The Raven (1935) Lew Landers

    I recently purchased the just released Bela Lugosi Collection and the 1935 feature, “The Raven” was my first selection. Having previously seen the dark erotically charged and best of the lot, “The Black Cat”, I decided to start with the films I have yet to view.

    With a short running time of 61 minutes, the film waste no time quickly establishing its storyline. There is a car accident in which our beautiful leading lady Jean Thatcher ((Irene Ware) is severely hurt and in need of a precise and detailed operation. Jean’s father, Judge Thatcher (Samuel S Hinds) pleads with retired doctor Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi) to perform the operation. Vollin is an egotistical madman with an obsession for Edgar Allan Poe. He refuses to perform the operation until the pleading Judge mentions that the other doctors have admitted they cannot perform the delicate procedure and he is the only one capable of guaranteeing a successful outcome., they all admit, he is the best. After hearing this admission, Vollin and his oversized ego agree to perform the operation.

    The surgery is a success and Jean is ever grateful to the Doctor who has developed more than just doctor/patient feelings toward the attractive and engaged young woman. When Judge Thatcher notices the Doctor’s fondness for Jean he confronts him only to have Vollin admit his love. Vollin refuses to stay away from her, infuriated by the Judge’s response,  he comes up with a plan to seek revenge.

    When escaped murderer Edmond Bateman (Boris Karloff) seeks Vollin’s help in transforming his face so he can live anonymously, Vollin only promises to give him a new face if he will agree to help in seeking his murderous revenge. When Bateman refuses, Vollin goes along with the facial operation but turns Bateman into a hideously disfigured ogre. He now promises Bateman that he will fix his face only if he helps him with his torturous vengeance driven plan.

    Inspired by Poe’s classic poem, screenwriter David Boehm created a story filled with Poe touches. The poem itself is used twice, early in the film we see Vollin recite it and later on, Jean performs an interpretive dance as the poem is read on stage, a performance she dedicated to the Doctor. Vollin’s Poe fetish is also seen in various torturous devices that he will use before the film ends such as a pendulum swinging  and  a shrinking room.

Though Karloff is given top billing, and supposely a higher paycheck, he does not appear until approximately 15 minutes or so into the short feature, subsequently this is really Lugosi’s film. His character dominates the proceedings, with mad insane delusions that he is a Godlike figure. Lugosi’s tendency to overact works well here considering that he see himself as superior to all.

    The film turned out to be too strong in its horror for the audiences of its day. The combination of disfigurement, torture, strong desires, and glee, to inflict pain apparently turned off the moviegoers.  Today, these elements are partially responsible for what holds the film’s interest to modern day audience. Karloff as the disfigured murderer Bateman comes off again as the most sympathetic figure in the film. A killer who does not want commit another crime, tragically left at the mercy of the revenge seeking mad doctor.

        While not in the same class as Edgar Ulmer’s “The Black Cat”, and none of the other entries in this collection are, “The Raven” is a nice minor piece of 1930’s horror that is well worth watching despite some obvious problems like the awfully quick operation and recovery of Bateman and some dated dialogue that is unintentionally humorous. The film contains many of the atmospheric standards of the horror film of its day, including  a strange eerie house, and stormy nights along with a nice Franz Waxman score. The ending is a bit too abrupt and does not contain the tense dramatic build up that it would have made it more satisfying. Still, this is a  decent  and entertaining film.


11 comments on “The Raven (1935) Lew Landers

  1. Ed Howard says:

    This film is enjoyable almost entirely for Lugosi and Karloff, who do their best with the rather lame and hurried plot. When I reviewed it, I compared it to a Marx brothers movie, where most of the cast is treating it entirely straight and earnest while the stars are riffing wildly and doing all sorts of crazy stuff. All the other actors seem to be in a completely different movie, maybe some corny romantic comedy, while Karloff and Lugosi ham it up and leer at the camera at every opportunity. They’re fun to watch, but man the film is a mess.

    The Black Cat was undoubtedly their best screen pairing, a truly brilliant masterpiece. The general shoddiness of so many of the other films they were making only serves to bring Ulmer’s achievement even more sharply into focus. He was always able to bring dignity and intelligence to these low-budget creepshows.


    • John Greco says:

      “I compared it to a Marx brothers movie, where most of the cast is treating it entirely straight and earnest while the stars are riffing wildly and doing all sorts of crazy stuff. All the other actors seem to be in a completely different movie…”

      I like that and its so true. The two stars try hard but their is little to work with, a weak script and a director of no distinction. Landers was a studio hack known for pumping out up to ten films or so in a year. Still, the film is entertaining enough to watch and holds a certain degree of implausible fascination.

      Definitely agree about The Black Cat – Ulmer proved that money does not make art. A low-budget masterwork.


  2. Sam Juliano says:

    THE BLACK CAT represents Lugosi and Karloff’s greatest pairing ever, and it’s true what you say here that Lugosi is the star throughout. Ulmer’s major achievement of course was the menacing claustrophobia and art deco sets which as it turned out were far ahead of their time. Even the patchwork classical score introduced neophytes to the glories of Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Beethoven, the ‘Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture’ resounding particularly well.

    I agree that upon release, THE RAVEN revulsed audience with the relative depravities, but the skinning of Karloff in THE BLACK CAT certainly ranks with any eye-opening set piece to be seen in THE RAVEN, which by the way is a most ludicrous adapation of Poe’s beloved Poem (but then again was there really ever an acceptable cinematic transcription? – I would say the extremely brief episode of ROD SERLING’S NIGHT GALLERY, “Quoth the Raven” [1971] comes closest) and this Lugosi-Karloff starrer only used the name of the poem and nothing more. Only true lover sof Universal horror could and do in fact tolerate this silly and badly made vehicle which at least gives the deliciously overrating Lugosi a chance to strut his stuff as Dr. Richard Vollin.

    Real nice there that you mention Franz waxman’s eerily atmospheric, gothic-laden score, which does survive the debacle. But yeah it’s still entertaining in a trashy, guilty pleasure sort of way.

    I do look forward to your upcoming reviews on the set!


    • John Greco says:

      “Only true lovers of Universal horror could and do in fact tolerate this silly and badly made vehicle which at least gives the deliciously overrating Lugosi a chance to strut his stuff as Dr. Richard Vollin.”

      I guess that’s me. No matter how bad some of these Universal horrors are, they hold a fascination to me. Possibly, it is nostalgic having watched many of these films as a kid on TV. Of course, Universal made some many great horror films too that you can savor on dark stormy nights.


    • Sam Juliano says:

      John: I assure you that same fascination has grabbed me for over four decades, and I can’t say how many times I’ve watched this and the other Universals. In a sense they are as dear to my heart as the Lewtons, though the latter lot are even greater, despite BRIDE and a few others.


      • John Greco says:

        Sam – Yes, the Lewton films are very much in their own class. There was something magical about watching these films as a youngter. Chiller Theater and the likes.


  3. I remember Lugosi fans rejoicing when this first came out on VHS and Bela got the box cover instead of Boris. It’s definitely Lugosi’s show and may reflect a lingering perception as of 1935 that, though Karloff was now the greater star, he was still basically a grotesque (he even uses some Monster growls here), while Lugosi was the superior thespian, more trustworthy in a barnstorming role like Vollin. That would change before long, but for the moment Lugosi gave The Raven most of its entertainment value.


    • John Greco says:

      Agree Samuel, Lugosi dominates the film however, as you say within a few years that would change dramatically. Thank you sir for your thoughts.


  4. Judy says:

    I love reading Poe so am intrigued by your description of this – will watch out for any of these, as after recently seeing ‘Nosferatu’ it would be interesting to see some later horror classics.


  5. […] classical Universal horror.  John Greco has a superb piece on display at his place for The Raven:   And Joel Bocko..a.k.a. Movie Man, has already posted two excellent reviews on Dracula and […]


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