Following the success of the The Black Cat, Universal Studios decided to make another movie very loosely based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem, The Raven. Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi once again share the spotlight in this film; Lugosi as Dr. Richard Vollin, a retired surgeon with an obsession for all things Edgar Allan Poe and Karloff as Edmund Bateman, a fleeing fugitive who asks Vollin to give him a new face so that he may begin to live a life of anonymity. Although Lugosi's character is the lead in this film, Karloff received the top billing on the marquee.
At the beginning of the movie, Jean Thatcher (played by Irene Ware), is hurt in an accident. The hospital they go to says that there is nothing they can really do. Dr. Jerry Halden (played by Lester Mattews) calls Dr. Vollin to see if he is willing to help Jean. Judge Thatcher (played by Samuel S. Hinds), after much convincing, gets Dr. Vollin to treat Jean. After a successful surgery, Dr. Vollin befriends Jean and reveals his love for the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Jean Thatcher is shown to be an interpretive dancer, and while she's dancing, an excerpt of The Raven is read in the background, just to give the film and the poem a connection.
|Jerry Halden, Jean, and Judge Thatcher|
Judge Thatcher confronts Dr. Vollin about his infatuation with Jean, and demands that Dr. Vollin stay away from her, as she is engaged to Jerry Halden. After a heated argument, Judge Thatcher leaves and Dr. Vollin hatches a plan to get revenge on him. That's when fugitive murderer Edmund Bateman (Karloff) arrives at Dr. Vollin's house.
|Karloff as Bateman (before surgery)|
Bateman comes to Dr. Vollin to ask him for a surgery to change his face so he can stop running from the police. Vollin agrees to help Bateman, on one condition, that being that Bateman helps him exact revenge. Bateman refuses, saying that he doesn't want to do terrible things anymore. Nonetheless, Vollin decides to do the surgery, but instead of changing Bateman's face for the better, Vollin makes him disfiguringly ugly. Vollin then offers to change his face the right way after Bateman has helped carry out the plan.
|Bateman after surgery|
Vollin turns Bateman into a butler, and hosts a dinner party with the Thatchers and Jerry Halden, among others, as guests. At this party, Vollin comes up with a fake story about how Bateman's face became disfigured, and also explains his interpretation of The Raven. After a while, the other, less important dinner guests, Colonel Bertram Grant (Spencer Charters) and his wife, Harriet (Maidel Turner), go to bed, allowing Vollin's plan to unfold. Vollin gives Bateman a tour of his dungeon, which includes a variety of torture devices inspired by Poe's works. The device that plays the biggest role, however, is a slab of stone and a swinging pendulum, inspired by the Poe story, The Pit and the Pendulum. While he is demonstrating the device, Vollin is trapped in it by Bateman, but Bateman lets go after being reminded that killing Dr. Vollin will destroy any hopes of having his face returned to normal.
|The torture device|
Next, Bateman captures the Judge and brings him down to the dungeon, as instructed. This is where Vollin's plan is revealed to be to torture and kill Judge Thatcher with the device. Vollin then pulls a lever, which lowers Jean's room to the dungeon lever, where Vollin traps her. Jerry and the others, minus the Colonel and his wife (having been drugged and put to sleep), try to escape the house, but are sealed in by metal shutters that cover all the windows. Vollin then opens a secret door in his study that leads to the dungeon so the others can see Judge Thatcher tortured. Bateman promises Jean that Vollin won't hurt her, but Vollin decides to throw Jean and Jerry into a shrinking torture room.
|Lugosi is incredible as the insane Dr. Vollin|
Bateman turns on Vollin and stops the room from crushing Jerry and Jean, but is shot in the process. A fight begins between the two, and after a short struggle, Vollin is shoved into the shrinking room and the door is closed. Bateman dies of his wounds, but everyone else was saved. The funniest part of the movie is when its revealed that the Colonel and his wife were asleep through the entire ordeal. Overall, this film doesn't exactly do justice to the poem it's named after, but it is a nice homage to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, in general. This film, just like The Black Cat, is barely over an hour long, so if you really wanted to, you could watch both in the time it takes to watch one modern movie. My only complaints are that Jean Thatcher screams incredibly too much during the entire film, and Karloff's makeup after the surgery, giving him the look of being disfigured doesn't hold up too well today. Then again, this is the age of computerized special effects. Nonetheless, this is still great film, and I recommend it highly.
I give it 4 swinging pendulums out of 5.