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The Raven

The Raven (1963) starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson, Hazel Court

Jack Nicholson, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Olive Sturgess

In short,  The Raven is one of the funniest movies that I’ve ever seen, in any genre. It has some truly scary moments as well, and gives some of the best horror actors of all time — Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre — room to work, and they do so wonderfully.

The movie is ever-so-loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe’s classic poem, The Raven — and, in fact, Vincent Price plays the part of Dr. Erasmus Craven, the previously-unnamed narrator of the poem, who is mourning for his lost wife, Lanore (played by the beautiful and talented Hazel Court) — although his daughter Estelle (played by Olive Sturgess) tries to comfort him, he turns inward, and away from the world, a virtual recluse — until he gets a visit from the titular raven. A talking raven …

Peter Lorre as the untrustworthy wizard Dr. Adolphus Bedlo in The Raven
Peter Lorre as the untrustworthy wizard Dr. Adolphus Bedlo in The Raven
Vincent Price as his wizardly best as Dr. Erasmus Craven in The Raven
Vincent Price as his wizardly best as Dr. Erasmus Craven in The Raven

The raven, in fact, is the transformed Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (played excellently by Peter Lorre) — who has been changed into a bird due to his failure in a wizard’s duel with another wizard, Dr. Scarabus — who is played wonderfully by Boris Karloff, although the viewer doesn’t get to actually see Karloff on screen for the time being; first, Vincent Price has to try and return Peter Lorre to his human form. This requires a visit to Craven’s father’s tomb for some of the necessary “ingredients” — and a warning from beyond the grave from Craven’s long-deceased father. This segment is legitimately spooky, and not for the younger viewers — and part of why  The Raven makes an excellent movie for Halloween.

Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo with his unappreciated son Rexford (Jack Nicholson)
Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo with his unappreciated son Rexford (Jack Nicholson)
Jack Nicholson on a wild ride in The Raven
Jack Nicholson on a wild ride in The Raven

Soon, Peter Lorre is returned to his human form, and his young son Rexford (played by a young Jack Nicholson) — and to say that the relationship between the Bedlo’s is dysfunctional is putting it mildly, though entertaining for the audience. After a “mysterious force” causes one of Craven’s servants to attack with an axe, and later cause young Rexford Bedlo to drive like a maniac, the group pays a visit to the dangerous Dr. Scarabus — played to the hilt by the wonderful Boris Karloff — at his castle, where the elderly Dr. Scarabus appears to be a kindly old man …

The villains of The Raven - Hazel Court and Boris Karloff
The villains of The Raven – Hazel Court and Boris Karloff
Boris Karloff at his finest as the evil Dr. Scarabus in The Raven
Boris Karloff at his finest as the evil Dr. Scarabus in The Raven

“My dear, there’s nothing to be afraid of …” when Boris Karloff says that, there’s  plenty to be afraid of! And, Dr. Scarabus is hiding a secret from the Craven’s — which makes it difficult to explain any more without giving away secrets, other than to say the 2 “wizard duels” are hilarious and well worth watching.

I recommend  The Raven very highly. There’s a lot of verbal humor as well. Be sure to check out the funny movie quotes from The Raven.

Editorial review of The Raven (1963) starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson, Hazel Court, courtesy of Amazon.com

Peter Lorre as the wizard Dr. Bedlo, in a wizard's duel with Boris Karloff!
Peter Lorre as the wizard Dr. Bedlo, in a wizard’s duel with Boris Karloff!
Vincent Price (as Dr. Erasmus Craven) is out of it, with his daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) trying to revive him
Vincent Price (as Dr. Erasmus Craven) is out of it, with his daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) trying to revive him

In this tongue-in-cheek movie inspired by Poe’s poem, Dr. Craven is the son of a great sorcerer (now dead) who was once himself quite skilled at that profession, but has since abandoned it. One evening, a cowardly fool of a magician named Bedlo comes to Craven for help- the evil Scarabus has turned him into a raven and he needs someone to change him back. He also tells the reluctant wizard that Craven’s long-lost wife Lenore, whom he loved greatly and thought dead, is living with the despised Scarabus.


Trivia for The Raven

  • Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson were fond of ad-libbing their lines, much to the annoyance of Boris Karloff, who was working from the script.
  • In casting his spells, Dr. Bedlo uses several Latin phrases: Veni vidi vici: I came, I saw, I conquered. De mortuis nil nisi bonum: Do not speak ill of the dead. Cave canem: Beware of the dog. Si vis pacem parabellum: If you want peace, prepare for war. Ceterum censio Carthaginem esse delendam: Furthermore, I believe that Carthage must be destroyed.
  • Jack Nicholson always gave high praise to everyone he worked with on the set, except one – the Raven. He said the Raven pooped on everyone, but especially liked to poop on him; he later said: “I would look down when the Raven flew off my shoulder, and it would be covered in poop….I hated that bird.”
  • The events in the film take place circa 1506 based on two clues offered early on. Dr. Craven states that his father has been dead 20 years, and when they show the plate on the coffin the date of death is given as 1486.
  • Boris Karloff’s first feature film since Corridors of Blood, shot September-October 1962.

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