Restored Edition DVD
Directed by Crane Wilbur
Starring Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Lenita Lane, Darla Hood
Release date: November 12, 2013
In The Bat, the 1959 murder mystery from director Crane Wilbur, Vincent Price might have made top billing, but the iconic horror actor takes a back seat to Agnes Moorehead, who headlines here years before her famous turn as Endora on TV’s Bewitched (which is how my generation grew up knowing her). Moorehead stars as Cornelia Van Gorder, a popular murder-mystery novelist who rents a mansion called The Oaks, where she experiences terror and intrigue more intense than any of the stories that she’s written.
Cornelia arrives to The Oaks for the summer with a team of servants, but when word quickly spreads of a killer on the loose, dubbed “The Bat,” the frightened staff flees town, leaving behind just the writer and her longtime maid and confidant Lizzie Allen (Lenita Lane) at the mansion. Soon after, the masked killer, donning gloves with steel-clawed fingertips, breaks into the mansion and releases a bat, which bites Lizzie. Fearing rabies, the ladies phone a local doctor, Dr. Malcolm Wells (Vincent Price), who then becomes involved in trying to catch the killer.
In the meantime, there’s another mystery in town to solve – who stole over $1 million in securities from the bank and what happened to that money?
Based on the 1920 Broadway play of the same name by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Bat is actually the third rendition of the story — Roland West directed the previous incarnations: The Bat (1926), a silent film, and The Bat Whispers (1930), a talkie. The 1959 version is far from terrifying, but it is an intriguing, eerie mystery and a classic whodunit story. Since the black and white film’s main character makes her living writing Agatha Christie-type murder-mysteries, she’s not so easily frightened, and doesn’t play the typical damsel in distress. After the lights go out, the next day Cornelia buys a bunch of flashlights; before going to bed one night, she tells her female guests that if anything happens, they should call out, and two strong woman will appear — meaning Cornelia and Lizzie. Cornelia’s strength and bravery is so inspiring that her females companions (including former Our Gang child star Darla Hood in her final on-screen role) try to stay strong so as to not look like “hysterical women.”
As far as the bat itself goes, the poor mammal gets a bum rap in this one, and is used as a pawn; it’s really the human killer who does the damage. (I have a soft spot for bats, who historically have been used in horror tales to frighten, so I need to stick up for them when I can!)
This Film Chest DVD release contains a restored version of the film for the first time in HD from 35mm elements, so although it’s still full screen, it does look much better than other versions floating around the Internet.
The Bat is a classic tale of suspense that makes a great viewing around Halloween time, especially for those who like chills without gore.
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