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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Episode 31: Breaking Point

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After having run away from home, David Collins has been safely returned to Collinwood, accompanied by the man David had sought to frame for the crime of attempted murder.

 

Burke Devlin holds the key. The missing valve from Roger’s car that David had planted in Burke’s hotel room is in his pocket. With David under fierce interrogation from his father, Burke waits for the right moment to step in and present the evidence, concocting a story intended to absolve both he and David of any suspicion of guilt.

 

By this point everyone at Collinwood knows that it was David, and not Burke, who was responsible for the accident that nearly killed Roger.

 

To an already tense and uncomfortable situation the element of confusion has been added, where both Vicki and Roger are compelled to question what they thought they already knew for certain.

 

But this act of interference cannot forestall the inevitable. The simmering cauldron of anger, fear, and lingering resentment is set to boil up to a breaking point, an eruption that will push to the limit the father and son relationship between Roger and David Collins.

 

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Episode 30: The Rain in Maine Falls Plainly All in Vain

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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.

 

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Episode 29: Mechanics Made Easy, Pt. 2

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“What are you supposed to be, a doorstop?”

 

If the ancient proverb about the truth setting one free is to be believed, then Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Stoddard has walled herself up in a fortress of mind so sheltered as to block out any and all illuminating rays of reason.

 

The very minute Vicki had come to her with the story that she’d found the missing brake valve from Roger’s car in a dresser drawer in David’s room while she’d been searching for a letter from the foundling home she thought he might have taken from her room, Mrs. Stoddard has continually turned her back on the probable truth – that her nephew may indeed be guilty of having committed an unspeakable act. Her first reaction was, “I… I don’t believe you.”

 

Carolyn, on the other hand, didn’t need much convincing, largely for two reasons. On an adventurous whim, she had gone into town that day to drop in and visit Burke Devlin in his hotel room. She had also insisted that at the end of the visit he drive her back to Collinwood, believing that if she could bring Burke and his mother and uncle Roger together they could work out their differences and the cloud of tension that had been hovering over Collinwood in recent days could be dispelled. Another motivation may have had something to with that despite her involvement and apparent engagement to Joe Haskell, Carolyn seems to be developing something of a crush on the mysterious Mr. Devlin. So, if it turns out that Burke may not be guilty of having tampered with the brakes on Roger’s car, then it means she will no longer have to be carrying the guilt of having made it possible in bringing him to Collinwood. That’s reason number one. Reason number two has to do with the fact that she thinks of her cousin David as a little monster anyway.

 

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Episode 28: Everyone’s Just Curious, Not Worried

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“…when it comes to that family, nobody’s just curious.”

 

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Episode 27: A Lesson in Finance

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“You nervous about something?”

 

One of the noteworthy things about Dark Shadows – a soap created by a man who had never before done a soap, a series just starting out on the lesser of the three television networks – was the top-notch level of supporting actor talent the show was able to attract early on, despite having been a ratings liability from its initial thirteen-week episode cycle. There are those with previous television experience but who became known for their work on Dark Shadows, like Louis Edmonds and Nancy Barrett. There are those with no earlier television experience but who defined the roles they originated on Dark Shadows, like Alexandra Moltke and Kathryn Leigh Scott. Then there are those actors already known to television audiences but who became better known in later years for work done subsequent to Dark Shadows, like Conrad Bain. Barnard Hughes would fall into this latter category. That’s right! Barnard Hughes, one of the great and memorable character actors of twentieth century stage and screen and tube, is part of the long roster of acting talent to have graced the studio soundstage of Dark Shadows.

 

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Episode 26: Can He Cut the Mustard?

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How can Jonas Carter cut the mustard as the sheriff of Collinsport, when he doesn’t even like mustard on ham?

 

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Episode 25: People Management

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Victoria Winters is searching for her past. Having been raised in a foundling home in New York, she has taken a job hundreds of miles away in Collinsport, Maine, as a companion and governess to a nine-year-old boy only because of the anonymous letters that would arrive each month at the foundling home containing fifty dollars in cash for her care beginning when she was two years old. Because the postmark on the envelopes was from Bangor, only fifty miles away from Collinsport, now eighteen years later she thinks that by taking on this position she might find out something about her mysterious past, something more than the surname she was given because of the season of the year she was left on the front steps of the foundling home in a cardboard box, with only a ten-word note and a first name.

 

Two days after having stepped off the train in Collinsport, a letter sent special delivery has arrived from the foundling home detailing a visit they received from a private investigator wondering why she was hired to work for the Collins family and by whom.

 

No one wants to know the answers to these questions more than Victoria Winters herself, but to her dismay none of the people around her care to even discuss the matter. The only interest in her letter comes from someone who has no reason to be even remotely curious – the young boy she tutors.

 

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Episode 23: Doing a Little Digging

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To many Dark Shadows fans, the notion of the Collinsport police in general and the sheriff in particular is something of a joke, given how in later years of the show the town seems to be run by the vampires and assorted monsters and ghosts who predominate at any given time.

 

But the beginnings of Dark Shadows are a different matter, with its leanings toward more of a sense of realism. Here in the early days, police are competent and thorough; any criminal in their midst would have cause to worry, especially if the perpetrator in question is a nine-year-old boy who’s guilty of attempted murder.

 

Episode 23 is our introduction to Constable Jonas Carter, the only sworn officer of the law in the history of Dark Shadows who ever solved a crime.

 

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Episode 18: Can I Get a Witness?

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Episode 18 is an exercise in minimalism. The first year of Dark Shadows is known for episodes with a full cast, lots of extras, and exterior filming. But this episode has none of those things: apart from the usual glimpse from the back lawn of the “Collinwood” mansion at the beginning, no location footage, no extras, and only three actors. In fact, this is only one of a handful of episodes in the entire series to feature just three actors. And it’s all within the confines of Collinwood itself: Vicki’s room, the upstairs hallway, David’s room, and the downstairs foyer and drawing room are all we see in these twenty-two plus minutes.

 

It’s still the night of Roger’s car accident, but he can’t sleep at this late hour. After discovering that someone most definitely tampered with the brakes on his car, he figures it must have been Burke Devlin, who David’s governess Victoria Winters found standing in the garage by Roger’s car with a wrench in his hand, after having invited him into town for a meeting to discuss a business deal.

 

This is only Vicki’s second night at Collinwood, and for the second time in as many nights she is dragged out of bed to face yet another drawing room interrogation from Roger about Burke Devlin. Before heading out to Burke’s hotel room at the Collinsport Inn, Roger needs to get a witness who saw him there in the garage near the car and find out what Miss Winters knows and what it was exactly that she saw, so that he can then confront Devlin in person and throw the whole thing right in his face.

 

So that’s why other cast members wouldn’t be needed. This late at night, Elizabeth and Carolyn would be sleeping. It’s only the people directly involved with Roger’s accident, those who either experienced or witnessed something, who would be awake at this time of night.

 

Which leaves David. He can’t sleep either. In fact, in the previous episode he woke up several times in the night with bad dreams, screaming to his aunt Elizabeth that he didn’t mean to kill “him.” In this episode, he’s in his room, in pajamas and bathrobe, crushing one of his model cars with his foot and then tossing it out the window. Soon after, he confesses to his governess, “I wrecked a car.” That should be a tip-off, to Vicki at least, that there is a special reason for David being up this late. A nine-year-old boy doesn’t stay up until around midnight just to stomp on a toy car, and then hint that he just did something that might give his governess reason to call the police and have him arrested.

 

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