Jack Nicholson in The Raven (1963)

23 Apr

Bizarrely enough, I had never before seen Jack Nicholson in a movie until he unexpectedly walked through the door in a 1963 comic B horror movie, The Raven, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre. I never associated Jack Nicholson with comedy, but the kicker is that in this comedic story with Price, Karloff and Lorre hamming it up for all they are worth, Nicholson is actually pretty funny.

The film opens with Vincent Price, as Dr. Erasmus Craven, quoting Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Dr. Craven is a sensitive soul, a vegetarian and sorcerer who “prefers to practice [his] magic quietly at home” and is still mourning the death of his second wife, Lenore. But into his misanthropic musings comes a real raven, who turns out to be the rather ineffectual Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), transformed into a raven by the magic of Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff), the evil grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Magicians. When Dr. Craven hears from Dr. Bedlo that he thought he saw Lenore (Hazel Court) alive at the castle of Dr. Scarabus, the two set out to investigate.

However, on this dangerous mission they somehow end up bringing the whole family: Craven’s daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) and Bedlo’s son, Rexford (Jack Nicholson), who fall in love while their parents deal with Scarabus. They arrive at the castle and are met by Scarabus, dripping false benevolence as only Boris Karloff can.

Entering Scarabus’ Domain

The idea of Jack Nicholson as Peter Lorre’s son is pretty funny in itself. As Scarabus says after mistaking Rexford for Craven’s son and being set right, “The resemblance is quite uncanny.” Even Craven asks Bedlo if Rexford favors his mother. Bedlo’s gloomy reply is that “she favors him.”

While the Price, Karloff and Lorre ham it up for all their worth (delightfully), Jack Nicholson steps into the story with perfect earnestness and sincerity, speaking in a kind of deadpan, flat tone. He was originally sent by his mother to find his father and is always trying to take care of him, remonstrate with him, prevent him from drinking too much wine or challenge Scarabus to yet another duel. It’s all the more amusing for his seeming unaware of all the jokes going on around him.

The special effects are hopelessly cheesy, but the cast pretty much knows it and seem to all be having a grand time. Scarabus wants Craven’s secret for magic by hand gestures and the two of them have a magic face-off, rather in the mold of Gandalf and Saruman in The Fellowship of the Rings, only the participants seem to be having more fun in The Raven.

Evidently, Jack Nicholson made his start in B films and appeared in a number of movies directed by Roger Corman. He had all good memories of working with the cast of The Raven, though he didn’t care for the actual raven, who had an inconvenient habit of relieving himself on people. The script is entirely un-serious. Matheson felt that was the only way to adapt a poem to screen. It seems like there are far worse B movies to make at the beginning of a career…and far worse actors to work with.

This post was written as part of the “Here’s Jack Blogathon,” hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews. Be sure to check out more posts about Jack Nicholson for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3!


Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Movies


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27 responses to “Jack Nicholson in The Raven (1963)

  1. Andrea Lundgren

    April 23, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    I actually don’t think I’ve seen him in anything, either. Hmm. This sounds like a great way to be introduced to his acting! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. vinnieh

    April 24, 2017 at 9:37 am

    I had never heard of this film until reading this. Great addition to the blogathon.


    • christinawehner

      April 24, 2017 at 10:47 am

      Thanks! Yes, I came upon it by accident, too. I was looking up films by Vincent Price and found Jack Nicholson inadvertently. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • vinnieh

        April 24, 2017 at 11:03 am

        I love accidentally discovering movies, very fun.

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          April 24, 2017 at 11:05 am

          Yes, so true! It seems like one always knows so much about a movie before seeing it, it’s so great to stumble across something new.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Grand Old Movies

    April 24, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Love your post, it brought back The Raven for me, which is such a fun film. All the actors are hilarious, but Nicholson, along with being funny, has a dim sweetness about him when he fusses over Lorre; you can see why his father is exasperate with his son, while yet still liking him. The film is a goof from start to finish, and everyone looks to be having a good time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 24, 2017 at 10:53 am

      “Dim sweetness.” I like that – that describes him perfectly! So true, it must have been so much fun to make this movie and get a chance to meet those actors.


  4. Paul S

    April 24, 2017 at 10:12 am

    I did no research into this film before watching it, so I assumed it was another, gloomy, gothic Poe adaptation. How wrong I was! This is a screwball comedy about wizard duels, and I couldn’t recommend it more. What a treat to watch a fresh faced Jack and these three acting icons together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 24, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Isn’t it great when a movie takes by surprise by being different or better than we expected! It doesn’t happen often enough, I think. Screwball comedy horror – that has a good ring to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Silver Screenings

    April 24, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    This sounds like a barrel o’ fun. You can forgive a movie nearly anything if you get the sense the actors are having a good time. And what a terrific cast! Thanks for introducing me to this one. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 24, 2017 at 9:00 pm

      That’s so true about having a good time! It’s the kind of film I would have paid money to be on…just to bask in the reflected glory and humor of the cast. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. mda4life

    April 24, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    This was such a good movie! The first time I watched it was on Svengoolie a perfect fit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 24, 2017 at 9:05 pm

      It sounds perfect! I remember watching Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein on Svengoolie once…which was so much fun.


  7. Realweegiemidget

    April 25, 2017 at 2:27 am

    Thanks for bringing this film to my blogathon – sounds a good fun horror movie so definitely going to check it out x Adding it to my to watch pile now xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Michaela

    April 25, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Oddly enough, I haven’t seen this film yet. I think I was worried that it would be embarrassingly bad and I didn’t want to see such a stellar cast be reduced to that. Thankfully, your great post has assuaged my fears and I’ll definitely be checking it out next time it pops up on TCM.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 26, 2017 at 10:08 am

      Yes, I know what you mean about avoiding some films. I think it’s partly the wit of the script and the self-awareness – as well as the great cast – that really helps it. I hope you get a chance to see it!


  9. nuwansenfilmsen

    April 28, 2017 at 7:42 am

    Ha!! An Edgar Allen Poe comedy!! That would be an interesting concept. But am not surprised Poe’s works are more suitable for B movies. I don’t think I’ve heard of any GOOD movies based on his works.
    Nice review!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 28, 2017 at 9:28 am

      Yes, it is pretty funny now that you mention it! That’s an interesting point. Perhaps Poe’s brand of horror inherently looks somewhat absurd, even though it reads terrifically? It’s curious how some writers or more cinematic than others.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Realweegiemidget

    May 11, 2017 at 7:15 am

    love to hear your thoughts for this too – making a post about it soon – and love to include you x

    Liked by 1 person


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