“Fight Mental Health.” This command can be found scribbled on the wall of the lab/loft of mad scientist Doctor Morgus. For any would be patient or subject, this should be very concerning. However, for the regulars who frequent certain corners of the French Quarter, it’s a relatively harmless quirk, accepted with a knowing smile. If the Superdome is our church, Morgus is our not-ready-for-prime time Minister.
Morgus the Magnificent is well known to the citizens of New Orleans as depicted in The Wacky World of Doctor Morgus. Much like Emperor Norton of San Francisco, Morgus is a personality that is revered with a heartwarming smirk and a shake of the head. “Ha ha! That’s OUR Doctor!” people might as well say when witness to his antics. To an outsider, there might be calls to lock the man up in an institution. Morgus lives in a second story lair, only accessible via a fire escape ladder (clearly, he prefers this entrance). Inside is his roommate and silent assistant Chopsley, who eerily resembles the gimp from Pulp Fiction. Laying immobile in a chair is his girlfriend Zelda, whom he has hypnotized into a comatose state for many years. Creeped out? Don’t be.
In any other town, Morgus would be compared to Norman Bates. But this is New Orleans. These seemingly unseemly things are just the eccentricities of a friendly DIY scientist. In this town, many go by nicknames — a reporter is called Pencils, a street artist with allergies is called Red Nose. It’s all very laid back and casual. No biggie.
Encouraged by Pencils to have his latest invention, an “instant people” machine, to be entered into a U.N. symposium, Doctor Morgus agrees to have a letter sent on his behalf. However, it gets intercepted by the evil leader of Microvania, who plans an invasion of America. Is our good Doctor going to save the day?
It’s a thin plot. Very thin. But there are two things that keep The Wacky World of Doctor Morgus very entertaining: 1) Morgus himself. Sid Noel plays the mad scientist with excellent improv-style ticks and timing, as well as an infectious laugh. He brings a hopelessly lovable element to the character, and despite the Doctor’s shortcomings, makes you want to root for him. And 2) The feeling that Morgus is ours. When the Microvanian leader exploits Morgus’ wanting for universal acceptance, we feel angry. Morgus is family. Sure, he’s dopey, but he’s one of us. You just wish you could reach into the screen and tell him of the fraud that’s he’s been tricked into.
Is Morgus disturbed or just merely eccentric? At the very least, he dislikes the status quo. At the very most, he’s capable of many a wild ride. His feature length film predates movies based on cult characters, like The Jerky Boys: The Movie, and it should’ve been seen as a warning for such projects. Trying to add a plot almost harms what makes these niche figures amusing. Just let them be themselves. I could watch a days worth of Morgus interacting with Chopsley, all set in his lab. MST3K: The Movie was basically just an episode of the show, and it worked. Don’t fix what aint broke, even if it is Doctor Morgus.
3 / 5
Originally published in PROPAGANDA New Orleans.