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A wealthy judge coaxes the brilliant but eccentric neurological surgeon Dr. Vollin (Lugosi), who also has an obsessive penchant for Edgar Allen Poe, out of retirement to save the life of his daughter, a dancer crippled and brain damaged in an auto wreck. Vollin restores her completely, but also envisions her as his "Lenore," and cooks up a scheme to kidnap the woman and torture and kill her fiance' and father in his Poe-inspired dungeon. To do his dirty work, Vollin recruits a wanted criminal (Karloff), and turns him into a hideous monster to guarantee his subservience. Written by
Kevin Rayburn <kprayb01@homer.Louisville.edu>
"The Raven" (Universal, 1935), directed by Louis Friedlander (later Lew Landers), became the second official KARLOFF and LUGOSI teaming, and a worthy following at that. Although this production is a notch below their initial thriller, "The Black Cat" (Universal, 1934), in which both movies are suggested on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, none actually have story lines from either Poe's stories or poems. While Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were evenly matched in "The Black Cat," Lugosi dominates the story in "The Raven," and he is in rare form here.
Like a "B" movie, for which is what this neat little thriller is, it gets right down to business and seldom slows down in its tight 60 minutes. Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) has an auto accident that sends her to the hospital. Only one doctor can operate on her and save her life. His name is Doctor Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi), a plastic surgeon and skilled surgeon, now retired. Judge Thatcher (Samuel S. Hinds), Jean's father, locates Vollin and pleads for his daughter's life. He agrees and performs a successful operation. Jean, a dancer by profession, learns that Vollin is a great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, and to reward this great doctor, she arranges to have him attend her theatrical comeback in which she performs a dance to the narration of Poe's THE RAVEN, much to Vollin's delight. Vollin admits his love for Jean, but informs him that although she is grateful to him for her life, she is engaged to marry Jerry Halden (Lester Matthews). Even Judge Thatcher notices Vollin to not be in his right mind, and decides to pay him a visit to his home to advise him to stay away from Jean, and leaves. But Vollin doesn't take warnings too lightly. Quite conveniently, that very night, Edmond Bateman (KARLOFF), a bearded murderer who has recently escaped prison, pays Vollin a visit in hope that the famous plastic surgeon could perform an operation to change his face. Vollin at first refuses until Bateman tells him something quite profound: "Ever since I was born, everybody looks at me and says, 'You're ugly.' Makes me feel mean ... Maybe if a man looks ugly, he does ugly things." These words convince the doctor to go on with the operation and walking him through a secret panel that leads him to an operating room downstairs. Following the surgery, Bateman is changed into a hideous creature, and in order for him to have his face restored, Bateman finds he must do Vollin's evil bidding by becoming his servant, or better known as his "live-in slave." (One scene finds Bateman getting hit with Vollin's little whip when Vollin feels his orders are being disobeyed). Vollin then arranges to have Jean, Jerry, Judge Thatcher and some other guests to spend the weekend in his home, unaware that they are to become victims of his torture devices in his chambers, all inspired by Poe. Because Vollin cannot have Jean as his wife, he has Bateman place her and Jerry in a room, closing the door where the couple are standing in the center as the walls are slowly closing in on them. Then the suspense really builds up to a nail biting conclusion.
"The Raven," may not be first-rate horror to some viewers, but it does offer Bela Lugosi's finest hour on film, a hammy performance to say the least. Possibly under the direction of either Tod Browning or James Whale, the premise would have been the same but their styles of strangeness and/or humor would have been more evident, giving the movie a different feel. In spite of his top-billing with surname only, KARLOFF's character arrives some 15 minutes from the start of the story. Although he, too, plays a villain, he becomes very much a victim as do Vollin's "house guests." One particular memorable moment occurs after the operation in which Bateman's bandages are removed from his face by Vollin. The mad doctor then leaves Bateman in the operating room alone. Vollin, in the room above, opens the curtains that had covered a series of full-length mirrors set into the wall. Bateman, to his horror, seeing the final results of his face, rushes from mirror to mirror. Furious, he takes out his gun and shoots each mirror one at a time as Vollin looks on and laughs sadistically. By the time the gun is aimed at Vollin, the gun is empty, leaving Bateman to shake his fist and make a growling sound like Karloff's Frankenstein's Monster from "Frankenstein" (1931).
In the supporting cast are Inez Courtney, Spencer Charters, Maidel Turner and Ian Wolfe as the other weekend guests of Vollin's home, adding some "comedy relief," with Arthur Hoyt as Mr. Chapman; Walter Miller as Vollin's butler; and Jonathan Hale briefly seen as the medical doctor in the hospital scenes.
"The Raven" is sure to delight horror fans, especially those who really don't take this type of horror stuff seriously and sit back and enjoy watching Karloff and Lugosi, two horror movie greats from the golden age of Hollywood. Once presented on the Sci-Fi Channel in the 1990s, and on American Movie Classics from 1991 to 2001, it premiered on Turner Classic Movies where it premiered May 18, 2003. "The Raven" is available on video cassette in two formats: One as a double featured package along with "The Black Cat," the other as a single. Both "The Black Cat" and "The Raven" include the same underscoring during its closing casting credits. (***)
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