Over the past few months, I’ve taken a deep dive into classic older movies. Some movies I’ve watched for the first time, while others I haven’t seen for years and I’m getting reacquainted with. I’ve especially been loving the films of Boris Karloff and Bella Lugosi. While they have starred in a lot of separate movies, I thought it would be fun to cover the films that they starred in together.
Maybe I’ll touch on some films that you’ve never seen or even heard of before. I’m going to go through this chronologically. They starred in eight films together over the years. I already covered 1934’s The Black Cat and the second one is 1935’s The Raven.
The film is inspired by the classic Edgar Allen Poe story and it centers on a wealthy judge who entices a brilliant but eccentric neurological surgeon Dr. Vollin (Lugosi) to come out of retirement to save the life of his daughter. His daughter is a dancer who was left crippled and brain-damaged in a car accident. Vollin ends up restores her completely, but as something who has an obsessive affection for Edgar Allen Poe, Vollin envisions her as his “Lenore,” and he ends up coming up with a scheme to kidnap the woman and then torture and kill her fiance’ and father in his Poe-inspired dungeon complete with a pendulum torture device.
To pull off his plan and do the dirty work, Vollin recruits a wanted criminal (Karloff) who comes to him because he wants a new face. Instead, Vollin ends up turning him into a hideous looking man with a monstrous face to guarantee his subservience, promising that if he does everything he asks, he will eventually fix his face.
This is such a wonderful film and I loved its dark story. It’s actually pretty damn sinister. As I’ve been watching these films again, I can see their influence over the years on modern-day filmmaking and storytelling. It’s always cool to see what it was like when these films were original and fresh.
I was impressed with this film’s unique, dark, and twisted story and both Karloff and Lugosi gave amazing performances.
In case you didn’t know the studios took advantage of Lugosi in his time as an actor. While he was the lead actor in the film with Karloff as the co-star, Karloff received top billing and $10,000 dollars for his work on the film. Lugosi only made $5000 on the film.
Karloff was always the preferred actor, the one who got top billing and was paid more. What’s interesting is that Lugosi is the one who gave Karloff his big break, when Lugosi turned down the role of Frankenstein. The most well-known account of Karloff’s casting is when director James Whale spotted the Karloff in the studio commissary and invited him to test for the part. Lugosi shared his own story of how it happened, saying:
“I made up for the role and had tests taken, which were pronounced okay. Then I read the script and didn’t like it, so I asked to be withdrawn from the picture. Carl Laemmle said he’d permit it if I furnish an actor to play the part. I scouted the agencies and came upon Boris Karloff. I recommended him. He took the tests, and that’s how he happened to become a famous star of horror pictures. My rival in fact.”
Lugosi’s wife Lillian backed this story, saying:
“He made the greatest mistake of his career. He brought Boris Karloff to Universal and that put Karloff, an extra, on the map. It’s a damn shame, for otherwise there would be no Boris Karloff today. Absolutely none. Bela created his own monster.”
It’s certainly strange how things turn out in a way you don’t expect, but I have to say, if this is really how it happened, Lugosi did the world a great service by bringing Karloff to the big screen. Karloff was just such a damn fine actor!
Check out the original trailer for The Raven below and if you haven’t watched the movie, check it out! It’s currently available to watch on the Peacock streaming service.