Dark Shadows is known for its lack of overall continuity not only with regard to character and story arcs, but also inconsistencies with time references including even the age of a given character. As noted in the post for episode 39, Dark Shadows makes its first break with continuity when Dan Curtis decides on making a departure from the original series outline in bringing the Bill Malloy character front and center to force a resolution to the conflict between Burke Devlin and the Collins family, Roger in particular. The next break in continuity occurs here in episode 41 when allusions to time get convoluted; such minute detail can easily be overlooked when you make a change in the writing department, given that episode 41 is the first to not be written by original story creator and developer Art Wallace.
Perhaps the most fulfilling reward of following these early episodes is that you get to chart the evolution of Dark Shadows as it grows toward the iconic status of a cultural phenomenon. By the end of 1966, Dark Shadows would not only go from being described as a gothic romance to a horror soap, it would also rally from impending cancellation by achieving the heights of being number one in the ratings. Such a remarkable and relatively immediate transformation in identity also serves to highlight the brilliance of Dan Curtis, a man with a sudden dream vision for a TV show which would over its first few months come to thrive as a vehicle for spontaneous creative ingenuity, the likes of which had never before been presented in the context of daytime television drama.
Another joy of these early episodes is the performances of David Ford as Sam Evans. Though he didn’t originate the role, in just his first week on the show he manages to define it; therefore, one should recognize the hugely important contribution made to Dark Shadows by David Ford’s theatrical approach to acting as well as how rapidly and thoroughly he was able to grow into the role.
Acceptance of Dark Shadows on the basis of its overall lack of continuity as the series develops from year to year requires not only a suspension of disbelief, but as well a certain measure of forgiveness. Problematic is that more questions than answers result given that Dark Shadows is intended as a serial drama. In some cases the reverse engineering of a story element or situation presented earlier can seem like incompetence or even lazy neglect among the writing staff; but mostly it’s just a matter of making the best of what you’ve got going at the moment, especially when you have no choice but to enact changes to suit the direction and success of the show.
One notable example early on is in re-establishing Barnabas as a more sympathetic character once you realize what a hit you have on your hands. Originally marked for destruction after what was thought would be the final thirteen weeks before cancellation, now you have to figure out what to do with the character to keep him going once the fan mail starts piling up and the spike in ratings buys you a reprieve. Instead of being just a cold, unrepentant predator you could wisely keep viewers on his side for the long haul by instead portraying him as a victim with something to overcome, eventually of a witch’s curse but initially of a rare blood disease.
The vampire blood disease was borrowed from a favorite source of inspiration for Dan Curtis, the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. It was in House of Dracula that a doctor first believed vampirism could be cured by blood transfusions, which of course would be accompanied by a series of injections.
“Roll up your sleeve, please, Baron…”
(Martha O’Driscoll and John Carradine in House of Dracula, 1945)
That’s one of the things Dark Shadows is especially noted for, the tendency to borrow ideas to generate story themes and enhance given situations, even with occasional conceptual props like Nicholas Blair’s magic mirror…
(Humbert Allen Astredo as Nicholas Blair in episode 574)
…where through a simple ritual incantation he can impose his will to transform the mirror into a television-type viewing device and remotely control the subject under surveillance or simply hypnotize them to obtain useful information on his adversaries.
This particular conceptual prop also has an earlier precedent in the Universal monster movies. In the 1932 film The Mummy, Karloff’s Imhotep sits before a magic pool to summon his powers of projection…
(Boris Karloff as Imhotep in The Mummy, 1932)
…where through a simple ritual incantation he can impose his will to transform the pool into a television-type viewing device and remotely control the subject under surveillance or simply hypnotize them to obtain useful information on his adversaries – or even kill them if he so desires.
But what Dark Shadows borrowed was subject matter that all other producers of network daytime television would never even have dreamed of bringing to a soap opera audience, like German Expressionism. There’s that 1967 episode where David Collins, who has become deeply terrified of his “English” cousin, has a dream where he sees Barnabas getting out of a coffin to attack him.
Look at the set design for this scene; it’s the type of thing you see in movies like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and those other films whose artistic conventions of the period were subsequently exported to American films made by Universal under the guidance of directors like Karl Freund, a cinematographer who also directed films like The Mummy.
(Set design for David’s dream sequence in episode 325)
(Stills from the 1920 German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
Lots of interesting stuff to examine in posts for the many episodes that lay ahead.
For the moment, it’s worth observing how quickly David Ford has been evolving in managing to craft the definitive portrayal of Sam Evans in just his first week on the show.
Having arrived in episode 35 with an elegant theatrical flourish…
…he made a huge impression on director Lela Swift and executive producer Dan Curtis, even though the transition to the high-pressure situation of live taping in a television studio proved at first uneasy, where Ford had an awkward moment in forgetting dialogue but was thankfully rescued by Mitch Ryan, and then subsequently had to rely heavily on the teleprompter to get through the rest of the scene…
Because Dan Curtis didn’t finally make the decision to hire David Ford until taping for episode 35 was playing the closing theme, technically speaking throughout the episode he was still in the auditioning stage; therefore, it may have been on his mind to really make an impression by doing something big to close out his final scene for the afternoon.
It could have been that David Ford knew that Dan Curtis was a big fan of the Universal monster films of decades before; perhaps they’d even discussed it before taping. Either way, as Sam warns Joe to take Carolyn away from Collinsport, David Ford attacks the moment with a life-or-death emphasis uncannily reminiscent of a scene with Dwight Frye’s Renfield in Tod Browning’s 1931 production of Dracula.
In that memorable first outing of Universal’s decades-long run as the preeminent producer of iconic monster films, Van Helsing presents Dracula with a mirror and Lugosi swats it to the floor, and after Dracula has made his exit Renfield then enters through a side doorway to warn people of the danger that has already visited their very household, urging with crazed intensity for Jonathan Harker to take Mina away. Brief seconds-long audio clips are provided below to highlight the striking similarity between David Ford’s and Dwight Frye’s performances in these moments.
(“Take her away, Joe, while there’s still time! Take her away!”)
(“Take her away from here!… Take her away before!…”)
So, it could be that the performance given by David Ford in the middle of Act IV during episode 35 may well have been the very first instance of “horror” acting on Dark Shadows, or at the very least the first on the show where a performance is directly inspired from the genre.
By episode 39, David Ford has thankfully toned down his approach some, giving his performance more of a light and shade quality as the character’s moods alternate between brooding intensity and the occasional explosive outburst.
One particularly notable element is the skillful use of elocution in his lines when intending to drive home a point, like when Roger shows up at his cottage in episode 39 and Sam tries to explain why he can’t get out of doing Burke’s portrait. In the spotlight feature for Gail Russell in the Special Edition post on Dark Shadows origins, there was a film she’d done with Edward G. Robinson called Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Robinson’s John Triton has moments where it looks like David Ford used that 1948 film as a stylistic influence for his portrayal of Sam Evans on Dark Shadows. Note the similarities between the two in the short audio clips below, as they each deliver their lines with the body language of crooking both elbows for emphasis, each elevating the register of his voice to plateau the last part with a graveled prominence.
(“Burke Devlin is a man of independent thought. He wants me to do his portrait. There’s nothing on the face of this earth I can do to dissuade him!”)
(“I do want to help, I want to help myself. It isn’t easy to live with something like this.”)
In just his first week on the show, David Ford has gone from the maddened fear of Dracula’s Renfield to articulate his performance in a more low-key manner by adopting the more multilayered nuances of Edward G. Robinson.
Likewise, Louis Edmonds, after having brought a sudden flood of pathos to his portrayal of Roger Collins in episode 37, returned in episode 39 with more of the biting disdain he had brought to the character early on. This can only result in fantastic scenes between Sam and Roger that will prove some of the more entertaining moments in these early episodes; two men who can’t stand one another yet have no choice but to frequently interact in scheming to keep under wraps the secret that if exposed would mean the end for the both of them.
[Episode 41, Act IV, Evans cottage; Roger banging furiously on the front door]
Roger: Open up, Evans! I know you’re in there, open up! [continues banging repeatedly, as Sam shuffles raggedly across the room to answer, but at first without opening the door]
Sam: Who is it?
Roger: It’s Roger Collins.
Sam: What do you want?
Roger: I want to talk to you. Don’t be an idiot, open the door!
[Sam unlatches the lock and opens the door]
Roger [steps in and slams the door shut]: Is your phone in working order?
Sam: You didn’t come banging on my door to ask about my phone, did you?
Roger: No, but when I was talking to you earlier we were somehow disconnected, and when I tried to call you back there was no answer. Naturally I assumed that your phone was out of order.
[Sam doesn’t respond and instead turns for the table behind the sofa to pour himself a drink; Roger hurries over and takes the bottle from him]
Roger: You’ve had enough of that. I want you to tell me exactly what you told Bill Malloy last night.
Sam: I told you I don’t recall telling him anything.
Roger: Did you speak to anyone else?
Sam: You don’t think much of me, do you?
Sam: Well, what we think of one another is infinitely less than we deserve. Now you got me into this.
Roger: No, I didn’t. Your greed did… And since you are in it, you’ve got to stay in it.
So this adds a layer of complexity to the relationship between Sam Evans and Roger Collins, in addition to revealing a major shortcoming with Sam’s character; an old friend of Burke’s who evidently betrayed him for someone who was never a friend at all, only because the price was right.
The above exchange also highlights the one confounding thing about this episode; the day that became last night. It isn’t an actor’s blooper, because the same reference to Bill Malloy getting Sam drunk will be said as last night by Malloy himself in episode 43. This is what happens when you make changes to the writing staff on Dark Shadows; minor but glaringly obvious details get overlooked.
Lest there should be any lingering doubt concerning whether Sam passing out drunk in the presence of Bill Malloy occurred earlier that same day rather than last night, let’s review the events of last night as it relates to story time, a day that spanned episodes 21 through 37. Last night Burke Devlin brought young David back to Collinwood after David tried to hide the brake valve from Roger’s car in Burke’s hotel room; last night Elizabeth Stoddard put the lid on the sheriff’s investigation of the missing valve to cover for David; last night Joe Haskell got rip-roaring drunk and right in the middle of his misguided diatribe aimed at Mrs. Stoddard passed out cold on the Collinwood drawing room sofa; and, finally, last night Sam Evans, quite sober, after brooding in the post-midnight hour wrote a letter detailing what he knows about events of ten years ago, the safety of which he entrusted to his daughter Maggie.
Here’s a look at the scenes in question from episode 40, with the set design outside the bay window of Sam’s painting studio clearly dressed for daytime.
Set designer Sy Tomashoff really crafted a gorgeous Evans cottage exterior for this episode, with the many rows of trees to suggest a somewhat secluded location that would appear tranquil, an impression that belies the turmoil that burns from within the walls of Evans cottage in the form of a man tormented by years of angst-ridden guilt.
One other striking feature of episode 40 is how, in the scenes with Bill and Sam at Evans cottage, the blocking seems to have taken on a theatrical dimension as if playing to the strength of David Ford’s talents as a seasoned stage actor.
It starts out with a conventional two-shot as Bill and Sam, old friends of long-standing, chat for a moment over times long ago…
Then as Sam begins opening up about what has been troubling him for so long, you have this low-angle shot looking up at his agonized expression, as if captured from the height of a theatrical stage as seen by the audience…
Then as the camera adjusts for repositioning of the characters the angle is higher up over the subject and looking down, as if to suggest a man who has plunged himself down in the depths of desperation and despair…
Then another camera holds a tight close-up as Sam reveals to Bill the dark secret Roger Collins has been trying to keep hidden…
For the final moments the first camera pulls far back, portraying the distance that Sam has wandered from himself as he passes out cold.
With all the many angles presented for this scene, it’s hard to believe there were only two cameras working the set. First the acting performances and now the production values have taken on a more theatrical approach to the presentation of scenes.
After just eight weeks of episodes, Dark Shadows is already in a class all its own.
The series: The Dan and Lela Show; the main players: director Lela Swift, executive producer Dan Curtis; the setting: television studio control room; main prop: the control room microphone; opening scene: the waves/title opening theme…
Lela: Dan, I take back what I said about David Ford slacking off. He’s doing really well in this episode.
Dan: David Ford has been doing really well regardless of what you think, Lela.
Lela: But Dan…
[Evans cottage, as Act III begins]
Lela: Dan, Kathryn Leigh Scott and David Ford have been getting really chummy lately.
Dan: What do you mean by that?
Lela: I mean, they’ve been rehearsing their scenes in their dressing rooms behind closed doors. They’ve been developing a relationship.
Dan: Oh, Lela, why do you have to gossip over the control room microphone?
Lela: Dan, don’t you care that two of your actors are carrying on right here in the studio?
Dan: For Christ sakes, Lela! No, I don’t care about actors and their offstage interests. I told you that before. Now I want you to stop gossiping like that!
Lela: Dan, I’m just trying to tell you what’s been going on.
Dan: All I care about is what’s going on in the show. And that’s all you should be concerned about, if you want to stay on as director.
After Mrs. Stoddard has been speaking on the phone with Joe Haskell, when the scene has transitioned to Evans cottage, Joan Bennett can be heard commenting from the soundstage on Lela’s behavior:
Joan Bennett [saying to someone]: Can you believe that Lela Swift, gossiping about Kathryn and David like that?
Kathryn Leigh Scott [after exiting the set as the final scene for Act III is ending]: God damn that Lela Swift!… I am so pissed off!
[Just as Roger comes banging on Sam’s door when Act IV begins]
Kathryn Leigh Scott [from somewhere offstage]: …How can that Lela be talking about David and me through the control room microphone? If we wanted everyone to know, we’d tell everyone! Sometimes I just want to give that Lela Swift a real piece of my mind… God damn it! It ruins my concentration for the scenes I’m in…
[Middle of Act IV, as Elizabeth goes to the phone to put a call through to Ned Calder]
Dan: For Christ sakes, Lela, I’m so pissed off at you for what you did to Kathryn and David! They had trouble concentrating on their scenes because of you and your gossiping over the control room microphone.
Lela: Dan, don’t blame me. I’m just telling you what’s going on.
Dan: I do blame you, and I’m going to give you a piece of my mind over the closing theme.
[Closing moments of the final scene, as Elizabeth walks across the foyer to answer the knock at the door]
David Ford [grumbling to himself]: God damn that Lela Swift, talking about Kathryn and me, blowing the whole thing right out of proportion.
Dan: Lela, I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to say. David Ford is pissed off at you, and so is Kathryn. You pissed off two really good actors on my show, and they had trouble concentrating in their scenes. I want you to stop gossiping over the control room microphone, or I’ll replace you as director…
Until next time, this has been The Dan and Lela Show.
Roger informs Elizabeth that he prevented a meeting in town between Carolyn and Burke.
“Did it ever occur to you that you could have left this mausoleum, my dear sister, and gone out into the outside world?”
“You’re the person I should be worrying about, if I were you.”
“I’m afraid Mr. Collins doesn’t confide in me.”
“Miss Winters, is there any reason I should confide in you?”
Voice of Roger Collins coming through the telephone: “Let me tell you something, Evans. Just because you wrote a letter telling everything you know, or think you know, don’t for a second imagine you’re clear of everything. You’re as involved as I am…”
After hanging up on Roger, Sam has torn up the sketch he drew of Burke Devlin.
“Pop, you caught him just right… Why did you want to destroy it?”
“I like Burke, I like him very much. I hope that he likes me. I would hate anyone that did him an injustice.”
“I never thought I could hate a man as much as I do you.”
“The feeling is entirely mutual. What a pity that neither of us can do anything about it.”
[Roger is phoning Sam]
Roger: Are you alone?
Sam: I’m alone. Except for the devils in my brain.
Roger: What kind of an answer is that?
[Roger stays on the phone for a while after being hung up on by Sam, then tries calling again until his sister walks in]
Roger: Oh,… I was just trying to get the office on the phone.
Elizabeth: Isn’t that where you should be?
Roger: Well, if you must know, I had a perfectly valid reason for being home. I prevented your daughter from meeting Burke Devlin.
Elizabeth: Carolyn? Why would she be meeting Burke?
Roger: Well that of course is open to the wildest speculation.
Maggie: Pop, is there anything you want, anything I can get you?
Sam: What a question, is there anything that I want.
Maggie: Well do you want to talk about it? Maybe I can help.
Sam [shakes head]: Mm-mm. Nobody can help.
Maggie: Well how about if I make you a hot cup of coffee?
Sam: No… Why is it that all women think that a cup of coffee is a cure-all?
Sam: No one’s bothering me but myself. When I’ve had too many drinks, I talk too much.
Maggie: Well from the looks of this bottle, pop, you must have recited everything you ever knew.
Elizabeth: Roger, have you any idea where Carolyn might be?
Roger: Not the faintest.
Elizabeth: Well when you’re in town, would you look around for her?
Roger: And neglect my vital tasks at the office? Oh dear me, no.
Roger [to Sam]: Just remember one thing. I have no intention of letting your weakness… carry me down.
Francis Swann, a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, is perhaps best known for his original Broadway play Out of the Frying Pan, which had a run of 104 performances at the Windsor Theatre from February 11 to May 10, 1941. A movie adaptation was subsequently produced in 1943 called Young and Willing and starring William Holden and Susan Hayward along with Martha O’Driscoll, who as noted above was also in House of Dracula. Swann would revive his original play Out of the Frying Pan for a theatrical presentation on live television in the 1950s in an episode of Matinee Theatre (season 3, episode 29; aired October 25, 1957). Swann will write a full week of episodes, numbers 41 through 45, until Art Wallace returns for episode 46.
One of Art Wallace’s originally scripted contributions was never used. Following the opening narration and teaser scene, the voice of a male announcer was to have added the following during the opening theme waves/title intro: “A gothic world, swirling with love, fear, hate, revenge, and the relentless mystery of the unknown – the world of Dark Shadows.”
As revealed in Act II, Roger had long before squandered all the money from his inheritance, but admits he had fun spending it. Elizabeth has only some of hers left, having been left with no choice but to use her inheritance money to buy back the company shares Roger offered to the general public for sale, which would have resulted in control of the business being removed from the family entirely. This episode serves to highlight the main character differences between Roger and his sister, with emphasis on Roger’s reckless and self-centered nature and Elizabeth’s duty-bound sense of responsibility toward the Collins family.
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
To the set design for the exterior of Evans cottage, for today’s episode scenic designer Sy Tomashoff has added a splendid-looking birch tree, which is one of the signature tree types in the Northeast.
In Act I, David Ford and Kathryn Leigh Scott momentarily get their lines tangled:
Maggie: Hi, pop.
Sam: Maggie’s at work. Who are you?
Maggie: Maggie was at work but she forgot her shopping list and decided to come home and get it –
Sam: Why di –
Sam: Why didn’t you phone?
At the end of Act II, Louis Edmonds and Alexandra Moltke have a similar tangling of lines:
Roger: Maggie Evans –
Vicki: Sh –
Roger: for me?
Vicki: She says it’s important.
In Act III, even after Vicki hangs up the drawing room phone several clicks can he heard to register from the studio landline connecting the telephones between sets.
In Act III, Joan Bennett says, “But I can’t help wondering if Carolyn might not be looking for a very clever boy – man.”
When in Act III Mrs. Stoddard is on the phone with Joe Haskell, when the set for Joe’s office is shown the clock on the wall has 11:30 a.m., despite that in episode 40 it had already been established that Carolyn’s meeting with Burke at the hotel took place at 12:30 p.m.
Boom mic shadows are ubiqitous in this episode, most prominently on the drawing room set; here’s one from Act IV (against the door, behind Alexandra Moltke).
In the final scene, after Elizabeth concludes her phone call with Ned Calder’s secretary and steps into the foyer to answer the knock at the door, the camera angle from the drawing room picks up the undressed portion of the foyer set to right of screen with a studio light visible.
In the opening scene for today’s episode, Sam is shown tearing up the sketch he did of Burke during their initial portrait sitting in episode 39.
However, in future episodes the drawing will reappear intact.
(Special guest star Lovelady Powell with David Ford in episode 193)
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
With Sam Evans continually on edge at this point in the story, it’s hard to keep track of how many times he keeps refilling his glass in an attempt at gulping back his rising anxiety. Here he is with one of his many afternoon drinks.
On the Flipside:
Following in the 4:30 p.m. Eastern time slot on ABC-TV the day Dark Shadows episode 41 aired was season 2, episode 245 of Where the Action Is, with performances by Chicago group the Five Stairsteps, a quintet of siblings that sometimes featured a sixth member, also a sibling. Best known for their 1970 top ten hit O-o-h Child, their impressive five-year run earned them the title of “the first family of soul.”
(WTAI creator and host Dick Clark, as seen during the opening theme)
Dick Clark: “We move now to the quiet atmosphere, of Minneapolis…”
Dick Clark: “…five young kids from Chicago, the Five Stairsteps…”
“Hello love, nice to see you again”
“I hope someday we can still be friends”
“I know this line won’t help you feel better”
“But a love you don’t see just can’t last forever”
“You’ve waited too long (You waited too long)”
“I knew I was wrong (You waited too long)”
You Waited Too Long, original studio recording:
The First Family of Soul: The Best of the Five Stairsteps, compilation CD:
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 42: The Pen Is Yours
— Marc Masse
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