The Bat (1959)


(director/writer: Crane Wilbur; screenwriter: based on the play by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart/; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editor: William Austin; music: Louis Forbes; cast: Vincent Price (Dr. Malcolm Wells), Agnes Moorehead (Cornelia Van Gorder), Gavin Gordon (Lt. Anderson), John Sutton (Warner), Lenita Lane (Lizzie Allen), Elaine Edwards (Dale Bailey), Mike Steele (Victor Bailey), Darla Hood (Judy Hollender), John Bryant (Mark Fleming), Harvey Stephens (John Fleming), Detective Davenport (as Robert B. Williams (Detective Davenport), Riza Royce (Jane Patterson); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: C.J. Tevlin; Anchor Bay Entertainment;1959)

“The stars chew the scenery and the supporting cast give limited performances.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the fourth version of The Bat–1915 (silent), 1926 (silent) and as The Bat Whispers in a 1930 (talkie). None of the versions are anything to write home about, but at least this one is coherent and somewhat entertaining. The B-film haunted house mystery is based on the gothic play by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Co-stars Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead were old friends from their days together in Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater. Also appearing as a murder vic is Darla Hood, former Our Gang star, now a grown-up. It’s directed and scripted by a former silent actor Crane Wilbur, who fails to sustain an eerie mood and provide humor for the absurd narrative.

Famous mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder has rented for the summer a country house called “The Oaks”, owned by banker John Fleming (Harvey Stephens) and rented to Corny without his knowledge by his real-estate broker son Mark (John Bryant). The mansion recently had been the scene of some grizzly murders committed by a criminal called “The Bat,” known by that nickname because of his strange behavior. This scares away all the servants brought from the city but for the loyal maid Lizzie Allen (Lenita Lane). On a recreational vacation in the woods John Fleming tells his best pal Dr. Malcolm Wells (Vincent Price) that he has embezzled one million dollars in securities and has hidden the bonds in a secret closet in the family house, and will split that with him if he helps fake his death. The good doctor reacts by killing John with a rifle shot and blaming it on a forest fire. Wells returns to the house to try and find the secret room with the vault, but is interfered with by the lady guests and the film’s other villain. A murder takes place and the sighting of a bat brings more scares to the ladies. The local police chief, Lt. Anderson (Gavin Gordon), is only too eager to help in making sure the occupants are safe and posts men as guards outside the house. Later a butler named Warner (John Sutton) is hired, but the police chief is suspicious of him because he was just exonerated from an out-of-town crime. Dale Bailey (Elaine Edwards) is the wife of the jailed bank VP (Mike Steele) who was suspected as the embezzler. She stays at the mansion along with bank cashier Judy Hollender (Darla Hood) to see if they can locate the secret room. Judy has proof that the VP is innocent and is prepared to give evidence during the trial.

It’s heavy on plot and story twists, and light on characterizations or any deep meanings or of the acting being up to snuff (the stars chew the scenery and the supporting cast give limited performances). It keeps one’s interest, but does little else to be much more than a pale imitation of a typical Charlie Chan whodunit.