Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 4


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 795

Aristede ties Quentin under a swinging pendulum to induce him or his allies to reveal the location of the hand. Barnabas recruits Angelique to assist in the rescue. After being shunned by Julianka, he uses his vampiric abilities to ensure her loyalty. Meanwhile, Aristede makes it clear to Angelique that, while her team has Petofi’s hand, his team has the upper.

In TOOTSIE, Bill Murray plays Dustin Hoffman’s playwright roommate. At one point, he describes what he wants audiences to say after walking out of one of his plays. It’s something akin to, “What the hell did I just see?” The epitome of 1897 wackiness, episode 795 should leave you with the same feeling… and it’s a great one. The show cycles between just a few storylines, but each one would be worthy of an entire episode on its own. One of the stars of this one is Aristede’s pendulum trap, where Quentin is threatened by easily-escapable, loose-fitting rope cuffs and pendulums and knives hewn from the safest, softest plywood that props could muster. This is ABC’s answer to WILD WILD WEST, but better, because it has vampires and werewolves. But also not-so-better.

The thick, wooden, depressingly small pendulum is emblematic of DARK SHADOWS’ aspirations falling so short of the mark that, you know, um, it can be a little embarrassing if it lacks context. This is one of those episodes… shhhhhhhhhhh… we can’t let the Outsiders see. They think the Greatest Epic Ever Captured on the Miracle of Kinescope is ridiculously hokey. If you root for DARK SHADOWS to really pull off a moment of visual theatricality, you’re going to get hoarse and dejected more often than not once they go to color and leave the moodiness of Barnabas’ early days. When that pendulum comes down, it’s like, “That’s it?  Really?”

But the episode and the series still work. Magnificently. Is it in spite of the pendulum? No. It is because of it. And not in an Ed Wood sense. The fact that we’re getting a bladed pendulum alone is astounding. As with everything else on the show, if they worried too much about only doing an effect if it could look good, nothing would get done. DARK SHADOWS would have been intimidated by good taste. And then where would we be? In an emblematic half-hour of daily genre television, we are given PIT AND THE PENDULUM. The audacity of that compensates for the rest.

Poe’s PIT was proto-pulp lit in flavor. Aristede’s torture of Quentin takes the show to a Saturday afternoon serial level of entertainment to which they’ve never aspired. It’s just swinging, raw adventure and fun. By giving themselves permission to go even there, they open doors to Julia killing her twin in Parallel Time, Gerard’s Zombies, and anything involving Christopher Pennock. Along with Barnabas’ STAR TREK-ian speech about committing to his mission in the name of Chris Jennings, David Collins, and, I think, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, the episode also has a strange sense of heart. Barnabas and Angelique discuss her feelings for Quentin, and in the conversation, his unspoken feelings for her are poignantly in the mix. She reciprocates without saying so, and we can see what was and will be in their collaboration. It’s about damned time. Not to descend too far into what could have become shmaltz, we return to the pulp world as Barnabas squares off with the inexplicable, bizarre Diana Davila as Julianka. Davila is an actress who could stop a train three ways: with her looks or her voice. One because it’s beautiful. You choose. Seeing Barnabas break out his vampire super-powers to take her down a notch is a rich moment.

The takeaways are that 795 increases the pulpiness of the show tenfold, but it’s also the closest they came to the sense of primetime adventure so common in 1969. In a small way, it was as if Dan Curtis looked at WILD WILD WEST, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and the Irwin Allen canon and said, “Keep checking over your shoulders, fellas.”

This episode hit the airwaves July 11, 1969.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...