Black Friday (1940) is yet another Universal movie starring Karloff & Lugosi (Maybe I should’ve just called this “Boris & Bela Month”). Much like The Invisible Ray, it’s not a horror tale as much as it is science fiction. Actually, at the core it is science fiction, but for most of the movie, it plays like a crime thriller.
Karloff plays Dr. Ernest Sovac, who ends up performing an unproven and illegal brain transplant on his friend Professor George Kingsley and gangster Red Cannon after they are involved in a car accident. Sovac’s intentions are honest, if puzzling, as he takes Cannon’s brain and puts it into Kingsley body, wanting to save the life of his friend (yet he does not tell anyone he has done this). To me, all that does is save Kingsley’s body if it is Cannon’s brain that’s kept living. It may be Kingsley’s body, but it really is Cannon.
Thankfully, it is later explained that only “part” of Cannon’s brain was transplanted into Kingsley’s body and both personalities are fighting for control in a Jekyll & Hyde twist (thus explaining how for the film’s first twenty minutes or so, it is the Kingsley personality being seen).
Anyway, Sovac learns that Cannon hid $500,000 somewhere and he decides to draw out that personality in an attempt to get the money. Sovac convinces Kingsley to take a trip with him to New York and he proceeds to give Kingsley a tour of Cannon’s usual hangouts in a sly attempt to get Cannon to take over. Of course, Cannon has scores to settle with his former gang,
Where is Lugosi in all of this you ask? Good question. He plays Marnay, a member of Red’s gang who is also trying to get the money and he isn’t used as much as he should have been, really only being the third most important character in the film. I don’t even think Karloff and Lugosi shared a scene in this movie. That’s just bad form, Universal! Kingsley/Cannon is the movie’s central character and Stanley Ridges did a great job going back and forth between kind polite professor and agitated gangster.
All in all, as a gangster movie, its a decent film and I enjoyed it better than The Invisible Ray, but I’d rather see Karloff and Lugosi sharing scenes in a horror movie.
Initially, Lugosi was scripted to play Sovac and Karloff was to be Kingsley, but Karloff insisted on playing the Sovac role and Bela got shuffled down to the second-tier Marnay character.