Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"The Silence"

Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone) being chastised by his
friend (Jonathan Harris)

“The Silence”
Season Two, Episode 61
Original Air Date: April 28, 1961

Archie Taylor: Franchot Tone
Jamie Tennyson: Liam Sullivan
George Alfred: Jonathan Harris
Franklin, the Butler: Cyril Delevanti
Man #1: Everett Glass
Man #2: Felix Locher
Man #3: John Holland

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Boris Sagal
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Leon Barsha
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“There are all kinds of wagers and all kinds of odds, from the spin of a roulette wheel to a two-dollar across the board at a race track. But next week, on the Twilight Zone, with the aid of Mr. Franchot Tone, we tell the story of possibly the strangest bet ever to occur in the annals of chance. Our program is called ‘The Silence.’ I hope we’ll see you then.
            “Here’s something that doesn’t require any imagination. It’s Oasis. If you just took this puff, you’d agree. It’s the softest taste of all. Before we meet again, try Oasis for the softest taste of all.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Monologue:
            “The note that this man is carrying across a club room is in the form of a proposed wager, but it’s the kind of wager that comes with a precedent. It stands alone in the annals of bet-making as the strangest game of chance ever afforded by one man to another. In just a moment, we’ll see the terms of the wager and what young Mr. Tennyson does about it. And in the process, we’ll witness all parties spin a wheel of chance in a very bizarre casino called…the Twilight Zone.”

Jamie Tennyson is a verbose young man who will stop at nothing to steal the ear of anyone willing to listen. Archie Taylor is an aging, irritable curmudgeon with an unrelenting distaste for young Mr. Tennyson. Both men are members of a prestigious men’s club.  One evening, as Tennyson tries unsuccessfully to gain the admiration and attention of his fellow club members, Taylor has the butler bring a note over to him. After reading it, Tennyson confronts Taylor at once. Taylor makes public the information contained in his note. He has grown tired of Tennyson’s constant chattering and his perpetual attempt to sucker club members into granting him a “loan.” He proposes a bet. He bets that Tennyson cannot keep silent for an entire year. He says that Tennyson is to stay in an enclosed living room made of glass so he can be observed by Taylor or any other club member at any time, with microphones monitoring his every movement. He asks the club members for permission to use the basement as part of his wager. If he can do this Taylor will pay him $500,000. Tennyson accepts the bet and leaves the club white with humiliation.
Over the course of the year that Tennyson is held captive Taylor makes many trips to the glass prison. He attempts to persuade young Tennyson to give up the fight and leave the prison at once. If Tennyson is willing to give up early Taylor will give him a severance prize of $5,000 for his effort.  Tennyson doesn’t budge.  Later, Taylor resorts to feeding Tennyson adulterous lies about his wife. Heartbroken but determined to win the bet Tennyson stays in the prison. And he never says a word.
A year to the day that Jamie Tennyson voluntarily shut himself off from the world, Archie Taylor stands in a room surrounded by his fellow club members, sick with anxiety. As the clock strikes ten young Tennyson emerges from the basement. He makes his way across the crowded lobby to Taylor and holds out his hand in demand of his payment for a challenge fulfilled. It is here that Taylor admits that he cannot fulfill his end of the bargain. When he made the bet he never expected the young man to actually go through with it.  He simply meant to embarrass him. He admits that he lost his inheritance many years ago.  He is now penniless and cannot pay even a fraction of Tennyson’s reward. Shamefully, he informs the club members that he will resign and never show his face there again. Tennyson grabs a notepad begins to scribble something down. Urged by the club members to use his voice, he instead hands the notepad to Taylor.  Taylor reads it aloud: I KNEW I COULD NOT FULFILL MY END OF THE BARGAIN. SO ONE YEAR AGO I HAD THE NERVES TO MY VOCAL CORDS SEVERED. Tennyson then removes a scarf from around his neck revealing the scar from his surgery. 

Rod Serling’s Closing Monologue:
            “Mr. Jamie Tennyson, who almost won a bet, but who discovered somewhat belatedly that gambling can be a most unproductive pursuit, even with loaded dice, marked cards, or as in his case, some severed vocal cords. For somewhere beyond him a wheel was severed and his number came up black thirteen. If you don’t believe it, ask the croupier, the very special one who handles roulette…in the Twilight Zone.”

            “The Silence” is an atypical Twilight Zone episode in that it is completely void of any sort of fantasy element. It is perhaps the only episode in which this can be said. There are other episodes of the show which cannot be appropriately labeled “fantasy,” such as the pilot episode “Where is Everybody?” and Season Two’s “King Nine Will Not Return.” But there is at least a hint of implied fantasy in those episodes even if the twist in both reveals that the fantasy is only in the minds of the protagonists. But “The Silence” is an episode that at no time suggests that there may possibly be a fantastical element at work. Instead is a simple crime tale that would be more comfortable in an issue of E.C. Comics or an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
            “The Silence” has become a controversial episode among both fans and critics of the show due to its alleged source material. Although this episode is credited solely to Serling it has been compared by several researchers to Anton Chekov’s 1889 short story “The Bet,” although it has never been confirmed that Serling based his story on Chekov’s. “The Bet” tells the story of an aging banker who bets a feisty young attorney two million dollars that he cannot remain in solitary confinement for fifteen years. The attorney takes the bet. While there is no clause about remaining silent the same general setup is applied here. The attorney is to remain in a secured cell in a lodge on the banker’s property. He is not allowed to leave the cell but unlike Serling’s story he is not allowed to see other human beings. To request books, musical instruments, wine, tobacco or food he is to submit a hand written request through a tiny window made specifically for that purpose. While he is incarcerated the attorney begins a quest to read as many books as he can get his hands on. History, religion, linguistics, political manifestos, literature, etc. His hair and beard grow long and unkempt. He appears at times to be enduring emotional torture for crying can often be heard coming from his cell. During the attorney’s time in prison the banker suffers numerous financial setbacks. He squanders his money on bad investments and at the end of the fifteen years he is substantially poorer than when he first proposed to the attorney the absurd wager. If he pays the attorney the two million it will ruin him. He decides instead to murder the attorney and spare himself from poverty. He sneaks into the attorney’s cell and finds the emaciated prisoner asleep. He also finds a handwritten note and he decides to read it. The attorney states that he no longer needs the two million dollars. He believes himself to be far wiser than when he when he accepted the bet. He rejects the value that society places on material goods. To prove his point he later leaves his cell mere minutes before his fifteen year sentence is over, sparing the banker his millions.
            Whether or not this story is at all based on the Chekov story is debatable and ultimately will never be known. If it is then Serling’s ending takes the story in a very different direction and changes it from one of psychological and social didacticism to one of psychological horror. Serling did comment on the similarities of the two stories years later in a lecture at Ithaca College stating that he was not familiar with the Chekov story when he wrote “The Silence” but stated that there are many different directions that one could have taken a protagonist with this setup. Regardless, his double twist denouement here is effectively horrifying.          
            Franchot Tone (1905 – 1968) was a veteran star of stage and screen. He is remembered today most notably for his role in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Other notable films include Dancing Lady (1935), Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Phantom Lady (1945), The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) and Advise and Consent (1962). Tone, mirroring his personal life, was often cast as an urbane socialite similar to his role here. In interviewing the cast and crew of this episode Marc Scot Zicree uncovered an interesting dilemma on the set involving Tone. Director Boris Sagal shot the scenes in the lobby of the men’s club on the first day of the production. On the second day, however, when they were to begin shooting the scenes that take place in the game room where Tennyson’s cell is located, Tone didn’t show up to the set on time. After waiting several hours for him the producers finally got in touch with his agent. When Tone eventually made it to the set the left side of his face was badly scarred. There are several versions as to why his faced looked so terrible. One is that Tone simply fell down a steep hill smashing his face on rocks. There is another story, however, that has Tone being beaten after he made a pass at another man’s girlfriend. Whatever the story, Sagal was pressed to figure out a way to shoot Tone so that his scars would not be seen. His solution was to shoot Tone either in profile or simply shoot close-ups of only half of his face with a steal beam (part of Tennyson’s cell) covering up the left side. The effect worked and actually adds a lot to the scene and to Tone’s character.

Grade: B

--Boris Segal also directed the Season Three episode “The Arrival,” as well as the segment titled "The Cemetery" from the pilot film of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He also directed the 1971 film The Omega Man, an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend.
--Liam Sullivan also appears in the Season Three episode “The Changing of the Guard.”
--Jonathan Harris also appears in the Season Two episode “Twenty-Two,” as well as in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay."
--Cyril Delevanti appears in three additional episodes, "A Penny for Your Thoughts," from season two, "A Piano in the House," from season three, and "Passage on the Lady Anne," from season four. Delevanti also appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Sins of the Father."
--This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chris McDonald.

--Brian Durant


  1. I have always liked this episode and it is one I have never forgotten, even though I have not seen it in years. Franchot Tone and Jonathan Harris are favorites of mine. Not a week goes by that I am not quoting Dr. Zachary Smith. The Chekhov story sounds great. I have read a few collections of his stories but I don't recall this one. Thanks for the interesting article!

  2. I actually hadn't read the story either until I was researching this episode, although I had come across the reference numerous times. It's an interesting story but a lot different thematically than "The Silence." Thanks for reading, Jack!

  3. At one point in the episode, Tennyson goes over to his calendar, then turns around and hand signals the number 5 followed by the number 4. Does anyone know the significance of this?

  4. Ah, I thought that was obvious. I guess not.

    The 5 and the 4 equals a total of 9. This is the number of months that had elapsed. This is confirmed when a moment later he writes a note for Taylor: "3 months to go, the bet stands."

  5. It is well known why Franchot Tone suffered physically. He was involved in an infamous brawl against fellow actor and one-time boxer Tom Neal over the affections of actress Barbara Payton. Tone got the worst of it and never fully recovered from the blows.

  6. Details about the infamous brawl can be found right here:


    1. Thanks for the link. I came across references to the fight while writing this but I was not aware of the details. In the Twilight Zone Companion, Zicree mentions that actor Liam Sullivan claimed that Tone told him he had fallen down a hillside while attempting to pick a flower off a terrace for his girlfriend. He also mentions that there were rumors that Tone might have gotten into a brawl over a girl, although he does not include any names. I enjoyed reading the full story though! Your thoughts on the episode?

    2. Other link not working. New link for story

  7. I love, love this episode! It is so well written and produced! It is one of my favorite "Twilight" twist endings. I siuspected something was up from all the scarves Tennyson wore during his year of silence. But I nwver imagined anyone going to such an extreme for money. The story speaks volumes about greed. Tennyson obviously wanted the money. I think he'd already lost the wife and hoped to buy her back with his winnings. I think Tone's character should have tried to raise the money for Tennyson when he realized he had been beaten, but his pride would not allow him to simply admit he was broke. He had to admit it anyway. Tennyson should have gotten at least 100 grand from the other members of the club. They owed him something for providing entertainment for their stuffy asses!

  8. one thing that has stayed with me about this episode is the way franchot tone emphasizes the name "Franklin!" just before he sends the note over to Tennyson. it may be nothing, but it occurred to me that the name may have meant something a little extra to Rod since the same name is emphasized so much in the episode "The Fever". i've been unable to locate any such reference, though. for that matter, the same goes for the inversion of names Gart Williams ("A Stop at Willoughby") and William Gart ("And When The Sky Was Opened"). now, maybe that was just a convenient recycling, but i am curious about it.

  9. It's inevitable that one's mind asks the probing question: exactly how did Tennyson attend to his bodily functions (not to mention bathing/showering) while confined in a glass box over the course of a year? This is doubly pertinent given that his visitors during those months were a bunch of stuffy, old-money aristocrats, amongst whom such prosaic matters could not even be MENTIONED in conversation -- much less witnessed in all their glory. One can easily imagine a Mad magazine parody of this episode, in which the first time Tennyson has to relieve himself, whichever club member happens to be in the room at the time screams out in horror "STOP! I'LL PAY YOU THE HALF-MILLION MYSELF, BUT FOR THE LOVE OF WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, STOP!"

  10. Another point regarding "The Silence". Tennyson must really have been a bubblebrain, if it never as much as occurred to him that Archie, with a perfectly clear conscience, and without being seen to violate the aristocratic code of honor by the other club members, could have refused to pay him, once the vocal-cord surgery became known (as it inevitably would have). The whole point of this bizarre exercise was to see if a compulsive chatterbox could REFRAIN from speaking for a year, when he had the option of doing so at any moment. Once the possibility of failure was removed, so was the element of chance -- which is pretty much what a wager is built on. One has to wonder if the apparent indifference of Tennyson's wife to his welfare during his year of confinement was really due to her being a shallow, frivolous woman (as the episode implies), and not simply to her realization that she was married to an utter fool.

  11. I think the moral lesson of this episode is to always buy esoteric bar bet insurance. For only $25 a year, less than a penny a day, this whole O'Henry-style disaster could have been... well, not quite 'avoided' but at least mitigated.