"This, as the banner already has proclaimed, is Mr. Harvey Hunnicut, an expert on commerce and con jobs, a brash, bright, and larceny-loaded wheeler and dealer who, when the good Lord passed out a conscience, must have gone for a beer and missed out. And these are a couple of other characters in our story: a little old man and a Model A car - but not just any old man and not just any Model A. There's something very special about the both of them. As a matter of fact, in just a few moments, they'll give Harvey Hunnicut something that he's never experienced before. Through the good offices of a little magic, they will unload on Mr. Hunnicut the absolute necessity to tell the truth. Exactly where they come from is conjecture, but as to where they're heading for, this we know, because all of them - and you - are on the threshold of the Twilight Zone."
The dealership of glib used car salesman Harvey Hunnicut is visited by a mild-mannered elderly gentleman who offers to sell his vintage Model A car for a pittance. The old gent warns Hunnicut that the antique contraption is haunted and that the owner is compelled to tell the truth. Laughing off such superstitious nonsense, Hunnicut buys the jalopy, intending to quickly unload it. To his dismay, he realizes that the previous owner was indeed being truthful, as he himself must now be. Even when an employee of his, Irv asks about the raise he was promised and when Harvey confesses again to having lied and not giving Irv so much as a penny more, Irv punches Harvey out and quits.
After a series of vain attempts to sell his substandard merchandise, Hunnicut concludes that his livelihood depends on his ability to rid himself of this supernatural burden. Just as he's losing hope of ever doing so, he sees a newspaper story about the U.S. playing host to visiting Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Surmising that, like every totalitarian state, the Soviet Union owes its existence to a tissue of lies, the politically savvy Hunnicut calls the Soviet embassy and convinces its representatives to visit his dealership. By being absolutely half-truthful, he sells the car as a potential anti-American propaganda tool, exemplifying shoddy, outdated U.S. automobile workmanship. By the concluding scene, it seems that Hunnicut is about to change the course of history, since the passenger watching the sale from the embassy limousine now has his name on paper as the haunted vehicle's owner. It appears to be none other than Khrushchev himself. Hunnicut telephones Washington, asking if he could possibly get in touch with "Jack...Kennedy?".
"Couldn't happen, you say? Far-fetched? Way-out? Tilt-of-center? Possible. But the next time you buy an automobile, if it happens to look as if it had just gone through the Battle of the Marne, and the seller is ready to throw into the bargain one of his arms, be particularly careful in explaining to the boss about your grandmother's funeral, when you are actually at Chavez Ravine watching the Dodgers. It'll be a fact that you are the proud possessor of an instrument of truth - manufactured and distribued by an exclusive dealer - in The Twilight Zone."
Five weeks into The Twilight Zone's second season, the show's budget was showing a deficit. The total number of new episodes was projected at twenty-nine, more than half of which, sixteen, had, by November 1960, already been filmed. CBS suggested that in order to trim the production's $65,000 per episode budget, six episodes should be produced in the cheaper videotape format, eventually transferred to 16-millimeter film. The studios of the network's Television City, normally used for the production of live drama, would serve as the venue. There would be fewer camera movements and no exteriors, making the episodes seem more akin to soap operas (and Playhouse 90), with the videotaped image effectively narrowing and flattening perspective. Even with those artistic sacrifices, the eventual savings amounted to only $30,000, far less than the cost of a single episode. The experiment was thus deemed a failure and never attempted again.
Even though the six shows were taped in a row, through November and into mid-December, their broadcast dates were out of order and varied widely, with this, the third one, shown on January 20, 1961 as episode 14. The first, "The Lateness of the Hour" was seen on December 2, 1960 as episode 8; the second, "Static" appeared on March 10, 1961 as episode 20; the fourth was the Christmas entry "Night of the Meek" shown as the 11th episode on December 23, 1960; the fifth, "Twenty Two" was seen on February 10, 1961 as episode 17; and the last one, "Long Distance Call" was transmitted on March 3, 1961 as episode 22.
This episode shows an artifact of the image orthicon tube used in television cameras of the era. When the shiny fenders of the cars catch the light, the glint produces an unwanted dark halo around the glint. Such artifacts can also be seen in "The Night of the Meek".
John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States at the Inaugural ceremonies held in Washington the afternoon of the very day this episode originally aired. Therefore, Jack Carson's final line was not only a very topical one, it was one of the rare times a current president was actually mentioned during a Twilight Zone episode.
The concept of a person being unable to lie was later used in the film "Liar, Liar".