Category Archives: Not Recommended

Harvest (1953, James Sheldon)

Dorothy Gish isn’t just top-billed in Harvest, host (and narrator) Robert Montgomery introduces the episode hyping her presence. So it’s a tad disappointing when it turns out Gish gets less and less to do throughout the hour-long television play. When she does get things to do, they happen off-screen. Instead of giving her an arc, writer Sandra Michael actually takes away from Gish in the third act, giving time to a newly introduced character.

It might be okay if there were something more interesting going on, but there’s really not. Most of Harvest has to do with nonagenarian Vaughn Taylor preparing for his one hundredth birthday. Mentally preparing, not party-planning. Taylor’s in a bunch of makeup and sort of dodders around, talking too loud about how grandson James Dean isn’t going to take over the family farm.

Dean gets a lot to do. He’s in love with city girl Rebecca Welles, who just can’t understand why he’d want to stay on that smelly old farm anyway. Dad Ed Begley doesn’t know Dean doesn’t want to be a farmer–writer Michael knows Begley and Dean ought to have some scenes together because the characters have things to talk about, but Harvest skips every single one of those conversations. Instead, Begley either tells Gish or Taylor he’s talked to Dean.

The action takes place around the house, specifically the kitchen, occasionally the front porch. Harvest takes some side trips–into the city, out into the field, 1,000 miles away to check in on Gish and Begley’s other sons–but it’s mostly just the kitchen. Where Gish prepares coffee, Begley sits silently, Dean sits jittery, and Taylor dodders.

Harvest doesn’t take any of its characters seriously enough. If it’s going to be about homesteader turned farmer Taylor turning one hundred and watching his family farm collapse, the writing needs to be better and a better actor needs to be playing the part. Director Sheldon doesn’t do much with his actors, but no one’s anywhere near as problematic as Taylor. While Begley is mostly scenery (which is almost better than when he gets lines because Michael writes them so poorly), he’s better than Taylor’s “best” scenes.

Dean’s okay. Harvest cuts away from his character development just as it gets interesting. Gish is okay. She really doesn’t have anything to do but make coffee in a percolator but she does it with a level of engagement far beyond anyone else. Begley looks lost.

Welles is pretty bad.

Montgomery’s narration is obnoxious, but no worse than the frequent choir singing reminding the viewer how blessed are the starving farmers and aren’t they quaint. Keep hope alive for tomorrow is Harvest’s motto (or some such thing). Instead, it seems like the television play just wants to avoid responsibility for its content.

Sheldon’s direction–outside his lack of interest in the performances–is fine. Harvest never feels cramped, one primary set or not.

1/3Not Recommended


Directed by James Sheldon; written by Sandra Michael; produced by Robert Montgomery; aired by the National Broadcast Company.

Starring Dorothy Gish (Ellen Zalinka), Ed Begley (Karl Zalinka), Vaughn Taylor (Gramps), James Dean (Paul Zalinka), Rebecca Welles (Arlene), John Connell (Chuck), John Dennis (Joe), Joseph Foley (Herb), Nancy Sheridan (Louise), Mary Lou Taylor (Fran), and Frank Tweddell (Mr. Franklin); narrated by Robert Montgomery.



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


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).


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


Directed by Charlie Ahearn.


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


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).