ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dark Shadows and Possible Contract Defenses

This weekend, I had a chance to see Tim Burton's latest, Dark Shadows. I mention it because it contains a tidbit about our favorite subject here at the blog - CONTRACTS. If you saw the movie, you might be wondering - huh? Too distracted by the blood (there's a vampire, what d'ya expect) and the erratic tone, you might have missed it. In fact, there are two scenes where contracts play a pivotal role. The first is when Johnny Depp's character, Barnabus Collins, approaches a fisherman honcho (I can't remember his name) and tries to get him to break his contract with the evil Angelique (I won't go into the details but basically Barnabus and Angelique are running competing fish canneries). You might be thinking, That's interference of contract, right? That's a tort - what's it doing on this blog? But when the fisherman honcho refuses to do it, professing loyalty (and embodying the notion that trust plays a vital role in contract performance), Barnabus puts him under a spell. I'm not quite sure whether that would constitute duress - there's no "improper threat", although there is "no reasonable alternative" and the so-called assent certainly wasn't voluntary. I think a stronger defense for the fisherman honcho would be a variation of an intoxication or insanity-like defense to show that he wasn't in his right mind and the assent was not voluntary.

The second contractual plot point sees Barnabus under duress this time. Angelique makes Barnabus an offer he can't refuse - in other words, she makes an improper threat that leaves him with no reasonable alternative. But rather than taking it, he makes her a "counterproposal" which is that she kiss off (or something along those lines). It's not really a counteroffer though, since there's no bargain. It's really just a rejection that he phrases as though it were a counteroffer - Hollywood again playing fast and loose with contract doctrine. Angelique, of course, hates being rejected. Her response is to throw him in a box (aka a coffin) and lock him up for eternity -- proving that there really was no reasonable alternative for ol' Barnabus. (Of course, he can't use duress as a defense because he took the unreasonable alternative to be locked in a box).

Anyway, other than the contract issues, the movie didn't really work for me. But reasonable minds may differ.

[Nancy Kim]

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Love the way you use the film to make sense of technical legal concepts, a lot of lawyers could learn from that.

But the question is, can a vampire ever come to a contract with "clean hands" (or teeth ?!,to use the equitable concept applying in English law to many contracts.

Posted by: Darlingtons | Jun 6, 2012 8:24:28 AM

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