by Cary O'Dell
But Tyrantland still has one trick up its sleeve. "Wait!," cries out the leader, as he walks over to the grandfather clock in the hallway, "Who says it's 8 o'clock?" He reaches up to the minute hand of the clock and turns time backward. The grandfather clock has become the mythical symbol and tool of Tyrantland, the mechanism of oppression, like the clock/machine that enslaves the masses in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis." "This clock," states the Leader, "says it's only 7."
Angry, Betty offers up her usual refrain, "You can't do that! You can't turn the clock back! It's against the law."
There's a stunning, carefully framed long shot of the imposing, Darth Vader-like, menacing figure of Jim Anderson/Chief Tyrant as he slowly approaches his kids/prisoners in the living room. He says matter-of-factly, "In Tyrantland, I make the laws." While the kids continue to protest, Mr. Anderson cuts them off, "You keep using words like 'fair,' 'honest,' 'justice,' don't you realize we have no such words in Tyrantland? Any [manner] by which we obtain our goals is perfectly justified."
Betty then has a late-coming epiphany. She speaks quietly, "I give up." Amidst the protests of her brother and sister, Betty states, "I wouldn't live under such a system for another five minutes if I didn't have to and thank goodness I don't have to."
Margaret exclaims, "Good for you Betty!"
Tyrantland has been toppled. Peace and democracy has been restored.
A wide smile forms on Mr. Anderson's face as his Tyrant days come to a close, a lesson has been learned. Margaret moves over next to her husband and Betty laments losing the $18 so she can't buy a bond after all.
But dad, being dad, says he'll give all the kids their money and "as free Americans, you can spend it anyway you want to"; he won't "force" anyone to buy a bond but, he says, he will be taking the job with the Springfield savings bond campaign.
Betty says "count me in" and offers to help her dad, saying, "I've never realized what a wonderful thing we have here in America." Bud and Kitten readily agree. (Bud: "This was the worst 24 hours I ever spent!")
Dad says, "Well if you think you suffered going through this, we suffered twice as much making you do it."
"Oh, you can say that again!" cries Margaret and then tells Betty to go get her things; Mom's worked out a way for Betty to still make the hayride. Bud can drive her to the pick-up spot . . . on his way to the movies! "Oh, Angel, you too,"Margaret says cupping Kitten's face in her hands, "Patty wants you to come over for a slumber party tonight. Hot dogs and everything." (Hot dogs of course being, next to Coca-Cola, the most culturally American food there is.)
"Really? Oh, boy!" Kitten screams before adding, "You know what? I sure love America!"
"So do we," Margaret says to the camera, "And we love our family too."
In the program's denouement, with the kids now off enjoying their innocent, all-American fun, actors Young and Wyatt slip out of their characters and break the fourth wall of television.
Young/Anderson says, "We went through this ordeal in hopes it will dispel some of that...apathy that constantly threatens our security. Yes, savings bonds are good investments but they are also shares in our country, helping keep America strong and stiffening our peace power."
Jane Wyatt/Margaret Anderson joins in, "Our way of life is not only precious but worthy of our best efforts and if that isn't true, then my name isn't Jane Wyatt and his isn't Robert Young."
Young picks up the pitch now, while Wyatt stands at his side holding up a poster that says "Buy Bonds" and then one that says, "PEACE COSTS MONEY."
Young playfully compliments Wyatt on her skill with the posters and she praises "all those wonderful and intelligent Americans" who are already doing their part.
Young continues the praise of his leading lady, "You seldom find so many brains with so much beauty."
Wyatt gives him a look and says, "Never mind the flattery, just buy those bonds!"
Fade out. Roll the credits. God bless America.
Though "Father Knows Best" was one of TV's most enduring sitcoms (over 10 years on the air) there are few laughs to be had in "Twenty-Four Hours in Tyrantland." Except for a few moments of forced slapstick, the moral of the tale takes precedence over any type of schtick.
Which is not to say that this isn't a well-crafted production. The directing is sharp and the entire cast didn't let the inherent, limited audience for this film affect their performances. Everyone is uniformly good, especially Robert Young, who, in a blink of an eye, goes from menacing to fatherly, and Elinor Donahue, whose character's excitement, confusion, and eventual understanding of the lessons of Tyrantland flit superbly across her face.
Ultimately, how influential "Twenty-Four Hours in Tyrantland" was as a sales tool--or even how often it was actually shown -- isn't known. Still, we cannot underestimate the potential power this piece of patriotism could have on a captive and youthful audience -- after all, if one of the First Families of TV are willing to go to such lengths to sell US savings bonds, shouldn't you buy one or two?
Of course the sales pitch of "Twenty-Four Hours in Tyrantland" and the overall logic of the episode is extreme and faulty: that, somehow, if the three Anderson kids refuse to buy an $18 savings bond, America will, quid pro quo, morph into a complete dictatorship is reactionary and melodramatic to say the least.
Still, that the US government, the officials of Screen Gems/Columbia Pictures and the cast and crew of "Father Knows Best," were willing to contribute their services to such an endeavor underscores the very real issues rampant in the American consciousness at the time. And it further proves just how powerful television, even as early as 1959, was considered as a shaper of public opinion and action.
Cary O'Dell, formerly of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, Illinois, is currently with the Discovery Channel in Bethesda, Maryland and writes frequently on television.
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