unnecessary aims at improving his environment, as the Twonky has a go at hiring a prostitute over the phone service's switchboard to keep his new master company or brainwashes a team of football players into not picking it up and removing it from the premises. The message here may be serious, but you can see now Oboler was fighting a losing battle, and there's a streak of desperation in his pleading to keep television out of the home. What would he have made of the internet, one wonders? Music by Jack Meakin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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