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 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 37: One of Our Ghosts

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In the previous episode while encountering local artist Sam Evans at the Collinsport Inn, Victoria Winters was told by Mr. Evans, “Go back to your house on the hill, Miss Winters, go back to your ghosts and your goblins…”

 

In this episode, it seems that ghosts and goblins are precisely what she is returning to. In the great house of Collinwood during the post-midnight hours, the young governess will be drawn from her room on the second floor by the ghostly sound of a woman sobbing somewhere down below. Following the sound in the hope of tracing its origin, she will be led down to the basement and before a musty old wooden door sealed with a padlock. A moment later, she will come face to face with a real-life goblin.

 

In a subsequent post, we’ll explore the origins of what made Dark Shadows what it was; the deep shades of atmospheric gloom that lend Collinwood its haunting mystique, the family legends of ghosts that seemingly cannot rest, the disturbing disembodied sound of a woman sobbing in the night – even the way people close the double doors of a drawing room when they wish to speak with others in private.

 

As envisioned by Dan Curtis in a dream that woke him one night in 1965 with the spark of an idea for a TV show, the story of Victoria Winters recalls more the age of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, with the sidebar story of Burke Devlin echoing shades of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo; however, the full backstory that fills out Dark Shadows as realized by story creator Art Wallace is more reminiscent of the rise of the haunted house genre from American motion pictures in the mid-1940s, with two in particular, The Uninvited (1944) and The Unseen (1945), both co-starring Gail Russell, serving as the main influences for the gothic romance that came to television in 1966 as Dark Shadows. Following the post for episode 37, there will be a special edition post of Dark Shadows from the Beginning which will examine these earlier motion pictures in depth and point out how they can be described as the origins of Dark Shadows.

 

For now, let’s visit with the ghosts and goblins of Collinwood as faced by Victoria Winters on this, her third night as governess in the big house on the hill…

 

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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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Episode 34: A Ripple in the Whirlpool

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Today Victoria Winters is making her first visit to the Blue Whale, while enjoying her first alcoholic beverage since arriving in Collinsport – even though she’s underage.

 

The character of Victoria Winters, and the actress who plays her, is barely twenty. Burke Devlin, the man who bought her the drink, is over thirty.

 

Evidently, the bartender didn’t ask to see the young lady’s ID. In yesterday’s episode, he wouldn’t even shut down a drunk and hollering Joe Haskell.

 

This won’t be the last time on the show where older men will be plying drinks on young underage girls. In those days, you could get away with that kind of thing. Dark Shadows, during that unsupervised era of daytime television, manages to do just that.

 

Those were the days!

 

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