Saturday, October 12, 2002


Very early talkie in the "old dark house" genre. It's based on a famous play and novel, "The Bat" by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and its stage origins show for most of the running time, but in the opening (and in a few key sequences later) the camera is let loose to do some wild things. There is some nice subjective camera work with long swoops over miniature sets, especially in a shot over a long row of trees outside of a secluded mansion. As far as the plot, a bank robbery occurs and a number of folks think that the loot might be hidden in a large old house that has been rented for the season by Corneila, perhaps the first in a long line of Hollywood "feisty old ladies" (played by Grayce Hampton). The bulk of the movie takes place in the house with Hampton, her niece (Una Merkel, good as always), an easily spooked maid, and assorted visitors.

The plot doesn't stand up to much analysis. Merkel's boyfriend (William Bakewell) is a suspect and sneaks his way into the household by posing as a gardener, but nothing much comes of that plotline. The very Prussion Gustav von Seyffertitz plays a potential villain, and Chester Morris (looking very different then he does in his later movies) plays a detective who is hiding some secrets of his own. The first few scenes, with the Bat stealing jewels from a locked safe in a high-rise apartment, and the setting-up of the old house mystery, are promising. But as the characters start piling up, the possible motivations of the suspects become vague, and I eventually lost interest in figuring out who was who. One very amusing scene (the tone of the film is fairly light throughout) involves the skittish maid tying a bear trap to her bedpost and throwing it out the window, trying to catch the killer--soon, she actually *does* catch someone! Interesting at times, but not terribly compelling, and Morris, considering his top billing, doesn't really wind up with much to do. A later version, THE BAT, from 1959, with Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, isn't much better. Even the combination of those two scenery-chewers doesn't generate much excitement.

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