The Raven (1935 film)
|Directed by||Lew Landers|
|Written by||Edgar Allan Poe (poem)
David Boehm (screenplay)
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
The Raven is a 1935 American horror film directed by Lew Landers (billed under his real name, Louis Friedlander) and starring Boris Karloff and Béla Lugosi. The picture revolves around Edgar Allan Poe's famous homonymous poem, featuring Lugosi as a Poe-obsessed mad surgeon with a torture chamber in his basement and Karloff as a fugitive murderer desperately on the run from the police. Lugosi had the lead role, but Karloff received top billing, using only his last name.
Almost three decades later, Karloff also appeared in another film with the same title, Roger Corman's 1963 comedy The Raven with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson. Aside from the title and references to the poem, the two films bear no resemblance to one another.
After Jean Thatcher (Ware) has been injured in a car accident, her father, Judge Thatcher (Hinds) and beau Jerry (Matthews) implore retired surgeon Dr. Richard Vollin (Lugosi) to perform a delicate operation to restore her to health. Vollin agrees and is successful; he befriends the spirited and grateful Jean, in the process revealing his passion for all things related to Edgar Allan Poe, including his homemade collection of torture devices inspired by Poe's works (such as a pit, pendulum with scythe, shrinking room, etc.), and identifying the raven as his talisman.
After Vollin reveals his growing love for Jean to her father, the Judge quickly discourages him from the affair. Angered, Vollin hatches a plan when Edmond Bateman (Karloff), a murderer on the run, comes to his home asking for a new face so he may live in anonymity. Vollin admits to not being a plastic surgeon, but says he can help Bateman, and asks him to help in exacting revenge on the Thatchers, which he refuses. Bateman explains that he feels his antisocial behavior is a result of having been called ugly all his life, and he hopes a new face may gave him a chance to end it. Vollin performs the surgery, but instead turns Bateman into a disfigured monster, promising only to operate again on Bateman when Vollin's revenge is exacted. Bateman finally reluctantly agrees.
Vollin hosts a dinner party, among which Jean, Jerry, and the Judge are guests. One by one, the guests are caught in the Poe-inspired traps. Ultimately, Bateman is shot by Vollin as he rescues Jean and Jerry, but throws Vollin into the shrinking room where he perishes, and the guests escape.
Universal's pressbook heavily focused on Karloff, calling him "the uncanny master of make-up," as well as the connection to Poe. "Was Edgar Allan Poe a mental derelict?" it asks. The pressbook suggests that Poe's characters were "but a reflection of himself." Universal also suggested that cinema owners write letters to local high schools and colleges, urging their teachers to suggest the film to students.
Reception and reputation
Too strong for 1935 tastes, with its themes of torture, disfigurement and grisly revenge, the film did not do particularly well at the box office during its initial release (much like another 1935 horror movie, MGM's Mad Love, starring Peter Lorre), and indirectly led to a temporary ban on horror films in England. With the genre no longer economically viable, horror went out of vogue. This proved a devastating development at the time for Lugosi, who found himself losing work and struggling to support his family. Universal Pictures changed hands in 1936, and the new management was less interested for the moment in the box office novelty of the macabre.
Outside of being rivals in horror films of the time, with Lugosi resenting Karloff's spectacular success in the wake of playing the role of Frankenstein's monster, both men were united in getting the fledgling Screen Actors Guild off the ground in the mid-1930s. During the production of The Raven, Lugosi encouraged four additional members of the supporting cast to sign with the guild.
- Boris Karloff as Edmond Bateman (billed as KARLOFF)
- Béla Lugosi as Dr. Richard Vollin
- Lester Matthews as Jerry Halden
- Irene Ware as Jean Thatcher
- Samuel S. Hinds as Judge Thatcher
- Spencer Charters as Bertram Grant
- Inez Courtney as Mary Burns
- Ian Wolfe as Geoffrey
- Maidel Turner as Mrs. Harriet Grant
- Michael Brunas, John Brunas & Tom Weaver, Universal Horrors: The Studios Classic Films, 1931-46, McFarland, 1990 p137
- F.S.N. (July 5, 1935). "The Raven (1935) THE SCREEN; " The Raven," With Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, Is a Horror Film in More Than One Sense". The New York Times.
- Smith, Don G. The Poe Cinema: A Critical Filmography. McFarland & Company, 1999. p. 57-8 ISBN 0-7864-1703-X