Episode 427: Disorder in the Court

“I should like to give the defendant one last opportunity to denounce her master, and relinquish voluntarily the powers which link her to the Prince of Darkness.”

Hear ye, hear ye! The Collinsport Imaginary Witchcraft Court is now in session, Judge Hanley and his two unnamed and non-speaking associates presiding.

Yes, it’s finally time for the trial of Victoria Winters, girl governess, who’s been in prison for the last five weeks, charged with wearing funny clothes, knowing people’s names, owning a book, and running out of the house when a guy outside was yelling something about fire. That’s a pretty chilling rap sheet.

But this is the United States of America, or however much of it there was in 1795, and an accused person has the right to a speedy trial before a jury of her peers.

Unfortunately, Vicki comes from the 1960s, which means that her peers won’t even be born for another 150 years. That would hardly be a speedy trial, so let’s just chuck her in a courtroom and hope for the best.

427 dark shadows avant-garde abigail

To kick off today’s true-to-life legal drama, we start with a quick burst of fourth-wall-breaking experimental theater. Abigail Collins stands against a black background, looks us in the eye, and tells the truth.

Abigail:  Victoria Winters is a witch!

427 dark shadows black box trask

Reverend Trask:  She must hang!

427 dark shadows wall abigail

Abigail:  Satan will try to rescue her!

427 dark shadows succeed trask

Trask:  He will not succeed!

It’s phenomenal. I don’t even know what to say about this opening, except that this is what happens when a network hands New York theater people a daily television show and then doesn’t pay a lot of attention to what they do with it.

427 dark shadows set judges

But check it out, they have a new courtroom set, and three whole judges! Sure, only one of them is allowed to talk, but this is luxury. We’ve been standing around in a drafty mausoleum for weeks, with nobody to talk to but the sound effects library.

The mission statement of Dark Shadows is to put things on television that we’ve never seen before, but aside from the period setting, the courtroom was familiar territory for the 1960s TV audience.

By the late 60s, the American public was just emerging from nine seasons of Perry Mason, an utterly bonkers courtroom show where the crusading defense attorney would win every case — not by establishing reasonable doubt or any of that boring law stuff, but by identifying and exposing the actual murderer, right there in the courtroom during the trial.

Perry Mason’s technique was to get somebody up on the witness stand and pepper him with questions, until the witness finally says, “Well, the chump had it coming,” and then it’s all over. It was never a surprise who the real murderer was, because it was always the guy sitting in the chair at 9:50 pm.

And so, for nine long years, Perry untangled The Case of the Perjured Parrot, The Case of the Petulant Partner, The Case of the Posthumous Painter, The Case of the Playboy Pugilist and The Case of the Prankish Professor.

I’m serious, those are all real episode titles. There were 270 episodes; these are just the Ps. Here, have some more: The Case of the Provocative Protégé, The Case of the Pathetic Patient and The Case of the Polka-Dot Pony.

427 dark shadows the judges

But those were the pioneer days, when they established all the groundbreaking innovations of television justice — including rushing into the courtroom during the trial with new evidence, which is presented at once with no discussion, and changing the charges leveled at the defendant while they’re sitting there quietly in the courtroom.

By 1968, the rules of TV justice were so fuzzy that you’d have to work really, really hard to come up with something crazy and surprising in a courtroom scene.

Let’s see what Dark Shadows can do.

427 dark shadows prosecutor trask

Right off the bat, we start with an interesting twist — Vicki’s defense attorney is her new boyfriend, young Peter Bradford, while the prosecuting attorney is…

Huh. The prosecutor is Reverend Trask. Okay, that’s novel.

Trask begins the trial with this opening statement: “I should like to give the defendant one last opportunity to denounce her master, and relinquish voluntarily the powers which link her to the Prince of Darkness.”

In other words: Step aside, Perry. This is justice, Dark Shadows style.

427 dark shadows objection peter vicki

Peter rises to the bait.

Peter:  Your honor, Miss Winters does not admit the possession of any such powers!

The Judge says, “Mr. Bradford is right,” which means it’s 1-0 so far. Advantage: Witch.

427 dark shadows angry sidebar

Trask picks up on the word “possession,” and does another little riff on the persecution of innocent souls, sending Peter up to the bench to object again.

The Judge says, “Trask, you will attempt to limit your editorializing, I trust,” so that’s 2-0 for Vicki. Things are going great so far.

427 dark shadows testimony abigail

Trask calls Abigail to the stand, to testify about Vicki’s strange arrival at the Old House. And look at Peter, sitting at his little desk back there! That’s adorable; he looks like a determined, crusading fifth-grader.

Abigail says that Jeremiah would be alive today if it weren’t for Vicki, so Peter gets up on his hind legs.

Peter:  I object to this, your honor!

Trask:  Do you, sir? Well, no more than this noble family objects to the loss of one of its most illustrious members.

A little shouting match erupts, and the Judge intervenes, reminding Trask that the connection between Vicki’s arrival and Jeremiah’s death has not been established.

So there. The trial’s hardly started, and already it’s 3-0. This is gonna be easy.

427 dark shadows crusading peter

Abigail talks about Phyllis Wick, the governess that the family was expecting, but who never showed up. “Obviously,” she says, “some evil force would not permit her to come.”

Peter gets up and walks over to the witness, shouting in her face. “It may be obvious to you that some ‘evil force’ did not permit Miss Wick’s arrival,” he hollers. “It also may be that, just by chance, somewhere between Boston and here, she changed her mind.”

Abigail insists, “The stage overturned, and she is missing to this very day!”

Peter snaps, “Did you try to find her?” and for a second, it looks like these two are about to throw down. Then the Judge smacks Peter on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, and tells him to take a seat; he’ll have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness later. That makes it 3-1.

427 dark shadows explanation peter

Trask asks Abigail to describe the strange clothes that Vicki was wearing when she first arrived at the Old House. It’s been 45 seconds since Peter’s last interruption, so he blurts out, “There is an explanation for Miss Winters’ clothes, your honor!”

The Judge smacks him down again. 3-2. We’re losing ground.

427 dark shadows agreed judge

On the next serve, Peter gets all the way through 30 seconds before rising to his feet to object again. It’s the same issue as before, implying a connection between Vicki’s arrival and all of the terrible things that happened immediately following Vicki’s arrival.

The Judge agrees with this objection, which brings us to 4-2 at halftime.

427 dark shadows perplexed judge

Obviously, while all of this is going on, the two non-speaking judges are sitting at the bench, making perplexed facial expressions. This goes quite a ways toward establishing the appropriate emotional subtext for the scene.

427 dark shadows serious judge

Especially this judge. I suppose it goes without saying that this is my all-time favorite television judge. This is Tom Gorman, who we’ll see later this year as Mr. Prescott in one of the most peculiar seduction scenes of all time. Seriously. He’s great in it.

427 dark shadows cat trask

Next, Trask asks the witness about the week when her brother Joshua turned into a cat. Abigail describes the whole thing, from the transformation through to the day when she saw the cat turn back into her brother in a puff of smoke.

This story is the only thing in the entire scene that Peter doesn’t interrupt or object to. Apparently, evidence pertaining to cat-transmogrification is just the ordinary bread-and-butter of the American legal system. There’s no point in asserting yourself here; you just wait until it’s over.

427 dark shadows exorcism trask

The trial moves on.

Trask:  Will you testify as to the exorcism of the Old House at Collinwood?

Abigail:  Gladly. I was convinced that Barnabas was under the spell of this witch, and that he was hiding her there, at the Old House. Finally, he agreed to let you, yourself, Reverend Trask, exorcise the Old House.

427 dark shadows leaps peter

Peter leaps to his feet.

Peter:  Your honor — since it was the Reverend Trask who conducted this exorcism, I would like you to — just for the moment — dismiss Miss Collins, so that I may interrogate Mr. Trask on his actions on that day.

Trask says, “I certainly have no objections, your honor,” and so the Judge agrees to this preposterous suggestion.

427 dark shadows testifying trask

This may be the single weirdest thing that has ever happened in a television courtroom, not involving the cast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In the middle of testimony, the Judge excuses the witness, and allows the defense attorney to cross-examine the prosecutor.

It’s kind of like an emergency room scene where the patient gets up off the table and takes a seat in the corner, so the anesthetist can poke around inside the surgeon for a while.

This is breaking new ground in television justice. This is what Dark Shadows is for.

427 dark shadows exorcism trask peter

Naturally, the whole scene instantly careens out of control.

Trask:  I drew a circle upon the ground, and within it, inscribed the initials of the witch — Victoria Winters!

Peter:  She is NOT a witch! That’s exactly what we’re in this courtroom —

Trask: I waved the burning, forked branch before the threshold — and the witch came forth from the house! The forces of evil had been conquered!

Peter:  She didn’t run from that house because of your exorcism! She ran because there was a fire in her room!

427 dark shadows smoke vicki

Abigail:  That is not true!

Vicki:  Yes, it is! My room was burning!

Abigail:  It was not! I was in there afterwards, and there was no sign of any fire!

Vicki:  I saw the flames, and I saw the smoke!

Abigail:  You saw the flames of HELL! That’s what you saw!

Judge:  Order! Order! I wil have order in this court!

Vicki:  NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!!!

And then there’s a sandstorm and an earthquake and there’s chickens all over the place and the courthouse burns to the ground and there are no survivors. The end.

Tomorrow: Duel It Yourself.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

A boom mic can be seen in the top left corner of the screen as Abigail is being sworn in.


Behind the Scenes

Judge Hanley is played by Leslie Barrett, who appears in five episodes. Barrett was a veteran of the early days of TV, appearing in four episodes of The Philco Television Playhouse between 1949 and 1953. His Broadway credits include The Primrose Path in 1939, and Eugène Ionesco’s The Rhinoceros in 1961. He also worked with Joseph Papp and the Shakespeare Theatre Workshop, appearing in Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It. He also had TV roles on The Twilight Zone, Dennis the Menace and Another World.

Barrett is the only judge who speaks, and he’s in the closing credits.

The 2nd Judge is played by Hansford Rowe, who appeared on several other daytime soaps, including The Edge of Night, Another World, and Ryan’s Hope. In the 1980s, he moved to prime-time, with appearances on Remington Steele, The Greatest American Hero, Newhart, Dallas, V, LA Law and a 1992 Perry Mason TV-movie. Rowe is now 90 years old, and as of 2013 was still appearing on television, with roles on Modern Family and Raising Hope.

The 3rd Judge (my favorite) is played by Tom Gorman, who’s played several other non-speaking roles on Dark Shadows recently, including a Blue Whale customer, a bartender, Vicki’s jailer and one of the servants who carried Barnabas’ coffin out of the Old House. We’ll see him again in more minor roles later on in 1968.

The Guard who locks Vicki’s cell in act 1 is Peter Murphy, the actor who’s played a lot of fill-in roles, including the recast Caretaker, a ghost haunting Julia, Burke lying on a bed, and the back of Barnabas’ head. We’ll see him as a jailer again in a couple weeks.

Tomorrow: Duel It Yourself.

427 dark shadows scream vicki

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 427: Disorder in the Court

  1. When I saw the talking judge’s name was Leslie Barrett at first I thought that possibly Nancy Barrett got her father to play the part. My favorite character of the 1795 storyline is definitely Jerry Lacy – he really gives his all in playing Trask. I don’t think Roger Davis is acting at all – he’s just ‘playing himself’ under the name of Peter Bradford (and every other character he portrays on this show). They may as well hang Vicki now and be done with her since the writers have already ‘killed her character’ at this point.

    1. Worst. Lawyer. Ever.

      Davis is ok when he’s not emoting. If the conversation is calmed and relaxed he’s fair. But as soon as he starts expressing anger or frustration – watch out. I find his voice isn’t commanding at all, so when he’s trying to be forceful he just comes across as abrasive and somewhat petulant, like he’s throwing a hissy fit. Not unlike Maxwell Caulfield on The Colbys (that’s one for you old-timers).

      1. It also seems like in certain scenes between Roger Davis and other members of the cast there was a feeling of ‘unease’ with having to interact with him because of this petulant attitude he projected (whether real or imaginary).

        1. Yeah, Roger Davis was not well-liked among the cast. The Dark Shadows Movie Book has excerpts from the diary Kathryn Leigh Scott kept while she was filming House of Dark Shadows, and there’s a lot about how annoying she thought he was.

          I remember a Dark Shadows Festival panel discussion when Davis was going on about his new company printing art from old orange crates on T-shirts. The other cast members were frowning and sighing, until Louis Edmonds finally said, “THANK you, Roger,” and changed the subject. That was the only time I ever saw friction between any of the cast at a Festival.

  2. It is kind of crazy, but I love Perry Mason, mostly because of Paul Drake and Della Street. I do enjoy listening to Raymond Burr’s voice though. It has its own continuity episodes. Hamilton Burger was always highly suspicious of Perry at the beginning of the episode and by the end sees him as a trusted colleague. Why he bothered to prosecute anyone who Perry defended instead of just sighing and saying OK Perry tell me what you got.

    I would put up Darren’s trial for witchcraft on “Bewitched” right up with this one.

    1. I love “Perry Mason” too, especially the early episodes. People need to understand that Perry Mason really is really a detective/mystery show, not a legal drama. The courtroom spectacle is the equivalent of the final act of the mystery, where the detective (Sam Spade, Nick Charles, Hercule Poirot, etc.) gather the suspects and expose the perpetrator.

  3. Oh, now you’ve done it! You’ve got me longing for a Perry Mason/Dark Shadows crossover. Perry Mason and the Case of the Bewildered Witch. He could be cross-examining Reverend Trask at 9.50 PM…

  4. So Vicki’s defence strategy is “The Judges have GOT to believe me!”
    Yeah, that line has worked so well every other time she’s used it, what could possibly go wrong?

  5. “You saw the fires of hell, is what you saw!” ranks as my favorite line of an episode lousy with crazy courtroom lines. I’m now shouting it at the people I see, mainly to get a bit more leg room on the subway.

  6. Just sayin’…Natalie testifies that she saw “the witch” in Josette’s room at Collinwood, and that after she (Natalie) had come back in through THE ONLY DOOR, the witch had disappeared. Come on, Natalie, by that time you knew there was another way out, you used it yourself just yesterday. No fair.

  7. There is at least one Perry Mason episode where Perry says at the end something to the effect that, I don’t know who done it. All I had to do was prove that my client didn’t do it. It is either The Case of the Fan Dancer’s Horse or The Case of the Nervous Accomplice (both 1957). I think it was the former. Both those scripts were written by Stirling Silliphant.

    I guess everyone by now knows that the judge’s announcement that this is a Massachusetts court is not a mistake. Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820 when it became a separate state in one of a series of attempts to keep the slave states from out-numbering the free states.

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