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CBSRMT Episode Information
Title:
The Chinaman Button
Plot:
A perfectly anonymous murder offers the opportunity to earn a fortune for a man in dire financial straits.
Episode:
0015
Air Dates:
First Run - January 20, 1974
Repeat - March 15, 1974
Repeat - October 7, 1978
Writer:
Listen:
Rating:
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43 Responses to Episode 0015


Much better than I thought, since I tend not to go for morality plays. Probably should have seen the karmic ending coming, but I did not. Felt bad for the hero. "The Chinaman Button" is an old thought experiment, but I always felt that the "The American Button" would work just as well.

The first was an offshoot of a Richard Matheson story in which a couple is presented with the opportunity to collect a lot of money. All they have to do is push a button, which will result in someone they don't know being killed. Only here, there is no real button and no one is supposed to be killed. It's all a ruse by a dirty businessman trying to break the reputation of an honest client who caught him in one of his schemes.

What will greed do to a human being, and to what lengths can it pervert one's morals? There's a fabulous twist to the end of this story that makes it worthwhile. The main conspirators in this fable are textbook representatives of the old boys' club--complete with three-martini lunches, white collar crime and corporate kickbacks. Their target is a too-good-to-be-true "boy scout" who has outed them--and he is too good to be true, as exemplified by the tale's conclusion, in which the machinations of the main conspirator completely backfires on him. Great episode.

Best one yet!!!

Great story with a very compelling twist at the end. A man's morals are called into question when he is faced with a tempting offer. Will he push the button? Just one way to find out...

This program reminds us that greed was alive and well not only in the 90's but also in the 70's. The players in this drama are willing to do almost anything for money. The Chinaman button, as defined in this play, represents a most serious ethical issue. Would you press the Chinaman button? For a million dollars?

A great premise is taken to the extreme, and all the more interesting with a sympathetic character turned into Frankenstein.

What if someone offered you a million dollars to push a button, the result of which would be that a person somewhere in the world that you will never know will die. Would you do it? That old moral question is the basis for this fine episode which also stars CBSRMT regular Mason Adams. (This same premise was used much less effectively for an episode of the New Twilight Zone years ago.) Genre: Suspense

A man desperate for money is offered the chance to make a fortune. All he has to do is commit an anonymous murder where he won't even have to see the victim.

Moderately decent. I read the Slesar story in an anthology at some point... Episode seems to have spun it out a bit.

A man desperate for money is offered the chance to make a fortune. All he has to do is commit an anonymous murder where he won't even have to see the victim. One of the all time best. Superb morality tale that challenges your own beliefs. Story is strong and characters are well developed.

The Chinaman Button is the hypothesis that every person has a price for which they would commit murder, a price for which they would press a button to kill an unknown random Chinaman on the other side of the world. A moderately corrupt businessman loses a contract after an honest client blows the whistle on his overbilling and kickback arrangements. He seeks revenge for the lost contract by attempting to corrupt the honsest man, trying to find out what it will take get him to press the Chinaman Button. Excellent character development, strong plot, wonderful ending! An excellent episode!

Anyone know the name of the movie that has a similar theme as the Chinaman Button

That was one of my favorites! It is "The Box" starring Cameron Diaz and Frank Langella. I remember when the movie came out and I recognized it right away just from the ad. I also loved 'A Choice of Witnesses'. Great irony and twist. I plan to watch 'The Box' tonight!

"Button, Button" (Playboy, 1970) is a short story by Richard Matheson. It's been on the Twilight Zone and several radio shows. The CBSRMT version is one of the better efforts. The movie version, "The Box," stinks. If you read the short, you'll see that trying to get a movie out of that story needs more padding than a 97-pound weakling doing Santa Claus. Matheson said he got original idea for the story from passage 1.6.2 of 'Genius of Christianity' (1802) by François-René de Chateaubriand, in which the authors asks the reader what he would do if he could get rich by killing a mandarin in China solely by force of will. This likely explains the CBSRMT episode title.

The ending didn't make sense, unless the "boy scout" is a complete fool. As far as he knew, the man with the Chinaman Button belonged to an organization of criminal assassins. Not the sort of group you want to screw out of their 50%. What did this "boy scout" think would happen when the actual killers didn't get their share of the money? They'd track him down. It'd be easy to do.

you of course ask the exact question that the writer of this episode is hoping every listener is considering as they listen. I think what makes this episode so fascinating is that it confronts us with "what what I do in this situation?" It's hard to know what we might do, if we are desparate enough. I think it would be very easy for someone to rationalize that killing an anonymous person really is not that big of an ethical breach -- after all, we do it in war all the time (collateral damage, we call it) in order to gain our safety and sense of security. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that we do the same thing with the animals we eat -- it's easy to devour a hamburger as long as we don't have to see the cow being slaughtered. Would I push the button? I don't think so...I hope I wouldn't. But....

For me, one of the most interesting parts was the issue of Van Hass' morality and the impact of his family. The story leads us on that Van Haas is so moral that he won't fall for the offer, and seems to be leading that way, until the announcement of the pregnancy. Is this just last-minute justification on his part, or would he have caved if he had no new baby on the way? I wonder...

It's been a very long time since I listened to this program but it was one of the best shows I can recall. To this day I think of the moral issue and it struck me so much when I first heard the story that I took the issue to work. I posed the circumstance to three co-workers and the results surpised me. Two of my co-workers said they could push the button while one woman and I were quite sure we couldn't. Anyway, I haven't listened to the program again but it's been one of the most powerful dramas I've heard from the CBSRMT.

Phil (aka Mr. Thompson) is in every office in every corporation in America. He is the Harold in "I Hate Harold" to a degree. He believes he is a deservant recipient of the American Dream. He is a purveyor and personification of the Deadly Sins. He is reprehensible. Yet, he exists and he thrives. What's worse is that our culture accepts him. Allows him. Applauds him. This episode is deeply disturbing. Not so much by the extreme actions Phil puts forth to deceive Walter Van Hoss, but by exposing the natures of people who believe that "the mention of a million bucks is an incantation of the American Dream." This has been portrayed time and time again in literature and film. Even the reality show Survivor is based on this philosophy. Coincidentally, last night's Survivor All-Stars Finale put two young players who brutally severed true friendships and used deceipt and betrayal to achieve exactly this - a million bucks and the American Dream. Throughout the episode we are subjected to Phil's rhetoric regarding human desire and need for greed, which he uses to justify his own actions and behavior. My favorite line is toward the end of the show, when he addresses the hotel waiter regarding his "rubbery" eggs. "If these eggs aren't better [than yesterday] you tell the cook he'll be hearing from me!" Classic. Mason's character, Walter Von Hoss, is inevitably the villain, tho. A man, adhered to do doing the right thing. A man who is capable of exposing his peers at the risk of his own dismissal. A man who is incapable of becoming involved in a lecherous bargain - until he is tempted by fate. Or at least "the million bucks." The irony of the tale occurs, in my opinion, when the two men are anxiously watching the hands of the clock ticking closer to the deadline. Van Hoss snowballs into fury at the sound of the cheap clock ticking, which taunts him as being financially impotent. Meanwhile, Phil is on the verge of frenzy trying to possess the thoughts of his victim, and how Van Hoss could resist his offer. The moment the phone rings, time stands still. We, the audience, anticipated the call, but likely hoped in our hearts for Van Hoss to stand firm. But when temptation and hunger are too great, it is hard not to reach for the cookie jar. The ending was sublime and painful. It was even laughable to a point. Both men being caught in the sticky web of their own demise. I was disappointed when the show ended. I wanted more. I wanted to hear how Van Hoss began to grow paranoid and obsessive waiting for the letter to come. I wanted to hear how he stopped going to work, stopped shaving, believing his fortune was on its way, and how he would sit glaring out the window each day waiting for the mail to arrive, only to be cast back to the shadow of his own guilt and remorse. This episode is a prime example of the best the RMT has to offer. The depth of the writing, the flawless performances, and the ability to immerse the listener into a scenario where we ask, "what would I do?" I gave the episode a high 5... for me, this is what the RMT is all about. Thank you for another fine selection and very best wishes!!

I just listened to this one about two weeks ago and I feel that it is a near perfect episode. Good moral delimma, great tension, good performances, and an unexpected ending.

I've got an additional, fun question on this show. In it (from 1974) to pull off his scam Paul Hecht's character used a combination of a typewriter, rub off lettering, a guy from his art department, and a "service which posts letters from overseas". How do you think he would have tried to pull that off with the technology we have today, were this show to have been written around and recorded March 14, 2005, about 31 years later? Great writing on this one, IMO.

I'd heard this one before, but listened again to refresh my memory. First-rate all the way, no doubt about it. A terrific CBSRMT. Like many of Slesar's episodes, this is an unacknowledged adaptation of one of his short stories (in this case also called "The Chinaman Button"). Since CBSRMT had a policy against buying stories for adaptation (any adaptations done were of classics which were out of copyright), prose writers like Slesar and Alfred Bester frequently just adapted theirs anyway, without mentioning their original story (or charging Himan Brown for it--more to the point). Interestingly, another show Slesar worked for, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, had exactly the opposite policy--virtually *all* their episodes were adaptations of purchased stories. The producers felt that by buying something already extant, they could stave off disaster--in other words, as long as a decent plot and characters were in hand, an episode couldn't go too wrong. (Certainly some CBSRMTs went pretty far wrong, so maybe it wasn't such a bad idea.) Anyway, great choice. One of the all-time classics.

This is one of my all-time favorite episodes. It presents a really fascinating ethical conundrum. The Twilight Zone 80's revival did a version of this exact idea, but in their episode this couple receives an actual box with a button on it. They are told they will recieve tons of money if they will just push the button and cause the death of some person completely unknown to them. This story has very interesting characters, builds the tension well, and suggests by its finale that it is often the most pious among us who are capable of committing the greatest sins. I guess we call that irony. : ) On a side note: I belong to a circle journal project where my friends and I trade around each others journals, writing in each one that comes to us and then passing them on to the next person in the circle. This past month I wrote about my love of old time radio and CBSRMT in particular. I included a cd copy of this episode in the journal for everyone else to listen to as I thought it was representative of the best of the Mystery Theater shows.

I have listened to this show several times so I listened to it again with the above comments in mind. I agree that it is a moral dilemna. Unfortunately, many people would probably push the button for a lot less than a million dollars. What has struck me every time I have listened, is that there can be no Honor Among Thieves. The first time around, the ending caught me completely off guard. I also agree that the writing is top-notch. It seems many of the shows that have the great writing, have believable dialogue in "long takes", very dramatic, and in this show that is especially the case. The bedroom discussion of the "alternative" to Mrs. Van Haas' pregnancy is notable. From the "time capsule" standpoint, I got a kick out of the use of the word "chick", and the notion that a digital clock would be new and expensive. It would be interesting to extrapolate, how Van Haas might have reacted when it slowly dawned on him that no check was in the mail, that he had murdered for nothing. Maybe he might have cracked up from guilt, or maybe he would have tried the ploy on someone else (there were mouths to feed...). I think this is a four-star show and am always glad to listen to it again.

THE CHINAMAN BUTTON- A great premise is taken to the extreme, and all the more interesting with a sympathetic character turned into Frankenstein. .......I do like stories of this sort. A scenario is set that has moral implications sufficient and real enough to have we, the listeners' ask "What would I do?"...I love the CBSRMT for having the temerity to resolve the dilema that is both ugly and more likely than the candy coated "nice endings" so many other forms of entertainment conclude with. This is not to say that all would go the way of Walter Van Hass. Certainly not all WW2 Germans were 'Goose stepping Goons'....but an awful lot were and many more turned a blind eye. Yes, it is absolutely plausable the Walter gives in to the corruption. The CBSRMT recognizes this, and thus acts as a veracious witness to life. This makes the drama........drama. It touches on reality and becomes compeling. Will Walter make the phone call, we ask? We want him not to and simultaneously know he will! The stinger here in our drama is not only does he make the call but then applies his new found liberation from a sense of right and wrong on his creator. I suppose it is a logical ending, but more than that it is a brilliant surprise. If this story conveys anything it is that tremendous moral strength is requisite to the survival of humanity.

This one was really, really entertaining. I usually prefer episodes that have some element of the fantastic; ghosts, monsters, aliens, magic, etc. This had none of those, but did have a fascinating moral dilemma at its heart. I for once didn't see the twist coming. Great choice! I give it a 5.

I too enjoyed the episode as all of you did. But I found myself wondering why Van Hoss and his wife were having financial difficulties when he seemed to be doing quite well at the advertising firm. I did not see the end coming either.....that was prety good.

This episode was superb! I listened to the episode yesterday at lunch, so I have had a full day (and then some) to think about it and, frankly, if the price was right, I can't say I wouldn't push the button. The ultimate moral dilemma. Could I, would I, should I. It's all hypothetical until someone presents the opportunity. Every action, no matter how crazy it may sound to a sane individual, can be justified by the one taking that action. Usually when I hear a great radio drama, I think "man, this would make a great movie or a great book". I didn't think that with this episode, I thought this episode was perfect for the medium it was written for. I can't really explain it, but I think that as a radio drama, it created the right effect and stimulated the brain in the right way. If this were a book or a movie, it would take too long to resolve and the audience would get bored and lose interest quickly. I kept asking myself, "so, am I Von Hoss or am I Thompson?". I think that was what held me and made me relate to each of the characters. If you look close enough and are open to self scrutiny, you begin to see you are a little of both. Maybe more than you feel comfortable with. :? I must say that when Von Hoss showed up at Thompson's hotel room, I knew what he was there for. It was the only ay the story could have ended, in my opinion. Greed makes the work go around. I have always said, with all seriousness no matter how many times people think I'm trying to be funny, that anyone who says that money can't buy happiness doesn't know where to shop!

I am so glad to see this episode as Show of the Week. It is my favorite episode so far (I'm on CD number eight). I have noticed that my favorites are not necessarily supernatural, but situations that are physically possible (though quite unlikely) and very thought provoking. This one gets a 5++ on my scale. It was an interesting idea, suspenseful, good characters, and had that juicy twist at the end that I so crave. He was going to prove his million dollar theory if it killed him! A million dollars was worth a lot more back then. Everyone has wondered what they might do for 1 million dollars. I also wonder how many people would push the Hitler button (or some contemporary 'evildoer') for free or even for a fee?

This is one of my all-time favorite episodes, with strong performances (especially by Mason Adams) and a great plot. It was interesting to see the way they took the old Chinaman button concept and applied it to a real-world setting. The new version of the "The Twilight Zone" that came out in the 80's had an episode where a couple recieved a box with an actual button and were offered a million dollars if they would push it (resulting in the death of someone they would never know or meet). I'm glad CBSRMT choose to take a more metaphorical route. The ending of this episode is particularly satisfying. On reflection, we should have see it coming. Van Hoss was so pious, so seemingly beyond reproach...yet willing to stab others in the back to maintain those high standards. He was a moral accident waiting to happen.

I'm listening to ALL episodes. Starting at number 1. So, undfortunately I don't participate in the show of the week much..... BUT... I listened to this one several weeks ago, and I'm not up to 100 episiodes. This one by FAR surpasses anything I've heard yet. It was compelling drama. It was thought-provoking. I couldn't turn it off. THIS is what radio drama is all about.

I played the audio CD of this on a long drive with my grad advisor and another grad student. Both had not heard CRMT ever and were not sure why I was downloading so many episodes. They even made a few comments at first in a not so nice manner. Then, as the show progressed, they started asking "What is going to happen now?" at the breaks. Then, for the rest of the week, my boss kept saying "What we need now is a Chinaman button!" when we talked about politicians he didn't like. This show even led to a discussion about being a vegetarian or meat eater. Aren't we really all pushing a "Chicken button" or a "Cow button" when we buy a hamburger at a restaurant? I am not saying I am a vegetarian, just that this is one way to interpret it. Anyway, could someone tell me what Thompson thought he was going to get out of Van Hoss? Was it going to be enough for Thompson to just pull a trick on Van Hoss or not? That is the only part that had me scratching my head. Otherwise, GREAT episode! Thanks!

This is one of my all-time favorites and whoever gave it a "1" rating probably owns a diamond mine in South Africa, or is Chinese or Dutch or a Boy Scout or named Walter or has five kids. I know y'all have already dissected this one but I believe in following instructions, so I haven't read anyone else's comments yet. I love the absolutes, the black and white, good versus evil moral dilemma thrown at us here. As we roll along, knowing that this is a set-up, don't we find ourselves asking what we would decide if confronted with this proposition? With five kids and the oft-mentioned dental bills? A new one in the oven and a wife so frazzled that it's a wonder she had time to get pregnant (or the inclination to procreate with Mason Adams at his wimpiest?) The absolutes... what is that old saying, something like "corruption corrupts absolutely," something to that effect? I was not surprised that Walter caved in and took the proposition, but the ending... incredible. On repeated listenings I cannot help but laugh when Walter says something like , "I thought I should have brought a hammer or something, but... a poker!" God, Johnny Too Good suddenly a connoisseur of blunt instrument technology! Whaddya wanna bet he rips the maibox out of the ground and pounds stars into the mailman when the check never comes! Brilliant. I loved this show.

I completely agree, you really did nail it with that thought provoking post of yours.

After Walter makes the decision to "push the Chinaman button", he confronts Mr. Thompson (Phil) at his hotel room. Upon the encounter, Walter suddenly allows his evil greedy side to come out when he whacks Phil with the poker, killing him instantly. Three seconds later, Walter has Phil's body in the shower with water running and he exclaims, "What a shame that you slipped in the tub Mr. Thompson, what a terrible shame! Now I have to go home...to wait for the mailman." Can we just assume that Mr. Thompson (Phil) had greeted Walter already dressed in his birthday suit? Or is it considered common for someone from that neck of the woods to accidently slip in the bathtub fully clothed? I know it may seem petty but the ending never suggested that Walter took the time to undress him after he tossed the body in the tub. No, it seemed just quite the opposite, based on Walter's last words in the final sentence*. I loved the irony in how Walter told Phil how before he had always felt so stupid all of his life, a coward, a weakling. And now, thanks to Mr. Thompson, he now felt like a giant. He never felt better even though he was an accessory to murder. He told Mr. Thompson that he never thought murder could be so easy. What a wonderful way for Walter to turn the table on good ol' Phil... :twisted: Editor's note: Had to edit this once I listened to the ending again. Somehow I missed the part of Mr. Thompson[/i:fb9d3dd557] telling Walter when he greeted him at the door, "As you can see, I'm just about to take a shower". Can't believe I missed that part during the first preview. Can I change my vote to a 5 out of 5?

Wow..Greedy s.o.b.

i think part of the reason i am so fond of this particular series is in part because there was/is always the anticipation, for me, to find a new, "perfect" episode... especially in knowing that many of the shows were not perfect. i only imagine what they would have produced had their budget been larger, their rehearsal/writing/production time doubled, etc. the CBS RMT is very human. when you compare it to say, the Zero Hour series, Rod Serling always gave me a bit of the creeps. Hitchcock gave me the heebies, as well. i love those programs as well, but the humanity in the RMT shows went far beyond commercially viable programming... they took chances, pushed limits, yet always maintained a classy presentation. EG Marshall's introductions were always the welcome mat into each program. even Tammy Grimes didn't bring the same warmth that Marshall conveyed. anyhow, this is also one of my favorite episodes but it would make an excellent encore show... apparently has been well received and i am happy we got to hear this classic episode again. ..... now, to bring this topic to a new level. would YOU press the Chinaman Button?

Good morality play, although I think the person who went over went WAY over when he "pressed" the button. I also think that a poker to the head would look a little different from falling in the shower, but maybe Quincy M.D. isn't on the case. Ironically, as part of the CAPTCHA below the one word that is recognizable this time is ethics...

It was a good episode but...The fake organization Phil created was suppose to be global and they were suppose to know all about Walter Van Hass' family. Van Hass never stopped to think about the other agents that would come after him when the check arrived in the mail. Phil should have warned him about the above consequences. It could have saved his life.

Could some one please explain this episode to me? I don't understand why they went after thus guy, and exactly how they had the resources to set him up to push this button and then get a million dollars out of it? Could some one please explain this blow by blow? Im really dying to grasp this episode

Mason Adams did a ton of CBSRMT's. His voice is just all over these things (so distinctive). But this one is definitely his best, and, yes, I've listened to all of 'em.

This is a strong episode, based on a good Richard Matheson story. He has always been a favorite "TZ" writer. The show has some weaknesses, like the surprise but actually tremendously risky ending. at least on the part of Walter Van Hass. Mason Adams, Paul Hecht, Ralph Bell, and Evie Juster were always talented, dependable. and capable veterans of the series, but "Will Hare" above looks exactly like Denis O'Hare, who has really been around in theater, TV, film, you name it. I wonder if he used the name Will Hare and then changed it? Anyway, I prefer the story, which was plundered and destroyed a few years back as a film called, "The Box", I think. It was just awful. A thought-provoking concept can always be adapted and changed. If it's a good idea, it will hold up.

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