Exploring The Twilight Zone, Episode #12: "What You Need"
The Twilight Zone, Episode 12: "What You Need" (airdate 12/25/59)
The Plot: A shifty and mean-spirited loser discovers a kind old man who can tell the future ... in a way.
The Goods: Another simple yet pointed morality tale delivered in Serling's appreciably ironic tone, "What You Need" opens in a semi-seedy bar, and we watch (with growing delight) as a mysterious old man patches up some serious problems between a young lady and a lonely man. But from the bartender's sardonic nature to the greedy eyes of patron Fred Renard, we know this modern-day fairy tale is going somewhere unpleasant.
In Act II the other shoe drops: Renard has figured out the old man's "gift," and, in typical cad fashion, goes about exploiting the old soul for all he's worth. The first time around, Renard is only "worth" a mere pair of scissors -- which he promptly uses to save his own life from a malfunctioning elevator. Unsatisfied with the old man's gift, Renard (of course) heads back to push his luck even further. And this is where Rod Serling always seems to have some dark fun.
For its first-half of sweet-natured novelty and its second chapter run of clever irony, this overlooked little episode earns a solid B+. Based on the short story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, "What You Need" may have been an odd choice to debut on Christmas Night of 1959, but it has a nifty hook, a quiet disposition, and a rather solid finale. We know from frame one that Renard is a troublemaker, but Serling (and his actors) do a fine job of keeping the scales balanced: Renard still could be salvaged ... and that benign old man may not be so benevolent after all.
The Trivia: The two leads, although quite excellent, may not be known to many of my generation. (I had to look 'em up.) As the devious Renard, screen heavy Steve Cochran is enjoyably menacing. The mysterious gift-giver is played by old-school character actor Ernest Truex, who appeared in over 120 movies and TV shows. (Also, the IMDb indicates that there are a few "in-jokes" in a quick newspaper shot. Those are always fun.)
On the Next Episode: A fan of many faces does very selfish things.
We're running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we're not doing it alone! Our friends at Film School Rejects have entered the Zone as well, only on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at FSR (click, specifically, here) and feel free to also follow along on Twitter accounts @ScreenAnarhcy and @rejectnation.