Vincent Price is a shady doctor who ices shady banker Harvey Stephens to get to the money Stephens stole from his own bank and hid in the house he’s leasing to mystery writer Agnes Moorehead. Meanwhile, Moorehead’s neighborhood is being terrorized by a masked, clawed serial killer who takes the novel approach of releasing rabid bats on his victims—hence his nickname and the title of The Bat. Based on Mary Roberts Rinehart’s play of the same name (based on her own novel The Circular Staircase), Crane Wilbur’s The Bat is not exactly unpredictable as a mystery, but it is simply oodles of fun as an old dark house picture with shadowy, stormy atmosphere. The script is sometimes corny, sometimes genuinely witty, and always breezy fun. Most significantly, this picture is a fab vehicle for Moorehead and Lenita Lane, who plays her companion. It is particularly refreshing as it doesn’t limit Moorehead and Lane to the usual “helpless female” roles. They take an active role in solving the mystery, always support and love each other, and are often more on the ball than the ineffectual cops in charge of protecting them. Moorehead even refers to the dynamic duo as “two strong women” at one point. Price does his patented menacing routine, which means he’s a blast to watch too (also, be sure to look out for little rascal Darla Hood in her final role).
The Film Detective’s new blu-ray of The Bat is a very appealing antidote to all the crummy versions of this public domain movie floating around. There are a lot of white specs, and thin scratches appear with some regularity, but the picture beneath the flaws is handsome, indeed, with natural grain, nice detail, and bold contrast. Audio suffers from occasional crackling, but it’s also strong overall, showing off Louis Forbes’s smashing score well—I love his use of slide guitar to signal the killer!
Get The Bat on Amazon.com here.