The Raven (1963 film)
Theatrical release poster by Reynold Brown
|Directed by||Roger Corman|
|Produced by||Roger Corman|
|Written by||Richard Matheson|
|Based on||"The Raven"|
by Edgar Allan Poe
|Music by||Les Baxter|
|Edited by||Ronald Sinclair|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
The Raven is a 1963 American independent B movie/horror-comedy film produced and directed by Roger Corman. The film stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as a trio of rival sorcerers. The supporting cast features a young Jack Nicholson as Lorre's character's son.
It was the fifth in the so-called Corman-Poe cycle of eight films largely featuring adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories produced by Roger Corman and released by AIP. The film was written by Richard Matheson, based on references to Poe's poem "The Raven".
Set during the 15th century, the sorcerer Dr. Erasmus Craven (Vincent Price) has been mourning the death of his wife Lenore (Hazel Court) for over two years, much to the chagrin of his daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess). One night he is visited by a raven, who happens to be a transformed wizard, Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre). Together they brew a potion that restores Bedlo to his old self. Bedlo explains he had been transformed by the evil Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff) in an unfair duel, and both decide to see Scarabus, Bedlo to exact revenge and Craven to look for his wife's ghost, which Bedlo reportedly saw at Scarabus' castle. After fighting off the attack of Craven's coachman, who apparently acted under the influence of Scarabus, they set out to the castle, joined by Craven's daughter Estelle and Bedlo's son Rexford (Jack Nicholson).
At the castle, Scarabus greets his guests with false friendship, and Bedlo is apparently killed as he conjures a storm in a last act of defiance against his nemesis. At night, Rexford finds him alive and well, hiding in the castle. Craven, meanwhile, is visited and tormented by Lenore, who is revealed to be alive and well too, having faked her death two years before to move away with Scarabus. As Craven, Estelle, Rexford and Bedlo try to escape the castle, Scarabus stops them, and they are imprisoned. Bedlo panics and begs Scarabus to turn him back into a raven rather than torture him; he flees the dungeon by flying away. Craven is forced to choose between surrendering his magical secrets to Scarabus or watching his daughter be tortured. Bedlo secretly returns, frees Rexford, and together they aid Craven.
Craven and Scarabus sit facing each other and engage in a magic duel. After a lengthy performance of attacks, counterattacks and insults, during which Scarabus sets the castle on fire, Craven defeats Scarabus. Lenore tries to reconcile with him, claiming that she had been bewitched by Scarabus, but Craven rejects her. Craven, Bedlo, Estelle and Rexford escape the burning castle just as it collapses on Scarabus and his mistress. The miscreants survive, but Scarabus has lost his magic forever.
In a final "pun", Bedlo tries to convince Craven to again restore his human form. Craven tells him to shut his beak, and says, "Quoth the raven – nevermore."
- Vincent Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven
- Peter Lorre as Dr. Adolphus Bedlo
- Boris Karloff as Dr. Scarabus
- Hazel Court as Lenore Craven
- Olive Sturgess as Estelle Craven
- Jack Nicholson as Rexford Bedlo
- Connie Wallace as Maid
- William Baskin as Grimes
- Aaron Saxon as Gort
"After I heard they wanted to make a movie out of a poem, I felt that was an utter joke, so comedy was really the only way to go with it," said Matheson.
The movie was shot in 15 days.
Roger Corman said that although they kept closely to the structure and story script, "We did more improvisation on that film than any of the others." The improvisation was in terms of dialogue and bits of business from the actors.
During shooting, Peter Lorre ad-libbed a number of famous lines in the film including:
- "How the hell should I know?", after Vincent Price asks "shall I ever see the rare and radiant Lenore again?"
- "Where else?" after Vincent Price says "I keep her here." (referring to the body of his lost love Lenore, kept in a coffin in the hall)
- "Hard place to keep clean."
Roger Corman says that Lorre's improvisations confused both Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, but Price adapted to it well while Karloff struggled. Corman:
Overall I would say we had as good a spirit on The Raven as any film I've ever worked on, except for a couple of moments with Boris. There was a slight edge to it, because Boris came in with a carefully worked out preparation, so when Peter started improvising lines, it really threw Boris off from his preparation.
Corman says the hostility between Jack Nicholson and Peter Lorre as father and son came from the actors rather than the script.
Vincent Price later recalled about the final duel:
Boris hated being strung up in the air on those chairs. He was terribly crippled, and we were both floating in the air on these wires. It wasn't a pleasant feeling! And I hated having that snake wrapped around my neck for two hours... I hate snakes.
Boris Karloff later said he was annoyed at having to wear the heavy cape.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times panned the film as "comic-book nonsense ... Strickly (sic) a picture for the kiddies and the bird-brained, quote the critic." Variety wrote that while Poe "might turn over in his crypt at this nonsensical adaptation of his immortal poem," Corman nevertheless "takes this premise and develops it expertly as a horror-comedy." The Chicago Tribune called it "fairly thin fare, made up mostly of camera tricks, and some very obviously false scenery, but Peter Lorre's performance is mildly entertaining. Youngsters may find it fun." A generally positive review in The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that the film "starts off with the inestimable advantage of a script which not only makes it amply clear from the outset that [Corman] is cheerfully and wholeheartedly sending himself up, but manages to do it wittily." Its main criticism was a "long central section" of the film that drags until things pick up again for the final duel. Peter John Dyer of Sight & Sound wrote, "Richard Matheson's script, a good deal more tenuous than its predecessors in the Corman-Poe canon, at least treats its actors generously to props, incantations and quotable lines ... A pity the equation doesn't always add up; there's too much slack, due perhaps to an imbalance between the comedy, which runs riot, and the horror, which trails behind in the wake of previous Corman films."
The film was popular at the box office.
In France it had admissions of 106,292.
A novelization of the film was written by Eunice Sudak adapted from Richard Matheson's screenplay and published by Lancer Books in paperback. This novel was republished by Bear Manor Media in 2012.
Comic book adaption
- Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 455
- French, Lawrence, "The Making of The Raven", The Raven, Bear Manor Media 2012
- Richard Ekdstedt, Introduction, The Raven novelisation by Eunice Sudak, based on script by Richard Matheson, Bear Manor Media 2012
- "Top Rental Features of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 71 gives the figure in the US and Canada as $1,400,000
- 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.
- Crowther, Bosley (January 26, 1963). "The Screen". The New York Times: 5.
- "The Raven". Variety: 6. February 6, 1963.
- Tinee, Mae (March 6, 1963). "'The Raven' Is Thin Film Fare with Three Pros". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 5.
- "The Raven". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 30 (357): 142. October 1963.
- Dyer, Peter John (Autumn 1963). "The Raven". Sight and Sound. 32 (4): 198.
- "The Raven". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 8, 2018.
- Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
- "Dell Movie Classic: The Raven". Grand Comics Database.
- Dell Movie Classic: The Raven at the Comic Book DB