A boy’s ghost seeks peace from a life cut far too short in the Night Gallery story “The Dark Boy” reviewed here.
Season 2 Episode 10—aired 11/24/71
“The Dark Boy” ***
Teleplay by Halsted Welles • Story by August Derleth
Directed by John Astin
Elizabeth Hartman as Judith Timm
Gale Sondergaard as Abigail Moore
Michael Baseleon as Tom Robb
Hope Summers as Lettie Moore
Michael Laird as Joel Robb
Ted Foulkes as the Fourth Grader
Steven Lorange as Edward Robb
In late 19th century Montana, a new teacher, Judith Timm (Elizabeth Hartman, very affecting), arrives to take over the job at a one-room schoolhouse. The morning of her journey, the widowed Mrs. Timm receives a note with just the two words, “Don’t Come.”
She meets sisters Abigail and Lettie Moore (Gale Sondergaard and Hope Summers), with whom she is renting a room. Abby is a member of the school board and has a strong interest in the new teacher’s success. When Mrs. Timm asks them why her predecessor left, they ignore the question and leave to tend to other matters.
Immediately after her first day teaching, her students exit the building and start to enjoy themselves on the playground. But when Mrs. Timm comes outside, for some reason, the children all leave.
When she returns to the Robb sisters’ home, they ask about her first day. Mrs. Timm notes that there were seventeen students. Abby corrects her and says there are sixteen. Mrs. Timm says, no, she distinctly recalls sixteen blond-haired children and one dark-haired boy, seventeen in all. The sisters exchange concerned glances at this.
She says she is going to return to the schoolhouse that night to do some additional work. “Miss Mason (her predecessor) went at night. That’s what started it,” Lettie blurts out before Abby admonishes her with a “Lettie!”
That evening, the dark-haired boy pays Mrs. Timm a visit at the schoolhouse. He peers through a window and when Mrs. Timm gently approaches him and beckons him to come inside, he runs away.
The next day at school, Mr. Tom Robb (Michael Baseleon) brings his son Edward to school, explaining that the boy can’t be there every day because some days Mr. Robb needs him to help with work on their farm. He adds that he doesn’t want Edward to go up on any ladders. Mrs. Timm asks about his wife and he explains that she died three years ago.
At night, Mrs. Timm is again working at the school and the “dark boy” returns. She realizes he is Joel Robb and that the scar on his forehead is due to a fall off a ladder at school, but she apparently does not know that his fall was fatal.
The next evening, she goes to the Robb home and finds Mr. Robb outside and asks about Joel. He becomes very agitated and angrily demands, “Why are you tormenting me? Why can’t people leave us alone?” and storms off into his house with Edward.
She is stunned and pursues him inside and apologizes. He explains that Joel died two years ago. She says she saw him and he says he’s seen him, too. “He never speaks. He never comes close. He just haunts me,” the still grieving father confesses to her. She thinks Mr. Robb is afraid of Joel, or Joel’s ghost so that Joel came to her because she’s not afraid of him. He then withdraws and breaks down, sobbing.
Later, she confronts the sisters about the school being haunted by the ghost of Joel Robb. They admit that her predecessor, Miss Mason, saw the ghost. The reason the children all scattered quickly after school the first day upon seeing her outside is that they all saw her talking to an empty desk and went home to inform their parents of this strangeness. The sisters confess that they dismissed Miss Mason because they thought her visions of Joel’s ghost was a sign that she was insane.
The sisters also admit that they didn’t warn Mrs. Timm because they desperately wanted her to stay, that both they and the children need her.
Mrs. Timm goes again to see Mr. Robb. From their shared acknowledgment of loneliness, a romance is beginning to blossom and they kiss.
Again, Mrs. Timm is at the school at night and once again, Joel’s ghost shows up. This time he comes inside. She coaxes him to sit beside her and she reads to him. Mr. Robb watches from outside then comes in. He asks Joel to repeat the whistle of the whippoorwill that he used to send to Joel to call him in from outside when he was alive.
Mrs. Timm gets up and comes over to Mr. Robb, holds his hand and asks Joel, “won’t you come home with us, Joel?” They leave and he follows them. They get to Robb’s house but Joel is no longer behind them. Robb whistles the whippoorwill’s song and we hear a whistle back. Mrs. Timm and Mr. Robb share a relieved smile and we dissolve to a grave. Joel’s grave, where his ghost need no longer walk among the living as it has finally found peace.
This is a fine, gentle, sensitively handled tale, ably directed by the star of the last segment, John Astin. Astin’s work as an actor and director on Night Gallery cannot be overstated. He was a true star of this series and it’s a shame his directorial career never really took off because when given the chance, he was able to do a strong and artistic job behind the camera.