Sunday, May 22, 2016

#2,106. The Bat (1926)

Directed By: Roland West

Starring: George Beranger, Charles Herzinger, Emily Fitzroy

Tag line: "A laugh with every gasp!"

Trivia: For many years this was regarded as a "lost film" with no known prints or elements existing

1926’s The Bat opens with the following statement:

“Can you keep a secret? Don’t reveal the identity of The Bat. Future audiences will fully enjoy this mystery play if left to find out for themselves

While the central mystery was, indeed, engaging, it was the film’s look and feel that really impressed me.

A masked killer known only as “The Bat” has struck again, strangling a noted millionaire and making off with his valuable collection of jewels. The police have thus far been unable to stop “The Bat”, but they also have their hands full with another matter: the theft of a large sum of money from a local bank. All signs point to the culprit being a teller named Brooks Bailey (Jack Pickford), who is engaged to be married to Miss Dale Ogden (Jewel Carmen). Naturally, Brooks is innocent, so Dale (to hide him from the police) whisks him off to a large mansion that her aunt, Miss Cornelia Van Gorder (Emily Fitzroy), is renting for the summer (which, by coincidence, belongs to the bank exec whose facility was just robbed). But there are others lurking in the corners of this spacious house as well, one of whom may be The Bat! Will Miss Cordelia, with the help of her frightened maid Lizzie (Louise Fazenda), solve this perplexing case before the police can? Where is the money? Where is The Bat? More to the point: Who is The Bat?

Sit tight and you’re sure to find out.

A fair number of characters come and go throughout The Bat; aside from those listed above, we have Miss Cordelia’s Asian butler Billy (Sonjin); Det. Moletti (Tulio Carminati), who is researching the bank heist; and physician Dr. Wells (Robert McKim), who knows more than he’s letting on. Yet, despite its plethora of personalities, I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with them all. The film’s single best aspect, however, is its collection of ominous sets, which come courtesy of famed production designer William Cameron Menzies (the creative force behind Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s Thief of Bagdad and the superior sci-fi entry Invaders from Mars). Using shadows and lighting to great effect, Menzies helps shape The Bat into an early version of an “Old Dark House” picture, where each new room is as creepy (and interesting) as the last.

Remade in 1959 (a version that starred Vincent Price and Agnes Moorhead, among others), The Bat tells the fascinating story of a masked killer and a missing fortune, while also featuring moments of genuine humor (most provided by Miss Cordelia’s maid, Lizzie, who, though overplayed by Louise Fazenda, brings a few laughs to the otherwise dark proceedings). This, plus the work of William Cameron Menzies, makes The Bat a twisting, turning, visually appealing murder mystery.

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