BLACK FRIDAY (1940) Reviews and overview

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‘A man-made monster is on the loose!’

Black Friday is a 1940 American science fiction-crime-horror Universal Pictures film directed by Arthur Lubin (Hold That Ghost; Phantom of the Opera). It stars Boris Karloff. Although second-billed, Bela Lugosi, has only a small part in the film and does not appear in any scenes with Karloff.


Curt Siodmak, the co-writer – with Eric Taylor (Son of Dracula; The Ghost of Frankenstein) – would revisit this theme again in Donovan’s Brain and Hauser’s Memory.

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The original script cast Lugosi as the doctor and Karloff as the professor. For unknown reasons, Karloff insisted on playing the doctor. Rather than a straight switch though, Lugosi was given the minor role of a rival gangster, while character actor Stanley Ridges was brought in to play the professor.

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The famous Doctor Ernest Sovac’s best friend, English Literature professor George Kingsley, is run down in a police/crime incident. In order to save his friend’s life, Sovac implants part of another man’s brain into the professor’s.

Unfortunately, the other man was a gangster who was involved in the accident. The professor recovers but at times behaves like the gangster, and his whole personality changes.

Sovac is horrified but also intrigued, because the gangster has hidden $500,000 somewhere in the city. The doctor continues to treat his friend and, when the professor is under the influence of the gangster’s brain, Sovac attempts to have the man lead him to the fortune…

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Black Friday‘s odd combination of gangster revenge picture and mad scientist is reminiscent of 1940s radio thrillers, where such combination of crime and weird science were common. Ridges plays his dual role well, and, if the science doesn’t make any sense, the film delivers plenty of action, murders, and exciting moments…” T.A. Gerolami, The League of Dead Films

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“You won’t often find a film where both Karloff and Lugosi are overshadowed, but it happens here; in fact, Ridges melts so completely into both roles that I didn’t even realize he was playing both characters until about midway through … If not for the “science gone haywire” slant, Black Friday would really just be a crime drama, what with all of the betrayals and plot twists.” Oh, the Horror!


Black Friday is slightly better directed than most other B movie mad scientist efforts of the era, with director Arthur Lubin … making occasionally effective use of shadow contrast. There is one particularly good shot where we see the transformation between professor and gangster, where Stanley Ridges puts his head in his hands as the mousy professor and then suddenly brings his face up as a tough guy.” Moria

“Ridges steals the movie, which is briskly directed and well scripted. Lugosi, working for the last time at Universal with Karloff, has nothing to do.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982


“Not a distinguished Universal horror film of the period but of interest for its cast.” John Stanley, Creature Features, Berkley Boulevard Books, 2000


“Lugosi is wasted in an uninteresting minor role. Karloff is not at his best. But the fun outweighs the disappointment.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers


Buy Claws & Saucers |

Cast and characters:

  • Boris Karloff as Doctor Ernest Sovac
  • Bela Lugosi as Eric Marnay
  • Stanley Ridges as Professor George Kingsley / Red Cannon
  • Anne Nagel as Sunny Rogers
  • Anne Gwynne as Jean Sovac
  • Virginia Brissac as Mrs. Margaret Kingsley
  • Edmund MacDonald as Frank Miller
  • Paul Fix as William Kane
  • Murray Alper as Bellhop


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Choice dialogue:

“A dead gangster has no friends.”

Black Friday


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