Directed By: Crane Wilbur
Starring: Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Gavin Gordon
Tag line: "When it flies, someone dies!"
Trivia: former RKO studio head C. J. Tevlin purchased the remake rights for The Bat from Mary Pickford, who first produced a film adaptation of the play in 1926
A film starring Vincent Price titled The Bat? Surely, it’s a horror movie, right? Actually, no; while there are definitely horror elements scattered about, The Bat is a mystery through and through (and a pretty nifty one at that).
John Fleming (Harvey Stephens) has embezzled a million dollars in securities from the bank he himself founded, and while vacationing at his cabin getaway, he offers his friend, Dr. Wells (Price), half of that money in exchange for helping him fake his own death. Meanwhile, famed mystery writer Cornelia van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead) and her assistant, Lizzie Allen (Lenita Lane), who are renting Fleming’s house while he’s away, are being tormented by a masked killer known only as “The Bat”. Wearing a black mask and a glove with razor-sharp claws, The Bat breaks into the Fleming house on a nightly basis, and if the two women can’t figure out who he is or what he wants, odds are they’re going to become his next victims.
It made sense to list Vincent Price as the #1 star of The Bat; by 1959, he’d appeared in House of Wax (1953), The Fly (’58), and a pair of William Castle movies, House of Haunted Hill and The Tingler (both ’59), all of which were fairly popular with audiences. Still, the billing is misleading, because Price’s Dr. Wells is only a supporting character (an important one, mind you, but secondary nonetheless). The real star of The Bat is Agnes Moorehead, whose Cornelia van Gorder reminded me of a quirky version of Jessica Fletcher, the author / sleuth played by Angela Lansburty in the ‘80s TV series Murder, She Wrote. Joined at all times by her trusty assistant, Lizzie, Ms. Van Gorder puts her detective skills to the test by trying to solve the mystery of The Bat, trading witty asides with Lizzie as she does so (while reading a newspaper article about the Bat’s latest killing, Lizzie blurts out “It says here that the Bat never leaves no fingerprints”. “That's understandable”, Cornelia replies, “Having no face he probably has no fingers either”). Even in his supporting role, Price manages to shine, bringing a sinister edge to Dr. Wells that rears its ugly head early on (a scene I won’t spoil for you here). But despite the horror icon’s solid performance, it’s Moorehead and Lane who steal this particular show.
The Bat is, at times, downright creepy (especially in the scenes where the killer is inside the house, tormenting Ms. Van Gorder and Lizzie), and with its tale of masked killers and corporate greed, it also proved to be an intriguing mystery, one that, thanks in part to the spirited give-and-take of Moorehead and Lane, you’re sure to enjoy.