Friday, July 12, 2019

The Twonky

The Twonky
Arch Obler

Kerry West (Hans Conried) is a college professor home alone while his wife, Carolyn (Janet Warren) is off visiting her sister. His new television has been delivered, but it’s not actually a television at all. It is a robot from the future (or at least that is what a drunken football coach, Trout (William H. Lynn), would have us believe.

On the surface, The Twonky is extremely frivolous and silly in a 1950s cornball style that will probably grate the nerves unless you have a taste for it. The jokes tend to be slapstick or ‘amusing’ drunken behavior. There is the slightest hint of risqué humor but this 1953 we are talking about so it is going to remain an undertone at best. The writing and look of the film feel less like a motion picture and more the like the pilot of a television show that was never picked up for a series. The Twonky was  barely screened and probably never going to be a hit or gain much of an audience in its initial run, which is a shame, because it has become eerily prescient.

Beneath the jokes and generally lighthearted tone of The Twonky, there is a darker undercurrent. The Twonky is a device that serves as both a distraction and a monitor for poor beleaguered Kerry. It is happy to light as many cigarettes as he’d like, but it refuses to allow him to research philosophy, instead of forcing a smutty ‘Passion through the Ages’ book on him. When Kerry wants to listen to some jazz, Twonky smashes his records and makes him listen to blaring marching band music. The Twonky, much like the devices of the 21st century is designed to watch just as much as they are designed to be watched. The Twonky modifies its target’s behavior more directly that social media might today, but not by much.

The Twonky itself serves as a visual representation of this surface comedy and subliminal darkness. It looks like a quaint boxy television set on four curved legs. That’s all well and good until you see it galloping about. There is something deeply unnerving about the way it walks. It is a blank-faced presence throughout the film and often is shown just waiting and watching while comedy antics happen around it. Coach Trout shares his idea that Twonky is, in fact, a machine from the future that has fallen through time and has disguised itself as a television, he even plays up the horror of this notion by noting that he doesn’t know what it could possibly look like like but that it might have synthetic muscles and artificial blood. Not exactly a statement you’d hear in a screwball comedy.

"I'll tell you what, Twonky got an ass that just won't quit."

The human characters of The Twonky range from irritating to slightly less irritating. Couch Trout is the stereotypical comedy drunk. Kerry West is bad with money, bad with people, and altogether not the nicest person. Our hero even makes an attempt to trick the Twonky into killing a bill collector who will not leave his house. The audience is left wondering if he succeeded only to be let off the hook by a single line of dialog later.

The Twonky is a weird comedy that hides some comments about the state of our entertainment and devices that is even more relevant today than it was when it fell through time.

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