This week's movie is the mystery/horror The Bat!
Being a fan of Vincent Price, I assumed I was acquainted with all of the man's films--I haven't seen them all, but I thought I had at least heard of any I hadn't. That is, until I saw The Bat listed on Netflix WI--what the heck is The Bat?
Well, The Bat is mystery/horror film that, this time, was on its third pass through the Hollywood meat grinder. It was originally a play, then turned into a silent film in 1926, only to be remade as a talkie called The Bat Whispers, which (rumor has it) was an inspiration to Bob Kane when he (co-)created Batman. For some reason, this third version is generally less well known; let's see if we can figure out why...
The film is almost entirely set in one location (it was a play, remember), a country mansion called The Oaks. Its being rented by mystery author Cornelia Van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead, awesome) and was the location of several grisly murders a little while ago. Did she not read the brochure?
(I'm pretty sure I had this playset for my Batman and Robin dolls in the 70s)
The murders were committed by a sort of monster/serial killer named The Bat, who rips out women's throats with steel claws(!). The Bat also lets a bat loose, which attacks people, like Van Gorder's maid. When its thought the maid has contracted rabies, they call their doctor, Dr. Malcolm Wells (Vincent Price), who is a bit of an expert on bats.
While all that is happening, its revealed a thief has stolen a million bucks worth of bank securities ans hidden them in The Oaks. In a great, tense scene, the thief confides in Dr. Wells, who turns on a dime and murders the thief in cold blood!
The Bat returns and commits a couple of murders, including a young woman named Judy (played by former Little Rascal Darla Hood, in her last film appearance). A police chief investigates, and he suspects Wells (since that's Vincent Price, that's only logical). But later on, Wells is killed by The Bat, so I guess that rules him out!
Visually, The Bat is no great shakes: this film was obviously designed as the back-half of a double bill (it runs just barely 80 minutes), so they didn't have a lot of money to spend on make-up. Still, with his dark suit and feature-less face, The Bat has a simplicity I like; he reminds of a Dick Tracy or Batman villain from the 1940s (indeed, his "razor-sharp claws" look like they were re-used for Catwoman on the Batman TV show).
Police Chief Anderson (Gavin Gordon) also suspects Van Gorden's new butler Warner. When Van Gorden manages to trap The Bat in a room in her house, The Bat is killed by Warner, and revealed to be...Police Chief Anderson!
The film ends with Moorehead talking directly to the camera (as she dictates her newest book to her secretary), none the worse for wear. She then declares, "Well, that's the end!"...and so it is!
The Bat is a humble little effort, but its always fun to watch Vincent Price, and Agnes Moorehead chews the scenery with aplomb. Maybe had it been directed with a little more flair, The Bat could have really been a minor classic, or at the very least a visual treat. Who knows, maybe The Bat could have come back! The Bat Returns? Bat Forever? The Bat Begins?