Release Date(s)1959 (November 30, 2015)
Studio(s)Allied Artists (The Film Detective)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: N/A
The Bat was released in 1959 by Allied Artists and starred Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, and Gavin Gordon. It tells the story of a well-to-do mystery author named Cornelia Van Gorder (Moorehead) who moves into a country estate home that supposedly has a history of strange occurrences. The town she lives in is currently in an uproar over a recently stolen large amount of money from the local bank. When an intruder attempts to break into Gorder’s home, the police surmise that it’s the work of The Bat, a local home invader and murderer. Many people become suspects, including Gorder’s doctor, Doctor Wells (Vincent Price), who is currently doing his own personal research on bats in his laboratory. When the local policeman Lieutenant Anderson (Gordon) learns of this, Wells falls immediately under suspicion.
The Bat already had a history in cinema long before Allied Artists got their hands on it. It began life as the 1908 novel “The Circular Staircase” by Mary Roberts Rinehart, whom later adapted her novel with playwright Avery Hopwood into the stage play “The Bat”. It was first made into a film in 1915 under the title of The Circular Staircase. It was later adapted in 1926 as The Bat and again in 1930 as The Bat Whispers. RKO Pictures later bought the rights to make their own version with Allied Artists producing and releasing it under the direction of Crane Wilbur.
As for Vincent Price, he himself was on the verge of becoming the horror icon that he later became well known for. Even though he had already appeared in House of Wax in 1953 and The Fly in 1958, he was in several movies in 1959, including The Bat, House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, and Return of the Fly. The following year his horror status was cemented with his portrayal of Roderick in Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher. So while The Bat is noted for Price not being an overt villain, his presence in it helped to solidify the direction his career was taking.
The movie itself plays out more like a mystery thriller, rather than a horror movie. In all seriousness, one could see it as an early predecessor to shows like Murder She Wrote. And the fact the movie features mostly women as the main characters with more to do than scream and be generally useless is also refreshing for the period it was made in. It’s also obvious that the movie was sourced from a stage play as it is incredibly talky, perhaps to its detriment. The dialogue really has no rhythm to it because there’s so much of it, with even occasional one-liners falling flat. There are also elements introduced into the story that have no bearing on the story at hand or its eventual outcome. Mix that with a predictable ending and you have a movie that’s just merely good.
However, The Bat has a sort of laid-back charm to it. It has some decent atmosphere, without any true scares to pay it off, obviously, but it succeeds as an intriguing mystery. It bumbles along at a very uneven pace, but the characters, the plot, and the overall mystery aspect are what make it stand up on two legs. As for you Vincent Price admirers, adjust your expectations. He may be on the film’s poster, but he’s not a huge part of the main plot. And you Agnes Moorehead fans? Well, you’ll get plenty of her, that’s for sure.
The Bat has been in the public domain for a while with cheap, bottom of the bin releases ranging in quality from terrible to merely watchable. The newly-formed Film Detective have managed to get their hands on some surviving 35mm film elements for their line of Restored Classics, and they’ve made a unexpectedly excellent transfer on a BD-R. Film grain is quite minimal and, therefore, unobtrusive, and black levels are quite deep with sometimes bright whites, especially on skin. Getting the most out of the images probably constituted cranking up the brightness, but I thought it was a tad too high. However, the contrast was quite suitable. There are no signs of digital enhancement or scrubbing on display, but there are lots of film artifacts left behind. The frame is often full of black and white specks, as well as thin black and white lines. None of them are as distracting as I’m making them sound though. For the audio presentation, there’s only a single option: an English 2.0 DTS-HD track, which seems to be sourced from the original mono. It’s surprisingly very clean with only a minimal amount of hiss. Dialogue and sound effects are always clear and audible, and score has some decent presence to it. The presentation is, as expected, sort of flat overall, without much in terms of speaker to speaker activity. There’s also not much in the way of dynamics or low frequency activity. It is basically a mono track after all, and a very clean and satisfactory one at that. There are also optional subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
Unfortunately, there is no supplemental material as this is a maxed-out Blu-ray release with nothing encumbering the picture and sound qualities. Some might find this to be a deal breaker, but for slightly over ten bucks (as of this writing), as well as a quality transfer, this is an easy buy, especially for Vincent Price fans. The Bat has a small following of people who find its old-fashioned charms to be worth their time, and if you’re a fan of mystery thrillers, this one just might be worth putting on your Halloween to-watch list.
- Tim Salmons