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I Bet You Didn't See... The Bat

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Directed by: Crane Wilbur

Screenplay by: Crane Wilbur

Based on: “The Circular Staircase” (1908 novel) by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and “The Bat” (1920 play) by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Avery Hopwood

Starring: Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Darla Hood

Released: August 9th, 1959

My Rating: 6/10

Contains Spoilers!!!

Who doesn’t like Vincent Price? He has a great stage presence which transfers on to the screen superbly. His iconic speech, his sly transaction from soft-hearted to sinister in a moment was always sweet to hear.

What I love about old films, particularly 1950’s and early 1960’s films, is the perfectly spaced and flowing conversation and the cuts between lines are not just seamless but everyone is perfectly positioned. There are still the remnants of stage acting apparent, particularly through Agnes Moorhead who throws herself into her upper-class role and overdoes the scene where she runs out of air in a secret locked room.

The Bat is in the house!

The basic plot of The Bat is that a serial killer is on the loose, who kills people by clawing their throats. We find out that the owner of a local bank has embezzled $1million and wants his friend’s (Vincent Price) help getting the cash out of town. The rest of the film involves a hunt for the money and the serial killer, The Bat, gets in on the action.

It’s a rather entertaining film from a modern perspective. The lack of blood on wide shots, the perfectly balanced conversations and very posh accents, and the dubbed screams of the ladies in the film. It’s not the infamous Wilhelm scream (that’s a male scream) but I think due to the level of sound recording, screams would have had to have been dubbed to sound best. We also have the wonderful underreaction to the confession of the owner of the bank, as well as the tit-for-tat suspicion on each person.

Price and Moorhead, in a classic publicity pose

It made me laugh how authoritative Cornelia Van Gorder (Moorhead) would shout instructions at the police, but no matter what the police say, she agrees and is happy with their move. I think this is an Americanism of the era, as showing up authority during The Cold War was not something Americans wanted to be seen doing, and I think there is a slight generational sexism in there too. The Police were all men, and they weren’t going to be told what to do by a panicking rich woman. Of course, the lack of action is all part of the film, and we see what impact it has over its course.

I watched The Bat in a colourised version, which was interesting. Originally a black-and-white film, this was on a well-known streaming platform and (while not distracting from the action) I did notice that at times peoples faces would be half colour and half grey, and that weird shadows would appear on people where the colouring didn’t reach, or something meant that it was left out. Not a bad thing at all, just an interesting extra piece there.

The Bat is worth watching, even just for a laugh. Vincent Price is a true gem, even in a crime-thriller and not a horror film he has the presence in the film to make you realise just how over-the-top, or how wooden, the other actors are. If you are a fan of the classic ‘Saturday Lunchtime Movie’, this is perfect for that.

Give it a go. Go on. Have a laugh.

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