Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Horror of...The Bat

Time to inaugurate The Horror Of... And what better way is there to do this than partaking of a rather fun movie from the 1950's.

So welcome! ...welcome

As things stand, this film has out me in an inconvenient predicament. I'm hiding in a closet, and won't come out. Thanks to this movie, I'm convinced that there is a murderer in the house. So I'll just stay safe in here, stay quiet...and keep typing...

Meanwhile, what will you make of...

...The Bat.

Oh, boy! I bet this is the original secret Batman pilot.
The one that starred Lyle Waggoner!

The Bat is a 1959 film, made by Liberty Pictures. It was written and directed by Crane Wilbur, who previously had written screenplays for both Mad Magician and House of Wax (Both Vincent Price movies.), and Mysterious Island.

The movie is, interestingly, a remake. Previously there was The Bat, in 1926, and then a remake, The Bat Whispers, in 1936. Twenty years on, the world received another take on this story. The story does vary from version to version, but many of the characters do persist.

I first came across this movie thanks to one of my favorite Horror Host shows, Penny Dreadful's Shilling Shockers. They had a lot of fun with this public domain movie, and all that season, in fact.

Being public domain, it is one of those movies that gets picked up for use in Horror Host shows, so it is easily available these days. It's in the Shilling Shocker DVD releases. It's in big cheap bundles of old horror movies. It's also easy to find online on YouTube (this is just one of the copies on there.). And, of course, you can find it at the Internet Archive, under movies (you can even download it). (This is a great site to have a link to. It gives everyone access to public domain movies, audio, and research papers. And for the Horror of..., it is a way to find so many public domain horror films. Link it!)

But now let's meet the stars of our version of The Bat.

I'd suggest changing that to Agnes Moorehead being
named first. You know what she did to Dick York.

For this tale we are introduced to Cornelia van Gorner, a successful murder mystery writer, in the area to enjoy some time in the country. She's played by Agnes Moorehead, who you, of course, remember from Charlotte's Web. (And, of course, Bewitched.)

We also have Lizzie Allen, Cornelia's maid/confidant. She's here for the comedy. She runs around a good part of this terrified at the situation they find themselves in. The role is played by Lenita Lane. She was previously in the Mad Magician with Vincent Price.

And then we have Vincent Price, long beloved for his role in the 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo (A spin off of the movie 13 Ghosts.). He's Dr. Malcolm Wells. He's the local doctor, researcher, etc. And he's quite a lady killer (...That has lost the old connotation these days hasn't it? No double meaning left...Damn kids, and their Zunes.), or is he?

The story largely takes place at The Oaks. A country house owned by John Fleming, the president of the local bank. It is being rented by Cornelia van Gorner.

The Oaks. Available at well-stocked toy stores everywhere.
The story opens on The Oaks. Cornelia has come from the big city to spend some time, along with some staff to run the place. Lizzie Allen is in a bit of a tizzy at the stories of The Bat (not the movie...or Batman), a local viscous criminal. The previous Winter, The Bat killed a number of people, slicing open their necks...like bats do (Granted, the South American vampire bat kind of does that, but the rest don't. #FreeBatFact)? We also will later learn that he judo chops their necks before the slashing. it's The Bat's M.O.

I don't know. I think I'm getting kind of a feeling theirs a
bat theme around this movie.
The Bat is all the rumor mongers can talk about. Is he back? When will The Bat strike again? Is he setting rapid bats on people? (I got to think Batman has this type of rumor mongering following his around Gotham.) People seem freaked out...about a serial killer still on the loose and unknown...Yeah. I see the concern.

But Cornelia isn't bothered. She just wants to get to the bank.

Anderson and Bailey
At the bank we meet most the rest of our character:

  • Dale Bailey, a former secretary at the bank and newly married to Victor Bailey.
  • Victor Bailey, the Vice President of the Bank.
  • Lt. Andy Anderson, chief detective and member of the board of the bank.

Did you say one million?
While Cornelia is at the bank, Victor Bailey discovers that $1,000,000 in securities and bonds are missing from the vault. And he and John Fleming are the only ones with the keys (That's a puzzler. Who ever could have taken those valuables?). All of the suspicion, somehow, lands on Victor Bailey. And he's arrested.

Meanwhile, out in the forest, John Fleming is enjoying a summer long vacation at his hunting lodge. He's brought along Dr. Malcolm Wells, the local doctor...He's taking the whole summer off? Okay.

As they sit around, Fleming starts laying out a plan he has. He's taken a million dollars in bonds and securities (Everybody?! I've cracked the case!), and he's slowly converted it into cash. But he needs the doctor's help to finish things up.

The doctor needs to verify his death.

"What did you say about my
Fleming wants to kill someone in the woods. Then mangle them. Then send it home as him.

For that, he'll give the doctor half the money. $500,000. Meh. All this for $500,000? (Please don't judge me!) But the doctor agree. The doctor considers, and waivers. There's too much risk, and he's unsure about killing. (...Which was my issue to!)

The doctor also taunts Fleming by figuring out the place Fleming has stashed his cash, somewhere in the Oaks. That's when Fleming shows him a pistol, and tells him he could just kill the doctor to keep him quiet. So the doctor agrees to help.

A forest fire breaks out nearby. When Fleming looks out the door, to check the situation, Doctor Wells grabs a rifle and shoots him.

Back at The Oaks, it's a windy night. The windows are rattling, the tapestries are billowing, and the suit of armor is falling down the stairs.

Lizzie tells Cornelia that the staff left the house. Most of the staff, since news of Fleming's death arrived, have been hearing odd sounds in the house. Then one of the maids saw a faceless figure entering up some backstairs. And that had been that. They all ran off. All, that is, except for the chauffeur who has stayed on. But he is gone for the night.

In the paper they also see that Fleming's body is finally back in town, and Dr. Wells with it. Is it connected?

The paper also describes The Bat. One victim, before dying, said he was faceless.

Cornelia isn't taking it too serious, until the falling armor startles her. Then, through the front door...

"Welcome to my...foyer?"
Lizzie's piercing scream at seeing the clawed hand, startles everyone (Cornelia, The Bat, Me). And The Bat retreats from the house.

And so The Bat has returned.

From here on, there is a Bat and Mouse (See what I did there!) game between The Bat and the people residing in the house.

I hate to describe any more. It is nice, if you are new to this movie, to enjoy and try to figure out what is really going on. So if you are interested in the movie, I'd suggest checking out one of the sources I noted at the top.

But if you are eager to see what happens next, please continue. Continue into MURDER!

Slamming the door and locking it, Cornelia and Lizzie run up to Cornelia's room and secure it. They call the police and ask for help. (Of note, the door on the room has a window, with no lock, over the top of it. I think most of us today have no idea what this is about, unless you live or work in an older building.)

As they man the barricades, The Bat breaks in.

I'm so lost in this modern world. I want to make a
Florence Griffith Joyner joke. But who will get that
these days? Is there a modern reference that works?
 Now The Bat moves through the house and up the stairs. Once upstairs, he stops outside the room the pair are hiding in. When they look outside they see his silhouette.

Don't mind me, I'm just posing.
 When he hears Cornelia tell the police on the phone that she has a gun, he backs off.

When the police arrive, they find no sign of anyone in the house, and leave. But the pair decide to stay in the room, the door barred, for the night.

As they sleep though, the small window over the door is opened.

The Bat will strike.

"Heh heh. This rubber bat is going to freak them out."
So he tosses a bat into the room. And it "flies" around the room, landing on Lizzie.

She freaks out when she think the bat bit her. Cornelia closes the bat in a closet. She then call for the police again, and Dr. Wells (Seeing as the bat could carry a disease.). But it seems for the moment he's out at a birth. (Is he the only doctor in town? And we left town for a summer long vacation?!)

50's exploitation gone wild.

Well there's nothing wrong with
this. Look at Kirk Langstrom...
Bad example.
And this takes us to the home of Dr. Wells. There Lt. Anderson is lurking around. He checks out Wells car. Then he peeks in the back window where he sees Wells doing some research...ON BATS.

Wells finally gets word of the attack at The Oaks, and races off.

Once he's gone, Anderson snoops around the lab.

He finds the normal stuff. Papers, microscope, lab equipment, bats. You know, same old same old.

And then there is this.


I...don't know what to make of this. That is weird. The way the movie looks, that is supposed to be a real bat. What's it's deal? The movie never explains.

But if you like that weird bat, if you've fallen love with that, wait until we get around to The Devil Bat and see how they compare.

So, yeah. Wells is an interesting one. Works on bats, has a giant bat, and knows that there's money hidden in The Oaks.

And at The Oaks, Dr Wells checks on Lizzie and the bat (The little one, goes squeak.). He tells them it looks like it isn't sick, but will check it. He also tries to spook them about the strangeness of the house.

Anderson meets Dr Wells and Cornelia, as Wells is leaving.

And so begins the game of, "I'm Not The Bat, Are You?"

"Excuse me, am I needed here, or can the two of you
finish your pissing match on your own?"
They will be going back and forth, pointing out how the other was "out" and could have been around the house at the time of The Bat's appearances. (Dr. Wells is out. Lt. Anderson is off in his car somewhere.)

Just back and forth, giving each other looks.You'd think at least one of them has something to hide.

So, leaving Cornelia, they both step out of the house:
"And nobody inside, Andy [Anderson]?" "Why should there be?" "Well, how do you know but what The Bat is hiding somewhere in the house?""I'm quite sure he isn't not in the house, Doctor. Not now." 
Anderson visits Fleming's nephew, Mark Fleming, the next day. He's the one that, without his uncle's permission, rented The Oaks. There he finds out from Mark Fleming that all of his uncle's money is missing. So Mark Fleming has got nothing coming to him.

Anderson also admits that the bank board has decided to write a harsh assessment for the losses. If the securities aren't found, they will wipe some peoples savings. Anderson will be included in those who lose everything.

Guess she finally escaped
Anderson then tells Mark Fleming that he thinks his uncle is likely the real culprit, and left the money in town.

Also he mentions that John Fleming's secretary, Judy, will be a defense witness for Victor Bailey, as she has some damning information (What it is, we never learn.). (Of interest to people...some people...some old people. Judy is played by THE Darla. As in The Little Rascals. I know kids, you don't know what that is. Let's just call it the original Bratz, and you can go back to playing with your Tamagotchi, okay?)

As it happens Judy and Dale Bailey are staying at The Oaks for the weekend. Cornelia has also found additional servants for the house, including promoting her chauffeur, Warner, to butler.

"What would Jessica Fletcher do?"
Wells visits them and tries to get ideas from the group about just where in the house the money could be, if Fleming, not Bailey stole the money and put it there. He tries to take advantage of the mystery writer's mind. She figures that if he did it, he planned it out way ahead. Therefore he could have built a hidden room into the house. So what they need are floor plans.

This leads them to call Mark Fleming about it, hoping his work in real estate and being John Fleming nephew, means he has an idea where the plans are now. He's talking to Anderson still, so he listens in as he gets the request, and says he'll visit The Oaks later, as he thinks the plans are in the house.

Great. Now he's found the
entrance to the Batcave.
Later that night, Mark Steel sneaks over to The Oaks. And he begins a search, avoiding the women and staff. (I am guessing that he would like to snatch the money for himself. As he was motivated to do in earlier versions.)

He finds the hiding space for the plans behind a large clock, and hidden door.

And while he's lucked into finding the floor plans, The Bat has also found him. And with a quick chop to the throat, another Fleming goes down.

But all the movement screws up the clock. So when the ladies enter the room their attention is drawn to it, and then they notice the door behind.

Once inside, they find...

"This is kind of embarrassing. I was reaching for my bowling bowl...
and I kind of got brutally murdered."
Not a good week for the Fleming family.

On the plus side, though, we do now know he isn't The Bat. So, silver lining. (And really this is how a lot of mysteries get resolved, with the suspects getting bumped off.)

The police return, again. And Wells comes, as the city coroner. (Really. Is he the only doctor in town?) And Anderson and Wells innuendo each other some more.

"Hey, Andy? Wouldn't it be hilarious if one of us was The Bat?"
"I'm British and I'm a
butler. It's a thing."
Wells wants everyone to leave the house, to avoid The Bat. Anderson wants everyone to stay put.

Warner, the butler, is revealed to have just returned. (Again.)

And the question now looms. Who is The Bat?

Wells has killed. He knows about the money. And he's trying to get them out of the house. And The Bat emerged just as Wells returned.

Anderson is out a lot of money. He figured out who the real thief was. And he's always out of sight when the Bat shows. (...Could Clark Kent be The Bat?!)

And Warner...He's the butler. Case closed.

But seriously, as we continue, these three keep going where no one knows where they are, and then The Bat appears.

"Alfalfa sends his regard."
So while the three likely suspects are "gone", The Bat returns (thankfully without the Penguin...I don't get tha...Ah! Batman Returns reference. ...That was a bit of a stretch.). He's upped his game. He cuts the phone line, then heads upstairs. There he goes to a room, and smashes a wall. Smart.

When Dale goes to check on the noise, The Bat bolts. Seeing Judy on the way, he chases her down, and kills her.

Now that is odd. What is The Bat worried about with Judy? Did she know something about him? Does Victor Bailey going to prison help him? Also, if he found the plans for the house, does he need to bash in walls?

It is curious business. But as The Bat runs, Cornelia throws a tool in her hand at him, nailing him in the back.

"I know your The Bat, but what am I?"
Anderson wants to deflect interest in why he was gone, and focuses on how Warner was outside. Warner said he was following Anderson, but got hit on the back, and knocked out. And, Wells is back, and says he's had an accident. Anderson notes he has an injury.

Later on, after the police get done searching the house, Cornelia goes on her own hunt. She eventually goes to the room The Bat was bashing. And she finds an odd design function in the room, a hidden door.

I don't think this is lab
appropriate attire.
Meanwhile back at Wells lab, The Bat...What?! A-ha! I knew it! It was so obvious! ...And then Wells walks in...Okay. You lost me again movie. Curse you!

"This is embarrassing. I almost
wore that outfit."
Wells catches The Bat of guard, and holds a gun on him. (He's good at that, remember?) He taunts him for a bit, and tells him he knows where the money is and is going to get it himself.

But the delay does Wells no good. The Bats jumps Wells, and a fight for life begins.

In the end, Wells is shot dead.

"Let's see. Left a suicide note. Smashed up the lab in a fight. Shot
the "suicide" in the side. Yeah, my plot is really holding together.{
Meanwhile, Cornelia has gotten herself trapped in the secret room. Lizzie, clicking into Lassie mode, knows something is wrong. She finds the police guard sleeping, and the officer realizes he's been drugged. Also, Warner is gone. And Anderson is "out on a case". And where's Wells? ...Oh, yeah.

They finally make it upstairs and try to figure out where she is in the room. Finally they get the secret door open. And she gets out, gasping for air.

"Shot by my own shadow? I should have known."
Then The Bat starts a fire at the garage. Cornelia realize he wants them to run outside, so he can slip in. So they lie in wait for him, in the secret room. But he catches them,and shoots the police officer. He readies to shoot them. But is suddenly shot from behind, by Warner.

They find Anderson under the mask. (To be fair, he did look like an old school Scooby Doo villain, right?)

And then we watch Cornelia explain things. She says Anderson had taken his "ill-gotten gains" and invested them in the bank, to hide them. (I am guessing this is supposed to do from his time as The Bat...? Or, maybe he was just a dirty cop.)

She ends on reminding us, "You can't hide murder." (May want to find and tell Jimmy Hoffa that.)

And I hope after the credits, Dale dumps her husband, and joins Cornelia and Lizzie as they travel the country solving crime. (With Warner driving the car, fixing the plumbing, and bringing dinner.)

Maybe that's just my internal fanfic.


This is a fun movie. Lizzie plays as a comic element for the movie. And the back and forth between Dr Wells and Lt Anderson is always amusing, even on rewatching.

As well, Cornelia makes for an enjoyable lead character. And Wells, Anderson, Lizzie, Dale, and Warner make for a worthwhile ensemble.

The Bat, as designed, is simple, but effective. One glove with a claw. A black masked face. A hat and a nice jacket. It almost makes him dapper. He does feels like he stepped out of a pulp magazine.

And in trying to figure who he is, the movie does no favors.

Wells comes off as a clear choice. But they offer some other slight possibilities, with some level of motive. Still you are left unsure of why The Bat is.

It is even unclear if the person running around as The Bat, is The Bat. It is possible someone is using the media descriptions to cover their own agenda. Wouldn't be the first time I'd seen that in a story.

Also, as some have suggested, their could be more than one Bat. Bother Wells and Anderson could be dressing up and sneaking in the house searching. On different occasions it could have been one or the other in the house, like when Wells had an injury like the one The Bat should have gotten.

You have the example of The Bat getting the floor plans, and then breaking through the wall later. Did he not get the necessary information on the door? Or did it not explain how it was opened? Wells said to The Bat that he knew exactly where the money was. Did he mean he had the plans and worked it out? Or that he had just figured it out on his own? Or was he goading someone he was about to kill?

In the end, you can read the multiple Bats into the story. I don't think it holds, as the movie seems to clearly say at the end that Anderson was in the role the whole time. And, based on the talk of ill-gotten gains, I am assuming that he was The Bat the year before, and had stole a large sum of money in the process.

But Cornelia could just be doing some writer's speculation. The movie leaves you plenty you can speculate about late into the night.

Even with this confusion, this is one of many horror classics that are worth your time. It is a not too violent movie, even with all the murder. It gives a mystery to ponder. And it gives you some nice moment of suspense as the masked murderer stalks The Oaks.

It's another piece of Vincent Price's fine history of bringing horror and suspense to fans.

And, it's worth your time.


Also, watching this movie, I had to repress the urge to make an, "I thought you were Dale" joke.

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