Film Chest Media Group’s new DVD of The Bat boasts a high-definition transfer of the 1959 film starring acting icons Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, and this old chestnut has never looked better. Based on a successful stage play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood, The Bat is less a horror movie than an old dark house murder mystery, complete with a sinister intruder, hidden doors, secret rooms, and dark passageways seemingly leading nowhere.
The Bat (released theatrically by Allied Artists) tells the tale of one long home invasion. No-nonsense mystery writer Cornelia van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead) has rented an isolated country estate called “The Oaks”, located near the town of Zenith in upstate New York. The owner of the manor is bank manager John Fleming (Harvey Stephens), who has embezzled bank bonds worth one million dollars and hidden them back at the estate. When Fleming reveals the general location of the stash to country doctor Vincent Price, he promptly shoots him, realizing that he is in the perfect situation to get rich quick. The Oaks becomes the scene of a series of forced entries and murders by a sinister fellow known as The Bat. A long series of “bat-and-mouse” games ensues during most of the film’s 80-minute running time.
The shadowy Bat wears a snap-brimmed hat and leather gloves equipped with steel claws that are ideal for tearing out throats, but would seem to hinder nimble activities like opening safes. The notorious killer even releases rabid bats to slay his victims. The prowler is lit in such as way as to appear faceless, and when his identity is finally revealed, it confirms what this viewer suspected early on in the proceedings. There are only a limited number of suspects to choose from, especially as they are killed off one by one. The Bat rips the throats from his female victims, but this violence – even when onscreen – is not seen in full graphic detail. Like it says in the ad, when the Bat flies, someone dies!
Price plays it straight in this outing, but is essentially a red herring (he experiments on tiny bats), as is small town cop Lt. Andy Anderson (Gavin Gordon, who played Lord Byron in The Bride of Frankenstein). Whenever The Bat enters The Oaks under cover of darkness, Lt. Anderson is missing in action when most needed… but always with a valid excuse.
The Bat‘s opening jazzy theme by Alvino Rey is played over a thoroughly unconvincing model of The Oaks to starts things off in a loopy way – and signals that we are indeed watching a cheap Allied Artists production. This is the studio that produced the disappointing The Black Sleep in 1956, starring Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, and Lon Chaney Jr.
Joseph F. Biroc’s noirish cinematography ensures that The Bat has the look of a horror movie in the style of William Castle, with whom Price was collaborating in the late fifties. The image quality is superb. The big house is moodily lit; thunder and lightning storms reveal shadows of The Bat extending his clawed fingers. Curtains billow, lights flicker. Hands reach out 3D-style to strangle and throttle and tear. Nightdress-clad ladies tiptoe fearfully down darkened hallways.
The Bat is the kind of old school film that will appeal to boomers and zoomers. Today’s viewers probably won’t be able to relate to its fifties sensibilities and slow pace.
Yet, the performances of Price and Moorehead (who started off in Citizen Kane and became a star on the TV series Bewitched) are stellar, and these master thespians are the main reason to see The Bat.