Episode 63: A Question of Murder

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Dark Shadows canon is a tricky concept, with consensus drawn mainly from whichever writer gets the last word in storywise. Take for instance the names of the Collins parents immediately preceding the generation of Roger Collins and Elizabeth Stoddard. While many Dark Shadows fans know the name of the father of Elizabeth and Roger to be Jamison Collins, this earlier patriarch as first outlined by Art Wallace in Shadows on the Wall was named Joseph Collins. Perhaps this is why Elizabeth is always so intent on having Carolyn marry Joe Haskell, because he has the same first name as her beloved father. And with Elizabeth’s mother Carolyn having died at the age of thirty-eight while having given birth to Roger, it’s no surprise that she should name her daughter Carolyn as a loving tribute. This is only speculation of course, but either way all these richly symbolic bits of possible backstory get eliminated from consideration when in later years some writer comes along who was never even involved with the beginnings of Dark Shadows, but who nonetheless gets to set the canon only by virtue of having gotten in the last word on a given subject.

 

Particularly in this run of episodes where it’s yet to be determined whether or not Bill Malloy had met with foul play, it’s worth noting how Roger Collins and Matthew Morgan could indeed have been working together to see that Malloy would never arrive at the meeting in Roger’s office that night to carry out his intentions of clearing Burke Devlin. When the present week of episodes were being scripted, there was still the plan for the story arc to be leading to Roger’s death from atop Widow’s Hill, his mind having been driven to a frenzied state while agonizing over whether Victoria Winters had been conspiring with Burke Devlin to expose him and bring about his downfall. Given how Roger thus far has generally been ice-cold to all those around him in terms of humanity and compassion, having regarded even members of his own family with generous projections of contempt, it wouldn’t be too significant a stretch to assume that he would resort to the ultimate crime if it meant saving his own patrician hide, with the topper being that true to form he wouldn’t actually want to get his hands dirty, but in an ironic twist would enlist the aid of the Collinwood caretaker – to take care of a matter that could bring scandal and disgrace to certain of those who live in the big house, but most especially would compromise the dignity and good standing of Mrs. Stoddard; Roger being Roger, this no doubt would have been his main selling point to the gruff and burly caretaker, whose loyalty toward his long-time employer rivals that of many dog breeds toward their given master. After all, what’s the sense investing story time to humanize a character like Roger Collins when there are only a few weeks at most left to go before he has outlived his usefulness?

 

Think of how suspiciously Matthew Mach II has already behaved and just in the past twenty-four hours. There’s a hidden yet fatal flaw in Matthew’s character that gets one to question the true nature of his fiercely determined loyalty toward all things Collins and Collinwood. It isn’t in the way he was menacing toward Vicki that time in the basement, when she was only checking on a strange sound she had heard in the night, while he was enforcing the wishes of Mrs. Stoddard by making sure people wouldn’t go snooping around down there; it isn’t even when he ventures down from the hill to intercept Burke over coffee at the Collinsport Inn restaurant warning that he’ll kill him if he doesn’t stop trying to bring trouble to Mrs. Stoddard up at Collinwood – it’s that in the past twenty-four hours, later claiming to have been acting in the best interests of the family by keeping sensational rumors from damaging the reputation and legacy of the Collins name, upon discovering Bill Malloy dead by the foot of Widow’s Hill, rather than notifying the folks in the great house right away, Matthew actually… eased the body back into the water and even watched it float away out of sight, keeping mum about it until finally Mrs. Stoddard confronted him for the truth relating to that alleged dead man both Vicki and Carolyn supposedly saw washed up on the rocks below the cliff the night after Bill Malloy had disappeared.

 

This is the one instance thus far on Dark Shadows where it’s hard for the viewer to suspend disbelief, to take Matthew’s claims of complete devotion for the Collins family at face value; given how we know that Bill and Elizabeth had been such good friends of long-standing and that we’re supposed to believe Matthew was acting purely out of sincere loyalty, it makes the caretaker’s actions all the more unthinkable. What Matthew did that night below Widow’s Hill would seem more the desperate act of someone attempting to cover up evidence that could possibly lead to the revelation of a dark deed, an action so inconceivable that it may well in fact be a question of murder.

 

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Episode 46: Destroy Me, Pt. 1

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The early days of Dark Shadows are becoming especially interesting; as of this episode, the influence of Alfred Hitchcock becomes apparent.

 

I’ve managed to pinpoint the exact source Dan Curtis drew upon for the Bill Malloy story, an episode from the anthology series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which will also reveal from where the idea was derived for the curious and sinister approach to Thayer David’s makeup job in his portrayal of Matthew Morgan.

 

In the post for episode 64, we’ll examine these points in depth, as well as how Hitchcock would later inspire Dan Curtis as a director.

 

For now, let’s begin with today’s opening narration:

 

My name is Victoria Winters…”

 

“Good evening… or, rather, good afternoon…”

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“I thought Monday would never come…”

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“Today’s story concerns that of a man with an agenda to be fulfilled; that is, one who likes to make appointments for others, so that he can meet with them after hours. The question is, for today, whether this man can indeed make it to the meeting he has arranged, even if the other principals involved, despite their not wanting to attend, nonetheless manage to arrive on time… ”

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“…Oh, dear. I fear that my time on this program may be cut short. I’ve just now, through the control room microphone, heard the lady director tell the executive producer that she doesn’t like me, because my trousers ride up and I look like Mr. Potato Head. Therefore, I shall endeavor to provide myself with a complete makeover before we arrive at the final scene. In the meantime, here is a word from our sponsor…”

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Episode 45: Ace in the Hole

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Over this past week of episodes, ever since Bill Malloy became the de facto star of Dark Shadows, there’s something you notice: He doesn’t have a set of his own.

 

Every main regular player has their own set created to define their base of operations, a place where they seem at home and appear to have the advantage when playing host to visitors: Burke Devlin has his grand three-room suite on the top floor of Collinsport Inn; Roger has his place beside the Collinwood drawing room liquor cabinet – matter of fact, in today’s episode a new set has been created for him, a luxurious office space at the cannery; even Joe Haskell had an office set created for him, which was shown in episode 41 during his phone call with Mrs. Stoddard.

 

Bill Malloy on the other hand makes most of his phone calls relating to the present storyline from the pay phone at the back wall of the Blue Whale; to meet with the principals involved in his plans, he uses a table right smack in the center of the room. In today’s episode he’s even calling Roger at Collinwood using the phone in Roger’s office, and arranges a meeting with Burke at the Blue Whale from the same location. He never has a phone or room to call his own; as a sudden main player, his character is really little more than a “floater.” The writing staff even addresses this point in today’s episode, just in case the viewer has been wondering about the same thing:

 

Burke: Are you making the Blue Whale your office now?

Bill: Sometimes you get the most privacy in the most public place.

 

Oh, alright; so long as you don’t mind the details of your private plans being randomly picked up by other Blue Whale customers and possibly the bartender as well.

 

Today Bill Malloy is talking card games. He tells Burke that he’s put most of his cards down, and now he’s ready to play his hole card. The term “ace in the hole” has the following definition: “A hidden advantage or resource kept in reserve until needed.” It’s derived from stud poker; while you place your bets, you hold a key potentially winning card face down, or “in the hole,” until you’re ready to play it.

 

Bill indicates to Burke that the hole card he’s ready to play could possibly be walking right into the Blue Whale at any moment, adding that he’ll know him when he sees him; that means the viewer will as well.

 

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Episode 44: You Can Bank On It

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Today Elizabeth Stoddard’s banker John Harris drives down from Bangor to present her with financial documents for a trust fund she has set up for David. Cast for the role is Patrick McVey, who turns in what can only be described as the single least proficient performance of any actor ever to appear on Dark Shadows. An explanation for this is provided in the “background audio” section of the post on episode 43 as well as below in today’s post.

 

In the summer of 1966, there was a viral outbreak in the Dark Shadows studio, and Patrick McVey was among those infected. Lelarichia swifteria is a rare virus affecting mainly male middle-aged supporting actors on Dark Shadows. Symptoms of L. swifteria begin with confusion and unease followed by a sudden drop in confidence, soon progressing to reduced motor capacity affecting abilities for memory of lines as well as timing and steadiness of delivery.

 

In some cases, the afflicted sufferer may manage to sustain themselves for multiple appearances over several episode tapings, but in many cases L. swifteria proves fatal to an actor’s duration on Dark Shadows.

 

There is no known cure.

 

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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 42: The Pen Is Yours

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The pen is yours

The pen is mine

The pen belongs

To Dark Shadows fans

Down through time

 

The silver filigree fountain pen; a story point which many Dark Shadows fans can’t seem to agree on – is it really great, or just a red herring?

 

This reviewer however has never seen a Dark Shadows prop he doesn’t like, and will instead be enthusing on the many entertaining and memorable scenes generated solely from the existence of Burke Devlin’s one of a kind sterling silver fountain pen as it changes hands from episode to episode.

 

Would you believe a fountain pen worth killing over? All We Are Saying Is Give Pens A Chance; Devlin’s Silver Hammer; Here Comes The Pen…

 

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Episode 41: The Day That Became Last Night

 

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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.

 

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