By Steve D. Stones
Just In Time For Black Friday – It’s Black Friday (1940), starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff
No, this movie is not about what happens at retail outlets the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the opening sequence of the film shows dates on a calendar slowly tearing off a page until it stops on Friday the 13th. The film stars two great horror icons - Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Both give fine performances in the film, even though they never appear on screen together.
Karloff stars as a doctor who is sentenced to the electric chair at the beginning of the film. Just before his electrocution, he gives a book of writings to a newspaper reporter who he trusts. We go back in time to witness a horrible accident of Professor George Kingsley, one of Karloff’s friends, who is ran over and killed in a car by gangsters being chased by police. A gangster named Red Cannon is also killed in the accident, leaving behind a half a million dollars hidden somewhere.
Karloff decides to transplant Cannon’s brain into the head of his deceased friend in hopes that Cannon will reveal the location of the money. No surgical procedure is ever shown on screen, and we never see how Karloff is able to steal Cannon’s brain while still evading police.
Karloff takes Kingsley to the same New York hotel that Red Canon hid from the police in. As Karloff pries Kingsley for information about the money, his features begin to transform into Cannon until he actually becomes Cannon. Cannon leaves the hotel in the body of Kingsley to kill members of his gang that left him for dead. Newspaper headlines report the murders of Cannon’s gang members.
Film noir elements are used in a sequence when Cannon hides in the back of a car to surprise a member of his gang to strangle him. As the gangster gets into the car, vague shadows consume Cannon’s face to hide his identity. Cannon lunges to strangle the man inside the car.
Lugosi’s character, a member of Cannon’s group, sets a trap to follow Cannon to find the money by using Cannon’s girlfriend as bait. The plan backfires when Cannon discovers Lugosi hiding in the closet of his girlfriend’s apartment. Lugosi and the girlfriend are shot and killed by Cannon.
The police question Kingsley at the end of the film when a taxi driver is tipped a thousand dollars by Cannon as he flees the murder scene. Kingsley does not remember the incident after being unconscious. His body returns as Cannon to seek out Karloff and the money. When Karloff shoots Cannon, he switches back to Kingsley’s body, and the viewer is now aware of why the film started with Karloff being sentenced to the electric chair.
Black Friday can be purchased in a Universal Studios- Bela Lugosi DVD set with four other Lugosi films - The Black Cat, Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Raven and The Invisible Ray. This set is a must have for any serious Lugosi fan and collector of his films. Watch these films back to back. They are great fun.
Don’t get hassled by all those pesky Black Friday shoppers out there on November 23rd. Maybe it’s best to stay home and watch this 1940 classic – Black Friday. Happy Shopping!!