Monday, December 9, 2013

"The Whole Truth"

Loring Smith as "Honest" Luther Grimbley & Jack Carson as Harvey Hunnicut
"The Whole Truth"
Season Two, Episode 51
Original Air Date: January 20, 1961

Harvey Hunnicut: Jack Carson
Luther Grimbley: Loring Smith
Irv: Arte Johnson
Old Man: George Chandler
Young Man: Jack Ging
Young Woman: Nan Peterson
Nikita Khrushchev: Lee Sabinson
Khrushchev's Aide: Patrick Westwood

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: James Sheldon
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Art Direction: Robert Tyler Lee
Set Decoration: Buck Henshaw
Technical Director: Jim Brady
Assoc. Director: James Clark
Casting: Ethel Winant
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"This, in the parlance of the Twentieth Century, is a used car lot. A graveyard of active ghosts who by dint and virtue of some exceptional salesmanship and an Indian rubber stretching of the truth remain as commodities in a world that by rights they should have left generations ago. Mr. Jack Carson plays the role of a larceny-loaded con-man suddenly prevented from telling a falsehood. Next week on the Twilight Zone a most bizarre tale that we call, 'The Whole Truth.'"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"This, as the banner already has proclaimed, is Mr. Harvey Hunnicut, an expert on commerce and con jobs, a brash, bright, and larceny-loaded wheeler and dealer who, when the good Lord passed out a conscience, must have gone for a beer and missed out. And these are a couple of other characters in our story, a little old man and a Model A car, but not just any old man and not just any Model A. There's something very special about the both of them. As a matter of fact, in just a few moments they'll give Harvey Hunnicut something that he's never experienced before. Through the good offices of a little magic they will unload on Mr. Hunnicut the absolute necessity to tell the truth. Exactly where they come from is conjecture but as to where they're heading for, this we know, because all of them, and you, are on the threshold of the Twilight Zone."

            Harvey Hunnicut is a fast-talking used car salesman who owns a lot full of lemons and junk heaps but manages to sweet talk his unfortunate customers into buying his product at egregious prices. When an old man pulls into the lot driving an old Model A car, Hunnicut fast talks the old man into selling the car cheaply. The old man, barely able to get a word in, agrees to the deal. After the paperwork is signed and ownership of the car transferred to Hunnicut, the old man offers up the information that the car is haunted.
            Hunnicut scoffs at the idea of a haunted car but soon discovers the car's power when he tries to con a young couple into buying a junk roadster but instead tells them the truth about the condition of the car and recommends they go to a reputable lot and buy a reliable car. Later, when Hunnicut calls his girlfriend to tell her he will be running late because of monthly inventory, he inexplicably also tells her that this is a lie and he will actually be late because he is playing poker that night. That's when Hunnicut realizes the power of the car. As long as he is the owner of the Model A, he cannot tell a lie, rendering him useless in his line of business.
            An opportunity arises to sell the car to a local politician named "Honest" Luther Grimbley who is, of course, a habitual liar. Though Grimbley is close to buying the car, Hunnicut is forced to tell the truth about it and puts Grimbley off the sale. The two joke, while looking a newspaper headline, that a car like this would be interesting if it were in the hands of "that guy."
            That guy ends up being Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who just happens to be in the United States and makes a stop by Hunnicut's car lot. Amazingly, Hunnicut manages to sell the Model A to Khrushchev through the Premier's Aide, who tells Hunnicut that they intend to use it as a demonstration of the average American's automobile. Hunnicut knows that Khrushchev will be in for a nasty surprise they next time he steps up to offer lies and propaganda to the populace. 


"You could say this of Harvey Hennicutt - he was an exceptional liar. When Harvey peddled one of his used cars, his lying was colorful, imaginative, and had a charm all of its own. 
       -"The Whole Truth" by Rod Serling, New Stories from the Twilight Zone (1962)

            For The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling often wrote a very specific type of teleplay, a drama centered around a broad character type who is put into a perilous or unusual situation. These episodes were often thin on plot and strong on coincidence and would sink or swim depending, almost entirely, on the resonance of its theme and the appeal of its central performance. Consequently, there was very little middle ground of success for this type of episode. Serling was most successful with this type of episode when he treated his subject matter, or character, in a serious manner, as in "One For the Angels," "The Lonely," or "Mr. Denton on Doomsday." When Serling found it necessary to inject broad humor or whimsy into the formula, the results were usually, but not always, unsatisfactory, as in "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," "The Mind and the Matter," or "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby." To be fair, the reverse was true in a few circumstances. "Time Enough at Last" would fall into the whimsical-type episode, at least until its heartbreaking denouement, but remains an engaging and fondly remembered episode. Likewise, "A Thing about Machines" is a serious-minded fantasy which ultimately fails as an effective episode.
            "The Whole Truth" is another whimsical-type episode and is, unfortunately, one of the worst episodes of the second season, and certainly the worst of the videotaped episodes. As a result of the videotape format, Hunnicut's used car lot is easily exposed as a sound stage and this lends an appropriate air of cheapness to an episode about a cheapskate. "The Whole Truth" goes against every element which comprised the hub that turned the show's thematic wheel. A fantasy element is usually introduced into a Twilight Zone episode to allow a character to acquire self perspective or for others to gather perspective about a character. This is not the case in "The Whole Truth.” The viewer is left with no reason to believe Hunnicut will do otherwise than revert back to the way he was at the beginning of the show once he’s managed to sell off the haunted car. It is not an episode about an immoral man learning his own nature and being ashamed of it; it is an episode about a man learning of his own nature and mourning the loss of it. Even when wrapped in a humorous construct, it greatly lessens any dramatic impact the episode might have had. The episode is intended, one assumes, as simply an extended joke with a ludicrous punchline. 
            "The Whole Truth" ultimately fails by its ending. Though Twilight Zone has earned its reputation, somewhat unfairly, as a show which lived and died by the twist ending, there is a not-so-fine difference between the ironic and the ridiculous. "The Whole Truth" wallows in the latter. Even at twenty six minutes the episode feels padded because of the simplicity of the conflict and the absurd nature of the ending, which no length of bridging material between conflict and resolution could have properly resolved.
          Martin Grams, Jr., in his book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008), reveals some interesting production background about the episode. Serling's unproduced "Mr. Bevis" television series (intended as a continuation of the first season Twilight Zone episode) included an episode synopsis about Mr. Bevis being “blessed” by an angel with the ability to tell only the truth, and another episode in which Bevis is a used car salesman. More interesting is a scene cut from an earlier draft of Serling's teleplay in which Nikita Khrushchev, after buying the Model A from Hunnicut, faces reporters at a press conference in which Khrushchev involuntarily champions the American standard of living in comparison to that of the Soviet Union because he cannot tell a lie. 
            Jack Carson, who portrayed Harvey Hunnicut in "The Whole Truth," was a versatile character actor who toiled in small parts upon his arrival at RKO in 1937. He found better roles and did most of his remembered work at Warner Brothers in the 1940s, including work alongside Joan Crawford in Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce (1945). That decade also saw Carson team up with Dennis Morgan for a series of successful comedy films and find his voice as a comedian on radio. Carson was at the forefront of television’s early years, hosting All Star Revue and Colgate Comedy Hour in the 1950s. Carson finished his career appearing in high profile movies such as A Star is Born (1954), alongside Judy Garland, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. Carson died of stomach cancer at the age of 52 on January 2, 1963.

Grade: F

Illustration for "The Whole Truth" from a 1966
Dutch edition of Rod Serling's
"Stories from the Twilight Zone"
-The lack of quality in "The Whole Truth" is not indicative of director James Sheldon as he directed some very fine episodes in the series, including "Long Distance Call" and "A Penny For Your Thoughts" from the second season, and "It's a Good Life" from the third season. Sheldon also directed two additional third season episodes, "Still Valley" and Ray Bradbury's sole teleplay for the series, "I Sing the Body Electric."
-Arte Johnson also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Flip Side of Satan."
-"The Whole Truth" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama, starring Henry Rollins. 
-Rod Serling adapted his teleplay into a short story for New Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1962), where he changed the character's name from Hunnicut to Hennicutt.