Director: Arthur Lubin
Writers: Kurt Siodmak and Eric Taylor
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Stanley Ridges, Anne Nagel, Anne Gwynne, Virginia Brissac, Edmund MacDonald, Paul Fix, Murray Alper, Jack Mulhall, Joe King, and John Kelly
Composer: H.J. Salter
Release Date: 4/12/1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Faced with an ethical dilemma, surgeon Ernest Sovac (Boris Karloff) transplants a section of brain matter from Red Cannon (Stanley Ridges)—a dying criminal with a hidden stash of $500,000—into the head of Professor George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges), a dear friend of Dr. Sovac. After the operation, Kingsley develops an alter ego reminiscent of Red Cannon—with a terrible outcome.
A gangster film with a horror twist, Black Friday may appeal to fans of the science fiction and crime thriller genres. This offering is, however, marred by dubious casting choices and an utter lack of atmospheric tension.
Stanley Ridges will evoke praise for his dual performance of Red Cannon and Prof. George Kingsley. Specifically worth noting are the character differences between Red Cannon, a hot-tempered psychopath devoid of moral conscience, and George Kingsley, a gentle-mannered English professor who demonstrates kindness, compassion, and empathy for his many students—a contrast that, when accentuated by the physical transformations employed by make-up veteran Jack Pierce (known for his contributions to Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and other Universal Monster classics), may encourage the audience to sympathize with the protagonist throughout his Jekyll/Hyde struggle.
Black Friday deserves criticism for casting Bela Lugosi—the obvious choice to portray Dr. Ernest Sovac given his talent for playing mad scientist characters (see Bride of the Monster for an example)—as a second-rate gangster with only minor importance to the film’s primary conflict.
On a related note, Black Friday (billed as a Karloff/Lugosi double feature similar to The Raven, The Black Cat, and The Invisible Ray) provides no opportunity for either performer to interact with each other onscreen—the most disappointing aspect of an already mediocre monster movie.
In the spirit of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Black Friday indicates that ethical reservations must always guide one’s scientific curiosity to explore and conquer the unknown—a core theme of the mad scientist genre.
Black Friday benefits from solid performances, topnotch make-up effects, and thought-provoking moral commentary. Creature feature buffs may nevertheless choose to avoid this film, which suffers from an absence of iconic horror tropes.
Overall Quality: 6/10
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