Release Date(s)1959 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)Allied Artists (The Film Detective)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
The Bat, released in 1959 by Allied Artists, stars Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, and Gavin Gordon. It tells the story of well-to-do mystery author Cornelia Van Gorder (Moorehead) who moves into a country estate home that supposedly has a history of strange occurrences. The town she lives in is currently in an uproar over a recently stolen large amount of money from the local bank. When an intruder attempts to break into Gorder’s home, the police surmise that it’s the work of “The Bat,” a home invader and murderer. Many are suspect, including Gorder’s doctor, Wells (Vincent Price), who is currently doing his own research on bats in his laboratory. When police Lieutenant Anderson (Gordon) learns of this, Wells falls under immediate suspicion.
The Bat already had a history in cinema long before Allied Artists got their hands on it. It began life as the 1908 novel The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart, whom later adapted her novel with playwright Avery Hopwood into the stage play The Bat. It was first made into a film in 1915 under the title of the original novel, then later adapted in 1926 as The Bat and again in 1930 as The Bat Whispers (a lost film that’s also notable for being the supposed inspiration for Batman). RKO Pictures later bought the rights to make their own version with Allied Artists producing and releasing it, this time under the direction of Crane Wilbur (screenwriter of The Amazing Mr. X and House of Wax).
As for Vincent Price, he was on the verge of being the horror icon that he would soon become known as. Though he had already appeared in House of Wax in 1953 and The Fly in 1958, he was in several films in 1959, including House on Haunted Hill (also with Allied Artists), The Tingler, and Return of the Fly. The following year his horror status was cemented with his portrayal of Roderick Usher in Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher. While The Bat is noteworthy for Price not being an overt villain, his presence in it helped solidify the direction that his career seemed to be taking.
The film plays more like a mystery thriller, rather than horror. One could even see it as an early predecessor to TV shows like Murder She Wrote. The fact that the film features mostly women as the main characters with more to do than scream and be generally useless is very refreshing for the period it was made in. It’s also obvious that the film was sourced from a stage play as it’s mainly dialogue-driven, perhaps to its detriment. The dialogue really has no rhythm to it because there’s so much of it, with even occasional one-liners falling flat. There are also elements introduced into the story that have no bearing on the story at hand or its eventual outcome.
Regardless of its flaws, The Bat has a sort of laid-back charm to it. There’s decent atmosphere to be had, despite bumbling along at an uneven pace. As for you Vincent Price admirers, adjust your expectations. He may be on the film’s poster, but he winds up having very little to do with the main plot. And you Agnes Moorehead fans? Well, you’ll get plenty of her, that’s for sure.
The Bat was shot by director of photography Joseph F. Biroc on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Film Detective previously released the film on BD-R in 2015, and they’ve now returned with a full Special Edition Blu-ray release. The same HD master has been used, which was itself taken from surviving 35 mm elements. Unfortunately, it’s had a judicious amount of DNR applied to it, scrubbing away scratches and lines running through the frame, but also some of the fine detail. It’s not totally egregious, but it’s definitely a smoother, softer, and less organic experience. Detail is still there, and is given decent compression with a bitrate that hovers in the upper 20s and lower 30s, but it’s still a lesser image. It’s also been ever so slightly zoomed in. Things aren’t all bad though as grayscale is still ideal, though like its predecessor, the picture is still a tad too bright. To be fair, the film has had mostly poor home video releases over the years because of its public domain status, meaning that any company can release any type of presentation from whatever masters are available to them. It’s still a big step up from that, but proceed with caution if you own The Film Detective’s previous BD-R release.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It appears to be the same track as before, which is clean with only a minimal amount of hiss. Dialogue and sound effects are always clear and audible, and the score has decent heft to it. It’s a flat track, but it doesn’t appear to have been altered.
The Special Edition of The Bat on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case with a 16-page insert booklet featuring photos of posters and playbills, as well as the essay The Case of the Forgotten Author: The Literary Conundrum of Mary Roberts Rinehart by Jason A. Ney. The insert features a revised version of the film’s original poster. The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Jason A. Ney
- The Case for Crane Wilbur (22:24)
- Classic Radio Episodes featuring Vincent Price:
- Suspense: The Strange Death of Charles Umberstein – November 23, 1943 (29:13)
- Suspense: Fugue in C Minor – June 1, 1944 (29:37)
- Suspense: Hunting Trip – September 12, 1946 (29:51)
- Escape: Present Tense – January 31, 1950 (29:27)
- Escape: Three Skeleton Key – March 17, 1950 (29:26)
- Escape: Blood Bath – June 30, 1950 (29:27)
- Theatre of Romance: Angel Street – October 9, 1945 (24:48)
- Hollywood Star Time: The Lodger – May 19, 1946 (29:48)
- The CBS Radio Workshop: Speaking of Cinderella – April 6, 1956 (29:20)
Though the previous BD-R release of The Bat featured no extras at all, this release certainly bulks things up with several noteworthy additions. First is a new audio commentary with professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney, who delves into many aspects of the film, detailing its literary and stage-based sources, as well as the differences between them. The careers of the cast and crew are discussed, and Ney even offers audio from an interview with Vincent Price at one point. Occasionally, he comments on the film directly, highlighting moments that he personally enjoys. He takes pauses throughout, sometimes for emphasis, but mostly leaving gaps of silence for the film’s audio to play instead. Outside of those pauses, it’s an informative and entertaining track. Ballyhoo Motion Pictures provides the extended featurette The Case for Crane Wilbur, which is narrated by Larry Blamire and devoted to the career of the often forgotten actor, screenwriter, producer, and director. Also included are a total of nine appearances by Vincent Price on various radio programs throughout the 1940s and 1950s. It’s a treasure trove of material for fans. Missing altogether is the film’s theatrical trailer, which had been included on Anchor Bay’s DVD release.
Despite the video being subpar in relation to The Film Detective’s previous disc, fans of The Bat will certainly want to pick this release up for the inclusion of the extras. One wishes that there could have been two discs in this package, one with the original, unaltered image, and the other with the new presentation and extras. It’s a nice release overall, but with the obvious caveat.
- Tim Salmons