Nine-year-old David Collins is disrupting the lives of the adults around him in a way that could have far-reaching consequences for all those involved. Everyone has had to suffer to some extent for David’s act of desperation against his father.
Fearing exposure after his tutor Vicki Winters had found in his room the missing brake valve from Roger’s car, David has fled Collinwood to plant the evidence in the hotel room of the man who everyone except the governess suspects as having tampered with Roger’s brake system. Unable to gain access while the man is away, David is left with no choice but to meet with him face to face.
To David Collins thus far, Burke Devlin has represented only an image, a name his mother and father used to quarrel over so long ago, a symbol for what his father both hates and fears. But what David could not have foreseen was that in no time the image would become a man who would in turn become a trusted friend.
Unbeknown to David, Burke had seen the boy hiding the object under the sofa cushions. At the end of David’s visit, while calling downstairs to have his car brought around to the front of the hotel so that Burke could drive him back to Collinwood, David changes his mind about trying to pin the blame on Mr. Devlin, but is unable to retrieve the valve from where he hid it because Burke has already found it.
Alone with his guilt, shamed with regret, and paralyzed by fear, David’s outlook is as bleak as the drops of rain falling on the windshield as Burke Devlin guides the car onward through a storm which only seems to signal portents of the certain punishment awaiting his arrival home. But what he doesn’t realize is that he may soon receive the help he needs from an unexpected source, the very man he sought to frame for the crime of attempted murder.
One of the great frustrations among Dark Shadows fans revolves around the series not resolving the story of Victoria Winters’ family origins. There was also a second question of familial background left dangling at loose ends regarding the true paternal lineage of David Collins: Who was David’s real father, Roger or Burke Devlin?
In his outline that became the series bible Shadows on the Wall, story creator Art Wallace wrote the following in the character sketch for David Collins:
“The crowning blow to Roger was the birth of David….seven months after the wedding ceremony. Although Laura insisted it was an early birth, Roger was certain that the child was not his….that David was Burke’s son. (Whether or not this is, in fact, the truth, is a determination for the future. It can easily be resolved either way, dependent upon the best and most exciting resolution for current story development.)” (Shadows on the Wall, pp. 23-24)
Beginning with episode 29 and those immediately following, Dark Shadows seems to be leaning in the direction of a David Devlin Collins resolution, which would be a supreme irony for the man who wants to take over Collinwood and all it represents, considering that Burke Devlin may already have his own flesh and blood installed as the sole remaining heir to the Collins family fortune.
Another significant element in these episodes is the illumination provided to the viewer of the backstory on Burke Devlin. Thus far, mostly we’ve only been hearing about the Burke Devlin of ten years earlier, the young man perhaps falsely accused of manslaughter while driving drunk one night who was railroaded into prison courtesy of the influence and power wielded by the Collins family name.
There have been only a few instances where there has been any mention of what Burke and his life may have been like in the days before he was convicted and sent to prison. In episode 7, as an ice breaker Maggie Evans triggers Burke’s memory by mentioning that he used to pose as a subject for her father’s paintings. In episode 10, after Carolyn invites herself up to his hotel room, Burke tells her of how he would earn money as a young boy: “You know, when I was a kid I used to roam these beaches looking for empty bottles. Built my first fortune that way. Forty cents in five hours.” In episode 11, he provides an image of his modest upbringing for Elizabeth Stoddard: “Growing up in that shack by the water. Watching my father scrounge for work repairing lobster pots, or whatever he could get. I wanted to move, and fast…”
But in the hour he spends with David in his hotel room and during the drive home to drop him off at Collinwood, Burke has numerous anecdotes of when he was a kid, the kinds of stories any father would want to share with his son. Despite Burke’s animosity toward the family in that big house up on the hill, he really does seem to hold a genuine affection for young David. When David is concerned that when Burke steps out of the room to fix a drink he will only call the house to tell them where he is, Burke pledges his sincerity:
Burke: David, let me tell you something. I’ve broken lots of promises in my time. To doctors, lawyers, firemen, even an Indian chief. But to a nine-year-old boy, never.
David rewards Burke for his honesty by planting the missing brake valve under the sofa cushions, having learned to remove the bleeder valve from reading Mechano Magazine, which is undoubtedly based on the real-life hobby periodical Meccano Magazine published by Meccano Ltd., a toy manufacturing company based in Liverpool, England, started by Frank Hornby, inventor of the construction toy Meccano which he originally called “Mechanics Made Easy.” Removing the valve was the first part of mechanics being made easy for David; the second part was disposing of the evidence and finding someone else to pin the blame on. Unable to frame his governess, David then seeks out the man who was already suspected.
But almost immediately, David comes to regret the original motivation behind his mission. He and Burke appear to have a sudden and natural rapport:
David: You’re different.
Burke: What do you mean?
David: The way my father used to talk about you. I thought you’d be… I don’t know.
Burke: Oh, you mean with horns and a tail and fire coming out of my mouth? [laughs] Hey, let me tell you something, Dave. I used to have ‘em, but I don’t have ‘em anymore. Yeah, the horns kept poking holes in my hat, and with the tail I could never sit down.
David: And talking to people, you’d burn them.
Burke: Yeah, to a crisp. With all that fire coming out of my mouth.
David: I bet you couldn’t eat ice cream, it always melted.
Burke: And bread? Nothing but toast, all day, nothing but toast.
David: Hm. [stands up, does circus announcer’s routine] Come and see him, ladies and gentlemen, the one and only spectacular Burke Devlin, the human devil!
Burke: And his good friend, David Collins! The boy who has nothing to say. And the price of admission is only… Hey what are we gonna charge ‘em, Davey boy?
David: A hundred million dollars!
Burke: Wow! That sounds like a round sum. Hey, Dave, let me tell you something. You know, when I was a kid, that’s what I wanted more than anything else in the world. One hundred million dollars.
David: Did you ever get it?
Burke: Not yet. But I found something much more important. A good friend.
As a matter of fact, Burke and David bond more successfully during the first nine minutes in each other’s company than Roger and David have managed over the last nine years:
David: As long as I can remember, he always hated me. I never knew why.
Burke: Maybe you’re wrong. My father was strict with me, but that didn’t mean that he hated me.
David: Did your father ever say he was going to send you away?
Burke: Yes, once. When I used his best pipe for soap bubbles.
David: Did he do it?
Burke: No, he bought me a soap bubble pipe instead.
David: Mr. Devlin?
Burke: What is it, David?
David: I wish my father were like you.
So here in episode 30, while Burke is on the phone calling down to the desk to have his car moved around front, David changes his mind about setting Burke up and frantically digs a hand in between the sofa cushions but comes up empty. What he doesn’t know is that Burke already has the valve, and is holding it in his pocket.
Perhaps Burke understands why David planted the object in his hotel room to begin with, and why the boy wanted to take it back. On the drive to Collinwood, Burke even tries consoling David about his fear, a remarkable display of empathy considering that Burke seems to have been more intent on using people from Collinwood like Carolyn as a pawn, and equally governess Victoria Winters merely as a source of amusement:
Burke: Worried?… Scared to go home, Davey?
David: No… Yes. I guess so.
Burke: Did you ever run away before?
Burke: Well, it’s not so bad. They’ll yell at you, send you to bed without your dinner. And by tomorrow it’ll all be forgotten.
David: No it won’t.
Burke: I ran away once.
David: Where did you go?
Burke: I sneaked onto a coastal freighter going down to Boston. Was a terrible storm. Oh, I got seasick. Thought I was gonna die. It’s much better to be home in a nice warm bed, and have ‘em yell at you.
Then David asks if Burke really meant what he said earlier, about becoming friends. When Burke confirms this, David then pleads with him to turn back for the hotel, that he left something behind and it’s important that he go back and get it. But Burke drives onward, saying that getting him safely back home is what’s important.
This and the preceding episode both show that despite the occasional rough edges and callous treatment of others, Burke Devlin really is a good guy after all. In the post for episode 27, I included a send-up of Burke’s considerable aggressive behavior, how he liked to control everything and everyone he came in contact with, suggesting the creation of a Burke Devlin action figure where, when you press a button in the back, the right arm hits outward with fist clenched. But from what we’ve seen developing in the character of Burke Devlin in episodes 29 and 30, maybe David could use the Burke Devlin action figure to symbolically hit out at his father, as a safe alternative to risking punishment from trying to have him killed.
Meanwhile at Collinwood, the storm causes the power to fail. Vicki Winters is alone in the house, and when she comes downstairs to the drawing room to close a window, she then also has to light a candle after the lights go out. It’s a pretty ripe atmospheric moment, so the makers of Dark Shadows would have been remiss had they not bothered to create a scene like this…
Of course, moments later after the lights come back on, as Vicki treads into the foyer with candle holder at the ready in case she needs to thump a possible intruder over the head, Roger is seen coming through the doorway under the stairs having been down in the basement checking the fuse box. Vicki questions him over whether he had been standing there in the drawing room doorway earlier, explaining that she had called out but there had been no answer. Roger says it could well have been, but that he couldn’t hear anything because of the storm.
The show never fully resolves whether it had in fact been Roger that Vicki had seen looming there in the shadows and lightning flashes, or whether it may instead have been a ghost. With all the talk on the show thus far of ghosts and goblins, the viewer can only speculate on the possibility that the ghosts often mentioned on Dark Shadows might indeed be real.
You have to wonder what effect that scene had on viewers at the time this episode was first broadcast, whether this visually enchanting moment could have led to a sudden spike in the ratings, enough so that Dan Curtis would be inspired to serve up a more genuine, indisputable supernatural occurrence that would leave no doubt in the eyes of the viewer.
The most widely known system for tracking a show’s ratings was the quarterly Nielsen sweeps weeks. The most recent result from July showed that Dark Shadows had nine million viewers per week. But there were other ratings surveys that kept track of things on a more day-to-day basis, whose reports were purchased by the ABC network. There was Nielsen’s New York report, which consisted of instantaneous electronic sampling of some two hundred thirty homes across the seventeen-county metropolitan area. There was also the Trendex report, a random telephone survey where during each half hour of network broadcasting the Trendex company would place one thousand calls across twenty-six cities. A sudden jump in ratings would have been known of almost immediately.
Episode 30 was taped on July 22, 1966, and broadcast on August 5, a Friday. Viewer reaction to episode 30 would have become known to the makers of Dark Shadows by Monday, August 8, or soon thereafter. Episodes were taped two weeks ahead of broadcast, and episode scripts were written two weeks ahead of taping. During the week of August 8 to 12, the scripts for episodes 50 to 55 were in the writing stage. Episode 52 (taped on August 23) is where Dark Shadows presents its very first bona fide supernatural moment.
So you have to wonder if Dark Shadows’ gradual transformation into the sort of show it would eventually become famous for may have had the unexplained possible apparition from here in episode 30 as a basis for this change, based on viewer reaction.
Here in that moment in this episode is Dark Shadows doing what it does best, or at least finding out what it does best as it goes along, taking stock in a quality that even in these early episodes makes the show far and away something in a class all its own:
A, for Atmosphere.
The Dan and Lela Show may be on hiatus, but this doesn’t stop director Lela Swift from making a cameo by barging into the control room to address executive producer Dan Curtis about things that were said in her absence during the taping of episode 29. This happens at the start of Act I, when Vicki makes her way from the drawing room to the foyer after having seen a shadowy figure in the drawing room doorway after the lights had gone out.
Dan Curtis: What are you doing in the control room, Lela?
Lela Swift: Dan, I have to talk to you about something that was said in yesterday’s episode.
Dan: John Sedwick is directing today’s episode, not you. Now will you get out of here?
Lela: Dan, this has to do with John Sedwick and what he said. John Sedwick during the end credits said I was a lesbian. I have already told you that I’m bisexual. That’s a huge difference from being a lesbian…
The discussion continues as the scene shifts to Burke’s hotel room.
Dan: Lela, I think you’re overreacting. I think you’re blowing this all out of proportion.
Lela: Blowing this out of proportion? Is that your personal feeling about me? What right have you to gossip about me when I’m not around?
Dan: I wasn’t gossiping.
Lela: You were too. You were talking to John Sedwick about my ass fetish.
Dan: Oh, for Christ’s sake.
Lela: I’ll have you know that my ass fetish is my own business!
Dan: Alright, Lela. You’ve made your point…
The Dan and Lela Show will return to its regularly scheduled programming, after a short break.
During a power failure, Vicki realizes someone else is in the house with her.
A cloaked figure in the doorway, framed in the backdrop of lightning.
Vicki checks the foyer for a possible intruder.
“When the lights went out, I saw someone standing in the doorway.”
“Spare me the details, Miss Winters.”
Roger reacts to the news that it was David, and not Burke Devlin, who caused the accident.
“Well, David, looks like the storm’s getting worse.”
“You know something, Burke? You’re nice.”
David can’t find the valve he planted in Burke’s room under the sofa cushions.
“Scared to go home, Davey?”
Vicki shows Roger the magazine David gave her with the diagram of an automobile master brake cylinder.
“I heard he tried to get into your room, Burke. Is that true?”
Roger: The wandering son is still among those missing, eh?
Vicki: Your sister’s gone to Matthew’s cottage to see if he’s found him yet.
Roger: Spare me the details, Miss Winters.
Vicki: Aren’t you worried? He’s only a little boy.
Roger: I worried about him for nine years. At the moment I have far more pressing problems.
Roger: Now that’s a combination, isn’t it? My son and Burke Devlin. The two people in this world I dislike the most.
Vicki: Mr. Collins, you have no reason to dislike Burke Devlin.
Roger: It’s funny, Miss Winters. I don’t know whether to thank you or hate you for this.
Roger: We never know what monsters we create, do we?
As mentioned above, Dark Shadows is noted for its unique visual atmosphere and makes the most of its combination of spooky soundtrack music, delicate shades of lighting, and richly detailed set design, all on a budget of $14,000 per episode. Compare this to what it would cost to produce ABC’s nighttime blockbuster soap of the period Peyton Place, which operated on a budget of $60,000 per episode. Even game shows were more expensive to produce; in 1965, an episode of Password would cost $35,000. To Tell the Truth was even higher, at $41,000 per episode.
The first candle on Dark Shadows is lit by Victoria Winters in the Collinwood drawing room in the opening scene, when the storm causes the lights to go out.
Eventually the budget for each Dark Shadows episode would be devoted largely to special effects, for instance those elaborately videotaped dream sequences; there would also be the fancy period costumes and the pounds and pounds of monster makeup. But here in episode 30, there was still enough left in the budget to spring for a few sprinkles of water to simulate the effect of rain.
Daily studio schedule for Dark Shadows in 1966
7:00-11:00 a.m. Lighting
8:30-10:30 Morning Rehearsal
11:00-12:00 Engineering Set-Up
11:30-2:00 Camera Blocking & Run Through
2:00-2:30 Dress Rehearsal
2:30-3:00 Test Pattern
3:00-3:30 Episode Taping
3:45-4:15 Technical Meeting
4:00-6:30 Dry Rehearsal for Next Episode
4:00-7:00 Reset Studio
Episode 30 marks the debut of the stationary in-studio car interior, which will be featured in numerous upcoming episodes and which has the unintended effect of making it seem like everyone in Collinsport drives the same make and model of automobile.
When Roger takes David into the drawing room to empty his pockets, there is a full-length curtain that appears to be for a window, but is really intended to cover this part of the drawing room set that is not usually on camera, the point where the oak paneling stops with just plain plaster in the area beyond.
Below is what this unfinished area of the drawing room set looks like without the covering.
(Dennis Patrick and Louis Edmonds, Collinwood drawing room set, episode 198)
In the opening scene while the narration is still being played, the sound of knocking on a door can be heard twice, once as the camera pans across the drawing room and again as Vicki appears on the foyer landing. This is probably the sound man testing a sound effect.
Also in the opening scene, when the drawing room door is shown to be closing as if on its own, the sound effect of a door slamming shut is heard before the door completely closes.
After the lights go out, as Vicki steps toward the fireplace for the box of matches on the mantle, the sound drops out momentarily.
In Act I, as Roger enters the drawing room, Louis Edmonds walks beneath the boom microphone, which causes a shadow to pass over him.
In Act I, Louis Edmonds mispronounces Carolyn’s name: “Where is Caroline? Is she part of the search party too?”
In the end credits, Orhbach’s is listed as Orhbach’s.
In addition, the videotape feed cuts out while the credits are still rolling, which means that this is one episode where the Dan Curtis Productions logo along with the copyright year are not shown.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
After coming upstairs from the basement to replace a fuse, Roger pours himself a brandy in the drawing room.
Joan Bennett’s 1970 autobiography (original front and back covers).
The Bennetts: An Acting Family, the 2004 biography (front cover).
From the page I created for Dark Shadows Wiki:
Dark Passages is a novel written by Kathryn Leigh Scott and published in 2011 by Pomegranate Press, Ltd.
Set in the 1960s, Meg Harrison leaves her native Minnesota for New York to pursue a career in acting while working as a Playboy Bunny in New York’s Playboy Club. After changing her name to Morgana Harriott, she soon lands the role of Margie, a restaurant waitress and daughter of a local artist, in the new daytime TV serial Dark Passages. The show will eventually feature a vampire, but the catch is that Morgana is one in real life.
The characters described on the sets of Dark Passages resemble quite vividly those on Dark Shadows and the actors who played them. The diner set where Margie works is greatly similar to that of the Collinsport Inn restaurant on Dark Shadows.
For the back cover, Jonathan Frid wrote the following blurb: “Reading DARK PASSAGES was like being back on the sets of DARK SHADOWS, except with real vampires behind the scenes!”
In this eight-CD box set of composer Robert Cobert’s series soundtrack, every music cue used on Dark Shadows is available, including the full-length original recordings of the guitar instrumentals heard at the Blue Whale.
Since 2006, UK production company Big Finish has been extending the Dark Shadows legacy with audio dramas offering new stories featuring cast members from the original TV series. My favorite is the 2015 audio drama …And Red All Over, in which Mitchell Ryan reprises his role as Burke Devlin to the backdrop of an eerily compelling backstory on how he came to acquire his wealth in business. Also starring Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie Evans, with original series themes and music cues composed by Robert Cobert. A must listen for any fan of the first year of Dark Shadows.
Coming next: Episode 31: Breaking Point
— Marc Masse
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