Et Tu, Brain?

Black Friday: written by Curt Siodmak and Eric Taylor; directed by Arthur Lubin; starring Boris Karloff (Dr. Ernest Sovac), Stanley Ridges (Kingsley/’Red’ Cannon), and Bela Lugosi (Marnay) (1940): A relatively late Karloff/Lugosi team-up marred by the incredibly stupid decision of the producers to re-cast the movie, putting the little-known Stanley Ridges into the ‘monster’ role originally intended for Karloff. Lugosi got moved from the Karloff role into a supporting bit as a gangster.

Why? Theories abound. Lugosi was having problems with heroin addiction at the time, and in this B-movie he flubs several lines that nonetheless remain in the final cut. However, it’s generally believed that the studio didn’t like Karloff’s performance as the dual-brained Kingsley/’Red’ Cannon figure. So it goes.

Karloff is apparently an Eastern European surgeon with a slight British accent (yes, they didn’t change the character name when they moved Lugosi out of the role). His English professor buddy gets run over by a gangster. The gangster breaks his back; the professor breaks his brain.

So Karloff replaces part of his friend’s brain with gangster brain. Or maybe all of it. The movie is a bit shifty on the whole issue of how much brain goes where. In any case, I assume Karloff used the screw-top brain surgery method on his pal, given that he’s back to looking completely normal two months later.

Soon gangster and English professor war for possession of the same body. One of the side effects of the brain surgery appears to be the ability to control one’s hair colour. Man, brain surgery is awesome! I wish I could have brain surgery so that I could figure out why this movie is entitled Black Friday.

Screenwriter Curt Siodmak would return to this sort of exercise in human duality in the much better Donovan’s Brain. Here, it’s pretty hard to believe that the professor can go on a killing spree. I might be able to believe that Karloff could beat the hell out of half-a-dozen hardened criminals. With Ridges in that role, one can only assume that having half your brain replaced gives you super-strength. Ridges is OK in the role — he’s just a disappointment compared to what Karloff might have done with it. Lugosi is completely wasted, never sharing a scene with Karloff, and never convincing in any way as a gangster. Lightly recommended.

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