Episode 543: The Trouble with Harry

“I know enough to send you back to prison, if I want to.”

Did you know that in July 1968, there were close to 8 million people living in New York City? It’s true; I just looked it up in my well-thumbed copy of What Month It Was When There Were Close to 8 Million People Living in New York City.

So how many of those people do you think were actors? I mean, the only real professions of any consequence in New York are actors, waiters and cab drivers; everybody else is scenery.

Doing a little demographic analysis on the back of this napkin, I would estimate that there were 7,000 young male actors who could have played the role of Harry Johnson on Dark Shadows. And yet they managed to pick the very worst one. How can you account for something like that?

543 dark shadows harry lecture

I mean, it’s not a dream role; I get that. Harry is the Collins family housekeeper’s disreputable son, who showed up a few months ago for no particular reason and has been laying low off-screen all summer. It’s not a high-glamour project.

The script certainly isn’t doing him any favors. Harry has to say things like “Okay, so I had a few beers, what of it?” and “Oh, here it comes, lecture number forty-seven,” and “What kind of job could I get in this jerkwater town?” and “You don’t have to deliver your little speech tonight, mother dear,” and “Well, of course I haven’t been stealing food, what kind of question is that?” and “You know, I think you’ve lost what’s left of your mind.”

And I bet he’d go on saying repellent things if they let him appear on screen for more than three minutes at a time, which thank goodness they don’t.

543 dark shadows harry carolyn startl

The reason why Harry showed up today is to be an obstacle for Carolyn, who’s keeping an enormous Frankenstein-type fugitive hidden in a room in the deserted west wing of Collinwood. She’s been secretly bringing Adam his meals and engaging in full-contact poetry readings for a few days now, and the last thing she needs is a random recurring character asking impertinent questions.

Harry finds her carrying Adam’s breakfast tray, and tells her that a visitor is downstairs waiting for her. She wants to distract him from wondering why she’s taking the tableware on a stroll around the corridors, so she snaps, “Harry, when you were given permission to live here, you were not given permission to roam around the house. In the future, will you please stay downstairs where you belong.”

As she walks away, Harry says, “Yes, Miss Stoddard, anything you say,” and he means it to sting, too. So there.

542 dark shadows harry charisma

Now, regular readers of the blog will recall the three steps to getting the audience to like a new character: Make a joke, make a friend, and make a plot point happen. Making a friend is a crucial part of that process — the audience needs to see the character as worth paying attention to, and when the newbie earns the respect of an established character, it gives them value in the narrative.

So far, Harry is disliked by everyone that he’s come into contact with, up to and including his own mother. It’s tough to warm up to the guy.

543 dark shadows johnson harry couch

The real shame of it all is that “the housekeeper’s bad-boy son” is actually a very productive soap opera character type. You’ve got a lower-class guy living in an upper-class environment, mixing with a social set that he’s not accustomed to.

The obvious place to go with that character is a will they/won’t they relationship with the daughter of the house. Cast a reasonably attractive guy with dark eyes and a permanent five-o’clock shadow, give him a joke and a plot point, and then just sit back and let him smolder for a while. It’s sure-fire.

There are two problems with this strategy for Dark Shadows. First, the show isn’t really interested in the typical soap opera archetypes anymore. They moved into full-time spook show a while back, and now they’re casting nothing but monsters and eccentric occult figures.

The other problem is that Craig Slocum is just about the worst choice for the role. He’s got a whiny, petulant voice, and an eye-rolling technique that makes him look smug and self-absorbed. He’s not The Worst Actor Who Ever Appeared on Dark Shadows, because that prize belongs to Addison Powell, the actor who played Dr. Lang. But Slocum is easily the least likeable actor.

543 dark shadows harry adam stumble

So when Harry investigates the west wing and finds Adam lurking in one of the rooms, it’s hard not to root for the other team. Harry claims that Carolyn sent him, and Adam releases his grip on the guy’s throat, wasting a perfectly good opportunity to kill a guy that nobody likes anyway.

543 dark shadows harry adam knife

And then they go ahead and do the silliest thing they can think of, which is to have Harry pull a knife on the 6’6″ giant monster man.

You and I are going on a little trip,” he sneers. “We’re going downtown to the police station.”

543 dark shadows harry adam holdup

Adam is currently wanted by the authorities for kidnapping, reckless endangerment and possession of someone else’s life force, and Harry wants to collect the reward.

He plans to accomplish this by holding up a giant with a tiny switchblade, and walking him through the corridors of a huge mansion, and all the way downtown to the police.

Harry snarls, “Don’t be smart, because I know how to use this,” but I’m not sure that he actually does. Walking outside with a knife at someone’s back opens up a pretty obvious counter-strategy, namely: he walks a little bit faster than you. If you want to discourage that, then you’re going to need a ranged weapon of some type.

543 dark shadows carolyn adam knife

So you’ll never guess what happens next. Forty-five seconds after Harry brandishes the cutlery, Adam grabs it away from him, and now we’re all set up for another Harry-extermination scene. Harry brings this out in people.

543 dark shadows carolyn adam morals

This is all leading up to an emergency lesson in basic morality, with Carolyn explaining to Adam that he’s not supposed to hurt people, even if they’re annoying and showed up on your television show without permission from the audience. Apparently, there’s some kind of rule about that.

543 dark shadows carolyn harry crimes

After the class is over, Carolyn takes Harry out into the hall, and he tries his hand at blackmail, threatening to tell the police that Adam’s hiding here. Carolyn is not having it.

Carolyn:  I happen to know quite a lot about you.

Harry:  About me?

Carolyn:  About some of the things you’ve done. Your mother told me all about you, when she asked if you could live here. She thought I ought to know. So, you see, I know enough to send you back to prison, if I want to.

That explanation doesn’t actually hold up to any reasonable scrutiny. Why would Mrs. Johnson tell Carolyn that her son has committed crimes that he hasn’t been charged with yet? I could see telling the family that he’s been released from prison and is turning over a new leaf, but I can’t imagine that anyone in the family would agree to harbor a guy who’s currently wanted by the police. I mean, apart from the monster in the other room, of course.

Anyway, Carolyn enlists Harry’s help in taking care of Adam, and as a cover story, she hires him as the family chauffeur. This is also an unlikely scenario that I can’t quite get my head around, but it gets Harry off-screen again, so fine.

543 dark shadows harry pivot

And there’s a happy ending to this story, which is that Harry pretty much stays off-screen. They won’t do the smoldering bad boy romance with Carolyn — and in fact, there’s a genuine sexy working-class guy showing up in two weeks, taking the role in the story that Harry probably would have filled if he hadn’t been played by Craig Slocum.

Slocum makes an appearance in another ten scattered episodes between July and Christmas, filling in when they absolutely need a disinterested party to carry information from one character to another. He finally gives up in January, and somebody else subs in for Harry’s last episode.

This is one of the natural advantages of daily serialized television — they’re able to adapt quickly if something’s not working out. The Dark Shadows writers are only planning about three weeks ahead, so if Slocum turns out to be a dud, they’ve got time to hire Don Briscoe and think up another name for the character.

Daytime soap operas make a lot of mistakes, because they’re overworked and under-resourced, and they have to put something on the screen every weekday. But they’ve also got a strong immune system, which allows them to identify and expel unproductive stories and characters very quickly. And so life goes on.

Tomorrow: The Facts of Life.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the very beginning of act 1, Harry is clearly waiting for his cue. When he gets it, he starts acting like Adam is strangling him.

As Cassandra switches on the tape recorder, you can hear Harry saying, “Open that…” The scene then shifts to Adam’s room, and Harry says, “Now, open that door, will you?” The scene begins with Adam staring off to the side of the camera for his cue.

When Carolyn exits Adam’s room to join Harry in the hall, there’s a long pause before he starts speaking.

A voice bleeds in from the control room during Cassandra’s thinks monologue in the foyer.

In act 4, Cassandra steps on one of Nicholas’ lines just before he walks upstairs.


Behind the Scenes:

Speak of the Devil — Addison Powell comes back for one final appearance as the ghost of Dr. Lang; the character died back in May. Powell’s voice is still heard on the tape recorder until Friday, when they finally play Lang’s message for the last time. We’ll see Powell again for one more episode as a judge in December 1970.

Tomorrow: The Facts of Life.

543 dark shadows ghost lang

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 543: The Trouble with Harry

  1. The 1991 DS combines the characters of Harry and Willie with limited success. The Cliff Note’s approach the revival took made it impossible to introduce Willie as the TV show did* , so loser kin of the housekeeper is a quick way of accomplishing it. Granted, I don’t know any wealthy families who like their housekeepers enough to employ or even allow on the property their disheveled relatives.

    Harry is useful as an antagonistic force who is not overtly evil but untrustworthy and out for himself. Soap operas thrive with characters like that because they are unpredictable. Harry fails due to lousy casting and DS pretty much abandons that archetype in the present day. Briscoe as Chris Jennings is troubled bad boy but his issues are external.

    I also regret that Willie was not used in this manner. There was a Sam Hall script a while back that touched on this — Willie is a shady former graverobber who resents Barnabas and is no longer under Barnabas’s control. There’s great dramatic potential there, but instead they just made him cuddly.

    1. Yeah, let’s make Willie shadier…

      I have this idea that Barnabas comes back to the Old House one day and finds Willie and the jewels gone, with Willie having left a note.

      “Do not look for me, and I will not be forced to put a contract on you.”

  2. Harry seems like another one of those characters the writers had no idea what to do with. I think the only reason they created him was to bring back Slocum just so Vicky could scream when she saw him. It’s telling that after that he just disappears for weeks. Really, David would have been a much better candidate for helping Carolyn with Adam (which he would have done willingly) and I think it would have been a nice dynamic to see David and Adam. Far more entertaining than Harry and Adam.

  3. If Harry Johnson comes across as a bit of a juvenile with a fractious attitude, it’s only because Craig Slocum was drawing on what he knows. And what he knows is playing teenager roles in low-budget juvenile delinquent movies. He also hung out with James Dean and his circle in New York in the early fifties. So Slocum probably thought he was just playing it rebel cool. Trouble is, Jonathan Frid has already written the book on playing it cool, Dark Shadows style.

    With Nicholas, the powers of darkness do seem to have their limitations. You can apply a “They can put a man on the moon” type analogy question here. For instance, he can bring people back from the dead, summon spirits from their grave, but he can’t figure out how to assemble and animate his very own human creation? It’s easy. Just stitch together a bunch of body parts and summon a spirit of your choice to inhabit it as the life force. If you can command a spirit to appear, you can get it to jump into a new body and provide life force. But, no. To find out about such things, he has to… just ask around, the way a mere mortal would have to gather information. There’s the old saying “God knows all, He sees all things”, but the powers of darkness seem to be in the dark about most everything, unless they do the mortal thing and… just ask around.

    1. Nicholas Blair has the dual problem of being too powerful and lacking a personal investment in the story. They try to resolve the first with arbitrary “rules” — he can’t use magic to conduct the experiment, except when he does indirectly (erasing Maggie’s memory and bringing Carolyn back to life, as well as the spirit of Danielle Roget). Diabolos freaks out at the thought of Nicholas using magic to bring Eve back to life… but why? How would that spoil their plans? They’re both evil, right? Cheating sort of comes with the package. This is why Adam as the sole impetus for the experiment would have made more sense.

  4. Bill Malloy would have kicked Harry in the teeth if heard him talking to his mother that way. Harry is another of the growing list of characters (that gets very large by the end of the show) who simply disappears without a trace. Couldn’t they at least give a 2 sentence explanation when a character leaves the show (i.e. Mrs Johnson tells Liz that Harry sailed out on a fishing boat or Roger offers to give Harry Matthew Morgan’s old job of sweeping the floors at the cannery under the supervision of Amos Fitch)..

  5. I assume Carolyn will send Harry to prison by filing a false report against him, and with his record vs hers in Collinsport, he will be sent up river. Just a guess, probably put more thought into it than the writers did.

  6. As Cassandra switches on the tape recorder, you can hear Harry saying, “Open that…” The scene then shifts to Adam’s room, and Harry says, “Now, open that door, will you?” I don’t know if this was mentioned before, but that is “audio bleeding”, caused by the wound up tape picking up audio from the adjacenf tapein the reel. It is most notable when the adjacent tape has loud sounds on it. You may have noticed it when you heard a scream moments before someone screams.

  7. As Cassandra switches on the tape recorder, you can hear Harry saying, “Open that…” The scene then shifts to Adam’s room, and Harry says, “Now, open that door, will you?” 

     
    I don’t know if this was mentioned before, but that is “audio bleeding”, caused by the wound up tape picking up audio from the adjacenf tapein the reel. It is most notable when the adjacent tape has loud sounds on it. You may have noticed it when you heard a scream moments before someone screams.

  8. I figured Harry was out on parole and any type of violation would get him sent back to the slammer. Or if Carolyn made something up, his criminal past would pretty much guarantee his protests of innocence would be worthless.

    1. Also, I was rooting for Adam to kill Harry, until I thought, “ahhh, it’ll be inconvenient to get rid of his body.”

      And Carolyn is a badass with brains and a will of steel. Go Carolyn!

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