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A vicious series of poison-pen letters spreads rumours, suspicion and fear among the inhabitants of a small French town, and one after another, they turn on each other as their hidden secrets are unveiled - but the one secret that no-one can uncover is the identity of the letters' author... Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
Someone unknown sends a series of slanderous letters to various people in a small French town, the motive apparently being to drive a local medical doctor out. The letters are signed: "The Raven".
On the face of it, the story is a kind of whodunit. Who is the Raven, and what motivates him or her? That's the mystery. There's no shortage of suspects, including the very doctor who supposedly is being hounded.
But the film, released during the dregs of the Nazi regime in Germany, contains relevant political subtext and themes, not the least of which is the idea that someone, anyone, can be an informer. Knowing a town's dirty little secrets, the rumors, people's weaknesses and vices can be deadly in the hands of someone with a penchant for writing, and a desire to tell all. What the raven writes is to some extent true. And the truth turns the townsfolk against each other.
The raven, as an anonymous entity, functions as a whistle blower, a snitch, a spy, a secret agent, a kind of Deep Throat. Thematically, the film is dark and subversive.
The film's B&W lighting is noirish and effective. I especially liked the sequence where a naked light bulb hanging down from the ceiling gets swung back and forth, like a pendulum, as two characters converse about moral pendulums of right and wrong, sanity and insanity, light and darkness. Where does one begin and the other end, asks a character.
Although "The Raven" gets off to a slow start, the plot and the thematic import do pick up. Two-thirds in, the film curves deep, both as a whodunit and in its cinematic statement on the issues germane to whistle blowing and informing.
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