Reviewed by DAN STUMPF on
BLACK FRIDAY. Universal, 1940. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Stanley Ridges, Anne Gwynne Anne Nagel. Written by Curt Siodmack and Eric Taylor. Directed by Arthur Lubin.
An odd confluence of horror movie and gangster film, done up with the usual polish of Universal’s upper-case monster movies, but sadly unfocused.
Boris Karloff stars as (surprise!) a Mad Scientist, and Bela Lugosi gets second-billing as a bad guy, but the meatiest part goes to Stanley Ridges as Karloff’s friend, a likable old professor of the Walter Albert type, who gets run over by a bank robber (also Ridges) in mid-getaway who then conveniently cracks up his car, leaving Karloff with two men on his hands who will quickly die unless he tries his unconventional theories….
With Curt Siodmack’s name on the credits, the knowing horror buff won’t be surprised to see a brain transplant in the offing. In this case, Karloff sews part of robber/Ridges’ brain into professor/Ridges’ noggin, resulting in a mild-mannered professor who morphs into a heartless killer from time to time as the plot demands.
Well we all had a few teachers like that in College, didn’t we? In this case though, Karloff figures out that robber/Ridges knows where all sorts of stolen loot may be hidden, and means to get his hands on it—another instance of the sad decline of Universal’s monsters that I mentioned earlier, in my review of Spider Woman Strikes Back.
Anyway, to further his ends, Karloff sets about bringing more and more Crook out of the Academic, at which point Black Friday turns into a Warners-style gangster pic, with molls, shifty miscreant and a rival gang boss, played by poor Bela.
It was about this time someone at Universal decided Lugosi was never going to get another decent part there. With the arguable exceptions of his Ygor reprise in Ghost of Frankenstein and the Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, his career there was consigned to a series of sinister butlers and indifferent red herrings, with good billing but nothing very much to do.
Karloff on the other hand, looks marvelously sinister in this, and Stanley Ridges is very effective in an underplayed star turn, equally convincing as the gentle academic and the nasty desperado, and really except for the sad sight of Lugosi languishing on the sidelines it’s an enjoyable film. Just one thing has always puzzled me about it though:
Black Friday opens on Karloff in a jail cell awaiting imminent execution, spinning his tale in flashback. But when I got to the end of the film I couldn’t figure out what he even got arrested for; in fact, he never doers anything particularly criminal in this film –- not in front of witnesses, anyway — and as THE END flashed across the screen, I wondered if perhaps the writers had thought this thing out all that carefully.
Anyway, if any of the legions of obscure movie buffs out there remember this one — and if you’ve done your shopping and polished off the leftovers by now, perhaps someone can explain it to me.