The Raven (1935)

Starring: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff
Second Sight
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 29 October 2007

A genius surgeon called Vollin is approached by Judge Thatcher and pleaded with to treat his beautiful daughter Jean, who has suffered a car accident and is in a coma, close to death. After some persuasion the retired specialist agrees. The operation is successful and, after she recovers, Vollin is invited to the theatre to enjoy her professional dancing performance, where he soon becomes infatuated. Witnessing his advances, Judge Thatcher warns Vollin away from Jean, who is bethroather to another man. When an escaped criminal called Bateman tries to threaten Vollin into changing his features, he purposefully makes the man hideously ugly, using emotional blackmail to get the man to do his bidding in exchange for improving his looks again. Vollin then invites all those involved to his house as guests for the evening. Obsessed with the tales of Edgar Allan Poe and in particular the poem
The Raven, he has constructed a dungeon of various torture devices and has surprises in store for his guests...

The Raven was said to have been made for the purpose of reuniting Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for another outing because of the success of The Black Cat. The truth is this film is considerably better than its predecessor. Although Karloff's role as Bateman is more than satisfactory, it's Lugosi who really shines here. His gentlemanly but sinister mannerisms endear you to his character of Vollin, particularly when faced with a handful of pompous toffs. You almost want him to succeed in dispatching Thatcher with a live re-enactment of Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum swinging blade.

Considering The Raven was made in 1935, it is tightly scripted and well-paced. It motors along, tells its tale in an hour and gets out before you can even think about becoming bored with the proceedings. I've always hated studio-bound driving scenes with rear window projections, and Karloff's twisted features make-up doesn't bear close scrutiny, but why worry about these when there is so much more to appreciate. There are a couple of highly atmospheric renditions of the opening verses of Poe's long poem The Raven, one in Vollin's study and one in the theatre as Jean dances.

There are some nice moments in the latter part of the film: the room which turns into a prison and lowers like an elevator, the shrinking room, and the door with nothing behind it - to name but a few. The music is also a little less insistent in this one, although there are some sequences reused from The Black Cat's score.

Ty Power

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