Category Archives: Not Recommended

A Long Time Till Dawn (1953, Richard Dunlap)

A Long Time Till Dawn is usually able to keep disbelief completely suspended. It’s a television play and Rod Serling’s teleplay is more ambitious than the budget or the constraints of the medium. Most of the sets are interiors and fine–a diner, a living room, a bedroom. They can even get away with a front porch, though it is where Dawn stretches its visible credulity the most.

The porch scenes are also a stretch due to Ted Osborne’s performance. Osborne is just a small town man. His daughter-in-law (Naomi Riordan) has suddenly come to live with him, running away from New York City, back to small town New Jersey. It just happens she leaves New York the day before her husband (James Dean) gets out of a six-month stint in prison.

Riordan’s timing never gets discussed. It’s apparently just narrative efficency, not her trying to hide from Dean. Though when Rudolf Weiss, playing Dean and Riordan’s kindly New York neighbor (a delicatessan owner), tells Dean about Riordan leaving it’s like a) she doesn’t want Dean to know where she went and b) she’s been gone a while.

Weiss tells Dean about Riordan’s departure just after copper Robert F. Simon has stopped by the diner to warn Dean not to become a repeat offender.

So of course Dean has to beat up Weiss to find out where Riordan has gone. Then he heads home to Osborne and Riordan’s dread and hope. Simon follows soon after to investigate Weiss’s assault. Because even though everyone can just drop everything and go to small town New Jersey, Dean and Riordan never did it before Dean’s small time crook phase.

From the dialogue, it seems like that phase was about a sixth of the three years Dean and Riordan spent in New York. Serling’s teleplay has very, very little logic going for it. Ditto Dunlap’s direction (the finale has Osborne talking about some character who was just onscreen but Dawn forgot to take notice).

At its best, Dunlap’s direction is utterly mediocre. More often it’s a problem. Dean’s excellent, Simon’s excellent, Weiss is excellent. Riordan is okay. Osborne is not. He gets these lengthy monologues and he clutches the melodrama heartstrings so tightly their effectiveness withers.

Up until the third act, though, it really seems like Dawn is going to make it. But it doesn’t. The third act set pieces are poorly executed–thanks to Dunlap and the budget–and Serling’s denouement, largely thanks to Osborne, is a fail.

It’s a shame. Dean’s phenomenal, even when the writing is a little weak. When it’s more than a little weak, not even he can do anything with it (not with Dunlap’s direction “aiding” him), but his performance is mostly great. Simon also makes a lot out of his part. Serling gives the characters a lot of texture–except Osborne, which is bad–and Simon takes advantage.

A Long Time Till Dawn needs a better director, a better performance in the Osborne part, and a few rewrites.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Dunlap; written by Rod Serling; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Dean (Joe Harris), Ted Osborne (Fred Harris), Naomi Riordan (Barbie), Robert F. Simon (Lt. Case), and Rudolf Weiss (Poppa Golden).


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Doin’ Time in Times Square (1991, Charlie Ahearn)

Doin’ Time in Times Square is forty minutes of footage Ahearn shot out of his Times Square apartment building’s window. Shot over three years, Ahearn cuts the street scenes with home movie footage. Life inside the apartment. Ahearn’s adorable family growing, holidays, parties, sitcoms. Meanwhile, outside is urban blight.

Except it can’t all be urban blight. It’s not all urban blight when it starts. Before Ahearn establishes his editing pattern–adorable White family imprisoned in their apartment building, violent Black criminals outside–he’s got some great shots of just how people coexist in large numbers. Walking commuters flooding the sidewalks as they cross streets, spilling over. It’s amazing.

And then Ahearn starts cutting from his adorable son and lovely wife to Black people fighting. Then he cuts to adorable son and lovely wife and… Black people fighting. Maybe getting arrested. All Ahearn sees outside the window–until he gets to a municipal project and New Year’s Eve–is apparently scary Black people committing crimes.

Though he does catch footage of two cops harassing (and hitting) a Black teen while letting his two white friends off. There’s occasionally sound from the street, but it’s distant and muffled. There’s also occasionally sound from Ahearn as he watches, gasps and sighs. And telling his kid to stay away from the window.

But what Ahearn never shows is people like him. People like his family. There are no white families out on the street, even though someone in Ahearn’s household must have left at some point. I don’t think the second child was born inside the apartment, for example.

Ahearn never sees people. Sure, Doin’ Time is partially objective. What occurs is outside Ahearn’s creative control, but where he points the camera (and he does a great job shooting out his window) and especially how he edits is his control. Three years of footage and no interest in the mundane, only the “terrifying.”

Thousands of people appear in Doin’ Time and Ahearn manages to dehumanize every single one of them who isn’t inside his apartment.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Charlie Ahearn.


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The Lottery (1969, Larry Yust)

The Lottery has a lot of mood. Isidore Mankofsky’s lucid but muted cinematography captures a routine day, not even special with an entire small town gathering in a large field. Director Yust has a few favorite touchstones among the townspeople, though only until the lottery itself starts. Then he concentrates on faces and expressions, as many as possible. Editor Albert Naples cuts quick between them, going faster the less expression the person shows.

Unfortunately, Naples’s editing is only sometimes effective. Yust’s direction of the cast–speaking or not–isn’t good. There are three main performances and only William ‘Billy’ Benedict is any good. Olive Dunbar has problematic writing and there’s only so much she can do at the end, when the “winner” is announced. William Fawcett is bad as the grumpy old man bemoaning young people and their lack of respect for the lottery.

Yust gives a handful of lines to various townspeople to try to show the routine of the events and their lives. He doesn’t give them actual conversations and cut into them, he just gives them lines. Then there’s the soundtrack, silent of background conversation or even breathing. Just the wind picking up. The silence should be effective–and would be if the acting were better or if Naples’s quick cutting built to anything. Maybe the silent background is so Yust could give the non-professionals direction? But if he did give them direction during those shots… well, it’s almost more concerning than if he didn’t.

The Lottery was made to be shown in classrooms (high school but probably younger–I think I saw it in middle) and Yust’s ideas for getting around the difficult parts don’t succeed. He’s too afraid to really characterize the gathered townspeople (and probably couldn’t direct them if their characterizations were better). The Lottery only exists for its eighteen minutes; Yust doesn’t imagine anything beyond it.

But Benedict’s real good.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Larry Yust; screenplay by Yust, based on the story by Shirley Jackson; director of photography, Isidore Mankofsky; edited by Albert Nalpas; released by Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corporation.

Starring Olive Dunbar (Tessie Hutchinson), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Joe Summers), William Fawcett (Old Man Warner), and Joe Haworth (Bill Hutchinson).


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The Dark, Dark Hours (1954, Don Medford)

The Dark, Dark Hours is the story of two desperate beatnik gunmen who just pulled a job and one of them took a bullet. They need a doctor and they find Ronald Reagan. The beatniks are James Dean and Jack Simmons. Simmons is the shot one. Dean’s the moody one whose undoubtedly tragic life has led him to being a beatnik outlaw.

Sometimes they need to listen to some bops to get right.

Meanwhile, Reagan’s got a wife, Constance Ford, who thinks he’s letting these two punk kids push him around. Is Reagan a coward or is he just following the Hippocratic Oath? Does it even matter?

Dean gets some speeches, Reagan gets some speeches, Ford gets some speeches. Reagan and Ford get close-ups from director Medford; they’re good solid people, not beatniks like Dean. Dean is mostly in medium shots, usually having to share the frame. He only gets close-ups after his comuppance.

Dark, Dark Hours isn’t so much predictable as never surprising. Medford directs the episode pretty well, particularly the opening with Dean and Simmons arriving at the house. Medford doesn’t bring much tension to it. Arthur Steuer’s teleplay doesn’t have much tension–really, it’s just speeches from Dean about being a sad beatnik thug. He’s probably on the reefer or something.

Dean’s fine. It’s not like he’s got some great monologues to perform. Same for Reagan. Ford’s too annoying.

It’s not a terrible twenty-five minutes but it’s also not particularly worth seeing.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Don Medford; teleplay by Arthur Steuer, based on a story by Henry Kane; produced by Mort Abrahams; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Ronald Reagan (Joe), James Dean (Bud), Constance Ford (Betty), and Jack Simmons (Pee Wee).


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