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Rancid Popcorn » Mock With Me #3: A Computer? Seriously?

Mock With Me #3: A Computer? Seriously?

Horrors Of The Black Museum (Arthur Crabtree, 1959)

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For the most part, Horrors of the Black Museum is not so bad. It’s not so good, either. It mostly manages to be rather tamer than it promises, and not a little boring. I’ve heard it said that declaring a film “boring” says more about you than the film, but I’m going to risk it.

It takes only a few ventures outside of Tediousville, usually for a short jaunt over to Awfulburg. These bits invariably revolve around lead Michael Gough hamming it up like Dan Aykroyd playing a drunk Santa trying to eat salmon through his beard in Trading Places. Obscure reference? Maybe. Fine, then David Caruso in every single moment of CSI Miami.

But it doesn’t start in Tediousville, oh no! It starts foursquare in the High Street of Central Funopolis! In the first scene, a young woman receives a gift in the mail from a secret admirer. She opens it to find a pair of binoculars. She tries them out, and this happens:

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Great stuff!

Then Gough rears his head, and it’s all downhill from there.

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He plays Edmond Bancroft, a hugely successful writer of True Crime books, and owes many of his paydays to pointing out the failings of Scotland Yard. He also curates his own personal Black Museum in the cellar of his mansion, a collection of crime artifacts that puts the Yard’s own museum to shame.

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With his assistant Rick in tow, Bancroft descends into the Black Museum.

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The camera pans and drifts through the room, showing us an impressive (or maybe just weird) collection of waxworks, torture devices, and antique weapons.

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Okay…

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Okay…

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Well, good. I guess this really is a nice collection. Say, what’s that they’re coming to on the right side? Must be fuse boxes or part of the furnace for the house or something…

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Oh, it’s just a wall-length ENIAC-esque computer. What the what the WHAT THE???

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Bancroft: You know Rick, the Black Museum at Scotland Yard is not really selective. A great deal of clutter. A meager little collection of guns and knives. Trunks in which hacked-up bodies were shipped. Death masks, ropes and neckties in strangulations. All in all, a dead collection that belongs to the past. But mine is alive. It not only pays tribute to the past, but it’s part of the present. And with the new electronic equipment, the future too.

Rick: Yes, I know.

And that’s it. That’s all the explanation we get. Later on, Bancroft and Rick are seen staring at the machines, reading dials and oscilloscopes as if it means a good goddamn thing:

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This is a great example of 50s/60s film and television writers not having the slightest little clue what computers do or how they might work. I can only imagine the characters think the computer is inventing new ways to murder. It masquerades as science, but the understanding of the creators is so inadequate they are forced to treat it as magic. Rather than ouija boards and crystal balls, they consult meters and such. Either way, it’s visual gobbledegook.

As they stare seriously at their machinery (one can only boggle trying to guess what Gough thinks he’s portraying), they are interrupted by Bancroft’s M.D., who has figured out that he’s the murderer and is going to make a citizen’s arrest or some silly thing. Bancroft maneuvers him in between two banks of the equipment:

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Hooray, it electrocutes people! Now that’s the crime of the future!

Look, I stand second to no one in my appreciation of truly awful Michael Gough performances, and I say that almost totally irony-free. But it’s enough. We can get all the guilty pleasure we need from his almost Shatner-esque adventures in cadence and punctuation – adding this giant electronic prop that not one person involved in the production understands is just gilding the lily.

Let the artist work his bad acting magic. Don’t crowd him out with bad props!

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