Wednesday is Christmas. Everyone has shows or movies they watch to get them into the spirit of the season, to tap into the holiday nostalgia and memories of years past. Whether sitting down for the CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, or the more modern takes with ELF or even DIE HARD, we all have our favorites. Mine are two little pieces, less than a half hour each, but touch that wistful part of my soul and elicit a couple tears.
The first is TWILIGHT ZONE season two, episode eleven. “Night of the Meek” brings us Art Carney as Henry Corwin a down on his luck alcoholic from Skid Row. He was fired from his job as a department store Santa on Christmas Eve for showing up drunk. The spoiled children of the store’s customers are juxtaposed by the poor children of the neighborhood outside. Corwin points out that while the children inside the store will be given their heart’s desire in the morning, there is no Santa for the kids outside. He voices his desire for them to be able to give them a decent Christmas. Later that night he finds a mysterious sack in the alley behind his tenement. This bag can miraculously produce whatever a person desires. For one magical night, it’s Christmas on Skid Row. But is it too good to be true?
The original episode isn’t available for free on YouTube, but it is on every major streaming service from Netflix to Hulu to Amazon Prime. Here’s a clip from one particularly touching moment:
They remade the episode for the 80s TWILIGHT ZONE reboot, starring Richard Mulligan in the Carney role. It’s more ham-fisted and cornier than the original but, if you don’t have any other streaming available, it’s a perfectly workable substitute:
The second piece I watch every year is a section from the movie SMOKE (1995). The film tells the stories of the various people connected to a Brooklyn cigar store. While it’s a fantastic flick and worth a watch, this scene stands on its own. One of the customers is a writer. He’s been hired by the newspaper to write a Christmas story but can’t think of one. Auggie Wren, the store’s owner, tells him he’s got the best Christmas story he’s ever heard, and offers it for the price of lunch.
This sequence is Harvey Keitel as Auggie telling the story of how he got into photography. A teenage kid was trying to steal dirty magazines from the store. Auggie unsuccessfully chased him down the block. While he didn’t catch the kid, the teen’s wallet fell out. He’d forgotten about the wallet until the next Christmas. Having no plans of his own he decides to hunt down the address inside and finally return it. Due to a series of mix-ups, he ends up taking the place of his the kid for a Christmas day with his blind grandmother. Keitel proceeds to tell a tale of two lonely people on Christmas playing their roles so they wouldn’t have to spend Christmas day alone.
Keitel is famous for playing the hardened dregs of urban society, whether the titular character in BAD LIEUTENANT, Mr. White in RESERVOIR DOGS or a young Jodie Foster’s pimp in TAXI DRIVER. “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story” gives him the opportunity to show a more human side. Flawed, yes, but beautifully human.
Question of the night: what do you like to watch during the Christmas season?