Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: The Bat

And we're off! I've been planning for many years to watch The Bat, but I've never managed to motivate myself to put it on. In fact, it's been on my list for such a long time that I've forgotten why I was interested in the first place, but I think it boils down to two factors:
  1. It stars Vincent Price, who obviously is the greatest actor of all time, and
  2. I've owned several different DVD copies, sometimes bundled with other movies, once or twice purchased on its own from the dollar impulse bin at the sort of places that have dollar impulse bins.
Even speaking as someone who has purchased Johnny Mnemonic three times and Super Mario Bros. twice, I find that second point slightly embarrassing, but I think I used the dollar price to justify not watching it. Dollar DVDs tend to be the lowest-quality transfers of public domain movies, and generally good movies don't slip into the public domain.

I'm happy to report however, that The Bat is very watchable and quite entertaining, however, although a modern remake would probably not be classified as a horror film. It's sort of an Old Dark House movie, and while it lacks the essential supernatural element that I've always demanded from my horror films, it makes up for it by featuring Vincent Price at his mustache twirlingest.

Let's dig in, shall we?

Cornelia Van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead) is a bestselling mystery writer who is currently renting a spooky, old mansion called The Oaks. It's a nice setting for the novelist, but her servants aren't keen on the place, which is crawling with bats--some of which (according to a recent Department of Heath survey) are rabid. Rumor has it that the bats were brought in by The Bat, a masked killer who terrorized the area (and in particular, The Oaks) last year, attacking women and tearing out their throats with steel claws. No one knows who he was, or where he is now.

Meanwhile, the president of the local bank is on a hunting trip with his physician, Dr. Wells (Vincent Price). "Say," says the bank president, "what would you do with half a million dollars?" As it turns out, he's embezzled a million in securities, and is willing to split it if Wells is willing to help him fake is own death--all they need is a body. "I don't see why we should have to fake it," says Wells, as fatally shoots the man in cold blood. He sets about covering his tracks, and finding a place to hide the money.

Soon we see a masked man release a bat into The Oaks, and it bites Cornelia's maid. Worried about possible infection, they frantically telephone Dr. Wells who is none-too-happy to be interrupted in the middle of his research into bat-borne diseases. Wells shows up to examine the bite, but everyone can tell that he's preoccupied with something else...

The story unspools from there, tangling itself up nicely along the way.

The Bat is based on a stage play from 1920, and had previously been adapted as 1926's The Bat and 1930's The Bat Whispers. I haven't seen either of those films, but you can tell from the 1959 version that it was written for the stage. The performances are big, as if the actors are playing to the cheap seats in the balcony, and the characters spend a lot of time leaning in to delivery wide-eyed conspiratorial conversations like this one:
"Say! Remember last year when that event occurred in greater detail than you'd need if we were having this discussion in real life?"

"I do. And I'll never forget this other bit of minutiae that was reported in the papers! You know, they say an acceptable resolution was never reached."
This sort of play is light entertainment; the live-theater version of a popcorn flick. I suspect that the melodrama can largely be blamed on the director/screenwriter, Crane Wilbur, who began working in Hollywood as an actor in the silent era and who would retire a couple of years after The Bat's release. Modern viewers won't find any real scares or much in the way of surprise here, but it's fun and charming in a way that affirms my love for old movies. It's also a little bit camp (which was obviously not the intention), but Price and Moorehead do a great deal to elevate the proceedings. For what it's worth, I've seen Agnes Moorehead in a number of things (at the very least, you know her as Endora from Bewitched) and never thought she had much range, but The Bat (which is probably considered a minor entry in her ouevre) suggests that I should give her a bit more credit.

As I said, The Bat is in the public domain, so you'll be able to stream it:

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