This week in Old Movies Nobody Gives a Shit About, The Bat is about a mystery writer (Agnes Moorehead) who rents a spooky old mansion to write her next novel in, and ends up living there with her maid (Lenita Lane). Meanwhile, there is a vicious murderer known only as "The Bat" on the prowl throughout the countryside. Also meanwhile, there is a rash of rabid bat attacks in the area. Also also meanwhile, somebody robs the local bank and something something the money is probably in the spooky old house. There is altogether way too much shit going on in this movie.
It works though. This movie is actually pretty fun. It's a pretty generic old school mystery but the dryly funny dialogue, mainly from Agnes Moorhead, Lenita Lane, and the butler/chauffeur (John Sutton). It does veer occasionally into old timey cliches (e.g., at one point buddy tells his doctor "everybody knows I've got a bad heart" - yes, presumably your doctor also knows this so telling him is a little extraneous), but even that I found rather delightful.
It also features perhaps the most evil throwaway character I've ever seen in a movie. This old guy who works at the bank (Harvey Stephens) steals a whole bunch of... bank shit? Like... stocks... or whatever. Anyway, he frames his coworker (Mike Steele) at whose wedding he was best man and whom he talks about with a paternal affection. Then he tries to coerce his doctor (Vincent Price) into killing an innocent bystander and mangling the body to help him fake his death and escape. And he's not even the main villain. He dies unceremoniously ten minutes after he's been introduced.
The actual main villain is The Bat, I guess? Also kind of Vincent Price. The movie wants you to think that Vincent Price is The Bat but makes it glaringly obvious within the first few scenes who the killer really is (spoiler alert: it's the police chief). The Bat dresses in what looks to be a solid black morph suit and has these badass claws on his fingers that he uses to rip his victims' throats out which is brutal as all hell. I fully support The Bat as a '50s movie villain.
The best part of the movie, though, is hands down the banter between Agnes Moorhead and Lenita Lane. Both of their characters are great, their dialogue fucks*, and they have so much chemistry together. Agnes Moorehead's character is smart, tough, and capable - to the point that one of the other female characters says that she doesn't want her to think she's a silly girl - which is unusual for the time and really cool.
That said, towards the end of the movie she does go all damsel in distress and almost dies in an airtight vault because she can't move a poster off the wall to find the control switch for the door. Throughout the movie, the characters behave really inconsistently, going from being terrified to be alone to just moseying out of their room unaccompanied for the sole purpose of moving the plot along. It's frustrating because otherwise it would have bordered on greatness.
Generally, the movie fails in that it falls way too deep into movie logic. Characters just do stuff, and things just happen for no reason other than "movie said so". Like when the evil, evil, evil bank guy is about to rope his doctor into his scheme, he gets distracted by the entire forest they're camping in being on fire, allowing Vincent Price to get the one-up on him. And like, that's not really ever addressed. I know that in real life, shit just happens for seemingly no reason, but like they say, if a gun goes off in a movie it had better be there?
In similar fashion, character after character gets introduced only to become Bat fodder, or disappear - the bank guy who gets framed turns up in one scene at the beginning of the movie, he gets mentioned a few times in the middle because his wife (Elaine Edwards) befriends Agnes Moorehead, and I think maybe they say something at the end about him being released, but he more or less drops off the face of the earth.
Furthermore, him getting released following the death of The Bat makes exactly zero sense. The whole reason he's in custody is because the only two people who have access to the vaults or whatever are him and the evil, evil, evil bank guy. After The Bat turns out to be the police chief, they're like "oh, I guess he took all the money and hid it in this old house" - that doesn't make any sense because a) he obviously didn't know where in the house the money was hidden and b) he would have needed one of the two bank guys to let him into the vaults and the prints on the vault door belonged to the good bank guy so, like, what the fuck? What kind of horse shit judiciary system were they running back in those days?
Overall, it's an above average '50s murder mystery, and I would give my right ovary to see a Scooby Doo style mystery show with the two female main characters roaming around solving shit.
- Swingin' jazz theme song (+1)
- Vincent Price appears in the film (+1)
- Old timey 50s dialogue (+1)
- Agnes Moorehead & Lenita Lane (+3)
- The Bat's finger claws are super cool (+1)
- Real bats! They're adorable! (+1)
- Snappy dialogue (+1)
- Sub-plots a-go-go (-1)
- The Bat's finger claws are super impractical (-1)
- Shit just happens (-1)
- So many characters (-1)
- The Mystery is really obvious (-1)
Final Score: +4
Written and Directed by: Crane Wilbur, based on the play The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart & Avery Hopwood, itself based on the novel The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Starring: Agnes Moorehead, Lenita Lane, Vincent Price, Elaine Edwards, Darla Hood, Gavin Gordon, John Sutton.
* Am I using that expression right?
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