Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A fan defends DARK SHADOWS from critics, 1966

Kathryn Leigh Scott and Alexandra Moltke on the first episode of DARK SHADOWS, June 27, 1966.
Critics weren't especially kind to DARK SHADOWS when it debuted in 1966. While it wasn't savaged, reviews of the show weren't overwhelmingly glowing, either. One syndicated writer complained that the new gothic soap was overwhelmingly quaint, dubbing it "Son of Peyton Place." The story's headline? "Critic Says 'Dark Shadows' Is Just Another Soap Opera." (You can read a transcript of that essay HERE.)

In those days, The San Mateo Times published a feature in their television directory titled "You are the Critic." In the newspaper's July 16, 1966, edition, a Pasadena resident took issue with the "Peyton Place" dismissal of DARK SHADOWS. You can read his response below, an assessment that shows not only a keen understanding of DARK SHADOWS, but of gothic literature, as well.

Weekdays, 4 P.M., ABC 

New York producer Dan Curtis has incorporated the brooding sinister atmosphere and tangled human emotions of the American Gothic romance novel into a weekday "detergent drama" format, current popularity of such fiction writers as Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart (past mistresses of the Gothic novel genre), convinces that there is a pressing need for the American housewife to lose herself (for 30 minutes, weekdays) in the problems of a sympathetic young heroine thrust into "an Old Dark House" mystery. The only pity is that hard-working businessmen — often discerning mystery fans — have scant opportunity of  viewing the new series, entitled Dark Shadows.

In the opening episode, Victoria Winters, the young orphanage-reared heroine, is in the midst of a quest for identity. Star billing in the series is given to veteran screen actress Joan Bennett, who portrays the mistress of Collinwood Manor near Widow's Hill, outside a small Maine fishing community, "fifty miles from Bangor." This setting is both familiar and remote. Collinwood's breadwinner believes that Miss Bennett has made a mistake in bringing in an outsider to act as governess for their 10-year-old son. Villagers warn the New York girl against accepting the position, but the girl (along with the viewer) is compelled to investigate the mystery that enshrouds the great old family mansion.

Highly evocative musical scoring and oppressive Victorian manor settings effectively create a subtly mood, Dark Shadows is  not for the “hard-core" mystery fan, story line promises to uncover skeletons — not fresh corpses — in closets and attics, if subsequent episodes match the premiere installment's impact, Dark Shadows shows promise of generating vitality and excitement that Peyton Place somehow lacks.


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