Set in London during the early 20th century, “Camera Obscura’s” morality play depicts a prissy money-lender named Mr. Sharsted (Rene Auberjonois) as he makes a collection house call on a “shrewd old dog,” Mr. Gingold (Ross Martin).
But Gingold wants to discuss something important with his creditor before he gets around to “payment.”
“I charged the legal rate!” Sharsted insists.
Gingold replies that “what is legal is not always just.” He bemoans Sharsted’s lack of humanity.
But Sharsted remains unrepentant. He notes -- in signature Serling cadences -- that “humanity applies to funeral eulogies and Valentine cards,” but most assuredly not to business.
Realizing that Sharsted has irrevocably forsaken decency, Gingold utilizes an occult camera obscura (located in a secret chamber…) to exact moral payment from this emotionally-bankrupt money lender.
This Stygian snare is the City of London as it existed in the 1890s. But more than that, it’s a twilight world populated by the greedy, the avaricious. The souls who congregate there have turned into monsters; their faces twisted by the greed and inhumanity they once carried only inside.
Surrounded by the grinning ghouls, Sharsted finally begs for mercy, though he himself has never shown mercy to anyone. He insists to Gingold that these cretins are not his kind.
Gingold’s final comment on the matter is that, yes, indeed, Sharsted is correct. That’s exactly what they are.
Rod Serling always boasted a real affinity for the “shadow people,” for the little guy who just couldn’t catch a break in an increasingly impersonal and heartless world. “Camera Obscura” is perfect material for the author since the outline of Copper’s story permits him to mete out cosmic justice against a man who preys on the weak, the desperate and the hopeless.
As is noted above, “Camera Obscura” pointedly notes that what is “legal” is not always “just,” an argument that some people still don’t seem to get, even today. If the rich and powerful are the ones who lobby for laws, and Congress is in their pocket…then how, truly, can a society arrive at “just” and fair rules?
In the news today, credit card company executives whine that laws favoring the consumer are unfair, or anti-business. We see price gouging at the pumps every holiday season, and then -- inevitably -- watch as gas companies brazenly announce record profits at the end of each quarter.
Maybe Mr. Gingold needs to pay those folks a visit too.