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The Raven (1935)

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The doctor and the judge
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The Raven (1935), starring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff

Synopsis of The Raven

A wealthy judge coaxes the brilliant but eccentric neurological surgeon Dr. Vollin (Bela Lugosi), who also has an obsessive penchant for Edgar Allen Poe, out of retirement to save the life of his daughter. She’s a dancer , crippled and brain-damaged in an auto wreck. Vollin restores her completely. But he also envisions her as his “Lenore”. He then cooks up a scheme to kidnap the woman and torture and kill her fiancee and father in his Poe-inspired dungeon. To do his dirty work, Vollin recruits a wanted criminal (Boris Karloff). He turns him into a hideous monster to guarantee his subservience.

Review of The Raven (1935)

The Raven is a psychological thriller that addresses the question, What makes a monster?   The basic plot has the wealthy Judge Thatcher, whose beloved daughter has been injured in an automobile accident. He coaxes the reclusive neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Vollin (played brilliantly by Bela Lugosi) to operate on her. Both to save her life, and restore her mobility.   The eccentric doctor operates on her, with the assistance of young doctor Jerry Halden, and the operation is a success.  

The young woman, a dancer, is restored to complete health. Lugosi’s character becomes infatuated with her. He’s also obsessed with the writings of Edgar Allen Poe …. And fantasizes the judge’s daughter as his Lanore.   The dancer, however, is falling in love with the young, handsome Dr. Halden instead. Creating the friction that propels the rest of the movie.

Lugosi’s character, Dr. Volin, doesn’t take “no” for an answer–and when an escaped fugitive breaks into his home, demanding that the doctor perform plastic surgery on him to help him elude the police, the insane neurosurgeon agrees–and performs surgery, modifying the fugitive’s facial nerves to make him look hideously ugly–blackmailing the fugitive into being his henchman, or the doctor will leave him looking deformed.  

The fugitive, played excellently well by Boris Karloff, plays his role well, but unwillingly, gathering the various individuals to the reclusive Dr. Volin’s home, and imprisoning each in various torture chambers based on the writings of Poe, including the swinging blade from “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

I’ll not give away the ending, other than to say the question becomes who is the real monster–the man who looks like a monster, or the distinguished doctor who acts like one?    The Raven is a very good movie, and psychological thriller, and highly recommended.

Cast of characters in The Raven

  • Dr. Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi, Son of Frankenstein).  The brilliant neurosurgeon who is obsessed with Poe — and Jean Thatcher.
  • Judge Thatcher (Samuel S. HindsIt’s a Wonderful Life).  The loving father who insists that Vollin operates to save his daughter’s life.  Even after Vollin tells him that he physically no longer can operate.
  • Dr. Jerry Halden (Lester MatthewsWerewolf of London).  The young doctor who operates on Jean, with Vollin’s guidance.  Whom Jean begins to fall in love with, to Vollin’s displeasure.
  • Jean Thatcher (Irene WareChandu the Magician).  The beautiful young dancer, who becomes the center of the movie’s conflict.
  • Edmond Bateman (Boris Karloff, BedlamThe Body Snatcher).  The escaped criminal, capable of true viciousness.  Even so, made sympathetic by Karloff’s portrayal as the made turned into a monster by Karloff, and blackmailed by him.

Movie quotes from  The Raven

Dr. Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi): Your monstrous ugliness breeds monstrous hatred. Good! I can use your hate.

Trivia for  The Raven

  • The on-screen billing switches the character names played by Spencer Charters and Ian Wolfe. Charters actually portrays Colonel Bertram Grant, while Wolfe appears as Geoffrey “Pinky” Burns.
  • Shooting lasted from Mar. 20-Apr. 5, 1935, released July 4 in NYC, with Bela Lugosi in attendance, due to sail to England to begin Phantom Ship (1935).
  • Part of the original SHOCK THEATER package of 52 Universal titles released to television in 1957

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