23 May 2009 | wes-connors
Crossing "Dark Shadows" with "Falcon Crest"
The opening credits leave no doubt "Dark Mansions" is patterned after "Dark Shadows" - but, surprisingly, "Mansions" isn't like the successful supernatural-dominated "Shadows" of 1967-1970. Instead, it revisits the show as it played out during the more lackluster years of 1966 and 1971. This show has the Gothic tone of writer Art Wallace's original concept, which producer Dan Curtis steered the show back toward, in 1971. Taking the vampires, werewolves, and witches out of "Shadows" proved to be fatal, so "Mansions" may seem like puzzling pilot. But, it's also a shadowy version of the then successful "Falcon Crest" (actor David Selby did "Crest" and "Shadows"; writer Robert McCullough did "Crest" and "Mansions").
So, "Mansions" begins with star Linda Purl (as Shellane Victor) arriving as an authoress, to work on the biography of reclusive matriarch Joan Fontaine (as Margaret Drake). The character's name "Shellane Victor" is likely an homage to original "Shadows" protagonist "Victoria", who was originally named "Sheila". Like legendary golden-aged actresses Joan Bennett ("Shadows") and Jane Wyman ("Mansions"), Joan Fontaine assumes the role of a wealthy family matriarch. Note, Jean Simmons fit the bill in the 1991 run of "Dark Shadows", which makes it a Joan/Jane/Joan/Jean quartet. (Play other name games at home).
Anyway, Ms. Purl is the spitting image of the dead "Yvette" (rhymes with "Josette"), who plunged to her death over the seaside cliffs, where the two "Drake" family mansions rest (but not in peace). The mystery of what really happened to "Yvette" is the ABC-TV movie pilot's main storyline. Widower Michael York (as Jason Drake) is also Fontaine's favorite son, and a potential romantic interest for Purl.
Other family members (and suspects) include: Mr. York's bratty blonde daughter Nicollette Sheridan (as Banda Drake), his bratty blonde son Grant Aleksander (as Nick Drake), adopted "old house" castaway Paul Shenar (as Phillip Drake), his sexy wife Lois Chiles (as Jessica Drake), their blind clairvoyant daughter Melissa Sue Anderson (as Noelle Drake ), and hot-blooded son Yves André Martin (as Cody Drake). Blue-collared Steve Inwood (as Jerry Mills) and Raymond St. Jacques (as Davis) are significant outsiders.
There are too many characters, and too much back-story, in "Dark Mansions" - although, admittedly, it all would have served a TV series well (had this "pilot" sold). The locations, sets, and overall setting is beautifully done; and, as photographed by Paul Lohmann and directed by Jerry London, they are the film's greatest strength. The cliff-side dwelling is how the original "Dark Shadows" might have looked, with a bigger budget. Watch for especially representative scenes as characters walk along the cliffs, with waves crashing in the background. And, if the house looks like "Collinwood", it's because it is the house (Greystone) picked to serve as "Collinwood" for both the 1991 and 2004 versions of "Dark Shadows".
***** Dark Mansions (8/23/86) Jerry London ~ Linda Purl, Michael York, Joan Fontaine