What would you do on a dare?
What would you do to win a bet?
How desperate would you have to be to risk losing something as vital as the ability to speak?
Perhaps you would refuse any such offer, but for Jamie Tennyson in “The Silence,” (season 2) the reward was too good to pass up. He chose to accept the $500,000 prize in return for not speaking at all for exactly one year.
As the episode opens, we see a boorish loud-mouthed braggart, Jamie Tennyson, in a sophisticated men’s club doing what comes naturally–talking. On the other side of the room is Colonel Archie Taylor, a gruff aristocrat who is being driven to distraction by Tennyson incessant ranting. He is determined to put a stop to it through the ingenious method of betting Tennyson that he can’t stop talking for one year. The terms are that Tennyson must live in a glass room in the club’s basement equipped with microphones as the ever-present witness to witness any spoken words.
Tennyson accepts the offer, due to the dire financial constraints he is living under, and the need to keep his beautiful wife in the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. Colonel Taylor doesn’t expect the “charade,” as he calls it, to last more than a few weeks, but as the months roll by and Tennyson shows no sign of cracking, or speaking, Taylor develops a devious streak. He tempts Tennyson with an immediate payment of $1,000 if he gives up right then and there. Then he makes innuendos about his wife cheating on him. Tennyson is steadfast in his determination to fulfill his part of the bargain.
Exactly one year to the minute after the bet was made, Tennyson exits his glass prison and extends his hand to Color Taylor, demanding payment. Disgraced, Taylor is forced to admit that he has no money and cannot pay. He will resign from the club, of course. That will make little difference to Tennyson, though. Although pressed to speak by the other club members, Tennyson will never speak again. He quickly scribbles a note and Colonel Taylor haltingly reads it aloud. Tennyson knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his side of the bargain, so he had his vocal cords severed. With tears welling up in his eyes, he unties the scarf around his neck to reveal the scars from the operation.
Franchot Tone portrays Colonel Archie Taylor. He is most remembered for his role in the 1935 classic “Mutiny on the Bounty” for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and for being the second of Joan Crawford’s four husbands. Douglas Fairbanks was probably a hard act to follow!
Liam Sullivan was the unfortunate Tennyson. Sullivan also appeared in season five’s “The Changing of the Guard.”
Jonathan Harris portrays Colonel Taylor’s lawyer whose warnings against making the wager go unheeded. Harris is well known for his role in “Lost in Space” as Doctor Zachary Smith. I really enjoy seeing Harris on those rare occasions outside of “Lost in Space” when he isn’t playing that buffoon.
The butler is played by the same actor who played the butler in “A Piano in the House,” Cyril Delevanti. What a great character actor!
The setting of the private upscale men’s club is similar to the one in “Back There.”
This episode is notable because it is one of only two Twilight Zone episodes that did not have a supernatural or science fiction element. The other was season five’s “The Jeopardy Room.”
A recurring debate is whether the genesis of this episode is found in Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet.” It’s definitely worth reading and the connection is there, but I prefer the Twilight Zone version.
In this fascinating discussion from “Writing for Television,” Serling discusses “The Silence.” He begins by saying that even the best read people can’t know everything that has been written. He gives the example of “The Silence” and that he didn’t realize there was a short story by Chekhov that had a similar plot.
Is this plagiarism? No, of course not. As human beings, we are all going to have similar experiences and feelings. If others can’t relate to our stories, why would they want to hear them? We have all encountered a loud mouth that we wish would just shut up. We can all relate.
As much as I enjoy this episode and the great twist at the end, it really bothers me that Tennyson doesn’t demand that the money for the wager be put in some type of account or escrow fund. He does ask that a certified check be placed on deposit with a photostat witnessed by all the club members, but Colonel Taylor rebuffs that request, saying his credit is beyond repute and there will be no such check. “You’ll have to take my word,” he declares. This was enough for Tennyson to have his vocal cords cut so that he would never be able to speak again? Tragically, it was.
Why didn’t Colonel Taylor’s lawyer, Alfred (Jonathan Harris), know the state of his financial affairs? Later on, Alfred would say to Taylor that he hoped he had the money to cover the bet. Obviously he didn’t know how bad off Taylor was financially.
Yet Colonel Taylor knew how desperate Tennyson was, stating that he knew he had run through his inheritance and would do just about anything for money. Taylor had the funds to prepare the glass room for Tennyson’s one-year stay, but said he would have had trouble coming up with even the $1,000 he tempted him with to stop the bet early. Hmmm.
In Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel gives up her beautiful voice in order to become human and win the man she loves. Jamie Tennyson has given up his voice for nothing. We can speculate on what would happen after the closing credits. Would the other club members come to his rescue, take up a collection, give him a good job or something equally philanthropic? We can only hope so.