Episode 62: Destroy Me, Pt. 2

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Hard to believe that just six nights ago Victoria Winters was on board a train headed up the New England coast “to a strange and dark place, to the edge of the sea, high atop Widow’s Hill…” while here as Dark Shadows wades through its thirteenth week of episodes it feels more like it ought to be six months. Like back in episode 36 whereupon during their “first” meeting Sam Evans talks with Victoria Winters to ask about her employer Elizabeth Stoddard and he opens with, “Miss Winters, you’ve been in Collinwood some time now and you know Mrs. Stoddard pretty well…” as if it had already been months when in fact barely forty-eight hours of story time had yet elapsed.

 

Given the cyclic nature of storytelling on a daytime “soap” drama, it is to be expected that details relating to the story of Victoria Winters for instance would accumulate in a similar cyclic fashion, where at some point a new clue would arise that may shed some light on the mystery of her past. Yet take as an example episode 34, which led Vicki to Burke’s hotel room to read a report on her generated by Devlin’s private investigator Wilbur Strake. After weeks of having been sidelined by the missing brake valve caper, which took up only a page and a half or so in the series outline Shadows on the Wall, Victoria was ultimately left to realize that the report told her of “nothing I didn’t already know.” Sidelined yet again by the disappearance and subsequent death of Bill Malloy, Victoria has had to wait another twenty-six episodes to encounter the portrait of Betty Hanscom, while Dark Shadows continues to plod along in blocks of micro-time.

 

It’s one thing if the executive producer has never done a soap before, given how the “fish out of water” element can actually be an advantage at times, especially in the case of Dan Curtis who would simply think nothing of suddenly transforming his show from a “gothic romance” to a murder mystery not in the style of The Edge of Night, but rather more in line with what Alfred Hitchcock had brought to nighttime television over the previous decade with shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but it’s something else altogether when your one-man writing staff has likewise never before had the experience of scripting for a daytime drama. The closest Art Wallace had yet come to grazing the realm of serialized narrative was one of the early prime-time medical dramas of the period, The Doctors and The Nurses, having penned eight episodes of that one-hour series over two years.

 

Perhaps Wallace approached Dark Shadows with the idea that story content for daytime television should simply be drawn out so as to keep audiences aligned with the day-to-day lives of the characters they were tuning in to see, given how there are five consecutive half-hour segments to be filled each week, whereas in a prime-time episodic drama stories can be told in full in around fifty minutes not counting commercial breaks. Indeed, whereas the arc of Jason McGuire and the blackmail/Paul Stoddard story on Dark Shadows runs for nearly eighty episodes, Wallace himself had already presented a complete version of that story as a one-hour drama in 1957, which had evolved from the original half-hour version first broadcast in 1954 (both productions titled “The House”).

 

You have to wonder what the Dark Shadows fan discussions were like in 1966. Imagine a couple of viewers comparing notes that September just as the thirteenth week of episodes are being aired; one has stayed with the show all summer long, while the other lost interest after the first few weeks. The one who no longer watches asks, “Did they ever get out of that first week?” The one who’s still a regular viewer answers, “No, not yet.” Bemused, the first one adds, “You should watch Secret Storm instead.”

 

In Collinsport, time moves so slowly that in the lobby of the Collinsport Inn they have an hourglass that’s filled with molasses. Day 6 began with episode 53, a day that won’t even see midnight by the time Dark Shadows is wrapping up its first thirteen-week cycle with episode 65. Three months of episodes, six days of story, almost. Maybe all those folks who are critical of the beginning episodes of Dark Shadows for being slow kind of have a point after all.

 

Another thing about this period of the show is that lately certain episodes seem almost to be sequels of those that came before, and today’s episode is a case in point. Episode 62 overall is like a reprise of episode 46, wherein both Sam and Roger are on the block once again, as if the destruction of their very way of life may be at stake, this time though relating to suspicion in the death of Bill Malloy, but with the testy reminder of Burke’s manslaughter conviction still at the heart of it. Whereas the hand of both Roger and Sam had been forced by Bill Malloy in the earlier episode through the action he was determined to take in the hope of resolving the matter of Devlin’s vendetta against the Collins family, here in today’s episode Roger and Sam are each playing their own hand by choice. Each will have a confessor they approach voluntarily; for Sam it will be Burke Devlin and for Roger it will be Victoria Winters, and through a deceptive and determined blend of lies and half-truths each will attempt to clear himself of all suspicion relating to matters both past and present.

 

However, as noted in the opening image above, such measures could just as easily bring about their complete undoing, especially for Sam Evans who is yet again driven to desperation.

 

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Episode 58: Dead Man’s Holiday

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With the death of Bill Malloy now an official fact, on this day in the town of Collinsport measures are being taken to observe his passing. The family-owned business for which Malloy devoted the greater share of his livelihood, first on the fishing boats and then as plant manager, has shuttered its operations for the remainder of the day. It was Roger Collins who made the suggestion to Elizabeth, but of course Roger would do anything to get out of work, if only for an afternoon.

 

It’s a dead man’s holiday, but the day really belongs to the sheriff of Collinsport. Dana Elcar appears on every set in use during today’s episode, and each appearance made by Sheriff Patterson will have a decisive effect on the actions of whomever he interacts with.

 

The opening narration by Victoria Winters tells of how “the long shadows of fear do reach out, touching others, darkening their hearts with growing tension.” Sam Evans for one, and Roger Collins for another, each have reason to be tense and fearful, especially with the sheriff making his rounds with hard questions that demand frank answers.

 

Still, there are others whose hopes and dreams cannot be shattered by the grim fact of Malloy’s demise. Joe Haskell has stopped in at the Blue Whale and is flagged down by Sam who gets Joe to join him at his table for a beer. Then when the sheriff happens in and joins them, he convinces Joe to take advantage of this nice afternoon off and go with Carolyn out for a drive in the country. Joe’s dream is of course to marry Carolyn, and a few hours just getting away from it all might find them talking of plans for the future.

 

Then there’s young David Collins, who in a morbid twist finds renewed hope through Mr. Malloy’s death. With the aid of a book devoted to local tide charts and currents, David will do his best to see if he can determine where exactly Mr. Malloy fell in the water. David believes that Mr. Malloy was murdered by his father, because his crystal ball told him so, and because having his father sent to prison would mean becoming free of the pervasive threat of being sent away himself. As David admits in this episode, he likes it there at Collinwood, with all his ghost friends, one of whom may even be Mr. Malloy.

 

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Episode 56: More Problems Dead Than Alive

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One thing is now clear about the disappearance and death of Bill Malloy: Sam Evans couldn’t have been responsible. This doesn’t necessarily mean that other folks around Collinsport wouldn’t look upon him with suspicion, like the sheriff, were it determined that Malloy had indeed met his end as a result of foul play. In a poetic twist, he could even be framed, tried, and convicted just as Burke Devlin had been for manslaughter ten years before. Even worse, what happened to Bill could just as easily happen to him.

 

Sam Evans thus has reason to be running scared. If Malloy had made it to the meeting that night, Sam would be faced with charges for withholding evidence relating to the Devlin trial along with the possibility of prison time. Now with Malloy dead and the question of murder and motive not outside the realm of possibility, the penalty looming ahead could mean a life sentence.

 

Based on Sam’s words and actions in the previous episode and this one however, it seems the grim balance of fate is weighing most heavily on his mind today. In a drunk and desperate moment, he’s already admitted to Bill what he knows about Roger Collins, and now Malloy has turned up dead.

 

Whatever the outcome, for Sam Evans especially Bill Malloy represents more problems dead than alive.

 

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Episode 48: The Case of the Vanishing Man: Part 1, Questions and Theories

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It was in episode 45 that Bill Malloy stormed into Roger’s office at the cannery to present an ultimatum: either go to the police and confess his guilt for wrongfully sending Burke Devlin to prison on a manslaughter conviction ten years ago, or let Sam Evans reveal that he’s the only thing standing between Roger Collins and a prison sentence.

 

This option was reiterated in episode 46 when Bill showed up at Collinwood at ten that night, during which time Roger practically admitted to Malloy that Burke was not guilty but that because it was a long time ago and Burke was now a rich man, Bill should just let the matter slide for the sake of the Collins family.

 

So when in episode 47 Malloy fails to show up at the meeting he arranged between himself, Roger, Burke, and Sam in Roger’s office for eleven on the dot, Roger begins to relax; just after midnight, he’s positively buoyant as he returns home and strolls into the drawing room for a late brandy before turning in. You have to wonder why in those moments he would seem so carefree. Despite that Bill didn’t show up for the meeting, surely the ultimatum regarding Roger and going to the police would still stand the following day.

 

So here it is episode 48 and the next day; Bill Malloy has evidently disappeared, and people are starting to ask questions. Now it looks like Roger will have to face a threat even more terrifying than the police – his sister Elizabeth.

 

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Episode 47: Meeting of the Board

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The genius of the pen.

 

Not many Dark Shadows fans would subscribe to such a notion, but it becomes easier to accept when seen in the context of the show’s present transformation; a tale of mystery and suspense fashioned after the sort of nighttime drama anthology shows presented by Alfred Hitchcock.

 

The story of Bill Malloy, along with its aftermath and consequences, could have been neatly sewn up in just one hour of nighttime television, as Art Wallace did initially with the Jason McGuire/blackmail story prototype The House in 1957, or even a single half-hour as Wallace also did with the initial version of the above story three years earlier. Instead, the Jason McGuire story played out on Dark Shadows for more than eighty episodes, with the blackmail story itself running for a full seventy-nine.

 

Likewise, the Bill Malloy story promises to generate plenty of episode mileage. In the format of daytime serial drama, the story can unfold a little at a time with the opportunity of providing numerous additional details while various characters are scrutinized for their suspicions and motives. In the process, everyday props like fountain pens and clocks take on a greater significance by serving to shed an occasional spotlight on the inconsistencies of a character’s alibi, should the need arise to account for one’s whereabouts at a given time, thereby building on the overall mystery by adding to the speculation.

 

Today’s episode is a case in point; the meeting arranged by Bill Malloy between himself, Burke Devlin, Roger Collins, and Sam Evans, instead of resolving the conflict between Devlin and the Collins family, has resulted in the apparent disappearance of Malloy, and a missing fountain pen may hold the key…

 

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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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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 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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