Episode 309: The Finger of Suspicion

“You have to admit that you are the most unknown quantity in town.”

I haven’t written very much about the opening voiceovers that introduce the episodes. Mostly, that’s because they’re not very interesting at this point. They get a lot more fun later on, but here are some typical examples from mid-1967 episodes.

The warm night wind wails around the walls of Collinwood…

The night wind murmurs through the ancient trees surrounding Collinwood…

It is nighttime at Collinwood, and a balmy breeze blows in from the sea…

You see what I mean? Weather reports.

Once the show really gets rolling, they don’t have time for climate. Here’s the beginning of an intro from late 1969:

Not far from Collinwood, Chris Jennings and the man Julia Hoffman believes to be Quentin Collins have found the recluse, Charles Delaware Tate.

That’s right, you get four full names, and that’s just the first sentence! That’s an intro you can sink your teeth into.

Still, there are some charmingly loopy examples from this period, and I’m fond of today’s:

This is a time of suspicion, a time when trust has slipped away into the darkness, and doubts run high. There are those who find the finger of suspicion pointed at them. They react with a sudden fear of exposure.

309 dark shadows barnabas burke

It’s worth paying attention to the writing today, because this is the last episode written by Malcolm Marmorstein. He wrote 80 episodes of the show, starting in December 1966, months before Barnabas was even a gleam in the executive producer’s eye. And now, according to an interview on the Dark Shadows: The Beginning DVD set, Marmorstein was abruptly fired, without getting a clear reason why. They just didn’t invite him to the next story meeting.

As you might assume, I have some very deeply held opinions about Dark Shadows writers. For example, Ron Sproat loves locking up women and children — he kept Maggie incarcerated for months, and we’ll see another variant on that theme next week. Joe Caldwell does lovely little one-act plays like Maggie’s “Exit Strategy” episode and Julia’s introduction. And Sam Hall, as we’ll see in a few months, is a beautiful and perfect angel.

I never really had an opinion about Marmorstein before writing this blog — in fact, I didn’t really have an opinion about him when I started writing this sentence. But I’ve just looked back at the posts I’ve written about Marmorstein episodes, and an opinion has spontaneously developed.

Here’s a quick review of some Marmorstein highlights.

Episode 233: Carolyn and Vicki sit around in the dark, and talk about a thunderstorm.

Episode 267: Barnabas finds Liz about to commit suicide, and tells her that death is fascinating.

Episode 277: Vicki thinks that the universe revolves around the sun.

And then there’s episode 309, which is the one we’re stuck with today.

309 dark shadows burke vicki dooracting

Today is one of those episodes where Vicki talks to Burke, and we’re supposed to just sit here and listen. A few days ago, Barnabas told Vicki that Burke has been investigating his past. Just as Barnabas planned, Vicki told Burke to stop spying on her friends, and so now we have to watch this aborted storyline sputter and die.

The scene kicks off with a full minute of sullen door acting, where the characters just move from one part of the set to another, opening and closing doors along the way. And then they start talking.

Vicki:  I’m not sure I know what it is you have to apologize about.

Burke:  Well, that was my feeling about it at first. But then I analyzed it, and I realized that I had said something offensive.

Which just… I mean… right? Whatever.

309 dark shadows vicki burke apology

It gets worse.

Vicki:  Then we’re right back where we were the other night.

Burke:  No, we’re beyond that.

Vicki:  Your tone is just the same.

Burke:  I said I apologize.

Vicki:  Reluctantly.

Burke:  No, genuinely.

Vicki:  Does that mean that you no longer have any suspicions about Barnabas?

Burke:  It means that I made too much out of practically nothing, and I’m sorry that I was so outspoken. It’s one of my faults, which I hope you’ll get used to.

So, as I was saying, we’re not exactly heartsick that Marmorstein is leaving the show. If it’s convenient, he could leave now; we could probably get through the rest of the episode without him.

309 dark shadows julia haunted

Actually, that’s kind of what happens. Barnabas goes to Collinwood so that he can be apologized at, leaving Julia in the Old House to read.

And all of a sudden, Julia looks around, as if she’s startled. An eerie music cue starts up, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s attracting her attention; it’s the same eerie music that’s always playing in the background.

309 dark shadows julia is that you

Julia looks around, and says, “Hello?”

Nothing continues to happen.

She puts the book down, and gets to her feet, calling, “Barnabas, is that you?”

It’s not him. It’s not anything. What is she responding to?

309 dark shadows julia upstairs

She paces around the room, and then calls up the stairs: “Who’s there? Who is it?”

It’s not anybody. Why does she think there’s someone upstairs?

309 dark shadows julia lapel

Grasping a lapel, she walks back into the drawing room.

The incidental music stops. She walks to the center of the room, and suddenly brightens.

309 dark shadows julia epiphany

“Sarah?” she calls, to nothing in particular. “Sarah, is that you?”

It’s not her. Or maybe it is her. I don’t really know what’s going on.

309 dark shadows julia woods

The sequence just rambles, and never gets any more helpful. Julia ends up walking around in the woods. At that point, we can hear Sarah’s “London Bridge” theme played on a recorder, but it’s not clear whether Julia can hear that, or if it’s just more incidental music.

When Barnabas returns to the Old House at the end of the episode, Julia walks down the stairs, still in the same Sarah-hunting daze. There’s no explanation for what led her from the woods back to the second floor of the house, if anything.

So, overall, it’s a fitting epitaph to Malcolm Marmorstein’s undistinguished run on Dark Shadows. It’s slow and meandering, it doesn’t mean anything or lead anywhere, and it’s frankly one of the most baffling pieces of television we’ve seen so far.

309 dark shadows pete's dragon

After this, Marmorstein wrote some episodes of the 1968 prime-time soap Peyton Place, and in the early 70s he wrote a couple of unsuccessful comedy films for Elliott Gould. He also wrote the screenplay for a 1975 low-rent Mexican bisexual vampire movie called Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary.

Things picked up for him by the late 70s, when he started writing screenplays for Disney — the unloved Pete’s Dragon and Return from Witch Mountain. By the 80s, he was writing weird TV-movies about robots — one called Poochie in 1984, and another called Konrad in 1985.

309 dark shadows love bites

In 1993, Marmorstein wrote and directed a movie called Love Bites, starring Adam Ant as a reluctant vampire with a familiar hairstyle. The vampire, Zachary Simms, rises from his grave for the first time in 200 years and finds love with Kendall, a young blonde whose house happens to be built over his crypt.

There’s a brief scene from the movie posted on YouTube, where Zachary tells Kendall that he can turn into a bat. It kind of looks like a home movie made by your parents in an odd mood. After this, Marmorstein retired from writing, and a grateful nation thanks him.

Tomorrow: Ghostbusted.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

There’s a marvelous bit of Fridspeak in the teaser:

Barnabas:  I want to know what it is you’re hiding.

Julia:  But I’m not hiding anything.

Barnabas:  I will not go for lies!

Someone in the studio coughs just before Burke enters Collinwood, and again a minute later.

Barnabas says to Burke, “Well, is there anything that I can clarify you that might help to improve our relationship?”

Behind the Scenes:

Here’s what Malcolm Marmorstein says in the DVD bonus features about being fired from Dark Shadows:

“I kept calling in and saying, when is the next story meeting, I’ll be there — and I wasn’t getting an answer. And then my agent said, ‘You’re off the show.’ I said, ‘Why?’ ‘Well, your scripts aren’t so good. They have to rewrite them.’

“I said, ‘That’s not true. I watch the show every day. My scripts go on verbatim. Hardly a word ever changed.’ So I kept calling Dan [Curtis], who wasn’t returning my calls. And the drift I got about what was happening was that [producer] Bob Costello told him that I was trying to get off the show, which wasn’t true. Cause we were all set to come back. So that was it. That’s what happened.”

(The interview is on volume 6 of the Dark Shadows: The Beginning collection, and on disc 24 of the Complete Original Series set.)

Also, there’s an October 2012 article on movies.yahoo called “Barnabas Collins Is Dead (Thank You, Tim Burton) − But The Debate Over Who Created Him Is Alive!” which is basically just Marmorstein saying that he invented Barnabas, and everybody else calling him an idiot.

There’s so much good stuff in that article:

“I told Dan, ‘Absolutely, but we need different ground rules. No one in the town of Collinsport has heard of Dracula. They wouldn’t recognize Bela Lugosi. We have to pretend we’re doing a vampire for the very first time. Let’s get a young, blond guy, because our audiences are very young. They’ll fall in love with him.’”

“Joe Caldwell never contributed to the creation of Barnabas,” Marmorstein says. “And Ron wasn’t a creative person. He was a burnt-out Ivy Leaguer who never did more than soap opera.”

Caldwell and another writer on the show remember  Marmorstein as a know-it-all who was more than a little possessive of Barnabas. “He could certainly be overfond of his ideas,” says Caldwell.

Sam Hall, who joined the Dark Shadows writing staff in November 1967 and whose late wife, Grayson Hall, played Dr. Julia Hoffman on the show, says, “Malcolm was interested in vampires and gave the others lectures on how vampires behave. The other writers thought he was a pain in the ass, trying to take over.”

“If the other writers said I was stubborn, maybe I was, because I was clinging to the truth and reality of the character,” Marmorstein replies. “If I built this thing up, and these guys come in and start throwing stupid ideas out, then naturally I’ll say no. Dan wanted more violence and that’s not what the show was about. It wasn’t blood and severed throats and slit guts.”

“I don’t think he contributed more than anyone else,” Dark Shadows producer Bob Costello says of Marmorstein. “He was part of a team and from that team came Barnabas. If he was as good as he seems to think he was, he wouldn’t have been fired.”

While Costello, Caldwell and Hall have been content to consign Dark Shadows to their past, Marmorstein felt compelled to offer his services when Burton decided to adapt the series into a feature.  Marmorstein says he contacted producer David Kennedy via e-mail to no avail. (Kennedy declined to be interviewed, but said he had never met Marmorstein.)

Marmorstein says he also sought to set up a meeting with Depp and his sister and co-producer Christi Dembrowski. Depp, who Marmorstein explains is a good friend of his neighbor, initially seemed interested, but the sitdown never happened. (Dembrowski and Depp did not respond to requests for comment.)

I thought they might be interested in some of the insights behind Barnabas, which they ignored totally,” Marmorstein says. “I was shocked to see, at the beginning of the movie, Barnabas killing seven or eight innocent people, who weren’t even trying to harm him. Barnabas would never do that. And I saw no reason whatsoever for the movie to be set in 1972. For nothing, I would have told them not to do that. It should have been set today.”

It’s awesome. I think he’s right about Joe Caldwell, though — Caldwell’s first script was episode 245, two months after Barnabas’ introduction. Here’s another article from March 2013 where Caldwell claims to have invented Barnabas. I apparently care very deeply about this issue.

Tomorrow: Ghostbusted.

309 dark shadows julia candles

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 309: The Finger of Suspicion

  1. I was binge watching this series on Hulu, reliving my childhood, when they abruptly pulled episodes 292-533! Thankfully I found this blog. It’s actually more entertaining and faster than watching the real thing. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

  2. I do believe the MM was the originator of the idea of Barnabas as a vampire with remorse. Seems like DC wanted to make the show more like a series of short stories and MM might have enjoyed the idea of just having one character drive the narrative. In Barnabas he may have seen that opportunity and wanted to keep the character from being a one-dimensional monster. Although I agree his scripts plodded too much, it was probably a result of trying to keep the snails pace a daily show has to maintain to not run out of material. Sounds like DC may have been a bit of a p@#ick to work for the way he fired MM wo even talking to him.

  3. I miss Vicki’s introduction in the voiceovers. It seemed so disjointed that she’d say her name, then ramble on about events she, as a character, should have no knowledge of, in an uncharacteristically poetic style. She’s very abstract in her discussion of the players – all “one woman is about to find out…” and such – no full names here! – even when the person she’s talking about is herself.

    It’s weird.

    I liked to imagine the entire series was being narrated by an elderly Vicki, telling complete strangers odd rambling tales from The Past(tm) that sometimes go absolutely nowhere and just end every 20 minutes when her medication reminder goes off. Chatting away to students at the bus stop, or single mothers in the supermarket, or the fed ex guy.

    It became a habit to slip in an extra bit of personal information between the intro and the voiceover proper – a kind of daily ‘Vicki fact’…

    “My name is Victoria Winters, and I was once mistaken for a man in Neiman Marcus.”

    “My name is Victoria Winters, and I like it nasty on a cold Tuesday morning.”

    “My name is Victoria Winters, and I am an idiot.”

  4. Blooper on the last 20 seconds of the show. Barnabas: “Then she’ll come to me, I know. Sooner or later, she will come to me.” The camera tries to zoom for a closeup on his face for the second line. But it ends up on his tie on “Sooner or later” THEN finds his face.

    1. If you think THAT’s the biggest blooper (or story flaw, etc) that happened at the end of episode 309, then think again. The BIGGEST and MOST FLAGRANT Dark Shadows story flaw to date at that time occurred right near the end of that episode (IMO)–but it didn’t have anything to do with Barnabas’ tie, or zooming in on his face.

      Julia Hoffman notices that a photo album had opened to a page showing a photo of Sarah Collins, and she tells Barnabas that she distinctly remembers closing the album–so it must have been Sarah who opened the album to that page.

      Sarah Collins…….

      Who, if you remember from having seen her tombstone on more than one occasion in the show prior to that, lived from 1786 – 1796.

      (Have you figured out where I’m going with this yet?……)

      The process of photography was not invented (according to all the history about it that I have ever been able to dig up) until 1839–and photos like the one shown in the album probabaly were not available for even many more years after that–but were certainly not available AT ALL WHATSOEVER BEFORE THAT.

      So, the “picture” of Sarah would have had to have been no less than 40 years-plus older than it possibly could have been. And I know that Dark Shadows was all over the place in expecting its audienece to suspend disbelief, but this type of a faux pas transcends anything that could reasonably be expected for us to overlook. There’s aline, and it was severely and blantantly crossed in the instance that I am recounting.

      Sarh’s photo in a photo album from the mid 1790’s???

      It’s like when you see a movie or TV show that’s set in 1960, (because it says so on the screen), and then five seconds later, here comes a 1963 Chevy. There are some transgressions that are simply UNFORGIVABLE, and showing us a “picture” of Sarah from circa 1796 would be one of those things………..

      It begs the question: How could so many people who were involved with editing and continuity have even been dumb enough to let that one slip by?……
      And if they knew that it was a COMPLETE violation of reality and let it slip ANYWAY (knowing full well just how huge of a violation that it was), then they lost a lot of respect from me that day on episode # 309–and I was and still am a big fan of the show.

      But some things just can’t be overlooked. I can take a lot, but an insult to the intelligence of that magnitude is pretty unforgivable…….

      1. The photograph came from the same pocket dimension as the perpetual-playing music box and the brand new 130-year old bonnet.

  5. Willie’s being quite remiss in cleaning up the gobs of melted wax hanging from the candlesticks. Time for another beating, I think.

    In defense of MM this episode did have a good Julia choking scene, and I can’t get enough of those.

  6. ‘Absolutely, but we need different ground rules. No one in the town of Collinsport has heard of Dracula. ‘

    Too late. Carolyn already mentioned Dracula in the first week of the show.

    The Burke-Vicki kissing scenes have improved in one way. In earlier episodes, Anthony George stuck his face between Alexandra’s face and the camera, so the audience couldn’t see her. In this episode he defers to Alexandra and lets her face be closest to the camera.

  7. Marmorstein specialized in writing long, flowery speeches that are essentially gibberish. In that sense, he was the creator of Barnabas Collins. It’s too bad he couldn’t have stayed with the show as an associate writer, with no other duties than writing the final draft of all of Barnabas’ lines. His nonsense poems defeated actor after actor in the months before Barnabas showed up, but enunciated by Jonathan Frid they sound gorgeous.

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