The episode takes place in an upper-class gentleman’s club where old money and just plain old Archie Taylor is angrily listening as younger brasher member Jamie Tennyson babbles on and on about some investment scheme or other while all the other members attempt to duck out on Tennyson before he can put the bite on them. Finally, Taylor has the club butler walk over to Tennyson and hand him a note from Taylor.
The note is a wager. Taylor is betting $500,000 that Tennyson can’t keep absolutely silent for one year. The details require that Tennyson inhabit a walled fish bowl area in the club’s basement that is wired for sound and always available for observation by the membership. When Tennyson asks him why he is making such an odd bet, Taylor says that Tennyson’s speech is so distasteful to him that he’ll do anything to give himself peace. In addition, Taylor tells Tennyson that he knows he won’t lose the bet because Tennyson is congenitally incapable of shutting up for that long.
Taylor knows that Tennyson is desperate for money. He has a spend-thrift wife who buys jewelry like it was going out of style. Because of this Taylor believes that Tennyson will accept the bet and also lose and therefore be forced to resign from the club in disgrace.
Tennyson agrees but demands that Taylor put the money in escrow pending the outcome. Taylor declines saying that his name and credit are all that’s needed to assure the wager. Tennyson reluctantly agrees and the year is set to begin the next night.
In the next scene it’s nine weeks later, Tennyson is residing in the clear plastic walled enclosure and Taylor is amazed that Tennyson has been able to control himself so long. But Taylor is merrily assuring his friends and associates that Tennyson won’t last much longer.
In the following scene it’s nine months into the year and Taylor seems to be getting worried. He tells Tennyson that he feels sorry for him and offers him a thousand dollars to call the bet off and release him from his prison. Tennyson refuses and writes on a pad “three months to go.”
Now Taylor starts using psychological warfare on Tennyson. He hints to Tennyson that people have begun to see Tennyson’s wife going about town with other men. He mentions over and over that Tennyson could lose his wife if he doesn’t leave right away and get her back. This tactic is shown several times in the following scenes. But although obviously tortured by the by the warnings he resists the temptation to quit.
Finally, it’s the last hour of the bet and Taylor’s friend and attorney George Alfred confronts Taylor with the knowledge that not only will Tennyson win the bet but Taylor will be exposed as a fraud and bankrupt.
The year is complete and Tennyson emerges from his isolation booth. He walks over to Taylor and extends his hand to him palm up waiting for his check. Taylor admits to the fact that he has no money, that Tennyson is the better man and that Taylor will resign from the club in disgrace. But instead of verbally abusing Taylor and crowing over his victory Tennyson says nothing.
The other members are astounded and ask Tennyson to speak and tell them his side of the story. But instead he takes a pad of paper and writes something and hands it to the members. What it says is that before the contest Tennyson realized that he could not stay silent for a year so before he entered the room, he had the nerves to his vocal cords surgically severed. Tennyson then removes the scarf that he has been wearing throughout the contest and we see the scars from the surgery.
I remember as a kid this one creeped me out. The horror of a man maiming himself to win money still bothers me viscerally. But I will admit the story is rather well done. Liam Sullivan who plays Tennyson is actually quite a sympathetic character. Taylor is played by Franchot Tone who was a pretty big star back in the day and is convincingly venal. And Jonathan Harris (of “Lost in Space” fame) is an able voice of conscience as George Alfred. I’m not speechless with amazement but let’s say B+.