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The Black Box
(1915) American
B&W : Serial / 15 episodes
Directed by Otis Turner

Cast: Herbert Rawlinson [Sanford Quest], Anna Little (Ann Little) [?] [Lenora MacDougal or Lenore MacDougal]?, William Worthington [Professor Ashleigh; and Lord Ashleigh], Frank MacQuarrie [John Craig], Laura Oakley [Laura, Quest’s assistant], Mark Fenton [a police officer], Frank Lloyd [Ian MacDouglas], Helen Wright [Mrs. Reinholdt], Beatrice Van [Ashleigh’s daughter], Hilda Sloman (Hylda Hollis), J. Edwin Brown, [?] ? [Inspector French]

The Universal Film Manufacturing Company, Incorporated, production; distributed by The Universal Film Manufacturing Company, Incorporated [Universal Special Feature Serial]. / Produced by Otis Turner. Scenario by Otis Turner, from a screen story by E. Phillips Oppenheim. / 15 episodes (two reels each): [1] “An Apartment House Mystery,” released 14 March 1915; [2] “The Hidden Hands,” released 21 March 1915; [3] “The Pocket Wireless,” released 28 March 1915; [4] “An Old Grudge,” released 5 April 1915; [5] “On the Rack,” released 11 April 1915; [6] “The Unseen Terror,” released 18 April 1915; [7] “The House of Mystery,” released 26 April 1915; [8] “The Inherited Sin,” released 2 April 1915; [9] “Lost in London,” released 9 May 1915; [10] “The Ship of Horror,” released 16 May 1915; [11] “A Desert Vengeance,” released 23 May 1915; [12] “’Neath Iron Wheels,” released 30 May 1915; [13] “Tongues of Flame,” released 6 June 1915; [14] “A Bolt from the Blue,” released 13 June 1915; [15] “The Black Box,” released 20 June 1915 (Universal release number 0594). / Standard 35mm spherical 1.33:1 format. / The 15th episode was released in Canada on 27 June 1915.


Synopsis: [The Universal Weekly, Volume 6, Number 24, 12 June 1915, pages 17 and 30] The fifteenth and concluding episode of the Universal Special Feature Serial, “The Black Box,” will be released during the week of June 14. The last episode of the enthralling serial contains the startling disclosure that Prof. Ashleigh, the apparently harmless old scientist, has been a veritable Jekyll and Hyde, and that all the crimes supposedly committed by Craig were, in reality, the Professor’s handiwork. The story of the episode follows: / The death of John Craig forces Quest to start on a new trail in regard to the mysterious crimes which have been shocking the civilized world. The disappearance of Prof. Ashleigh adds to the mystery. Quest and Inspector French decide to search the Professor’s house for the mysterious black box which they hope contains the clue to the mystery. They enter the house by means of Quest’s pass key and, after some searching, Quest discovers a hollow space in the wall of the library. They take out the tiles and find the small black box. With it is a card which reads: “To be opened only in case of my death. (Signed) Edgar Ashleigh.” / Inside the box is a slip of paper containing the following words: “See page 62 of January number of the American Medical Journal, 1905.” / French and Quest try to find the Journal and see upon the table a bound edition of the magazine for the year 1905. But the item on page 62 has been clipped out. / Meanwhile, Lenora and Laura, straightening up Quest’s apartment, have found Craig’s diary. It has been carefully locked and the girls decide not to open it, but instead to take it to Quest, as it might contain important evidence. / Arriving at the Professor’s house Lenora discovers a revolving bookcase and, as they push it aside, they see a bit of paper on the floor. It is the missing newspaper item and it reads as follows: / “Professor Ashleigh, after having bitten by the anthropoid, rapidly developed hydrophobia. After being treated with a new serum, the patient was relieved of all hydrophobia symptoms, but from that time this mild-mannered, humane man seemed possessed of all the characteristics of the anthropoid, being cunning, thieving, and brutal. (Signed) James Merrill, M.D.” / There is ghastly bewilderment among the four in the room as they realize that the Professor himself was the great criminal. Quest pries open Craig’s diary and reads: / “Ten years of horror, struggling to keep him from the other self; trying to keep the world from knowing. Now Sanford Quest has come. Will it mean discovery?” / Quest realizes that a search must be made for the Professor at once, and orders French to take his men and look carefully through the house and grounds. / Another page from Craig’s diary tells of the devilish scheme which the professor concocted as a means of hiding his crime, a black suit of some sort of cloth which makes him invisible under certain light conditions. The diary also tells how Craig protected Edgar Ashleigh at the cost of his own reputation. Quest finds the mysterious suit and dons it. Immediately he becomes invisible. To all appearances he has left the room, and only his eyes and hands can be seen. The girls, although realizing what has happened, are startled for the moment, until Quest suddenly removes the black cap from his head, and again he stands before them. / Meanwhile, the Inspector and his men can find no trace of the Professor, although they have searched the house and surroundings carefully. They decide to put good detectives on the trail of the missing man. They are about to enter their automobile when there is a sudden cry from the library. They rush back into the house to find the Professor himself crouched in a chair, gazing into space, attempting to ward off an invisible enemy. For a moment the Professor seems hardly human. Then he stands up, once more the cultured scientist. He says: “Mr. Inspector, handcuffs are not necessary. Let us go to Mr. Quest’s study.” / Arriving at Quest’s apartments, the electric thought-transference apparatus is adjusted on the Professor’s forehead and, after Quest has brought the Professor under his control, a vision appears in the mirror, It shows the heart of a jungle, the Professor struggling in the clutches of a huge ape. The vision fades and another takes its place. It is the interior of a tent. Ashleigh is ill in bed and Craig is caring for him. A servant enters with food and the scientist tries to choke him. It is Craig who soothes the Professor and frees the native from his clutches. After this vision comes another of the interior of Mrs. Rheinholdt’s conservatory. The mysterious hands snatch the diamond necklace from the throat of the lady. / Vision after vision follows, making plain the author of all the crimes that have puzzled French and his assistants for so many months. Quest has learned enough. He takes the apparatus from the head of the Professor. The man seems dejected. Suddenly a cunning smile comes over his face. He asks permission to write. At the desk he objects to Quest’s stub pen and asks permission to use his own. The moment he has it he presses the pen into his wrist and then proceeds to write. When he has finished, he hands the paper to Quest. It reads: “I hereby exonerate John Craig. He was the victim of circumstances. I, alone, am to blame. (Signed) Lord Edgar Ashleigh.” / As Quest finishes reading he looks up at the Professor. A wild light has come into the man’s eyes. He is once more the animal. He strikes at Quest, but the Inspector holds him. Clutching at his wrist the scientist relapses to the brutal, ferocious animal. Again he has won and Quest has lost. The criminologist rushes to Ashleigh, but the latter waives him aside. “You are a clever man, Quest, but you should have examined the pen.” Without a struggle, Professor Ashleigh, the greatest criminal of the day, has died. / The quizzical mind of Quest decides to have a little fun with Lenora. Calling her to him, he shows her a letter addressed to Inspector French, as follows: / “My Dear Inspector: In compliance with the wishes of the woman I hope soon to marry, I am giving up the hazardous, nerve-racking business of criminology for something safer and happier. You will have to find help elsewhere in the future.” / Lenora reads the letter and says: “You are going to be married?” / Quite coolly Quest replies: “Yes, I expect to,” and just as cooly [sic] lights a cigar. / For a moment Lenora is puzzled, then suddenly decides that she was mistaken in believing that Quest cared for her. She hurries to her own room and puts on her hat and coat. As she comes out, Quest sees her and smiles. The girl is heart-broken. She says to him: “I have decided to return to England to my aunt. I am going now to see about my ticket.” She is leaving the room when he asks her to wait a moment. He calls his secretary and says to him: “If anyone calls, say that I have gone to be married. My wife and I will be back in a moment.” And Quest and Laura [Lenora] leave, arm in arm, on their way to look up a minister. Soon after Laura and Inspector French also are married.

Survival status: The film is presumed lost.

Current rights holder: Public domain.

Keywords: Apartments - Death - Escapes - Law: Enforcement: Police: Detectives, Policemen - Secret doors - Serials - United Kingdom: England: London

Listing updated: 26 January 2015.

References: Edmonds-BigU pp. 42, 55; Lahue-Continued pp. 30-31, 160-161, 283; Stedman-Serials p. 47 : ClasIm-204 p. 16; UnivWeekly-19150612 pp. 7, 17, 30, 34 : Website-IMDb; Website-SerSq : with additional information provided by Robert Youhouse.

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