BLACK FRIDAY(director: Arthur Lubin; screenwriters: Curt Siodmak/Eric Taylor; cinematographer: Woody Bredell; editor: Phil Cahn; cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Ernest Sovac), Stanley Ridges (Prof. George Kingsley/Red Cannon), Bela Lugosi (Marnay), Anne Gwynee (Jean Sovac), Anne Nagel (Sunny), Virginia Brissac (Margaret Kingsley); Runtime: 70; Universal; 1940)
“The results are a mixed bag, but there’s enough entertainment to be gotten from this B-film to make it a satisfying watch.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A horror/crime melodrama told in flashback from when Dr. Ernest Sovac (Karloff), in the opening scene, is going to the electric chair and gives a friendly reporter witnessing the execution his diary of the events leading up to the murder he committed.
This film was supposed to star Bela Lugosi in that part and Karloff was to be the genial English college professor who is transformed into a notorious gangster after a car accident destroys his brain and he gets a brain transplant operation by his close doctor friend at Newcastle University. But Lugosi couldn’t pull it off being a surgeon and ends up in a minor part as the gangster Marnay. A part he also did not distinguish himself in. The one who steals this film is the British actor Stanley Ridges, who will play a dual role of the small-town university professor George Kingsley and the big-city gangster Red Cannon.
The action perks up when the popular Kingsley teaches his last class and has mixed feelings about transferring to a larger university, already missing the students he loves to teach. While crossing the street, he gets caught in the middle of a gang shoot-out and gets run over. The gangster Red Cannon sustains paralyzing spinal injuries and is taken to the same hospital as Kingsley. The prognosis for Kingsley is that he will not recover. Sovac decides to save his friend’s life by transplanting part of Cannon’s brain into Kingsley, as Cannon begs the doctor to operate on him and correct his spinal injury. The operation proves fatal for Red but successful for Kingsley, except for mood changes as the gentle professor begins having fits of surliness. In his convalescence, there are times he is not himself. Sovac also discovers that Cannon hid away $500,000, which he wants to get his hands on and use that money to build a medical research facility.
Sovac thereby decides to take the professor to New York, using the excuse that this will help his recovery. But what he is really after, is to rattle his mind so he thinks like Red and leads him to the hidden money. Sovac hypnotizes Kingsley into taking on the character of Red Cannon, but it turns deadly as he starts getting revenge on the gang that was after him and he also kills a few detectives who question him.
Warning: spoilers in the next three paragraphs.
In New York the two stay in the same hotel room that Red stayed at and when the professor has flashes that he’s Red, he changes facial expressions and becomes mean like Red. The prof kills off two gang members, Devore and Kane, and meets his songbird girlfriend Sunny (Nagel) in the nightclub where she works, remembering everything about her habits and her apartment. Sunny is freaked out by the whole thing and is no longer attracted to him, as he thinks and acts like Red but looks like this nerdy professor-type.
Sunny makes a deal with Marnay and his other henchman Miller to let them follow him to the park where he hid the money; but, he outwits them and strangles Miller and follows Marnay back to Sunny’s apartment, where he kills both of them.
During this period Kingsley’s wife (Brissac) and Sovac’s daughter (Gwynee), worried about his health, come to take the professor back to Newcastle. The film concludes as Sovac realizes that the experiment went south, as Kingsley reverts back to being Red while in Newcastle and attacks Sovac’s daughter. Sovac then shoots him and is sentenced to death, which is the part where the film began.
“Black Friday” was fast-paced, had a good cast and an interesting story. It could have probably been more interesting if the story wasn’t so convoluted. It’s a thriller that could have used a few more thrills, suffering mostly from the flat way it was directed. The results are a mixed bag, but there’s enough entertainment to be gotten from this B-film to make it a satisfying watch.
REVIEWED ON 11/26/2000 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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