by Cary O'Dell
"Tyrantland" begins with a dry prelude by actor Robert Young, out of character it seems and dressed dapperly in sharply-cut suit and a slender black tie tightly knotted at the neck. Young is standing in the foyer of the Anderson house, an imposing grandfather clock, set to exactly 8, is directly to his side. It gives him "great pleasure" he says to introduce "Mr." George Meeney, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
We cut to a shot of Mr. Meeney, middle-aged and horned-rimmed, looking quite presidential behind his large, clean wooden desk. Behind him two flags (one belonging to the USA, the other to the AFL-CIO) stand like bookends. Reading awkwardly from a prepared speech on his desk, Meeney speaks of his and his organization's "active, consistent support" of the American Savings Bond program because of its "vital" importance to the nation's "defense efforts." He briefly goes on to mention his organization's pride in being part of the production of this film whose purpose he says is to remind all Americans of their "everyday freedoms."
As with any television program of the time, "Tyrantland" starts with some opening credits. A quintessential '50s male voice-over quickly introduces each of the cast members (from Robert Young to Lauren Chapin) as they come on screen; the kids's names are rattled off as each bounces happily through the swinging kitchen door. But the mood, even in the opening, doesn't stay insouciant for long, as the voice-over dramatically introduces that night's "episode," "Twenty-Four Hours in Tyrantland." As if the title alone wasn't enough to underscore the serious tone of this piece, a heavy drum roll has been added by the music department to set a ominous mood.
As we begin, it seems to be Friday night at the Anderson household. Dad (Robert Young), looking every bit like the man in the gray flannel suit, saunters into the house, hat stiffly on his head, tie still tight around his neck, slender leather briefcase in one hand. He calls up the stairs, "Hurry up! Come running! I have a big deal to discuss with you!" Quickly the Anderson children hustle in--Kathy ("Kitten") comes barging down the steps, Bud leaps over the sofa with youthful exuberance, and Betty ("Princess") strolls in behind him.
It seems Dad/Jim Anderson ("your old beaten-up father," he calls himself) needs some help to make a "big decision." The family, now joined by mom Margaret (all the women, by the way, are attired in formal-looking dresses), anxiously discuss what the decision could be -- a pool? a trip to the Bahamas?
As he speaks, Dad, like a more formal Mr. Rogers, goes and changes his jacket from a dark gray one to what appears to a more sporty light brown coat complete with patches on the sleeves. Still, he hasn't bothered to kick off his shoes or loosen his tie.
Mr. Anderson explains to his brood that he has a new job...which pays him nothing. Bud asks, "Isn't that a little low, dad?"
Now begins the sales pitch. To his confused family, Mr. Anderson talks about being paid in the "satisfaction" that he's doing something to promote "peace" in his country.
The kids are confused. Bud, again, "Yeah, what's the jazz dad?"
Dad explains the "jazz": he's been asked to be the "head cheese" of the Springfield savings bond campaign. He quickly rattles off what the job would entail, promoting the peace-time selling of savings bonds to all businessmen, teachers, schools, unions, churches, and clubs. He says, "We have to convince every family in town, even the kids themselves, what we Andersons already know about bonds."
The Andersons, like the united, all-American family that they are, get immediately caught up in dad's new cause as he passes out literature to each of them and they all promise their help. Mother Margaret Anderson (Jane Wyatt, whose trademark, melodious, well-bred voice is in clear evidence here) is the first to step up to the plate. "What do we do first?" she asks.
Jim asks her to set up committees which will work through the PTA and "various women's groups." She's all for it, but soon the kids begin to wonder about what they've committed themselves to.
Betty, the oldest, is the first dissenter. Pleading a heavy load at school, she questions if she has the time to take on something else. Bud follows her lead, "Dad, I know this is a good bit [...] but the guys I know need what money they have for other things. They can't spend it on US savings bonds."
"Spend?!" Mr. Anderson shouts back, "Where do you get the idea that you 'spend' money on these bonds?" In a far from subtle product demo, Jim begins to sing the praises of savings bonds, holding up patriotic posters he's pulled from his briefcase and talking about how bonds are really "sharing for America" and planning ahead for old age.
Now it's Kathy, age 13, who speaks up, "I don't think the kids in my bunch are that interested in retirement," she says.
Dad concedes that point but is still...disappointed in his brood. He admonishes his kids for not wanting to help him and, more importantly, to help their country. He retrieves the literature from each of them while lamenting that "[Springfield] will have to find someone else for the job."
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