Victoria Winters: What’s the “Old House”?
Matthew Morgan: Nothing. It’s a dangerous place, maybe more dangerous than the top of Widow’s Hill.
Mrs. Stoddard: I don’t want anyone to hear what I’m going to say to you.
“Here’s new Mum Mist…”
For a moment at the top of today’s episode, it looks like Dark Shadows is finally making a serious attempt at getting to the truth of the show’s protagonist Victoria Winters and her mysterious origins, that her past may well indeed contain a very significant link to Collinwood. Episode 70 represents the final scenes around seven days in the life of Collinsport and its most notorious residents, the founders and benefactors who live in that big, gloomy house at the top of Widow’s Hill. For the viewer though, this week has played out for more than three full months on network daytime television. So when a moment like this arrives, the potential for story resolution can be especially bracing.
“I haven’t really had a chance to speak to you since Burke was here last night…”
So it turns out to be little more than an aside, proving nothing really, leaving the viewer feeling a bit played. In fact, the whole moment seems beside the point. The two women simply reassure each other that Bill Malloy’s death must have been accidental, and Mrs. Stoddard can reassure herself that her governess can look after more than just David’s school work.
Speaking of which, during their talk young David has crept downstairs to do one of those things that have earned him the nickname of the “little monster.”
Really though, his presence there is just an excuse to get the caretaker Matthew Morgan into the scene on the pretext of having caught David eavesdropping…
…setting up for another potentially revealing moment.
Matthew: I have to tell you about something I did.
“Has anyone ever improved on Bayer aspirin?…”
Along with Elizabeth’s brother Roger, Matthew’s behavior throughout the whole Bill Malloy affair has seemed unusual and suspicious enough to qualify him as a prime suspect in what even the sheriff hasn’t yet ruled out as possible foul play in the death of the Collins industry plant manager. When Malloy’s body washed up along the rocks beneath Widow’s Hill, Matthew not only concealed the fact but initially even lied about it outright. And this was a longtime trusted friend of the very employer to whom Matthew has sworn complete devotion. Then he takes it upon himself to create a public scene at the Blue Whale following a contentious moment with the Collins family’s arch rival Burke Devlin. Sometimes it’s really difficult to tell whose side Matthew is on, or whether he is ultimately protecting himself and some deep, dark secret.
“Mr. Devlin was here last night, so I guess he told you about what I did…”
As it turns out, it was just another teaser for the audience, yet another carrot dangled and then pulled away after so many weeks of continuous unanswered questions, covering points already known to the viewing audience, but set up in such a way to indicate a possible breakthrough in story resolution.
The makers of Dark Shadows are simply suspending the current storylines to do something big and groundbreaking toward the close of this Friday’s episode, something never before seen on daytime television. When the ratings figures come in to the network the following week, a huge upward spike will have been recorded for the show based on today’s episode. In future interviews, executive producer Dan Curtis will cite this moment as the major turning point that helped Dark Shadows to find its own identity, having acted on the advice of his young daughters who thought he should make the show scary.
In 1966, without home video recording equipment you watched a program on TV once and if you wanted to see it again you had to rely on summer repeats or possible syndication packages down the road. Being technically a daytime soap, viewers could count on seeing a given episode once and then never again. Some of the remaining original viewers from the July Nielsen’s numbers that recorded nine million regular viewers for Dark Shadows may have gotten on the phone with friends thinking maybe the true identity of the orphan governess was about to be revealed, or that it was indeed Matthew finally confessing to Mrs. Stoddard his guilt in the death of Bill Malloy. Each of those scenes above start out with a tantalizing hint at a possible big revelation, with just enough time following for viewers to make quick phone calls.
Regardless, instead of placing a supernatural moment more in the middle of the episode like the mysterious opening of a book in the drawing room back in episode 52…
…they’ll save today’s big moment for the final minutes of the episode, by which time the young demographic preparing to tune in for the Dick Clark music program Where the Action Is will catch something that in the future may make them want to hurry home from school to tune back in to the WTAI lead-in Dark Shadows, which had been the replacement for daytime television’s first teen-oriented soap Never Too Young, starring Tony Dow from Leave It to Beaver.
Once the teaser bits are out of the way, the episode will then be devoted to building up the backstory of Josette Collins, first matriarch of Collinwood whose young life ended in tragedy over the edge of Widow’s Hill some one hundred thirty years earlier.
Vicki: Matthew, have you ever seen anything like this?
This is where first mention of the Old House is made, with Matthew reprimanding David for having been hanging around there when he knew he wasn’t supposed to and then advising Vicki on the danger lurking there. It’s a very clever means of introducing a new set piece for the Collins estate as some kind of dirty family secret, having of course never been mentioned previously either on the show or in the series bible Shadows on the Wall. For the viewer, it adds an extra layer to the intrigue of ghosts hovering in all the dark and hidden corners of the great estate, and unlike in episode 52 where there was surely a hint of the supernatural, today’s episode intends on delivering in a very clear and memorable way.
Matthew’s role in this scene is not unlike the inn keeper in the 1931 Universal Monsters film Dracula, who warns Renfield about the dangers of traveling along Borgo Pass at night and to just keep clear of it until after sunrise, as do the villagers there who know.
It’s really the first trace of the Universal Monsters influence on Dark Shadows, one that over time would change the whole look and tone of the show.
With Matthew having set the appropriate ominous tone for the Old House, we go now back to the drawing room to get some background on one of its most longstanding inhabitants.
Elizabeth: When did you do this, David?
Vicki: He says it’s one of the ghosts of Collinwood.
David: It is, it really is!
Then we get this long shot with the Collins family history in the immediate foreground, providing the viewer with a reminder of episode 52 where that very volume opened of itself, something lifted directly from the 1944 ghost story The Uninvited.
From there Elizabeth compares David’s drawing to the one of Josette Collins in the family history, but the ghost story unfolding is provided with a special touch when David reveals the true source of the subject matter.
Elizabeth: When did you do this David? Did you take it from here?
David: No, I drew it from memory.
Prior to episode 70, all the location footage inserted into taped broadcasts had been filmed in the days before the first episode was taped back in early June. From November 6 to 10, 1966, several cast members traveled with crew up to Tarrytown to film extensively at the location used for the Old House, but as can be seen from the leafy opening shot at the top of the post as well as in other footage shown in this episode, the footage used here had to have been filmed that September, though no specific dates are listed in source materials.
As David leads Vicki along a path to the Old House, it’s supposed to be evening but one can easily see that this footage uses the “day for night” technique, that is, filmed during daytime but with a filter over the camera lens to provide the effect of nighttime, a technique widely used in the British Hammer Films, which Dan Curtis was a huge fan of and which would eventually prove to be yet another major influence on Dark Shadows.
With the nineteenth century Greek Revival architectural style of the Old House, the location footage provided in today’s episode does somewhat resemble the opening of any one of those Hammer Films where danger may be waiting within the walls of some foreboding estate, for those who would dare to visit by flashlight in the night.
Episode 70 is indeed the opening for something – the future of Dark Shadows.
This fall, while out on an evening weed run and traveling through the village of Waban in Newton, Massachusetts, I encountered… the Old House.
Preserved as a local landmark, this house with the unique façade fashioned in the Greek Revival style was built in 1847 by a local entrepreneur named Frederick… Collins.
He even had it built it on land that was already part of the family estate, during the same year he married Amelia Revere who is said to have descended directly from Paul Revere (his grandniece); so for a while in this area there was presumably an Old House (owned by his father Mathias Collins III) and a new Collins House as captured in passing below.
The (Frederick) Collins House in October 2020, near sundown.
A technical gaffe in the end credits for today’s episode has ironically resulted in a blooper among Dark Shadows fans, given how the Dark Shadows Wiki lists Art Wallace as the writer. Since episode 41, with the addition of Francis Swann, writing on Dark Shadows has been divided into five-episode blocks so that each full week of episodes has a different writer from the previous week. The technical gaffe occurs when the first part of the extended scroll listing all the crew members does not show, only becoming visible when the producer credit for Robert Costello begins fading in.
The Art Wallace credit is for story creation and development, that is, the series outline Shadows on the Wall.
Ironically, the actual writer’s name for this episode was “ghosted” for from the credits.
As you can see from the page for the episode in Dark Shadows: The First Year, the authoritative source for the first 210 episodes, the writer for today’s episode was Francis Swann.
(Dark Shadows: The First Year, 2006, Blue Whale Books, by Nina Johnson and O. Crock [summary writers], p. 81).
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
Today’s episode represents the first use of both the location footage and studio set design for the Old House, in real life known as the “J. Gould estate” or the “Spratt mansion,” one of many such places that lined the Hudson River north of Manhattan up to Tarrytown. Already abandoned for several years by the mid-1960s, the property came to the attention of Dan Curtis while visiting the Lyndhurst estate and wandering one day to explore the area immediately adjacent.
As Matthew is leaving the drawing room, the camera angle pulls right to reveal a teleprompter and the edge of the set showing the foyer set beyond.
Following her scene with Nancy Barrett, Joan Bennett turns right and walks off the drawing room set rather than through the double doors.
As noted above, episode writer Francis Swann was not shown in the rolling portion of the end credits, having previously been inserted after the Art Wallace story credit and preceding the scenic design credit for Sy Tomashoff, as done for instance with the end credits rolling over the closing theme of episode 42. In addition, the usual running gag with the rolling end credits today has Ohrbach’s misspelled.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
As Act III begins and David is about to take Vicki out to the Old House to meet all his ghost friends, Carolyn emerges from the kitchen with a tea service…
…which she takes into the drawing room while suggesting to her mother the idea of hiring Bill Malloy’s housekeeper Mrs. Johnson as a housekeeper.
Joan Bennett’s 1970 autobiography (original front cover).
The Bennetts: An Acting Family, the 2004 biography.
The Louis Edmonds biography, Big Lou.
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.
Coming next: Dark Shadows from the Beginning Special Edition: The Perils of Mark Allen, Revisited
— Marc Masse
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