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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Happy Birthday Bella-Cinema Spotlight on 1935's The Raven Starring Bella Lugosi

Today marks the 134th anniversary of one of the most pivotal figures in American cinema, Bella Lugosi.

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Lugosi's name is of course synonymous with the character he created and perfected, Dracula:

Lugosi's tuxedo wearing vampire with his aura of mysterious charm and sexual attraction was a far cry from how the character was depicted in Bram Stoker's novel and in earlier cinematic versions, like Nosferatu:

Lugosi's portrayal emphasized the man, rather then the monster, and earned him a place in cinema history as well as in the hearts of thousands of female fans who would reportedly faint during screenings of 1931's Dracula.  However, it also left him hopelessly type cast and he died largely forgotten after decades spent working in B movies.  While he is remembered today most people are hard pressed to name any film other then Dracula that he appeared in.

However, Lugosi did make other films during the 1930s and several of them are excellent with Lugosi's performance being their best element.   One such film is 1935's The Raven.  

In the film Lugosi is perfectly cast as a truly sinister character, Dr. Richard Vollin, a talented surgeon with an Edgar Allen Poe fixation.

When Jean Thatcher, a beautiful dancer,

 is injured in a horrific automobile accident

her father and her fiance beg Dr. Vollin to operate.  He does and miraculously restores her to perfect condition.

 Jean is deeply greatful to Dr. Vollin and learning of his Poe obsession she attempts to thank him by creating a Ballet inspired by the Raven in his honor. The scene where Jean performs the eerie, macabre ballet, with Lugosi's Dr. Vollin lookin down from the theatre box above,  is beautifully done.

Dr. Vollin is now convinced that he has found in Jean his Lenore and is completely smitten.

Jean, for her part, seems somewhat attracted to the mysterious Dr. Vollin, but frightened of him as well, and then there is the matter of her dutiful, if dull, fiance and her father who strongly disapproves of the creepy doctor.

Jean's father informs Vollin that he is to have nothing romantically to do with his daughter and that Jean will be getting married as soon as possible.

Faced with this heart break Vollin goes completely mad and decides to enact a Poe like revenge.   

Conveniently for Dr. Vollin along comes the perfect assistant, Boris Karloff, in a rare stooge roll.   Karloff portrays Edmond Bateman, a convicted murder on the lam who wants Dr. Vollin to operate on him and make him look different.  Dr. Vollin agrees, operates, and indeed makes Bateman look very different:

Having mutilated Bateman, Dr. Vollin has him under his control.  He promises to restore Bateman's looks if he will help enact revenge on Jean, her father, and her fiance.  His house is perfectly suited for this task since he has spent his time creating replicas of torture devices from Poe's work, including a pit and a pendulum.  

Dr. Vollin invites everyone involved over to his house for the world's creepiest, and best dressed, sleepover party.

Once they are trapped in his house, Dr. Vollin begins pitiously exacting his Poe inspired revenge.  Including pendulums, pits, and walled of rooms for burying victims alive.

The Raven wasn't very popular when it was released in 1935.   Audiences found its themes of torture and revenge too dark and depressing.   Inexplicably, though Lugosi clearly had the leading role and gave an outstanding performance, the publicity for the film depicted Karloff as the star.  A move that hurt Lugosi deeply, and caused a bit of a feud between the two actors.

Despite it's failure at the time it was released The Raven is truly an excellent film that should not be forgotten by modern audiences.  It is available to rent from netflix, or to purchase from amazon as part of the Bella Lugosi collection.  Perfect Halloween viewing.


  1. As always, a wonderful review! You are right, it is hard to remember Bela Lugosi as anyone but Dracula. He still goes down in cinema history as one of the greats in my opinion!

  2. Ooooooohhhhh....scary stuffs, I bet I haf the shaky paw dreams tonight!
    Loves and licky kisses
    Princess Leah xxx

  3. That looks like a really good film, hope it's on tv one day.
    Lynne x
    ps, thank you for your kind words today :)

  4. We have been looking for some scary Halloween movies so going vintage is a great idea.

  5. Happy birthday to Bella Lugosi! Too bad he couldn't flourish in different kind of roles. The Raven sounds very dark and scary - sounds perfect for Halloween season!

  6. Looks very creepy. That's one of our Bella's nicknames...Bella Lugosi!

  7. That does look dark and scary! I never heard of this film but it sounds surprisingly modern in its suspense and horror.

  8. Vintage scary movies are the best. I remember when I was a kid, my friend and I would LOVE it when Dracula or something like that would be on TV on a random Saturday. (Ah, back in the day when you watched what happened to be on TV - not what you WANTED to watch at the push of a few buttons! Or the rental of a DVD.)

    That was really interesting - I'm one of those folks who only remembers Bella as Dracula.

  9. Great write-up of this wonderful movie, Kate. I love Bela Lugosi and The Raven is one of my all-time favourites. xxx

  10. wow that is a creepy movie, just ready this post gave me chills. So sad about his career, hollywood can be a cruel world sometimes. Thanks for sharing a movie I have never heard of.

  11. I have to admit I have never seen this film or even Bella Lugosi's Dracula! It seems the perfect time to add these to my list of essential viewing though! The shots from the Raven make it look like a particularly beautiful film. It's very sad though to hear that Bella Lugosi didn't get top billing for the Raven and that after doing Dracula so well he was type cast and mainly forgotten by Hollywood.

  12. I have never heard of this, it looks really interesting. Bela's Dracula is very good, iconic, but my heart lies with Christopher Lee's version x


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