The film caused serious problems for its director after World War II as it had been produced by Continental Films, a German production company established near the beginning of the Occupation of France, and because the film had been perceived by the underground and the Communist press as vilifying the French people. Because of this, Clouzot was initially blocked for life from directing in France and the film too was suppressed, although both bans only lasted until 1947. The film was remade as The 13th Letter (1951) by Otto Preminger.
In a small French town identified as "anywhere," anonymous poison pen letters are sent by somebody signing as Le Corbeau (the Raven). The letters start by accusing doctor Rémy Germain of having an affair with Laura Vorzet, the pretty young wife of the elderly psychiatrist Dr. Vorzet. Germain is also accused of practicing illegal abortions. Letters are then sent to virtually all the population of the town, but keep getting back at the initial victim, Dr. Germain. The situation becomes serious when a patient of the hospital commits suicide with his straight razor after the Raven writes to him that his cancer is terminal.
Laura Vorzet's sister Marie Corbin, a nurse in the infirmary, becomes a suspect and is arrested, but soon new letters arrive. When one letter is dropped in a church from a gallery, it becomes apparent the Raven must be one of the people seated there at the time. They are gathered to re-write the Raven's letters as dictated by Dr. Vorzet, to compare the handwriting. Germain's lover Denise is suspected when she faints during the dictation, only for Laura to be identified by material contained in her blotter. Germain agrees to sign an order committing Laura as insane, just before he is called away to attend Denise who has fallen down stairs. Before he leaves, Laura protests she wrote the Raven's first letters before Dr. Vorzet began dictating them, making him the true Raven. Just as the ambulance takes Laura away, Germain returns and finds Dr. Vorzet dead at his desk, his throat cut by the cancer patient's mother as he was writing the Raven's final triumphant letter.
The film is loosely based on an anonymous letter case that had begun in the town of Tulle, Limousin in 1917. Anonymous letters had been sent by somebody signing the eye of the tiger. The first version of the screenplay was written by Louis Chavance shortly after the Tulle letters, years before it was finally produced. The film credits Clouzot for adapting the story himself, and both Clouzot and Chavance for writing the dialogue.
Le Corbeau was produced by Continental Films, which aside from being a German company established during Occupation, was known for making detective films "with a light, even comic tone" and often featuring Pierre Fresnay, who played Germain in this film. Clouzot previously worked with Fresnay on another Continental Films project, The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (1942). Writer Joseph Kessel later criticized the film's Continental origins, noting Le Corbeau was funded by the Germans, and in that context could be seen as a statement on French corruption. Kessel questioned if the film would be made if it were set in Germany.
Le Corbeau was released in France on September 28, 1943. Although after the war, Le Corbeau was banned and leftists supported keeping the ban in place, the film was screened in cineclubs throughout France and often drew thousands of moviegoers.
The film was released on DVD by The Criterion Collection. This DVD is out of print.
In 1947, the film was released commercially, with writer Henri Jeanson praising it as a major piece in French cinema, arguing it was repulsive, but, when compared to reality, became nearly romantic. Despite criticizing its origins, Joseph Kessel, writing in response to Jeanson, said that Le Corbeau was indisputably a remarkable film.
Writing in 2004, Professor Alan Williams judged Le Corbeau to be "the first classic French film noir," though made before the term film noir was coined. He found low-key humour in the screenplay and also argued it posed "a properly philosophical debate about the effects of the German occupation," comparing the atmosphere created by the Raven's letters to that under Occupation.
One notable legacy of the film was to make "the crow" a term for a malicious informant. In 2006, the film enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in Paris after the Clearstream affair, in which anonymous letters accused French politicians of having hidden bank accounts.