Features and Columns · TV

Exploring The Twilight Zone #50: The Whole Truth

By  · Published on August 13th, 2011

With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover half of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?

The Twilight Zone (Episode #50): “The Whole Truth” (airdate 1/20/61)

The Plot: A shifty used car salesman (redundant I know) scams an old man out of his car, but he soon discovers the vehicle comes with an unexpected feature… whoever owns it is forced to tell the truth at all times.

The Goods: Harvey Hunnicut (Jack Carson) is a douche. Well, this is the early sixties so let’s just say he’s a morally bankrupt used car salesman. The story opens with him trying to sweet talk a young couple into buying a real lemon of a car, but he pauses his verbal scam to check in on an old man hoping to sell his car for some cash. Harvey buys it for a song and dismisses the old man’s warning that the vehicle is haunted and returns to the couple…

Where he immediately starts telling them that the car he had been trying to sell them is a piece of junk destined to fall apart the moment they drive it off the lot. In fact, he adds, all of the cars he has for sale are clunkers. They walk away bewildered, but they’re not nearly as confused as old Harvey. When an equally opportunistic customer comes in and discovers the situation, Harvey finds himself on the unusual receiving end of a raw deal.

But out of that screwing comes a plan for one of the most important sales of Harvey’s career… as well a final twist for this otherwise simple and straight forward episode.

The keyword in all of that is simple. The premise here, a car that forces its owner to tell the truth, is fairly basic, and Rod Serling’s script never moves the story beyond that initial setup. The car salesman could have just as easily been a politician or a lawyer as the public perception of all three job persuasions is the same. Think of this as the inspiration for Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar where he plays a lawyer who suddenly finds himself incapable of telling anything but the truth. Obviously a half hour TV show can’t be expected to reach the same depths as a feature film, even a Jim Carrey one, but the episode still feels strangely one note.

The only hint of depth here comes in the episode’s end twist. Unlike many of the series’ past and future third-act twists this one results in more of a light chortle than an actual “aha!” On its own the revelation as to the new owner’s identity is mildly humorous, but if history is taken into account it becomes something a bit weightier. The episode aired almost two years before the Cuban Missile Crisis, but watching it with that context makes for an interesting “what if? scenario. Those tense thirteen days would have been completely different if Nikita Khrushchev was magically obligated to speak only the truth.

Carson does fine work here and makes for a very believable, fast-talking, unscrupulous salesman. Still, the episode is Twilight Zone at its lightest. It’s far from a bad episode, it just isn’t a very memorable one. And that my friends, is the truth.

What do you think of the episode?

The Trivia: This is one of six episodes in the series that were shot on videotape instead of film in a misguided effort by CBS to save money. It looks pretty bad.

On the Next Episode: “When a woman investigates a clamor on the roof of her rural house, she discovers a small UFO and little aliens emerging from it. Or so it seems.”

Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR

We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.