Director: Jack Smight
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Art Carney, John Fiedler, Robert P. Lieb, Val Avery, Meg Wyllie, Kay Cousins, and Burt Mustin
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 12/23/1960
Production Code: 173-3663
On Christmas Eve, Henry Corwin (Art Carney)—an alcoholic homeless man seasonally employed as a department store Santa Claus—is dismissed by Mr. Dundee (John Fiedler), a cold and unforgiving manager. Having stumbled upon a trash bag capable of producing elaborate items, Henry decides to fulfill his one and only Christmas wish: to distribute presents at a local mission house.
“The Night of the Meek” is a heartwarming episode of The Twilight Zone. Especially worth praising is the performance of Art Carney, which provides a solemn yet inspiring contrast to the clichéd, if not occasionally fantastic, material at the core of Rod Serling’s narrative.
Despite behaving irresponsibly, Henry will no doubt elicit pity from those of a sympathetic disposition. Specifically, Henry enters the department store in a drunken, bumbling stupor that prompts a malicious and humiliating response from a snooty patron, who fears her son will be “traumatized” as a result of the incident. After being publically reprimanded and fired for scaring away potential customers, Henry struggles to articulate the true meaning of Christmas and thereby portrays himself in a compassionate light—a remarkable accomplishment considering that by Henry’s own admission, no excuse can justify intoxicating oneself prior to arriving at work.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
On a minor note, “The Night of the Meek” is the second installment of The Twilight Zone filmed exclusively on videotape—a technical shortcoming that diminishes the impact of certain dramatic moments (e.g. Henry’s department store monologue).
It should be mentioned that “The Night of the Meek” recycles an overused trope, namely that Christmas Spirit alone can solve many of the problems currently plaguing mankind (i.e. illness, poverty, and starvation). Nevertheless, Serling’s exploration of this concept carries with it a deeper, more thought-provoking statement than do the majority of Christmas movies and television specials that convey a similar message; notably, rather than encouraging his audience to believe in something as superficial as Santa Claus, Serling speaks directly to the human heart with his premise that generosity, kindness, and compassion can go a long way during a time of year defined by commercialism, competition, and mindless consumerism.
A poignant and uplifting holiday tale, “The Night of the Meek” offers a welcome change from the dismal subject matter for which The Twilight Zone is famous. For casual fans and longtime Serling enthusiasts alike, this episode will make for a delightful viewing experience during Christmas season.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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