(Louis Friedander, US, 1935)
Bela Lugosi plays Dr. Richard Vollin obsessed with the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, believing the writer to be an unrivalled genius. Lugosi's obsession extends to him keeping a stuffed raven in his lounge, and more worringly, a torture chamber in his basement. Here, he has lovingly recreated numerous torture devices described in Poe's texts. Into this environment stumbles simple crook and convicted murderer Edmund Bateman (Boris Karloff) who turns to Lugosi's doctor to cure him of his evil ways; "I don't wanna do these things anymore" he says in desperation. Thinking himself unattractive and wishing to transform his appearance to elude the law, he asks Lugosi to make him 'look good'. The sadistic and insane doctor leaps on the opportunity to surgically disfigure the criminal and use him for his own selfish and sinister aims.
For some unexplained reason, Lugosi's character believes he'll get rid of his own torture by torturing others. Quite what torture Lugosi is going through is also never made clear, but the lack of detail is not a problem. Characters are rapidly delineated and at barely over one hour, the script it tight and pacy. Lugosi has loads of dialogue and it's good to hear his thick accent at length despite his often monotone delivery. Karloff's sympathetic performance is the highlight and more than justifies his top billing (as simply "Karloff"). This is basically a two man show but there are some peripheral characters in particular Irene Ware's alluring and even sexy Jean Thatcher adds a glamorous touch. Lugosi has more classic one-liners here than Schwarzenegger gets in a dozen movies. The writers must have had a great fun putting his dialogue together. Some of my favourites are:
"I respect no obligation. I am a law unto myself."
"I am a God with the taint of human emotions." and
"Yes... I like to torture!"
Karloff's Bateman character begins interestingly but as the plot develops (and he is disfigured) Karloff is forced to descend into an almost mute monster more akin to the creature in Frankenstein. Nevertheless, he is on top form throughout. The payoff isn't especially strong but The Raven is all about watching its two leading actors playing off each other - both putting in great performances that would typify their respective careers.
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