Episode 55: Two Shades of Guilty

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Roger Collins is living on lies. To everyone he knows, he must remain a stranger. Yet with every passing day his veneer is being chipped away little by little, largely through the perceptive and watchful gaze of his sister Elizabeth, who but for the good of David would have little if any use for the thoughtless extravagance of her brother’s ways. If you think about it, since his return to the ancestral mansion around a month ago, Roger has brought nothing but trouble not only for the family name, but also to those even loosely associated with Collinwood and all it represents.

 

If only Roger had stayed away in Augusta, Burke Devlin would never have returned to Collinsport to set in motion a plot to ruin the Collins family, given how despite that he blames Collins money and prestige for railroading him into prison, his principal nemesis had been mainly Roger, with his testimony on the witness stand having sealed Devlin’s fate.

 

So Roger schemed his way back into Collinwood, using as his bargaining chip the welfare of David’s future: “Roger made an unexpected visit to his sister at Collins House, pleaded the cause of his son….the ‘poor nine-year old child, with no mother to care for him’. He appealed to Elizabeth’s family pride, skillfully reminded her that David was the heir to the Collins name, faithfully promised a renewal of responsibility and sobriety” (Shadows on the Wall, pp. 25-26).

 

Yet since Roger’s return there has been nothing but trouble. Burke Devlin is back in town, leaving Elizabeth Stoddard apprehensive over the future of the Collins family business holdings and even of Collinwood itself. Her plant manager Bill Malloy is dead, after having vowed to stop Burke from carrying out his vendetta against the Collins family. Even Carolyn is affected, what with the worldly sophistication of Burke’s attention setting up a speed bump in her relationship with Joe Haskell, which at any time could sprout up into a full roadblock. All because Roger couldn’t accept the permanence, not to mention the more modest living arrangement, of his paid exile away from Collinwood and Collinsport in general.

 

People elsewhere in Collinsport are affected, even those with no apparent relationship with the Collins family, like Sam Evans. Although Sam’s involvement in the events of ten years earlier that sent Burke Devlin to prison on a manslaughter charge and conviction hasn’t yet been made explicitly clear, he shares the guilt that Roger holds but suffers greatly as a result whether or not the threat of exposure is looming close by. Sam represents a different shade of guilty largely because his character is more complex; for one thing, unlike Roger, he has a conscience, while Roger on the other hand, after nearly five dozen episodes of daily half-hour soap opera, has yet to display in his character so much as a single redeeming human quality.

 

So what do you do with this walking collection of red check marks down a list of boxes outlining the more questionable traits of human nature? If you’re the creator of the character, like Art Wallace who authored the above-mentioned series bible that serves as the show’s guiding outline of probable events, or the executive producer Dan Curtis, who is struggling to pull the sagging ratings back up to a level that would safeguard the show from an almost certain cancellation later that year, you simply provide your viewing audience with a much needed wave of satisfaction by having the character killed off.

 

That’s what the original plan called for; with Roger burdened by his desperate need to suppress the truth of his guilt in sending Burke Devlin away to prison, he will begin to suspect that Collinwood’s recently installed governess is conspiring against him when she is invited over to dinner at the Evans cottage, suspicious of what she may have been told about the events of ten years ago especially with the way Sam’s penchant for excessive drinking tends to loosen his tongue. Roger will then lure Vicki out to Widow’s Hill and standing by the edge he will in a fevered moment of rage grab hold of her, reminding her of the legend of Collinwood, how two young women of Collins House had hurled themselves over the edge and that at some future time there would be a third, and Vicki unnerved by the crazed look in Roger’s eyes begins to struggle against his grip; but David having followed them out to the cliff rushes forward and cries out, and Roger in that split second of surprise loses his footing and goes over the edge himself… and who among the viewing audience that afternoon in the summer or fall of sixty-six would have missed him?

 

Somewhere, in an alternate universe perhaps accessible through some warp of parallel time as yet undiscovered in one of Collinwood’s closed off wings, there was an end to Roger Collins after however many weeks of the series; in the series bible it happens the day Vicki takes David over to the Evans cottage so he can meet Sam the artist, so roughly early on in the phoenix story. In that parallel present time, Louis Edmonds decides once again to give up on acting, just as he had earlier that year when a steady stream of acting roles in the theater had at last dried up; his swan song as an actor would have been a bit part in a movie that filmed just before he started working on Dark Shadows called Come Spy with Me, a typical spy drama of the time released the following January that met with critical hostility and tepid box office attendance. Instead, he would have simply retired to his Long Island residence known as the Rookery, resigned to the humble but satisfying life of being a regular in the local shops and singing in the choir every Sunday, and some other actor would have landed the part of Langley Wallingford on All My Children in 1979.

 

To think what might have been were the makers of Dark Shadows not the type of people who could appreciate the talent of actors who would distinguish themselves in their roles so much so that they would actually be willing to dispense with a key moment in a given story outline. But that turning point is still weeks ahead; for now, Roger the rogue is doing what he can between brandies to keep the truth of his deeds both past and present from spilling into view and exposing him for all to see.

 

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Episode 49: The Case of the Vanishing Man: Part 2, Questions and Concerns

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Today the talk of Collinsport is Bill Malloy.

 

Not that he was particularly popular; matter of fact, most folks just seemed to take him for granted, that is, when he was around.

 

It’s a seeming disappearance that has everyone talking about a man many around town wouldn’t have otherwise given a second thought to.

 

Even more than this, there exists in the minds of some the possibility of foul play, causing even friends of long-standing to begin turning against one another.

 

That’s what happens when you bring Alfred Hitchcock to a town like Collinsport; the smaller the populace, the larger the mystery, the more persistent the questions, the greater the concerns.

 

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Episode 43: The Man Who Learned Too Much

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Bill Malloy these days comes across as the man with all the answers; or at the very least appears to know the proper solutions, and the means of applying them, to save the Collins family from ruin in the face of Burke Devlin’s determined vendetta.

 

Knowledge can be a blessing; freeing you from short-sighted doubt as well as fear of the unknown. Knowledge can also be a curse; setting you apart from others while leaving you torn over sudden and unforeseen divided loyalties.

 

So what do you do when you’ve learned too much about the very people you rely on the most? If you’re Bill Malloy, you skip out on work for an afternoon and go to the Blue Whale where you can find a nice quiet table to drink things over for a while.

 

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Episode 40: Coffee Time

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One of the best things about the first year of Dark Shadows is Nancy Barrett. Despite all of Carolyn Stoddard’s faults, not the least of which being her borderline incestuous crush on her uncle Roger, the emphatic range Nancy Barrett brings to her performances simply makes the character nothing short of enchanting. It’s here in episode 40 where such a quality is brought home to epitomize what makes Nancy Barrett so great in the role of Carolyn Stoddard.

 

There are a good many fans who only follow the show from episode 210 where the Barnabas era begins, and for this reason alone the first two hundred nine episodes remain one of the best kept secrets among Dark Shadows fandom. Yet for those who appreciate the fantastic performances of talented actors bringing characters to life with definitive depth, these early episodes contain some of the finest, most memorable moments in the entire series.

 

Here in episode 40, greatness abounds not only in scenes with Nancy Barrett as Carolyn Stoddard, but also in those with David Ford as Sam Evans. In the post for episode 41, we’ll recognize what David Ford achieves in one of his more magnificent moments on Dark Shadows; for now, let’s shine a light on what Nancy Barrett brings to define her portrayal of Carolyn Stoddard in the absolute.

 

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Episode 39: Open House at Evans Cottage

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Sam Evans likes to keep pretty much to himself. Unfortunately, a number of people continually impose on him, folks he’d rather not see or talk to. He’s a painter who’s been commissioned to paint a portrait he doesn’t want to paint, and will even feign a headache to cut the portrait sitting short. On top of this, another man he doesn’t want to see barges in to talk about things Sam just doesn’t want to talk about; if that weren’t enough, the intruder even goes so far as to seize Sam’s bottle of whiskey to prevent him from even pouring himself a drink in his own living room. On that same morning, this demanding interloper will not only consider threatening him with murder, but will also offer him a sizeable bribe to leave his life and livelihood behind. After managing to get rid of the unwanted portrait subject, he begins losing his temper while trying to usher away trespasser number one, during which invader number three, Collins family business manager Bill Malloy, just walks right in through the front door without so much as a knock. When Sam raises a complaint, Bill simply tells him it’s his own fault for leaving the door unlocked.

 

That’s what happens in Collinsport, if you don’t bar the door, when something from your past you’d rather keep hidden comes calling right at your doorstep. Still, it could be worse, considering what the future holds in store for Evans cottage, with the gallery of Universal monsters that will someday be encroaching on his domain; a gentleman vampire caller who just can’t keep his fangs away from his daughter, a Frankenstein type man child who breaks in to borrow and brandish a huge carving knife while Sam is away at the pub for an evening drink, a werewolf in the night who just jumps crashing through the front window hungry and growling for any kind of action it can find.

 

There will come a time when Sam will long for the good old days of only the year or two before when it was just Burke Devlin, the old friend he betrayed long ago, Roger Collins, the man who imprisoned him in a pact of silence, and Bill Malloy, the wise old owl who comes around asking too many questions, that he would be trying to keep from seeking him out.

 

First thing in the morning here in the summer of sixty-six it’s open house at Evans cottage, and no one is invited.

 

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Episode 38: The Count of Monte Devlin

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The Wikipedia page for Dark Shadows links the nineteenth century novel The Count of Monte Cristo with the story of Burke Devlin:

 

Burke Devlin’s Revenge For His Manslaughter Conviction, episode 1 to 201.

 

The accompanying citation, with something one would typically expect from all things Wikipedia, provides erroneous information:

 

“In episode 28, Burke Devlin is seen reading this novel. It similarity to events is commented upon i.e. a man returning to his home town to wreak revenge.”

 

They’re only off by ten episodes; and “it” should be “its” and “home town” is one word.

 

Now that we’ve done the necessary proofreading, let’s examine the more probable origins of the story of Burke Devlin, one of the main driving forces behind the beginnings of Dark Shadows.

 

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Episode 36: The David Ford Effect

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The addition of David Ford as the new Sam Evans has had an immediate and energizing effect on fellow Dark Shadows cast members, most notably with Louis Edmonds’ performance as Roger Collins.

 

Fresh off the Hartford Stage in a year-long run as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, David Ford’s distinctly dramatic infusion of Tennessee Williams into his portrayal of Sam Evans has awakened a theatrical spirit in those among the cast who already had a strong background on the live stage.

 

Louis Edmonds for one got his start as a New York stage actor, working in regional theater and Off-Broadway before finally breaking through with a Broadway production of Candide in 1956. To work alongside an actor like David Ford must have been like going home, because he’s absolutely on fire in this episode, giving one of his best ever performances as Roger Collins, scene after scene.

 

Hereafter, when auditioning actors for new roles or as replacements for existing characters, the casting department will more and more be looking to New York City and regional theater for talent.

 

The arrival of David Ford represents a watershed moment on Dark Shadows, where fairly tame and ordinary melodrama has the potential to achieve the heights of high drama. This initial transformation will eventually pave the way for the casting of a certain Shakespearean actor in the role of a vampire.

 

But that’s months off still and, as yet, something unforeseen. One thing follows another, but only by chance – that’s the magic that made the run of the series one of a kind, and why Dark Shadows could only happen once.

 

For now, “the David Ford effect” is getting the production crew of Dark Shadows to rethink the show’s approach to acting and where they should be looking for the talent to add that extra spark and make scenes more riveting, with the actors themselves pulling out all the stops to move things up a notch by adding a more theatrical sense of drama to their performances beginning with today’s episode, making the pages of dialogue seem more alive and bringing to the character portrayals that one extra layer of fullness and depth.

 

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