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Friday, March 4, 2011

The Raven (1935)

The Raven is a nicely done adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name.  It stays closer to the source material than the 1960's Vincent Price movie and expands the theme of the poem in interesting ways.  There is also a nod to Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum which fits the movie well.
The Raven stars Bela Lugosi as Dr. Richard Vollin, a gifted surgeon who saves the life of a beautiful dancer and then becomes obsessed with her.  The beginning of the film moves a bit slowly but things kick into high gear once Boris Karloff enters the scene, as Edward Bateman, Lugosi's new henchman.  I love watching these two work together and they seem to bring out the best in each other.  Karloff's makeup was designed by Jack Pierce for whom Karloff was his favorite canvas. It was executed by another makeup artist and if you look closely you can easily see where the prosthetics end and Karloff's face begins.  It make me wish that Pierce had done the makeup himself.
Of the two performers, Karloff is the strongest.  His work is subtle and strong and draws the audience deeply into his character's conflicted emotions.  Lugosi is way over the top in this one as the "mad scientist" and the character would have been better portrayed with a more subtler approach.  Crazy is always better when it's done with a lighter touch.  [Think Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.]  Still, Lugosi does a nice job here, although at this point in his career he seems type cast to play a doctor which is unfortunate.  His role as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein (1939) proves the point that he's capable of so much more.
Also appearing in the film is Lester Matthews [Werewolf of London, The Adventures of Robin Hood] who does a nice job of playing the "hero" even if he doesn't save the day.  Furthermore, director Lew Landers [The Return of the Vampire, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin] does a fine job in keeping the suspense high once Karloff's character is introduced in the film.  Fans of either Lugosi or Karloff will want to see this one.  It's not their best work but it is quite good, nonetheless.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

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