Friday, August 11, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 11


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 821

King Johnny believes that a faked “Petofi Hand” is the real thing, and uses it as evidence to put Magda on trial. Meanwhile, a gloating Petofi ponders 1969 and wakes up a chained Barnabas to threaten and menace him… generally because, well, he can. Later, we see the ghost of the man whose hand was posthumously removed to be the Petofi decoy. This causes enough chaos in the gypsy camp that Magda escapes.

Leave it to 1897 to deliver a wacky, splashy comic book of gypsy lore, threats, torches, and monologuing. And, in fine DARK SHADOWS tradition, it manages to turn five minutes of plot progression into twenty-two minutes of show. That’s what we love about it. In this sense, DARK SHADOWS creates some kind of temporal alchemy, and the only thing that explains how they pull it off is charm. If 1897 represents anything for the show, it is the zenith of its confident status as a video man-who-came-to-dinner, holding court in the living room and savoring the details and flourishes of the storytelling ritual. At its rambling best, DARK SHADOWS is the Orson Welles of video raconteurs.

If you break it down, DARK SHADOWS gets away with being boring because the writers find inventive ways for each character to endlessly question every fact, decision, and mystery of the show. Handed to the actors, they manage to execute those moments with enough decisions and discoveries (acting’s two best friends) to keep what should be stale incredibly fresh.

I have very mixed feelings about the appearance of Henry Baker in the episode. He plays Istvan, King Johnny Romano’s mute, chief soldier. Baker is a massive man who uses the guttural remnants of his voice to intimidating advantage. (The actor can also be seen as Jackal in SEIZURE -- with Jonathan Frid.) He’s also one of only two black people I recall seeing on DARK SHADOWS. When Magda goes running for the door and screams when she sees him, I wondered why he was so scary. He seems friendly enough, so is the unspoken message that he’s frightening because… do I really need to say it? Is the show so lily white that the appearance of a black man in Collinsport inspires that kind of fear? I’m sure it would be denied and rationalized around, but was that the unconscious message back in 1969? I hope not. I hope that Magda recognizes him from the byline for his Boy’s Life column. Or that he’s just tall and threateningly musclebound. But the semiotics hint at what may be an uglier truth. Politics is everywhere, my friends. Welcome to 1969 daytime TV!

On this day in 1969, Don Drysdale retired because of a shoulder injury. It is unclear whether he joined his brother in the Beverly Hills banking field.

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