Episode 211: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

“Evil! That’s what’s here. I can feel it in the air. Evil. EVIL!”

Good morning, everybody! We start today’s episode with a recap of Willie opening the mystery box, and then we cut to the next morning, with Liz and Jason talking in the drawing room. Make sure you enjoy the daylight, because the sun’s going to set again in about eight minutes.

211 dark shadows liz jason window

It turns out Willie didn’t come back last night from his secret grave-robbing escapade. Liz wants him out of the house, but his things are still up in his room. Jason needs to find Willie, give him the money, and get him out of town. Jason says, “I’ve looked for him! Every place conceivable.” Liz snaps, “Well, I suggest you look for him in some  inconceivable places. Knowing Willie, that’s probably where he’ll be.”

Unfortunately, she trips over the word “probably”, which is a shame, because it’s the best line of the day.  Liz is played by Joan Bennett, who was a famous film star in the 1940s. She was known for film noir roles, playing tough broads opposite Edward G. Robinson. She also played Spencer Tracy’s wife in Father of the Bride, where she was billed above Elizabeth Taylor. It was a big deal when Dark Shadows premiered with a movie star in the cast. She’s usually a lot better than she is today.

Liz suspects that Jason knows where Willie is. He gives his word, and she scoffs. He reminds her, “I haven’t said a word to anyone about our agreement.” She barks, “You were paid very well for your services, and our ‘agreement’ was that you were never to return to Collin. Wood.” Ah, well. Everybody has an off day once in a while.

211 dark shadows jason mrs j

Then we get a scene with Mrs. Johnson, who’s lovely. She’s the most realistic character on the show. Liz and Jason are playing kind of a high-camp melodrama, and Mrs. Johnson couldn’t care less. She doesn’t get involved in mysteries and secrets; she’s mainly a talk-to character, who can deliver information from one person to another.

And that’s what she’s doing here, telling Jason about Willie’s interest in the portrait of Barnabas Collins — especially the jewels that Barnabas is wearing. Willie asked a lot of questions about the legend of Naomi Collins, who was given precious jewels by a pirate, which she wore to her grave. This is news to me, and it would probably be news to Naomi, but Jason is intrigued.

Mrs. Johnson says that Naomi’s buried in the old cemetery on Eagle Hill, five miles north. You’re going to want to keep an eye on that cemetery, because it’s going to drift closer and closer to Collinwood, until it’s practically in the backyard.

So we cut to the Eagle Hill cemetery, and hey, it’s night already. We’re back in the mausoleum, and — oh, God. The caretaker.

211 dark shadows caretaker mausoleum

Okay, then. Folks, this creaky old man is the caretaker of the Eagle Hill cemetery. He only appears in a few episodes, but damn if he doesn’t make the most of it.

He sees the door of the mausoleum swinging open, so he shuffles up the stairs, croaking “Who’s there?” He goes inside. “Where are you?” He looks around. “I know someone is here.” He takes a few steps. “Evil! That’s what’s here. I can feel it in the air.  Evil. Evil!

And oh, how I wish this wasn’t happening. One of my goals for this blog is to encourage people who haven’t watched Dark Shadows to give it a chance, and to appreciate what’s awesome and fun about it — the eccentric actors, the crazy plot twists, the general lunatic energy of it all.

And right away, day two, along comes the god-damned caretaker. I’d forgotten all about him.

We’ve just unleashed an ancient and primal terror on a wealthy soap opera family. Mayhem will ensue. But first, let’s watch a day player shuffle around, spreading thirty seconds of dialogue over a five-minute scene.

211 dark shadows jason caretaker

Jason arrives at the graveyard and strikes up an endless conversation with the caretaker. The key talking points are that the living must leave, and never come here again, no one may ever come here again. Also: Evil, evil, disturbing the dead and so on.

Jason wants to look in the mausoleum where Naomi Collins is buried. The caretaker moans, “Evil — evil hovers there! Can’t you feel it?” Jason says, “No, I can’t say that I do,” and goes inside.

211 dark shadows jason caretaker point

Jason, bless his heart, is trying heroically to save the scene. He walks in and looks around as if he’s considering renting the place.

He says, “You have nothing to worry about in here, everything seems to be perfectly normal. A little damp, perhaps, but that can’t be helped.”

The caretaker groans, “Can’t you… can’t you feel anything in the air?” Jason grimaces: “I can’t even feel the air.”

See? Adorable. Look at him just standing there, acting away.

We’re going to head back to Collinwood now, and we won’t see the caretaker again for a few months, thank goodness. Still, if you’d like to hear more from him, he’s got a Twitter feed, @EagleHCaretaker, and he’ll keep you up to date on whether people should leave the dead in peace or not. (They probably should.)

211 dark shadows mrs j barnabas

Okay, back to Collinwood. There’s a knock at the door, and Mrs. Johnson opens it to find a stranger, who asks for Mrs. Stoddard. We can’t see the guy’s face yet, but Mrs. J looks stunned.

The stranger asks, politely, “This is Collinwood, isn’t it? And the mistress here is Mrs. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, is she not?” Mrs. Johnson says yes. “Then perhaps you’d do me the courtesy to inform Mrs. Stoddard that her cousin is calling, and wishes to pay his respects.”

211 dark shadows mrs j barnabas hat

Flustered, she invites him in and takes his hat. He explains that he’s a cousin from England, and she heads upstairs to tell Elizabeth that he’s here.

211 dark shadows barnabas portrait

The camera turns, and we see the man standing in front of the 18th century family portrait — and it’s the same man. “Oh, madam, if you would, you may tell her it’s… Barnabas Collins.”

BOOM! And that’s how you end an episode.

Tomorrow: The Collins Blood.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

There are a couple fun ones in this episode. One’s nitpicky but amusing — the hand that reaches up from the coffin to grab Willie’s neck wears the black onyx ring on the left hand. Barnabas wears the ring on his right hand, as you can see in the portrait.

In the foyer, Mrs. Johnson tells Jason, “You know what I think fascinated him the most about that portrait? It’s a pity to say it, but it’s the truth. The jewels. That ring, and the pin, and that other thing he’s got on there.”

When Jason and the caretaker enter the mausoleum, Jason points to the wrong grave markers as he reads the names aloud. In yesterday’s episode, we saw that the plaque above the left coffin says Sarah Collins, the middle coffin is Naomi Collins, and the right coffin is Joshua Collins. And now Jason walks in, points at the plaque on the left and says that it’s Joshua’s. The plaques are very clearly marked with huge block letters, and he’s looking directly at it from two inches away. Gentlemen, what more can we do for you?

Behind the Scenes:

When Dark Shadows debuted in June 1966, it aired at 4:00pm on ABC. At the time, there were four other soap operas on the ABC schedule: Confidential for Women, A Time for Us, General Hospital and The Nurses. (Confidential for Women only aired for four months, and it’s so obscure that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet.)

Confidential for Women was cancelled in July 1966, and A Time for Us in December; both were replaced by game shows.

On April 3, 1967 — just a week before Barnabas’ introduction — ABC cancelled The Nurses, and moved Dark Shadows to the 3:30 timeslot.

On the new schedule, there were only two soap operas on ABC. At the time, CBS had six soap operas on the schedule, with a seventh coming in June 1967; NBC had four soaps.

So at this point, Dark Shadows is airing at 3:30 in the afternoon, between General Hospital and The Dating Game. Dark Shadows’ competition is the CBS mystery soap opera The Edge of Night, and the NBC celebrity charades game show You Don’t Say!

Dark Shadows will stay in this timeslot until July 1968 (episode 536), when the show returns to the 4:00pm slot.

Tomorrow: The Collins Blood.

211 dark shadows caretaker jason grave

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

9 thoughts on “Episode 211: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

  1. I love the way Mrs. Johnson delivers lines like “I know what I see when I see it” (a nice reversal from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, whether intentional or not) and “You wouldn’t get two words out of me about my family.” Wry and funny and they sum up her character, someone self-assured and no-nonsense, not afraid to gossip but still makes sure you know your place and basically she’ll talk if she feels like talking. Her own life is her affair, but the “family,” well heck, given her likely wages, she has to get *some* fun out of it!

    The caretaker is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s played by stage actor Daniel Keyes, who was in the film version of “1776” along with David Ford (Sam Evans who we should be meeting next week, and later Andre Dupres), Virginia Vestoff (Samantha), and Emory Bass (Mr. Best). He performed in plays by Eugene O’Neil and Robert Anderson, often as no-nonsense authority figures or business types (and his role in “1776,” where he gets the line “We’re a congress, Mr. Adams, not a literary society” when Adams defends part of the Declaration for its stirring and poetic effect, was along those lines). So my theory is that, with the glasses, fake moustache, and dialogue (lines like “Evil! Evil!” don’t allow a lot of subtlety), he just let his inner ham go.

    But here’s another way to view the caretaker. I looked him up on the Dark Shadows wiki, where amusingly someone clarifies that he’s not senile, just “intellectually overburdened.” He’d already been in a handful of episodes during the Laura/Phoenix storyline and was just as prone to fearful comments full of portents and omens and bears, oh my. So my take is that at this point, he’s the only character who knows he’s in a Gothic. Oh, Victoria “Had I but known” Winters has semi-inklings (I’d have to watch the previous episodes to see if she ever stands before an upper story window in a nightgown clutching her hands). But the caretaker knows it, and carries it out with family pride, ever since the burgomaster told his sorrowful father to take his farm implements home, they were disbanding the mob. Besides, Maria Ouspenskaya won’t respond to his fan letters. So Elizabeth and Jason are in a high camp melodrama, the sort of situation that often showed up on any soap (radio or TV); the caretaker is moaning about evil and waiting for Una O’Connor to relieve him; and Mrs. Johnson, instead of following his lead and going all Mrs. Danvers, sticks around just because the Nelsons and Donna Reed are too boring to work for.

    1. Yes! I was going to talk about Mrs. Johnson and “You wouldn’t get two words out of me about my family,” but it’s a line that you can’t really explain unless you see her performance. She’s phenomenal.

      I like your take on the caretaker — basically asking the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” question: What kind of story is he in when he’s not shuffling around and wasting our time?

      If this was “Dracula” (and it is), then the caretaker would be the multi-ethnic peasants at the beginning, warning travelers and crossing themselves when anybody mentions going to the castle. “The Cabin in the Woods” called this role “the harbinger”. Somebody has to be there to warn the unwary traveler; otherwise the ritual doesn’t work…

      Of course, another way to look at this episode is: we’ve got Willie opening the coffin in the first scene, and Barnabas showing up at Collinwood in the last scene. Between those two, we’ve got about twenty minutes to fill, and we can only afford to have three more actors. Who could we get to just shuffle around and kill time for about ten minutes?…

  2. That’s another thing about the writing. Watching the show, you can see that most episodes were limited to 3 or 4 actors. DS starts looking “huge” when you get 5 or more people in a “half hour.” Imagine all the other constrictions the writers had to deal with, and then that on top of it. “We can only afford 3 people today, and you can’t use Jonathan, because he’s been on the last 4 days in a row…”

  3. They really seemed to up their game with the arrival of Barnabas just in terms of presentation — the lighting, the shadows, the way they ended scenes.

  4. There are so many delicious moments in this episode–starting right at the top of the show–Joan Bennett shows some real vim and vigor in her anger over Willie not having left the house yet (despite blowing her beat climax line). Liz’s interaction with Jason seems to be solid casting as he pulls out of her some of her best scenes at this point in the show.

    And then there’s the back story/exposition scene with Mrs. Johnson and Jason as she dutifully recaps and takes us down the garden path of the Collins Family History. The dialogue inevitably gets them to (cue the music) the Eagle Hill Cemetery discussion and for one amazing moment, they are completely invoking the scene from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” where Vera Miles and John Garvin are trying to get to the bottom of just how and where Norman Bate’s mother is buried and whose body exactly is in Green Lawn Cemetery? I am sure Hitchcock must have looked in on DS and probably was even a fan.

    Willi’s performance also is really stellar in the crypt mausoleum. Love the shot from inside where he’s shining the light in on the camera and the amount of physicality he puts into getting the coffin lid raised certainly gave him a free pass from Pilates that day.

  5. Great recaps. My 8 year-old daughter and I have been watching DS together on Prime for the past few months. Something that just gets glossed over and needs some explaining (or mocking. Or both) is the mystery of how Barnabas Collins, chained inside a coffin for 180 years, is able to find himself a 24-hour haberdasher to fit him with the latest fashions of the swinging 1960s. Or how he is able to pay for the clothes. He adapts very quickly to the 20th century.

  6. Mrs. Johnson is wonderful and not used enough.
    I’ve seen this episode 7 or 8 times and every time I find Barnabas in a hat jarring.

  7. I know episodes 210 – 212 contain iconic Dark Shadows horror moments. On my latest viewing of them, however, I found the scenes with Jason and Liz and the scenes with Jason and Mrs. Johnson to be much more compelling drama than the finding-and-releasing-the-vampire elements.

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