Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Raven (1935) Film Review
Beautiful dancer Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) is seriously injured in a car accident. The only hope is that the brilliant but eccentric Dr Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi) can be coaxed out of self-imposed retirement to operate. An appeal to his vanity has the desired result and Jean is soon up and on the stage again, much to the joy of her father, Judge Thatcher (Samuel S Hinds), and husband-to-be Dr Jerry Holden (Lester Matthews). The problem is that Vollin has fallen madly in love with Jean and wants her to be his bride instead.
Around about this point escaped murderer Edmond Bateman (Boris Karloff) conveniently appears, hoping that Vollin can transform his face so he can leave his old life behind. Vollin agrees, but wants Bateman to kill Judge Thatcher and Holden in return. With Bateman reluctant, Vollin deliberately disfigures him during the operation, promising that he will perform the proper operation when Thatcher and Holden have been disposed of in his secret torture dungeon inspired by the work of Edgar Allen Poe...
Though often dismissed as very much the second best of the two Karloff-Lugosi Universal horror-thrillers inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe, this is perhaps more a reflection of the qualities of its counterpart, The Black Cat, as a movie that transcends its lowly origins, than any specific failure on anyone's part here – other, that is, than doing more than was expected from them.
Both leads are certainly in fine form, with Karloff's more understated approach generating the necessary element of sympathy for his tragic character – one knows there's going to be no happy ending for a reformed murderer on the run in the era of the Studio Code – and contrasting nicely with Lugosi's scenery chewing antics.
Yet if Lugosi was, as is often said, something of a ham, it's important to remember this was perhaps more down to his discomfort with the English language as as much as anything else – it's perhaps telling here that while he himself recites a few lines from Poe in that inimitable accent, a longer voice-off passage later on is spoken by another – with his theatrical experience in Hungary hinting at greater ability and range than he is generally recognised as having. More to the point, however, it's that a Universal horror programmer isn't Shakespeare and an over-the-top approach is exactly what the part of Vollin, a self-proclaimed “god with the taint of human emotion,” calls for.
With the rest of the cast forgettable; Lew Friedlander's direction very much in that classical Hollywood production line style; and the score very much sub-Waxman in its classical lifts from the romantics, the other main stars of the show emerge as some impressive production designs, such as the mirror filled room in which the now-disfigured Bateman finds himself and the inevitable pit and the pendulum trap.Reviewed on: 04 Nov 2007
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