THE RAVEN , beyond a demented Bela Lugosi reciting a few lines from the title ode, the seven writers who contributed to the script of this 1935 Bela-Boris matchup concocted a brew that has about as much to do with Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 poem as Woody Woodpecker.
“Try to be sane, Vollin!”
Karloff is billed first (and was paid ten grand, double his co-star), but he has not much more to do than look pitiful under his makeup: Lugosi gets the choicest dialog and more of it. He plays a renowned brain surgeon who also happens to be a cackling psychopath, who has a dungeon (well, a basement converted to a dungeon) full of carefully constructed torture devices. He must have been a really successful doctor because the cost factor of some of the creations would tax Beverly Hills hippest plastic surgeon. The loonybin skull-tapper has a room with walls that move into a giant squishing device, controls for flip-switch shuttering all the windows with steel, and a pendulum & blade rig (thanks,Edgar) for whacking canals across trussed victims. Why? Something about control? Love? Just for the hell of it? He disfigures fugitive murderer Karloff for blackmail: Boris will help him torture and Lugosi will restore his looks (pretty far gone at that point). Lugosi also keeps a stuffed raven on his desk (Norman Bates, are you paying attention?).
KARLOFF: “Well, he got the gag out of his mouth and started yelling for the police. I had the acetylene torch in my hand.”
LUGOSI: “So you put the burning torch into his face. Into his EYES!”
KARLOFF: “Sometimes you can’t help things like that.”
Stagy and sloppy, it’s only 61 minutes long, so the absurdity of the whole thing and Bela’s scenery-chomping make up for the lame supporting cast, D.O.A. comic relief and one-take direction from Louis Friedlander. A good one to watch if you want to practice Bela/Boris impressions.
“See here, Vollin, things like this can’t be done!”
With Samuel S. Hinds, Irene Ware, Lester Matthews and Ian Wolfe.