Review of “The Raven” (1963)

This is the latest offering of our Saturday night pizza and bad movies, an odd little flick that didn’t take itself seriously. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

It’s 1506. Magician Dr. Erasmus Craven (Vincent Price) has been mourning his wife, Lenore (Hazel Court), for two years. He keeps a photograph of her (A photograph in 1506? Oooh-kaay.)

One night as he’s pondering weak and weary, there comes a tapping, as if someone rapping, rapping at his chamber door. He opens the door to find no one there. It occurs to him to go to the window. A raven flops in. It turns out to be another magician, Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre), enchanted by the evil magician Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). He asks Craven to change him back to his true form and help him retrieve his magical equipment from Scarabus.

Craven wants to help but says he doesn’t know how. The raven/Bedlo lets slip that he’s seen Lenore at Dr. Scarabus’ place. Well, that changes things. Lenore’s soul must be under some terrible spell.

Using a recipe that Bedlo provides, Craven eventually returns him to human form, and after an ax attack by a bewitched servant (William Baskin), they head off to Scarabus’ castle.

It’s all part of the plan.

Thoughts:

This is the fifth of eight Poe-inspired films Roger Corman made with Vincent Price. It opens with Vincent Price narrating the first stanza of The Raven. Just the same, the movie quickly turns Poe’s narrative 1845 poem of grief and loss on its head. The viewer sees little touches like Craven repeatedly bumping into both ends of his telescope, and oddly enough, never using it for stargazing. When Craven is mourning in the room where he keeps his dead wife’s coffin (ICK), speaking to her longingly, his daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) comes up behind him and taps him on the shoulder to offer him a glass of warm milk. He jumps out of his skin.

The evil Scarbus hold Craven’s daughter Estelle hostage and threatens to torture her unless her father reveals the secret of his magic. This leads to a duel to the death and a lot of smirking, but no bloodshed. The movie is intended to appeal to kiddies—no harm in that.

The costumes are outlandish. Scarbus is dressed more like a churchman than a magician. Both the main women manage to show a bit of cleavage. Everyone wears ridiculous hats. The background music intended to enhance the comedic situations was—to my ear—laid on too thickly.

The tenor of the movie is perhaps best summed up in a single scene. Craven’s first attempt to change Bedlo back into his human form was only partially successful. They try to make more of the potion but find they have run out of dead man’s hair. Under the circumstances, Craven feels his deceased father won’t mind being disturbed. They go downstairs into the family crypt, full of the expected dust and cobwebs, a place meant to give the viewer the creeps. Bedlo turns to Craven and says, “Must be hard to keep this place clean.” (On a side note, according to Wikipedia, this was ad-libbed by Lorre.)

I can’t say that the whole film was rip-roaringly funny, but there were enough moments like this that I enjoyed it.


Title: The Raven (1963)

Directed by
Roger Corman

Writing Credits
Edgar Allan Poe…(poem)
Richard Matheson…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order)
Vincent Price…Dr. Erasmus Craven
Peter Lorre…Dr. Adolphus Bedlo
Boris Karloff…Dr. Scarabus
Hazel Court…Lenore Craven
Olive Sturgess…Estelle Craven
Jack Nicholson…Rexford Bedlo

Released: January 25, 1963
Length: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Rated: G

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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