Movie: The Raven (1935)

“The Raven” is, obviously, one of Poe’s most famous works.  Even so, it is bewildering to me why studios have repeatedly thought there is a potential movie in that rather slight material.  I thoroughly enjoyed the 1963 Corman take on it, a comedy which uses the source material as merely a springboard for mayhem.  It almost flaunts how ridiculous it is being.

1935’s The Raven took an even more preposterous path.  Bela Lugosi plays a brilliant surgeon who is obsessed with the author.  When we first see him, he is waxing philosophically about his totem, a raven.  This fandom has extended to recreating working versions of torture devices from the author’s stories, such the legendary pit and pendulum.  It doesn’t take much to make a pit, but one needs some serious coin to make a giant pendulum.

Samuel S. Hinds plays a judge whose daughter (Irene Ware) was in a car accident that has put her into a coma.  He begs Lugosi to operate on her, but the doctor shies away until his ego is sufficiently stroked. Lugosi finally acquiesces and restores Ware to her old self. 

The movie reaches considerably to make any and all references to “The Raven”, however slight.  It is even has Ware, as a ballet dancer, perform in a stage production of it.  Seeing Lugosi’s enchantment while watching her performance, we know there’s going to be trouble.

The plot has a bunch of characters end up at Lugosi’s big, creepy-ass mansion.  There’s mayhem involving a couple of his realizations of Poe’s torture devices, though not enough of it for my taste.  I was led to believe those rooms would culminate in a greatest hits of Poe-inspired scenes, but no. 

Thrown into the mix is Boris Karloff in an odd role.  He plays an escaped convict who threatens, and then begs, the brilliant surgeon to give him a new face.  Supposedly, with a new visage, he can live the rest of days as a free man who has given up crime, saying he doesn’t “want to do bad things anymore.”

Lugosi agrees to do the operation but, as a cruel practical joke, he has made half of Karloff’s face monstrous.  I found the idea of this appalling, but the makeup effect is laughable.  That is because of an obviously fake eye that is forever askew and, as it is not real, never blinks.

There are some neat set pieces here.  I especially like a device Lugosi has that lowers Ware’s entire bedroom into his dungeon. That seems excessively convoluted, but I’m not sure I have ever seen anything quite like it before.

I am always happy to see either Karloff or Lugosi in a feature, and even happier in those instances where they both appear.  Unfortunately, The Raven doesn’t make the best use of them, especially Karloff.  If there’s one thing I will remember from watching this, it is the very end of the picture.  In a moment I have never seen in another film, our heroes suddenly exclaim, “We forgot about the Colonel and his wife!”  Yes, the movie forgot about two of its characters.  The final shot is those two sound asleep and snoring loudly, oblivious to the all the loud action that had been happening around them all night.

Dir: Lew Landers

Starring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Irene Ware

Watched as part of Shout Factory’s Universal Horror Volume 1 blu-ray box set