Okay, so last year my Batman Returns Review was rather lengthy. So this year I am going to try my best to keep it short and sweet. Try being the operative word. I decided to review 2 Twilight Zone Christmas episodes. I was introduced to The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock presents at an early age, probably 4 or 5 years old. And both series have always held a special place in my heart. They are feel good shows even though some TZ episodes tend to be on a more depressing note. But they are real story telling, showing people’s real struggles and demises while teaching a life lesson by the end of the episode.
The Twilight Zone – ‘The Night of The Meek’
The first of the 2 Christmas episodes I am reviewing is ‘The Night of The Meek’, which originally aired 12/23/1960. Art Carney portrays a downtrodden man by the name of Henry Corwin who is portraying Santa Claus in the local department store. The episode opens to crowded department store and a drunk, dirty & straggly Santa stumbling to the local watering hole on his lunch break. While at Jack’s Place drinking himself into a stupor, a few poor neighborhood kids tap excitedly on the bar window. They just to want to get Kris Kringle’s attention, so they can wave to him. Henry asks the bartender, “Why isn’t there a real Santa Claus for kid’s like that?” He then gets kicked out of the bar for trying to steal a bottle of liquor.
Once outside, Henry falls in the snowy street and the neighborhood kids take this time to tell ‘Saint Nick’ their wish list. When he arrives back at work for his next shift his grouchy manager Perciful Smithers is not pleased with his loaded Santa. So he gets fired on the spot and Henry thinks that Christmas should be about patience, love, compassion and charity not shopping and rushing. Amazing how that sentiment still stands true today yet is often forgotten as we all rush around.
Henry is down on his luck and once again finds himself wandering the streets in a drunken stupor. The bar even turns him away as he tries to go back for a drink. He wishes that just one Christmas the hopeless and dreamless people see the meek inherit the earth. Above you hear the sounds of bells, not church bells but sleigh bells. Just then Henry finds a mysterious sack in the street… Santa’s sack! What appeared to be a trash bag is actually a bag that fulfills whatever gift wish you may have. Henry rushes into a local gathering and happily explains to his fellow down on their luck townsmen, what he has. After much doubt especially by Sister Florence, Henry starts pulling out gifts as they are requested. “I would like a pipe and a smoking jacket’, one man says, done! Officer Flaherty now appears and arrests Henry as he is handing gifts out. Of course the officer thinks these are stolen goods until at the station, Henry fulfills his bosses wish of a bottle of 1903 Cherry Brandy.
They decide to let him go writing him off as crazy and the bag as unexplainable (they didn’t want to believe what they saw) and Henry supply’s all the children on the street with presents. He is so incredibly happy and thinks how amazing it would be if he could do this every year. Just then he stumbles upon a sleigh & reindeer in the alley and Elf girl jumps out referring to Henry as Santa Claus. She urges him in the sleigh stating that they have lots of work to do in preparation for next year and Henry just smiles. He is completely going along with this. Just then bells ring again and Officer Flaherty & Perciful Smithers look up, to see Henry Corwin in the sky. The episode closes with the simple message of, there is a wondrouss magic to Christmas, nothing mightier then the meek. I love this message. It’s so thrilling to see the under privilege get a sliver of hope and happiness at Christmas. It’s a great feeling to be able to give and especially to those in need, this lesson I learned long ago and keep it close at heart, not just during Christmas.
The Twilight Zone – ‘The Changing of The Guard’
This Christmas episode originally aired on 06/1/1962. It is a story about Professor Ellis Fowler, portrayed by the amazing Donald Pleasense (in old age makeup) who has taught literature for 50 years at Rock Spring School for Boys. The show starts as the last day of class is winding down before the Christmas break starts. With Christmas in 3 days and while in good spirits, the Professor lets the students out early. As he is leaving, he is called into Headmasters office and is informed that after the school trustees met they decided Professor Fowler is now terminated. Early retirement as he tries to spin it in a positive note & maybe a younger man could now do his job, a changing of the guard so to speak.
Fowler is dumbfounded. His entire life and passion is teaching and sharing wisdom with his students. Once home, he has fallen into a deep depression. Listening to music alone, he pulls a gun from his desk drawer as he reminisces through yearbooks. He is feeling as if he has given his students nothing over the years that all his words fell on unhearing ears and unwilling minds. Feeling as if he left no imprint on anyone (this is something I have often pondered myself at times), he takes a walk to the grave of Horace Mann. Full of self-doubts, he stares at the fellow teacher’s grave. He then wanders into his empty classroom and lowers his head. When he rises, he sees the seats are filled with students. Not just students, but the ‘spirits’ of students that have since died.
Each one tells the Professor about their demise, most died in war, one died while coming up with a medical cure for a disease. Every student has a story of how the Professor touched them and made them who they became. They recited poems and quotes and informed him that he alone taught them courage, patriotism, strength, loyalty and ethics. A student who died in Pearl Harbor quoted ‘To Whom The Bells Toll’ and told what it meant to him.
In these moments, Ellis realized that each student carried something with them that he taught them and he now knows that he has left his mark. He says out loud, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity”. He now wouldn’t have the changing of the guard any other way and he will accept his forced retirement with optimistic ease. It’s tragic to only realize your worth when in a desolate moment, but realizing it means everything. Be kind, not just during the holidays, but all year round. Be proud of the mark you leave, it’s never too late to work on your path. If your changing of the guard moment comes one day, let’s hope we all had a good life, left wonderful impressions on others, taught someone something that meant more to them then you will ever know & accept the change gracefully.
Ahhhhh the more you know! Thank you Twilight Zone for again making me feel sad but then reminding me of a nice life lesson much needed during the holidays.
I hope you all have enjoyed these reviews. I have enjoyed writing about one of my favorite series. Now let’s all have a great holiday and enjoy life’s certain surprises….or is that the Twilight Zone?