I’ve been a long-time fan of the original Twilight Zone series – this episode is an excellent example of why. Something that Rod Serling tended to do multiple times throughout the series was to take a comedian/clown, and puts him in an unusual, dramatic role, to a great result. The first time that he did this was with Ed Wynn in the second episode for the Twilight Zone, One for the Angels. Here, he does it in The Night of the Meek with Art Carney in the role of Henry Corwin, with another wonderful performance in a wonderful story.
Introduction to Henry Corwin
As Mr. Serling narrated at the beginning of the episode, “This is Mr. Henry Corwin, normally unemployed, who once a year takes the lead role in the uniquely American institution, that of department-store Santa Claus in a road-company version of ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ But in just a moment Mr. Henry Corwin, ersatz Santa Claus, will enter a strange kind of North Pole which is one part the wondrous spirit of Christmas and one part the magic that can only be found in … the Twilight Zone.”
Henry Corwin (played by Art Carney) is fired on Christmas Eve for arriving drunk at work. Mr. Corwin walks around in his Santa Claus suit, feeling sorry for himself until he stumbles across a bag. A magic bag, that gives out any present that’s called for. Henry Corwin starts giving out free presents to everyone until a police officer suspects him of giving away stolen merchandise.
‘Tis the season
Henry Corwin is taken to the police station, but all that’s found in the bag is garbage – and a stray cat. He continues giving out presents for the rest of the night. When a friendly bum points out that he hasn’t taken any gifts for himself. Having been changed by his experience, Mr. Corwin replies that his only wish is to do this every year. In an alley, Henry Corwin’s wish is granted as he finds an elf, reindeer, and sleigh waiting to take him to the North Pole.
Mr. Serling concludes with “A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas, and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek, and a merry Christmas to each and all.”