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The Mysterious Black Box (Selig, 1914)

Frame from The Mysterious Black BoxThe Mysterious Black Box (Selig, 1914)
Directed by Norval MacGregor
Starring John Lancaster and Sidney Smith

Bill (Sidney Smith) is in love with Mr. Fogg’s daughter, Betty (Elsie Greeson), and wants to marry her. Mr. Fogg (John Lancaster) does not exactly approve of the match, and as he just so happens to be Bill’s boss, he fires him. Bill, hoping to persuade Fogg to give him his job back, goes up to the boss’s office and discovers Fogg and his secretary in a rather compromising situation. Bill rushes away, but not before Fogg notices him holding what looks like a camera under his arm. Fogg must prevent that picture from reaching his wife at all costs.

The Mysterious Black Box (1914) is one of those films that straddles the line between drama and comedy, and like many other such films, it doesn’t really succeed at either. The infidelity story, clichéd as it is, does start out strong thanks in large part to John Lancaster’s performance, but that same performance hinders the comedy elements. Lancaster plays his part as straight as an arrow, but Sidney Smith and especially Lillian Leighton (Fogg’s wife) act as if they’re in a broad slapstick regardless of the scene. When the three come together, it feels almost as if two entirely separate movies have crashed into one another.

Selig films fascinate me for reasons I can’t quite articulate and I’m happy to have seen another of the rare surviving few, but The Mysterious Black Box isn’t a film I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

My rating: I don’t like it.