One of the regrettably few horror films centred around the 'double act' of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.
Lugosi gets the main role on this occasion, playing Doctor Vollin, a brilliant surgeon. He has little interest in his work, however, as we quickly learn early on in the film when he is called on to save the life of a woman seriously injured in a car crash. Vollin, it seems, would rather stay at home and discuss his one true passion, nay obsession: the dark world of Edgar Allan Poe.
Ultimately Vollin is talked around and does indeed perform life-saving surgery on the girl, the beautiful dancer Jean Thatcher. Vollin finds himself attracted to her and keeps in touch. As a 'thank you' to him Jean bases her next stage performance around Edgar Allan Poe's work "The Raven". At this point, Vollin's attraction for her reaches the point of total infatuation. Unfortunately Jean is already engaged to another, Jerry Halden, and her father is also wary of Vollin's fascination and warns him off.
Enter Karloff as on-the-run robber/killer Edmond Bateman. Bateman wants to turn his back on crime but needs a new face so that he will not have to spend the remainder of his life in hiding. He asks Vollin if he can perform facial surgery but Vollin tricks him and gives him a hideous new look. Blackmailing Bateman by promising to restore his looks if he agrees to help him, Vollin now has the means to carry out his macabre plan of revenge upon Jean Thatcher and those around her...
Lugosi is given plenty to get his teeth into in this entertaining film and carries the proceedings very well with a convincing portrayal of a man gradually losing touch more and more with reality and sanity, giving in to his most sordid fantasies. As the tragic Bateman, Karloff is more low key and has considerably less dialogue but still puts in a good performance through his body language and use of his eyes, skills he had already put to good use more famously in "Frankenstein".
The rest of the cast are functionary, performing their roles quite adequately but not memorably. As always with films from this cycle of horrors from the Universal studios, excellent use is made of lighting, and there are some fine sets on display. It all holds up fairly well today, and is a well-paced entertaining yarn, let down only by occasionally flat dialogue, some humorous characters added inappropriately to the mix and, worst of all, a plot 'twist' at the climax that is so blatantly signposted well in advance that the gradual build up of tension in the latter third of the film is greatly diluted and Bateman's ultimate change of allegiance comes as no surprise at all.
Overall The Raven is above average but with a few too many weaknesses to be deemed a classic.
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