Episode 61: Sorry to Drink and Run

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One of the really fun things about Burke Devlin is the way he just goes wherever he pleases, which is to say where he’s not wanted. What a change from how the character was first introduced, a dark but affable Trojan Horse working his hidden agenda by schmoozing his way from person to person aided by a smug, deceptive charm that just below the surface is as patronizing as it is ingratiating. Yet it’s true that a lot has changed in just these few days since his return to Collinsport.

 

A missing brake valve from a car brought Roger Collins unannounced to his hotel room for a midnight tirade. The following morning, his breakfast was interrupted by another unannounced visitor, this time Bill Malloy, who as Burke finished eating just hovered nearby with the determined gruffness of a drill sergeant pulling a surprise inspection on the barracks. Speaking of surprise inspections, while Burke was away in Bangor meeting with a business associate, the sheriff walked through and made a full search of his wardrobe. That last one was actually courtesy of Collinsport’s parallel constable, Jonas Carter, who besides mustard on ham had other preoccupations to consider apart from missing brake valves: “I had a lot of time to make a pretty thorough search, Burke. You know, you’ve got some nice clothes up there. Where’d you buy ‘em?”

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Bill Malloy’s untimely sudden, and for some folks convenient, demise has lately provided Burke with ample justification for making unwelcome cameos in other people’s domains in search of clues; whether inviting himself up to Collinwood, barging into Roger’s office armed with allegations intended to extract an admission of guilt or at the very least some telltale hint of perfidy, or simply storming into the sheriff’s office demanding an explanation, Burke has all the questions that no one wants to answer.

 

Today it’s to be the Evans cottage that’s added to Burke’s roving itinerary, crashing a dinner party in grand fashion like a grizzly bear wandering into a picnic area and helping itself to any discarded or neglected edibles while the hapless campers keep huddled in their camper vans nearby.

 

Burke of course had prior knowledge of the dinner party, having chatted with Vicki earlier while fueling his afternoon coffee binge at the Collinsport Inn restaurant. Hot under the collar over Bill Malloy and fresh from a heated exchange with the sheriff, Burke wants to talk manslaughter with Sam Evans. At the back of your mind, though, you have to be wondering whether Burke may be going to such a bother on this evening because he knows Victoria Winters will be there. After all, any host would be on his best behavior with a dinner guest in their midst, regardless of whether someone showed up at the front door uninvited. Burke might not get an honest answer out of Sam, but at least under the guise of civility he could be sure of an opportunity to pose a certain pointed question or ten.

 

Then again, there is still that underlying question about Burke and Vicki. Art Wallace, being a middle-aged male writer, couldn’t resist adding to the series outline Shadows on the Wall an additional story fragment suggesting the possibility that the two might eventually be linked romantically:

 

“…The reappearance of Burke relights a flame that once burned between them…and Vicki is trapped in its center” (Shadows on the Wall, p. 89).

 

Art Wallace envisioned the two enmeshed in a “violent triangle” with none other than Frank Garner, junior partner in the family law firm which looks after the legal and financial interests of the Collinses and who we shall be meeting further along in 1966, by which time the mystery of Victoria Winters will appear to hold an irrefutable link with Collinwood’s past.

 

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Episode 60: Portrait of Her Possible Past

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Victoria Winters hasn’t had a lot to do lately what with the scramble to restore the show’s ratings having made Dark Shadows the “What Happened to Bill Malloy?” show. Most recently she’s had lunch at the Collinsport Inn restaurant consisting of a two-week-old lobster roll and year-old clam chowder and in that one episode also evaded yet another of Burke Devlin’s equally stale but persistent dinner invites. One has to wonder whether she would have accepted Burke’s offer even if she were free, but as it happens tonight she’s having dinner as Maggie’s guest at the Evans cottage.

 

First mentioned back in episode 46, Victoria’s visit at the Evans cottage is a key story element in the original series outline written by Art Wallace, Shadows on the Wall. Ostensibly for David’s benefit so that she could perhaps reach out to her young charge and encourage his creative talents by getting him to meet a real artist like Sam Evans, this occasion would instead become a decisive turning point in the Burke Devlin story arc where Roger, increasingly fearful that Sam would likely reveal to her his guilt in the accident of ten years ago that sent Burke to prison on a manslaughter conviction, brings about his own sudden downfall after dragging Victoria out to the edge of Widow’s Hill to voice an explanation, but who instead when startled by the presence of David observing them from a hidden vantage point nearby goes over the edge of the cliff himself.

 

That was the original story vision slated for the first half or so of that initial thirteen-week episode cycle, as outlined during the preproduction stage in the series bible. Dark Shadows: The First Year, the long out-of-print yet authoritative source guide for these first 210 episodes, has the following rather telling bit of trivia for when the casting decisions had become finalized: “…During Alexandra Moltke’s screen test, her resemblance to a younger Joan Bennett became apparent, furthering the story idea that Vicki was the long-lost daughter of Elizabeth” (Dark Shadows: The First Year, by Nina Johnson and O. Crock [summary writers], Blue Whale Books, 2006; p. 14).

 

Today’s episode thus presents a striking bit of information to deepen the mystery surrounding the identity of Victoria’s parentage; whereas the series outline was written with Paul Stoddard as the father and the identity of the mother unknown, perhaps one of the many summer tourists who would account for a seasonal influx to boost the Collinsport population figures by upwards of fifty percent, here in episode 60 a maternal link is strongly implied, more in keeping with the casting impressions acquired postproduction. Further along through the fall of 1966, this new direction toward revealing the truth of Victoria’s background as connected maternally with Collinwood will be reinforced when she finds an old ledger sheet in the closed-off wing from the days when many servants were employed to run the great estate; yes, the mystery of Victoria Winters’ origins was to have been solved by that old reliable standby of the big house/mystery story twist: the butler did it!

 

Episode 60 is therefore a milestone, in that it gets to the heart of the very mystery as first presented that night on the train, the quest of a young woman in search of herself and the lives that become intertwined with her own along the way. In so doing, this episode becomes one of just a handful of the most significant moments in the story of Victoria Winters, one to which this blog will consistently return as a clear and revealing reference toward solving the mystery even as we look back from the far-off space year of 1968, when Alexandra Moltke at last leaves the show and the character is finally written out, with the central element to her story, the truth of her family background, left forever dangling even after attempting two cast replacements in quick succession.

 

Despite this, there are still enough details presented in today’s episode, as well as a couple more episodes to come in 1966, to piece together the likely answers from what is first implied here so profoundly, the maternal link that connects the life of Victoria Winters to those up at Collinwood, a trail of clues that begins at the Evans cottage when she happens on a portrait of her possible past.

 

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Episode 59: Oh, Brother

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“Liz, before you go in there I want you to remember one thing… I’m your brother.”

 

Welcome to part 2 of What It Means to Be a Collins of Collinsport, in which the matriarch of the great house on the hill sets about once again diverting the sheriff from bringing suspicion in through the front door, this time if not so much to save the neck of her brother Roger, then at least to keep the threat of scandal from making another visitation upon the Collins family name.

 

For Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, it’s actually rather busy work, stepping forward to quash the sheriff’s line of questioning to keep the good name of Collins off the bad news of local headlines. Imagine all the sedatives it must take, just to go on being the matriarch of Collinwood.

 

“In my busy workaday life as a notorious recluse, there are those times when I just can’t function as smoothly as I’d like to, when all the ghosts of Collinwood get to be just too great a burden to bear. That’s why I take NerveAyd. Puts those pesky ghosts back in the closets and corners where they belong. NerveAyd; it’s the next best thing to a frontal lobotomy.”

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First the sheriff comes up to Collinwood because Liz’s nephew is suspected of causing a near-fatal accident after loosening the brake valve on his father’s car, then just three days later the sheriff is back to question her brother, for the second time that day, because of another fatal car accident from ten years ago that someone else in town thinks Roger may have been responsible for.

 

What is it with this family and vehicular homicide? Things are so crazy around here that it would make for quite a soap opera, if it weren’t one already.

 

Like sludge through the sewer pipes, so are the Ways of Our Wives.

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Episode 57: The Ripple Effect

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As the news of Bill Malloy’s death ripples across Collinsport, it seems a cruel hand of fate that Burke Devlin is the last to find out, the one who had been counting on him the most and therefore whose lingering hope had held out the longest.

 

Different people have been affected by Malloy’s death in different ways, and this week of episodes presents a series of character defining moments for those most centrally involved. For Elizabeth Stoddard, after the initial shock of caretaker Matthew Morgan’s questionable deed in trying to cover up that Malloy’s body had washed ashore near Collinwood by pushing the body back out to sea, there is in keeping with a matriarch of her stature the necessity of maintaining the dignity of not only herself, but also of Collinwood by seeing to it that all members of the household are allowed to function normally while still maintaining a certain tone of mourning, especially with Carolyn having felt the loss more profoundly than most in having lost a key paternal figure which she has previously cited as the closest thing she has ever known to a real father.

 

Burke Devlin’s reaction is the most curious, in the way that he seems to view Malloy’s death as a fundamental flaw in human nature, as if fate had intervened specifically to prevent him from clearing his name. Unlike those who mourn the passing of Bill Malloy for the life he lived, Burke takes this grim occasion to eulogize on the death of honesty, in mourning for himself.

 

It’s a soap opera after all, a show about people and the troubled unsatisfied lives they lead, and no one is perfect, not even the man who seemingly has everything in the palm of his hand.

 

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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 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 54: They Float Bodies, Don’t They?

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“Good eve – uh, good afternoon ladies and gentlemen… No, that isn’t it either. Good afternoon ladies and shut-ins.”

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“From yesterday afternoon’s half-hour, we found out something rather shocking about the Collins family’s gem of a caretaker. Personally, from what I’ve been able to observe thus far, being the caretaker of Collinwood is more akin to being a zookeeper. Half the people living there think of the big house as a sort of cage anyway, and with certain members of the household there is the greatest difficulty in keeping their behavior and drives in check. As with wild animals, tensions exist which are liable to flare up at any moment.”

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“However, today’s television playlet concerns itself with the motivations of the caretaker himself, who, when a friend of the family has drowned and washes ashore on the great estate, sees nothing wrong in giving him a push back into the water so that said friend may wash ashore somewhere else, or perhaps not at all.”

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“Given Matthew the caretaker’s casual admission of such an act, even when questioned by the police, today’s play is called “They Float Bodies, Don’t They?”. Because that’s what a caretaker at Collinwood does; trim the hedges, carry the firewood, and float bodies that have washed ashore back out to sea where they can hopefully never be found. Now, if only someone could do that with my dreaded sponsors, I would never again have to suffer through another commercial break. In the meantime, I shall consult with the production crew and see if Matthew the caretaker is available for immediate employment. Until then, another sponsor with yet another commercial message is just about to wash ashore.”

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Episode 53: Our Caretaker’s a Real Gem

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“Oh, good eve – or rather, good afternoon.”

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“My sense of time has been somewhat confused of late, what with an apparent influence from my nighttime program having taken hold here in this particular half-hour of daytime television. Naturally I find this little known fact most flattering.”

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“I was about to select a wine for today’s story.”

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“As you can see, I’m selecting from three varieties, as I’m quite unaccustomed to partaking in the late afternoon. After all, my brand of subject matter is so much better suited to the later part of the evening.”

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“Today’s teleplay presents a rather compelling story built on the themes of trust and loyalty put to the test in the face of suspicion. The more entertaining scenes are centered around a mischievous young boy, and an even more mischievous grown-up caretaker.”

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“To help this fledgling daytime program along in its evolution of adopting the style of story content seen much later on most of those other stations, I’ve even brought along one of my sponsors. After the opening theme, you will as always be subjected to that inevitable minute with the sponsor, but fortunately the one I’ve brought you this afternoon goes considerably well with whatever it is you happen to be drinking. Which reminds me, I have now selected a wine…”

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“…and I shall just leave you to your allotted minute with the sponsor, so that you may select whichever type of drink you find is best suited for this next half-hour.”

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Episode 51: The Mind Plays Tricks

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David had warned Vicki and Carolyn what they would find if they ventured back out to Widow’s Hill that night: death.

 

With David’s favorite new hobby being crystal ball gazing, his penchant as a misfortune teller is proving disturbingly accurate.

 

Running back to Collinwood in a fit of hysterics, Vicki and Carolyn are certain of what they saw: a dead man at the bottom of the cliff.

 

Accompanied by caretaker Matthew Morgan, Mrs. Stoddard eventually journeys out to the edge of Widow’s Hill and at first isn’t sure of what she sees along the rocks below.

 

Before long Vicki and Carolyn can no longer be certain of what they saw.

 

As the mystery surrounding Bill Malloy’s disappearance deepens, the only thing one can be certain of at this point on Dark Shadows is that there’s really nothing one can be certain of.

 

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Episode 50: What The Tide Brought In

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It almost feels like the supernatural era of Dark Shadows starts right here in episode 50.

 

Aside from the fact that a man Elizabeth Stoddard has known for twenty-five years is still missing, these late evening scenes in and around the Collinwood estate carry a decidedly ominous tone throughout.

 

There’s talk of ghosts and tragic family legends, the Wailing Widows, and premonitions of death courtesy of a nine-year-old boy with a crystal ball who seems to know for certain what grim and deathly portents this night will bring forth and for whom.

 

Lately daytime television’s first gothic serial drama has been branching into mystery and suspense, and here in this episode story creator and developer Art Wallace is reaching back for the supernatural and noirish mid-1940s inspirations of Dark Shadows to bring a kind of otherworldly atmosphere to the current story, enough so that the viewer would possibly be wondering whether Bill Malloy’s disappearance may be the result of darker, more paranormal forces at work.

 

Episode 50 is about as close to the supernatural as Dark Shadows has gotten thus far without actually crossing over; it will be in one of next week’s episodes when the lines between the physical and spirit worlds really begin to blur.

 

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