Review of “The Raven” (1935)

trailer from YouTube

This is our latest Saturday pizza and bad movie night offering, a black-and-white horror mad scientist flick that borrows many Edgar Allan Poe motifs. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Judge Thatcher’s (Samuel S. Hinds) daughter Jean (Irene Ware) crashes her car and receives life-threatening injuries. The doctors (uncredited Jonathan Hale and Walter Miller) agree only one man— Dr. Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi)—can perform the delicate surgery needed to save her.

At first, Dr. Vollin refuses the judge’s request to treat his injured daughter, saying he’s no longer in practice but engaged in research. The judge tells him the others have said he’s the only one.

“Oh,” says Vollin.“So they finally admit it?”

And he agrees to perform the procedure, saving Jean’s life. He then falls in love with her. She looks up to him for saving her life. This complicates matters. First, she’s engaged to a promising young man, Jerry Holden (Lester Matthews). And the judge objects.

After Jean gives an interpretative dance performance based on Poe’s “The Raven” (…to each their own), Vollin becomes obsessed with her. The judge notices.

A sad, desperate escaped convict, Edmond Bateman (Boris Karloff), comes to him with a gun, hoping to have his face changed and not be easily recognized. He tells Vollin, “I’m saying, Doc, maybe because I look ugly… maybe if a man looks ugly, he does ugly things.”

Vollin thinks about this.“You are saying something profound.”

He operates on poor Bateman, mutilating his face but promising to correct it in exchange for a favor. He then gives the butler (Cyril Thornton) the weekend off and arranges a house party. Oh, is the good stuff going to hit the fan.

Thoughts:

Vollin is obsessed with Poe. His “talisman” is a stuffed raven. When asked why the raven, a symbol of death, Vollin says, “Death is my talisman,” and hints that all doctors are a little obsessed with death. EWWW.

Nevertheless, the raven provides nice, atmospheric shadows, especially while Vollin talks to the poor judge. This gives the film a noir-ish touch.

At the same time, various actors give exaggerated reactions to the camera. The music—including compositions by Franz Liszt and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky—tends toward the heavy and emotional. This is reminiscent of the days of silent films.

When speaking to a Poe memorabilia collector, Vollin mentions that he has built models of torture items described in various Poe works. The collector asks to see them, but Vollin demurs.

Lugosi as the mad scientist, tortured by his love for the unobtainable woman, makes the film. His performance is over-the-top, but it fits into the film and the genre. He’s downright creepy and arrogant. At one point, young Jean Thatcher sits enraptured while he plays Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” After he finishes, she gushes, “You’re not only a great surgeon but a great musician, too! Extraordinary man… You’re almost not a man! Almost…”

“A god?” he helpfully supplies.

While there are scenes of torture, it’s mostly in anticipation. There is no bloodshed. And happily, no cats are involved. It struck me as intense for its time but would be considered tame by current standards.

It was neither a great movie nor one I can consider fun because of its overall darkness. The pacing was a little goofy. Yet, some moments proved genuinely moving and engaging.

Oddly, for a movie of this age, I could not find it for a free download.

Title: The Raven (1935)

Directed by
Lew Landers…(as Louis Friedlander)

Writing Credits
Edgar Allan Poe…(poem)
David Boehm…(screenplay)
Guy Endore…(contributing writer) (uncredited)
Florence Enright…(dialogue) (uncredited)
John Lynch…(contributing writer) (uncredited)
Clarence Marks…(contributing writer) (uncredited)
Dore Schary…(contributing writer) (uncredited)
Michael L. Simmons…(contributing writer) (uncredited)
Jim Tully…(contributing writer) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Boris Karloff…Edmond Bateman (as Karloff)
Bela Lugosi…Dr. Richard Vollin (as Lugosi) (as Bela Lugosi)
Lester Matthews…Dr. Jerry Halden (Credits) / Dr. Jerry Holden
Irene Ware…Jean Thatcher
Samuel S. Hinds…Judge Thatcher

Released: 1935
Length: 1 hour, 1 minute

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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