To begin with, let me say that this was a most unusual an Episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. For one week, we had no extra-terrestrials, no time warps, no super-twist world switching and not one reference to death, itself.
We have offered for our approval, the Story of a guy who is down on his luck. One Henry Corwin (Art Carney) is filled with a depression; one that is worsened by the Yuletide Season's approaching its climax of Christmas Eve. We see that in the Department Store where he has seasonal employment, his post is deserted. Oh, there're plenty of kids standing in line, but the great Chair sits empty. The sign promising that "Santa Claus will return by
" stands alone, its deadline obviously having been passed for sometime. A tense Store Manager, Mr. Dundee (John Fiedler), nervously stares at the time, the door, Santa's Throne and the growing anger, ever-more intense, of the Kiddies and Parents in the long line.
Meanwhile down the street, we find Henry Corwin at his overextended lunchtime break; sitting at the Bar having his sandwich with 3 or 4 shots of Bourbon. The hostility of the Bar Tender (Val Avery) being indicative of his overstaying his welcome; being all decked out in his Santa Costume and beard and all.
Henry is obviously somewhat inebriated. But this is most likely something that he hasn't done up until now, on Christmas Eve; because he most certainly would have been dismissed for such behaviour had it been earlier in the Shopping Season.
Henry's lamentations, while being obviously those of a troubled soul, yet are neither personal nor self-centered. If anything, his semi-intoxicated ravings are most selfless wishes for the ability to do something for the poorest of the poor. The rundown fleabag of a flophouse provides many of the most down-trodden of neighbors, whom he sees, everyday.
Upon his return to the Store, falling on his face and getting into argument with a bitchy Mother of a bratty kid; Henry is discharged from his position with the caveat of getting rid of his cheap Santa outfit. The Manager rationalizes that, "It's almost closing time, anyway." Once out in the dark and dimly lit street, he makes his way toward his home at the run-down old Hotel.
Cutting through an alley, he encounters an apparently enchanted cat who, in being possessed with certain magical powers, transforms a bag of garbage and tin cans into a magical cornucopia of bag, laden with unending supply of gifts. Indeed, whatever is asked for is found to be in it; as he soon discovers. He treats the homeless men at the local Mission to; as well as a number of poor, street urchins.
Yet, such gift giving prowess and generosity does not go unpunished; as soon he is in custody of the Police;his former Store Manager having accused him accused with thievery of goods from the Department Store. Their reasoning being that, where else would a guy like Henry have gotten any of the goods involved? Henry gets released after a re-appearance by the magical feline, who apparently knows how and when to apply his trade at the most needed of times. An inspection of the bag reveals that same cat, with mostly what appeared to be a great supply of tin cans.
Free again from the Police Station, Henry heads out again into the cold, snowy, dark streets. He is still muttering about wishing he could do something for the poorest of people; who live in the greatest squalor. He is suddenly greeted by an elf beckoning him to come forth to a team of sure-nuff Reindeer, hitched-up to a real-life Sleigh, damn straight, Schultz! As Henry hops in with the Elf, he takes the reins and, while having neither previous experience nor any instruction in aeronautical sciences, he takes off in the Sleigh. Meanwhile, below in the City, just leaving the Police Station are the Store Manager (John Fielder) and investigating Policeman, Officer (Robert P. Lieb), who have both been imbibing of some fine vintage Brandy; which had also been conjured-up by the magical trash bag. When walking away from the front stairs, they both sight, up in the now moonlit sky, the now airborne sleigh. Henry had gotten his wish.
What we thought of as being a so-so installment of THE TWILIGHT ZONE in 1960 (when I was 14 Years of Age), is now looked upon by these older, and we hope wiser eyes as being one that belongs at the top of the heap, the head of the class.
One other thing struck me about the story and how it is told. The style, the mood and the plausible rendering of an otherwise fantastic set of happenings, all are woven into a tight knit and thought provoking story. If anyone is familiar with the works of the great Comics innovator, Mr. Will Eisner or has read stories of his fine character, "The Spirit" in the Comic Books or in the newspaper comic strips; they may well see what a similarity that exists.
The rendering of the fantastic story, the moods created, the bleak street scenes and the characters are very much like those of a Will Eisner Spirit tale. And that leaves us to wonder; do you think that maybe Mr. Rod Serling had been a reader of the Spirit while he was growing up?
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