Button, Button (The Twilight Zone)
|The Twilight Zone episode|
Scene from "Button, Button"
|Episode no.||Season 1|
|Directed by||Peter Medak|
|Written by||Richard Matheson (as Logan Swanson)|
|Original air date||March 7, 1986|
"Button, Button" is the second segment of the twentieth episode from the first season (1985–86) of the television series The Twilight Zone. The episode is based on the short story of the same name by Richard Matheson; the same short story forms the basis of the 2009 film The Box. In a documentary on the making of the movie The Box, Matheson states the inspiration of the story came from his wife, whose college professor had asked a similar question as a way of promoting a class discussion.
Arthur and Norma Lewis live in a low-rent tenement and are slowly descending into abject poverty. One day they receive a mysterious locked box with a button atop it and a note that says Mr. Steward will come visit. Then, just as the note said, a smartly dressed stranger who introduces himself as Mr. Steward comes to their door while Arthur is away. He gives Norma the key to the box and explains that if they press the button then two things will happen: they will receive $200,000 but in consequence someone "whom [they] don't know" will die.
After the stranger leaves, Arthur and Norma wonder whether Steward's proposal is genuine, and they debate on whether to press the button. Norma rationalizes that they could make good use of the money and that the one who dies might be an old Chinese peasant or a person with cancer. Arthur hypothesizes that pressing the button could cause the death of an innocent baby. They open the box and discover it to be empty, with no mechanism that the button could for whatever purpose activate.
Arthur angrily throws the box in the trash and tells Norma to forget the whole scheme. He remarks that Mr. Steward can find his $200,000 in the city dump; however, after Arthur goes to bed Norma retrieves the box from the tenement's dumpster. The next day, as Arthur leaves for work he sees Norma sitting at the kitchen table transfixed by the button. Finally, she decides to push the button much to her husband's disgust.
The next day, Mr. Steward returns and takes back the box, giving the shocked couple a briefcase with the $200,000. Norma asks what is to be done with the money, to which Steward remarks that they should spend it. Norma also asks what will happen to the box and Steward replies that the button will be "reprogrammed" and offered to someone else with the same terms and conditions. Just before leaving, Steward focuses on Norma and ominously states "I can assure you it will be offered to someone whom you don't know"...
In the original short story, the plot is resolved differently. Norma presses the button, and receives the money—after her husband dies in a train incident where he is pushed onto the tracks (the money was the no-fault insurance settlement, which is $50,000 instead of the $200,000 in the Twilight Zone episode). A despondent Norma asks the stranger why her husband was the one who was killed. The stranger replies, "Do you really think you knew your husband?"
Matheson strongly disapproved of the Twilight Zone version, especially the new ending, and used his pseudonym Logan Swanson for the teleplay.
The Box, a feature film based on this story, starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden was released in 2009. The Twilight Zone episode is played out within the first hour, followed by further events within the context of the film's additional plot. Basil Hoffman, the actor who plays Steward in the Twilight Zone episode, also appears in the film, but as character Don Poates.
A radio play version of the story is written by Henry Slesar who also produced the radio program. As the CBS Radio Mystery Theater Presents 15th episode entitled "The Chinaman Button" it was first broadcast Jan. 20, 1974. It was repeated at least twice on March 15, 1974, and again October 7, 1978.
In this version of the story, a man who is desperate for money is offered the chance to make a fortune. All he has to do is commit an anonymous murder where he will not even have to see the victim. Actors for this radio play were Mason Adams, Paul Hecht, Evie Juster, Ralph Bell, and Will Hare.
- Matheson, Richard (2005). Stanley Wiater (ed.). Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, Vol. 3. Gauntlet Press.