Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 27


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 724

Zombie Quentin kidnaps Rachel Drummond, but a conscientious Szandor tussles with him enough in the graveyard that she escapes. Trapping the muttonchopped automaton in the Old House, Barnabas conducts a voodoo ceremony that should fuse Quentin’s body and spirit. When the body staggers away, our heroes have no idea that it has fallen in the graveyard and can’t get up.

The cork has been opened confidently on 1897, and the wine has just about breathed to perfection. This is the show’s new home, and there’s something about this world that feels like DARK SHADOWS, but even more so. If Roger is stiff, Edward is stiffer. If the streamlined contours of sixties fashions are severe, Victorian clothing makes them look dumpy. And if the sixties are fun, the great-grandparents defined cutting a supernatural rug. 724 is a tight adventure with no real subplot; it’s exactly what can fill an episode and is yet another mondo day in the life-slice for our long-suffering hero. We are still in the general spring break time of the year, and what a thrill for kids. Zombie Quentin Kidnaps Governess! No wonder the record and ViewMaster set were in the offing. If you make a show with these elements, the Geneva Convention requires you to make ViewMaster reels and a spoken word album. This was 1969, the show’s zenith and the time when DARK SHADOWS mania was unmatchable.

If there is a watchword for the overall feel of 1897, it’s “decadence.” The sets and costumes spring to mind, but so do the performances -- broad and freewheeling when not intentionally arch. The possibilities of the story are decadent -- we’re contending with a zombie in this one. Even the horror is decadent, with damsels being buried six inches under (in what appears to be the empty grave of Laura Stockbridge, so says the stone) in graveyards whose smoke wafts into the gypsified Old House, giving it an appropriately seraglio-like atmos.

Even the bloopers have appropriate lushness. Szandor and Magda begin the day by fighting over cold soup like a couple in an Odets play, and Szandor attempts to defend his dignity with said soup trickling from his outrageous mustache. In the words of William Blake, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” and there is wisdom to be had in that mustache. Not only are these actors having the most fun they’d ever have on the show, the characters of Magda and Szandor are the most relatable, reminiscent of an Eastern European West and Fields. How close do you think Szandor and Magda are to Sam Hall and Grayson? This is one of the many, great 1897 episodes written by Sam Hall, and there is a sting of reality to the language -- and a twinkle in his wife, Grayson’s, eye -- that makes me think it’s an ethnicized transcript of whatever was happening the night before. It’s like the Roma touring production of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, except there’s a dead, reanimated Quentin rather than a dead, imaginary son. Albee damned!

They also provide an entirely different world to which we can compare and reveal Barnabas. He’s an entitled aristocrat at his funniest when forced to fence with words and endure those whom, under other circumstances, he’d just as soon strangle. If he thought that Loomis and Hoffman tried his class privilege, they were the Alan Napier Alfred compared to the Rakosis. As much as Barnabas just… barely… puts up with them in true, sitcom style, he still mixes the exotic with the mundane. We think of him as so bland if we recall his polished innocence when he first appears to Vicki in 1795. Hogwash. He’s a hard-lovin’ scoundrel who was bedhopping ‘twixt the classes in the Islands when not attending voodoo ceremonies, as we learn here. No wonder Angelique loved him.

Did I mention decadence?

On this day in 1969, we sent the Mariner 7 probe to Mars. It found no life.

Officially, anyway.

This episode hit the airwaves April 3, 1969.

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