THE BAT (1959) will probably seem, by today’s standards, somewhat tame. Yes, there is a deranged killer who wears a glove barbed with razors, but he does not hack through his victims as is seen in recent times. In fact, he kind of bungles about like a clumsy spider trying not to scare away the flies. He begins to stalk a woman mystery writer, Cornelia van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead), who has, of course, rented the spookiest dang house in the county. She is joined by her spunky housekeeper (Lenita Lane) who plays much of the comic relief in the film. There is also the chauffeur (John Sutton), the doctor (Vincent Price) and the cop (Gavin Gordon) who enter and exit scenes at a rapid pace. We are told that there has recently been a spate of crimes involving (the aforementioned) murderous fiend known as “The Bat.” We also learn that a recently deceased bank owner has hidden $1,000,000 in the creaky old mansion. This prompts the cast to run from room to room searching for the loot. All the while “The Bat” lurks in the shadows and everyone becomes a suspect as the story becomes increasingly convoluted.
THE BAT has such a jumbled “who’s-on-first” type of pace that it inadvertently proves that nobody in the entire film could possibly be the killer. I watched it anyway, though not really caring too much about the outcome, and when the secret was revealed I was nonplussed. THE BAT is also a classic example of the “red herring” mystery. It is meant to keep you guessing, but leaves little time for the viewer to actually think about what’s going on. The story throws out so many clues (like each character showing up with a bump on the head when a bump on the head would solve the case) that the whole thing feels staged. That could also be because THE BAT is based on a play by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart (the earliest screen version being 1915). It could also be that looking at this film now, forty-six years after it was made, reveals how complex films have become. Take the contemporary example of THE USUAL SUSPECTS, it’s the same type of story, the more recent film simply has more intricate twists and turns. The outcome is just as illogical, but it is the style that keeps the viewer’s attention averted. This is what THE BAT attempts to do in a somewhat more limited way. It is not an altogether bad flick: the female leads are strong and it has just enough atmosphere to keep you from changing the channel. But whether watching it now, or comparing it to other productions from the same time period, THE BAT remains an average film.