Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Retro TV Christmas

Many TV series have aired "special" holiday episodes over the years, but here at Eclectic Avenue, I'd like to focus on a trio of entries that would make a fine evening of viewing and truly warm the hearts of classic TV fans during the holiday season. Let's take a look at these entertaining stories:

Art Carney in "Night of the Meek"
The Twilight Zone - "Night of the Meek" - This story originally aired on December 23rd, 1960, during Season 2 of Rod Serling's classic anthology series. It was one of six episodes that were shot on videotape for budgetary reasons. This moving tale concerns a down on his luck department store Santa named Henry Corwin, who's fired on Christmas Eve for showing up late & being drunk on the job. Corwin is something of a dreamer (like so many Serling characters) and he wishes he had a way to make the residents of his tenement neighborhood (especially the children) happy on Christmas. Through that ethereal magic that seems to permeate the world of The Twilight Zone (and the help of a very special bag of gifts) he's able to do just that, and more. This is a moving & sentimental episode with an outstanding performance by Art Carney as Corwin and fine support by well known character actor John Fielder as his boss. While the more cynical minded among you might find this a bit too schmaltzy, it's always been one of my favorite Christmas stories, and I try to watch it every year. It's very well written by Serling (featuring some of his trademark poetic dialogue, nicely delivered by Carney) & well directed by Jack Smight, who helmed several other episodes of the series. "Night of the Meek" is available for online viewing on Netflix & and you can also purchase it as part of the various DVD & Blu-ray releases of the series, from sites such as Amazon.

Angela Cartwright & Bill Mumy in "Return From Outer Space"
Lost In Space - "Return From Outer Space" - Producer Irwin Allen's outer space saga details the adventures of the Robinson family, who become well, lost in space, during a mission to Alpha Centauri. This episode originally aired on December 29th, 1965 during the series first season. In this entry, young Will Robinson, played by Billy Mumy, finds himself teleported back to Earth by an alien machine, and ends up in a small town in Vermont. Will tries to convince the locals that he's part of the Robinson expedition, but no one believes him. They think he's perhaps a runaway, an orphan, or a little bit crazy. While some of the townspeople try to find him a new home, he just wants to help his family, and make his way back to them. The Christmas holiday, and the wintertime setting, is used as a backdrop for the episode, and it adds nicely to the atmosphere of the story, written by Peter Packer.  Mumy is very effective as Will here, and gives a strong performance, under the direction of Nathan Juran. Reportedly, it's one of his favorite episodes of the series. Guest star Reta Shaw (who'll be very recognizable to classic TV fans from her appearances in shows such as Bewitched & The Ghost & Mrs Muir) does a wonderful job as the kindly Clara Simms, who wants Will to stay put and live with her & her nephew. Oddly enough, despite the fact that it's supposed to be the then future time of the 1990s, it looks like Will's landed in a version of Andy Griffith's Mayberry! Still, this sentimental outing is a strong episode in the series initial season, and is worth viewing. You can see it online on Hulu, and purchase it as part of the series Blu-ray or DVD releases.

Richard Basehart, Michel Petit & Carroll O'Connor
in "Long Live The King"
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - "Long Live The King," is a first season episode of this series (also produced by Irwin Allen) detailing the exploits of the crew of the amazing nuclear submarine Seaview. This story, which originally aired on December 21, 1964, finds the Seaview delaying the crew's Christmas leave to pick up the young prince of a small (un-named in the episode) country. The prince's father, the king, has been assassinated. The Seaview must transport Prince Ang home to help stop a revolt. But there's a traitor on board; will he kill the young ruler before they get him back to his kingdom? Who is the mysterious castaway named John that the sub rescues? As Admiral Nelson (Richard Basehart), Captain Crane (David Hedison) & the crew dodge an enemy sub & try to discover the traitor's identity, John & the prince (who's initially kind of a brat) form a strong friendship. Will the prince get home in time....and will he grow up a little before Crane tosses him in the brig? Will the crew get to celebrate Christmas? This is an enjoyable tale; it's a bit more light-hearted in tone than some of the show's espionage themed early episodes, and features a strong guest star turn by Carroll O'Connor as John. Written by Raphael Hayes & directed by Laslo Benedek, the episode is available for online viewing on Hulu, and can be purchased as part of the DVD set of the series first season. So warm up some cocoa, light the fire & cozy up with some Yuletide TV from Rod Serling & Irwin Allen! I'd like to wish all my readers & their families and friends a Merry Christmas & Happy Hanukah!

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