When I first watched Dark Shadows via Netflix, Collection 3 of the pre-Barnabas Beginning series wasn’t available. I skipped from the end of Collection 2, concerning the murder of Bill Malloy, to Collection 4, where the case is wound up, and missed most of the actual mystery story in between.
Since I got the entire Dark Shadows series on DVD for Christmas, I’m finally able to watch that missing section–episodes 71 through 105, about 7 weeks of airtime from the autumn of 1966.
Quick recap of the backstory: The body of Collinses’ cannery manager Bill Malloy washed up on the rocks below the cliffs of Collinwood, but the police believe that he was actually killed at a place a little farther up the coast called Lookout Point. His broken watch suggests that this happened at 10:45 pm, halfway between the last time he was seen alive at 10:30 by his housekeeper Mrs. Johnson, and the 11:00 meeting at the cannery, where Roger Collins, Burke Devlin, and Sam Evans were expecting him. Of course he never showed up.
Since Malloy intended to produce evidence that proved that Burke wasn’t driving the car during that drunken hit-and-run accident that sent him to prison for manslaughter–and that Roger was driving–Roger is very naturally the prime suspect. And Roger makes the most of it by trying to look as suspicious as possible.
A key point in the mystery involves a lost fountain pen, a distinctive-looking object adorned with silver filigree. Burke gave it to Carolyn Stoddard on one of their dates and Roger, not liking that his mortal enemy is giving his niece expensive presents, takes it away from her. He intends to give it back to Burke at that 11:00 meeting, but when he pats his coat pockets, discovers that he no longer has it.
Victoria Winters finds it while walking on the beach at Lookout Point, just under the cliff that Bill Malloy is supposed to have fallen from.
She’s on an actual beach for this scene, too–not a fake-looking outdoor set. In the early days of Dark Shadows, they used quite a lot of exterior shots; one would see Vicky, Roger, or Carolyn walking around the terraces of Collinwood, wandering the streets of Collinsport, driving up to the inn and even going in to it. That sort of thing faded out after the first 100 episodes or so and ended completely once the show went to color.
Vicky doesn’t understand the significance of the pen at this time, only thinks that it’s pretty and probably valuable. She takes it back to Collinwood, where she and Roger’s son David both talk a lot about it. In the old days before Bic, individual pens were apparently important objects. At least, everyone at Collinwood carries on about this one as if were akin to a diamond ring.
Roger’s been searching frantically all over the house for the pen, and when he sees that Vicky has it, he snatches it away when Vicky and David aren’t looking. He takes it out to Widows Hill (a fakey set) and buries it under a big rock.
Vicky thinks that David took it. Now, this isn’t long after all that tedious business where David tampered with the brakes on his father’s car and tried to frame Vicky for it, and the boy is still resentful that Vicky discovered what he was up to. It’s very easy for Roger to play on David’s feelings and encourage his son to get back at her.
It’s not the first time David’s threatened her after that incident, so Vicky is really, really stupid when she lets David lure her into the closed-off part of the house on the pretext that he hid the pen there. Once he’s led her up into a little attic room where no one can hear her, he locks her in and leaves her there.
The Collinses all wonder where she is, but they assume she’s gone out without telling anybody even if it is a dark and stormy night.
The second appearance of a ghost on Dark Shadows occurs then–not Josette this time, but the transparent figure of the recently drowned Bill Malloy, dripping wet and covered in seaweed.* He warns Vicky to leave Collinwood before she’s killed too. Then he disappears without doing anything helpful like opening the door for her. But he does leave some of his seaweed behind on the floor so she’s certain that this apparition wasn’t simply a dream.
It’s Roger who eventually lets her out. Once he figures out what his creepy son did with Vicky, and the rest of the household is asleep, he gets a flashlight and opens the secret panel in the drawing room (the first time we’ll see it used) to venture into the empty part of the house. Once he locates the room where Vicky’s locked in, he pretends to be a ghost himself–he raps on the door, then puts a handkerchief over his mouth and also tells her to leave Collinwood. While Vicky is screaming, he picks up the key from the floor, opens the door, and appears to rescue the terrified girl, who flies into his arms. Our hero.
This haunting of his own is why Roger doesn’t believe her story about seeing Bill Malloy’s ghost when she tells him about it later. But Elizabeth does.
Vicky should take the ghostly advice and leave Collinwood the next morning, but as usual she lets the Collinses (apart from Roger) talk her out of it.
David is now eager to have Vicky stay–not that he likes her any better, but since she saw Malloy’s ghost he hopes that it will appear again and confirm that Roger killed him. David has seen this for himself in the crystal ball Burke Devlin gave him, but he thinks that personal ghostly testimony will be stronger evidence of guilt.
Over in a romantic subplot, Joe Haskell has finally gotten sick and tired of Carolyn’s yanking him around, forgetting their dinner dates, and chasing after Burke. He goes out with Maggie Evans instead, beginning that romance. When Carolyn hears about it, she goes into jealous fits and heads over to Burke’s hotel room to try and lose her virginity in revenge, but Burke isn’t interested. While he’s resumed his plans to destroy the Collinses now that Bill Malloy is dead, the girl he’s actually sweet on is Vicky. And Carolyn really does behave like a poisonous bitch at this point in the story, so he’s better off not getting mixed up with her.
Vicky doesn’t quit her job and leave Collinwood, but she does take a couple of days off to get away from the place for awhile. She goes to Bangor; Burke gives her a lift, and Carolyn has another jealous hissy fit.
About 25 years ago, Sam Evans painted a portrait of a woman named Betty Hanscomb who looks a lot like Vicky. Vicky has since found a mention of B. Hanscomb in an old list of staff names at Collinwood, on letterhead from the Collins family lawyers in Bangor.
This is where Vicky meets Frank Garner–the young man I would refer to as her “sort of” boyfriend in subsequent episodes. He’s the son and junior partner at Garner and Garner. Frank is too young to know anything about people at Collinwood more than 20 years ago, but he’s eager to help Vicky in her search. The elder Mr. Garner tells Vicky that Hanscomb was the butler in the old days at Collinwood, when they had a lot of servants. Betty was his niece or daughter. After Frank and Vicky go out for lunch, Mr. Garner phones Elizabeth to tell her that Vicky’s asking questions.**
While she’s in Bangor, Vicky runs into Burke a couple of times–they’re staying at the same hotel. She meets one of his business associates and sees that this man has a pen very like the one she found. When she asks about it, he tells her that Burke gave it to him and that there are only two like it in North America. Burke joins them and, when he has to sign some papers, says that he has no pen with him.
Vicky therefore concludes that Burke lost the pen on the beach while he was murdering Mr. Malloy. Terrified, she refuses to accept a ride back to Collinsport with him and instead phones Roger and asks him to come and get her. So Roger gets to play the hero for her again.
On the drive home during another wild storm, Vicky tells Roger her suspicions about Burke. She wants to go to the police about it, but Roger doesn’t think it’s a good idea. A pen isn’t enough evidence to convict anyone, he says, and she should forget about it. Besides, Vicky doesn’t even have the pen anymore.
Roger turns off the main road back to Collinsport and takes a little country side road. I’m not sure what his idea is, whether he’s got some malicious plan against Vicky or if he’s just being a stubborn jerk who won’t acknowledge that he’s taken a wrong turn. The car eventually gets stuck when it reaches a part of the road that’s been washed out, but the police show up and rescue them before anything can happen.
The next day, Vicky searches for the pen. She still thinks that David’s hidden it someplace.
She doesn’t realize the truth until Carolyn tells her the story of how Burke gave her the pen and Roger lost it on the very night that Bill Malloy was killed. Vicky then goes to Collinsport to tell Burke about the pen and apologize for thinking that he was the murderer.
Burke is very forgiving, since this information finally gives him a chance to strike at Roger. He cautions Vicky about going back to Collinwood, but she feels that she’ll be safe enough there as long as Roger doesn’t know that she knows he was the one who dropped the pen.
Meanwhile, back at Collinwood, Carolyn blathers obliviously to Uncle Roger that she did tell Vicky precisely that.
I find it hard to determine if Carolyn is more stupid than Vicky in this story. Carolyn only sees the pen as a pretty present from her new boyfriend, which is why she keeps going on about it, but she doesn’t seem to notice that so many other people consider the pen crucially important or wonder why they care. When Uncle Roger starts asking her where Vicky’s gone, who she’s seeing, and then goes driving out to find Vicky, oblivious Carolyn takes it to mean that he’s got a crush on the governess.
Okay, maybe Vicky’s stupider. At least, she has less of a sense of self-preservation. She does go back to Collinwood, where Roger is waiting to pounce.
He grabs Vicky. takes her into the drawing room, and admits that he did phone Malloy that night and they agreed to meet at Lookout Point before the meeting in his office. He tells her that he found Bill Malloy already dead at the edge of the water and must have dropped the pen then.
David, who has eavesdropped on all these conversations, goes over to the old house to consult the portrait of Josette. Like a medieval peasant praying for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, he humbly requests that she ask the ghost of Bill Malloy to reappear and confirm that Roger killed him; the boy also asks that Josette and her other ghostly friends protect Vicky from Bill’s murderer.
Which they will, although not the way that David thinks.
The portrait glows faintly while David is talking to it, but the ghost of Josette doesn’t make an appearance until after the boy leaves.***
The ghostly protection David has requested for Vicky doesn’t kick in right away. First, someone–a grown man, not David himself–unlocks her door and tries to enter her bedroom in the middle of the night; Vicky’s screams frighten him away. The next evening while she’s walking back from town, a car tries to run her down at the Collinwood gates. She’s certain that it must be Roger both times, because he knows she doesn’t believe his story.
Vicky hasn’t been able to find the missing pen, but Burke is sure that Roger hasn’t gotten rid of it. He gets an idea: “And it just might work!”
He drives back up to Bangor, then returns to Collinsport and consults with George Patterson, the local Chief of Police,**** who has been laconically investigating Bill Malloy’s death. Burke says that he can get Roger to incriminate himself and provide the tangible evidence they need.
The two men drive up to Collinwood just after Vicky has returned to the house hysterical after nearly being run over. She’s okay, but lying down upstairs. Elizabeth gave her something to sleep.
Patterson questions Roger. He denies everything, including the story he told Vicky about finding Malloy’s body; he implies that the girl is emotionally unstable and imagines all kinds of wild things. He even denies that she found that pen on the beach.
“Where is that pen now?” Roger sneers.
Burke takes a silver filigree pen that looks very much like the missing one from his pocket. “You mean this one?” he asks.
Roger says it can’t be the same pen, but Burke counters that Vicky and Carolyn can identify it. The police will ask both girls to come down to the station in the morning to do so.
As soon as he thinks they’ve gone, Roger rushes right out to the place on the cliffs where he buried the pen and digs it up. But Burke and the police chief haven’t gone after all; they’ve followed him.
I remember that Columbo once set up the same type of trap with a contact lens in a car trunk. He caught Robert Culp with it.
*In later interviews, at least two of the show’s actors will describe this seaweed-covered ghost as “an old sea captain,” which tells me they don’t remember poor Bill Malloy or the murder mystery plot at all.
**Although Betty Hanscomb will be mentioned a few more times, this is as far as Vicky ever gets in pursuit of the woman she believes might be her mother. The entire story is soon dropped, but I do sometimes wonder where the writers originally intended for this mystery with the Hanscombs to go.
***It’s interesting to rewatch the show from the beginning and note the evolution of Josette’s character in the family history. Sam Evans tells Vicky about her when the two of them meet for the first time on Widows Hill in the 5th episode:
“She was the wife of the man who originally built this house, brought from France to marry him, but it didn’t turn out happily. She was a stranger from a foreign land, and the townspeople didn’t like her. This house didn’t like her. She was very unhappy and spent much of her time crying. One day, she couldn’t take it any longer and committed suicide, jumping off this very cliff. It’s said that on some nights, you can still hear her ghost crying at Collinwood.”
At the very beginning of the show, Josette is supposed to be the sobbing ghost heard late at night at Collinwood and is somehow connected with that mysterious locked room in the basement. The family history book says that she was born in 1810 and died in 1834. She and Jeremiah are definitely said to be the ancestors of the present-day Collinses; when David speaks to her portrait, he calls her his great-great-great grandmother.
It’s after this that her ghost appears more often and begins to take up the role of protector of her descendants–including, it is implied, Vicky. Later on, of course, she’ll be revised into the tragic lost love of Barnabas Collins and her history will shift to the 1790s. The one thing that remains constant is her death at the cliff.
****Watching this murder mystery again, it dawned on me that Police Chief George Patterson is the same character played by Dennis Patrick in the House of Dark Shadows movie, only here he’s played by Dana Elcar.