I braved the retail frenzy that is Black Friday exactly once–and even though the experience was relatively benign, I have no desire to do it again; these days I prefer to stay at home and read about the carnage afterward. (Seriously, what kind of gross karmic injustice must you commit to get yourself trampled to death at a Wal-Mart? That’s the sort of fate reserved for scam artists who target disaster victims, or executives green-light Katherine Heigl rom-coms.) For me the day after Thanksgiving is like any other, which means I’m parking my bloated carcass in front of a film of interest only to a select few.
BLACK FRIDAY is regarded by many genre fans as one of the lesser Karloff/Lugosi pictures, due to the fact that the terror titans never share a scene together. And while director Arthur Lubin’s 1940 gangster melodrama does keep its stars apart, it’s not without its charms–especially Lugosi’s turn as a straight bad guy, a colorful supporting role that doesn’t get enough screen time. (At least his characters suffers a memorable fate.)
The film is essentially a boilerplate gangster variation on DONOVAN’S BRAIN (no shock there, as the film was co-written by BRAIN creator Curt Siodmak; he obviously knew a good thing when he found it. I’m surprised ol’ Curt didn’t shoehorn a verse of two of “Even a man who is pure of heart . . . ” in there while he was at it) in which well-meaning but short-sighted scientist Karloff saves the life of his professor friend by transplanting his brain with that of a wounded criminal; thus begins the usual Jekyll-and-Hyde theatrics as the once-meek scholar finds himself taking on the gangster’s characteristics.
It’s a relatively straightforward affair, done with little in the way of style or panache. As mentioned before, Lugosi occupies very little screen time and Karloff never really inhabits his role with his usual verve (perhaps because he was originally intended to play the central roles, and was deemed unconvincing). What really saves the picture is the dual role performed by Stanley Ridges as both the kind-hearted prof and the criminal he eventaully becomes; Ridges segues from one character to another with such ease and understated brilliance that it overshadows both Karloff and Lugosi’s performances.
Still, I’d rather be watching this than sitting outside a Toys R Us at four in the morning.
(I’m sure Lugosi’s hypnosis was strictly hype, but I love how the trailer nonetheless focuses on one of the smallest characters in the film.)