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Movie(s)-A-Day #29: The Raven (1935, 1963).

January 29, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe’s signature poem, “The Raven,” was first published in the New York Evening Mirror on Jan. 29, 1845, and again shortly thereafter in The American Review. It has been the inspiration for scores of film adaptations, most of them having little to do with the original poem besides the presence of a black bird. (One in production now and due out later this year, starring John Cusack as Poe, is a thriller featuring the author hunting down a serial killer.) Two versions, however, stand out – even if they’re not really faithful to Poe’s work.

Universal’s 1935 version stars Bela Lugosi as a demented surgeon who kidnaps a beautiful patient and devises a torture chamber based on Poe’s work. It has plenty of the gothic atmosphere that is a trademark of Universal horror, and Lugosi’s assistant is played by Boris Karloff. It was the third of the legendary duo’s eight screen pairings, and one of the best.

Roger Corman took a stab at “The Raven” in 1963 as part of his cycle of Poe adaptations. It’s the oddball of the bunch, being a comedy, but it does have its charms. Not the least of which is its cast, featuring film legends Karloff (again), Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson. It’s loads of fun, thanks to Richard Matheson’s great script and the fine performances by the old veterans in the cast.

These versions – nor any other of the film adaptations, for that matter – have much to do with the original. But they’re entertaining anyway. And you can always read the original for yourself to properly appreciate it.

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