Retro Television Review: After The Promise (dir by David Greene)

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay.  Today’s film is 1987’s After the Promise!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

Mark Harmon is, in many ways, the ideal television actor.  He’s handsome in a distinguished but not overwhelming sort of way.  He projects a pleasant personality.  He’s likably low-key.  He’s a talented actor but he’s also a bit of a safe and predictable actor.  It’s been said that the difference between a TV star and a movie star is that a movie star combines charisma with danger whereas a TV star combines a likable screen presence with reliability.  Mark Harmon’s been a reliable TV presence for longer than I’ve been alive.

In 1987’s After the Promise, Harmon plays Elmer Jackson, a carpenter who is just trying to survive day-to-day in Depression-era California.  Though his wife (who is implied to be a Christian Scientist) begs him not to take her to the hospital when she gets ill, Elmer goes against her wishes.  When he gets her to the hospital, he is treated rudely by the staff.  A cop approaches him in the waiting room and brusquely orders him to move his car.  When a doctor finally does approach Elmer, he calmly explains that Elmer’s wife has did of TB and that she should have been brought to the hospital weeks ago.

Now a widower, Elmer is determined to keep the last promise that he made to his wife and give his four sons the best life that he possibly can.  Unfortunately, the government is determined to keep Elmer from doing that.  When Elmer goes to the government to try to get temporary financial assistance, the government reacts by taking his children away from him and forcing them into foster care.  When Elmer, during one of his weekly visits, tries to take the children for a ride, the government bans him from having any contact with his children.  When Elmer’s sons try to escape from the foster home, they’re separated and sent to separate facilities.

Informed that he can only get his children back if he proves that he’s financially stable, Elmer becomes an itinerant worker.  It’s only after he meets and marries Anna (Diana Scarwid) that Elmer finally gets a chance to be reunited with his sons but, after years of abuse, his sons have their own traumas to deal with before they can accept Elmer as being their father.

This is a movie that really pulls at your heartstrings!  There’s nothing subtle about it but, at the same time, its portrait of bureaucrats without empathy is one that feels very real and contemporary.  Over the course of the film, Elmer learns that the rules are not being written to help out a blue collar worker who doesn’t have a lot of money and, watching the film, it’s hard not to consider that the rules haven’t really changed that much over the years.  Elmer isn’t just fighting to reunited his family.  His fighting to save them from a system that is designed to dehumanize.  It’s an ideal role for a television star like Mark Harmon, as Elmer isn’t a terribly complex man but he is a very determined one.  It’s a role that demands a lot of sincerity and Harmon certainly delivers.  For that matter, so does this simple but emotionally resonant film.

One response to “Retro Television Review: After The Promise (dir by David Greene)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 1/30/23 — 2/5/23 | Through the Shattered Lens

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.