The Twilight Zone Episode 144: What’s in the Box

General Information

Director: Richard L. Bare

Writer: Martin M. Goldsmith

Cast: Joan Blondell, William Demarest, Sterling Holloway, Sandra Gould, Howard Wright, and Herbert Lytton

Composer: None (Stock Music)

Air Date: 3/13/1964

Production Code: 2635

 

Overview

After having his TV fixed by an eccentric repairman (Sterling Holloway), cab driver Joe Britt (William Demarest) sees a terrible future for himself on the screen. Disturbed by his potential role in the murder of his wife Phyllis (Joan Blondell),The Twilight Zone Whats in the Box Joe tries to avert the scenario presented on his television set—with a horrifying twist.

A nihilistic remake of “A Most Unusual Camera,” this episode may evoke criticism for its recycled premise and mean-spirited execution. “What’s in the Box” does, however, benefit from the performances of Joan Blondell, William Demarest, and Sterling Holloway (known for voicing Winnie the Pooh).

 

Pros

The Twilight Zone Whats in the BoxIn spite of his unpleasant personality, Joe Britt may earn sympathy due to the uncontrollable nature of his circumstances. Specifically, Joe goes out of his way to make amends with his wife, give up his philandering ways, and prevent himself from murdering Phyllis in a fit of rage—actions that ironically result in the very outcome that Joe wishes to avoid.

 

Cons

“What’s in the Box” is marred by cruel, unlikable characters whose constant screaming, taunting, and bickering border on excessive. Phyllis, for example, The Twilight Zone Whats in the Boxtakes tremendous pleasure in mocking and belittling her husband, even spurning his attempt to reconcile after twenty-seven years of marital conflict. Though less obnoxious than Phyllis, Joe also fails to treat his spouse with love, respect, and compassion, instead resorting to vicious threats and violent behavior when provoked. Viewers may therefore struggle to relate with both Joe and Phyllis, who behave like savages when communicating with each other.

 

Analysis

Exploring how conformist choices can lead to great unhappiness, this episode reveals the dark side of work and marriage life in the early 1960s—often considered an idyllic period in American history.

 

Concluding Comments

Combining temporal anomalies with domestic turmoil, “What’s in the Box” has all the ingredients of a classic science fiction piece. Fans of The Twilight Zone may nevertheless take issue with this offering, which suffers from a nasty, malicious tone throughout.

 

Overall Quality: 6/10

 

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3 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone Episode 144: What’s in the Box

  1. The review left out an important but neglected plot point; who in blazes was the repairman and what was his significance to the story? The story itself was retread stuff and very old hat

    • I suppose the repairman was just a prop character for setting the story in motion, kind of like the street peddler in “Mr. Denton on Doomsday.” Still, it would have been cool to get some background info on his motive for targeting the Britt couple (assuming that was his intention all along).

  2. Serling was an early SWJ who would often paint his characters with a broad brush, often to the detriment of the story. You rightly pointed out that the repairman was a prop which slide this episode into the “clunker” category.