Original Air Date: March 13, 1964
Writer: Martin Goldsmith
Director: Richard L. Bare
“Portrait of a TV fan. Name: Joe Britt. Occupation: cab driver. Tonight, Mr. Britt is going to watch “a really big show,” something special for the cabbie who’s seen everything. Joe Britt doesn’t know it, but his flag is down and his meter’s running and he’s in high gear—on his way to the Twilight Zone.”
Joe Gritt (played by William Demarest, known for his role in My Three Sons) is a gruff, working class cabby who lives in an upper flat in New York City. In a series of uncomfortable moments, Joe berates and argues with his wife Phyllis (Joan Blondell). Presently their television is being fixed in the next room by a repairman (played by classic Disney voice actor Sterling Holloway). When Joe confronts the repairman for bilking him for money while Joe demands to watch wrestling right away, the repairman coyly smiles and simply leaves claiming there is no charge.
However, Joe soon realizes that his television is now operating strangely. The T.V. screen is displaying a clip of Joe himself! He sits in a car comforting a woman with whom he was (presumably) having an affair. Joe’s past is being played out on television. He then has a minor breakdown while Phyllis phones up Dr. Saltman, who promptly diagnoses Joe as suffering from “delusions attributable to our mechanized culture.” Joe witnesses clips of his present situation followed by his possible future as it plays out on television. Shortly thereafter, Joe and Phyllis begin physically assaulting each other again –throwing books, vases, and even swinging at each other. Joe clocks Phyllis square in the face which sends her flying out the window to her death. Joe is then somberly led away by the police (if the T.V. vision of the future is correct, Joe is on his way to the electrocution chair).
“The next time your TV set is on the blink, when you’re in the need of a first-rate repairman, may we suggest our own specialist? Factory-trained, prompt, honest, twenty-four hour service. You won’t find him in the phone book, but his office is conveniently located—in the Twilight Zone.”
I found this to be an eminently uncomfortable and embittering episode. The scenes of domestic violence are actually quite brutal, a shocking collection of moments for network television. The idea of an old married couple making every effort to kill is just in poor taste. That being said, this episode shares a certain kinship with other Twilight Zone installments featuring machinery which contains otherworldly powers: “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine,” “A Thing About Machines,” “Nick of Time,” “Static,” “Printer’s Devil” and others.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Martin Goldsmith was asked to write this episode as a result of his friendship with Producer William Froug (they previously collaborated on Playhouse 90). Mr. Goldsmith later expressed substantial disappointment with this episode, claiming it was poorly acted and lacking in all subtlety.
- Actor William Demarest was an Army veteran in World War II. He appeared in a variety of classic Hollywood films in addition to his famous role in My Three Sons. Some of his films included: uncredited in The Jazz Singer (1927), uncredited in The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) among many others. “What’s in the Box” was the only Twilight Zone episode he appeared in. He died in 1983.
- Actress Joan Blondell was an early pre-code sex symbol in old Hollywood. She appeared alongside many famous actors including James Cagney in Footlight Parade in 1933. “What’s in the Box” was the only Twilight Zone episode she appeared in. She died in 1979.
- Actor Sterling Holloway is the eminently recognizable Disney voice actor who played the cartoon role of Winnie the Pooh, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Kaa in The Jungle Book, and many other classic Disney characters. He was a life-long bachelor who nevertheless adopted a son. He died in 1992.In this episode while the repairman is fixing the television set a variety of voices can be heard as he switches between channels, one of them is Rod Serling saying “Next time on The Twilight Zone…”
- Rod Serling parodies Ed Sullivan by mentioning “really big shoe…” in his opening monologue.