Blu-Ray Review: The Bat (1959).


Directed by Crane Wilbur
Produced by C.J. Tevlin
Screen Story & Screenplay by Crane Wilbur
Based on the play by Mary Roberts Rinehart & Avery Hopwood
Director Of Photography: Joseph F. Biroc, ASC
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE
Musical Score by Louis Forbes

Cast: Vincent Price (Dr. Malcolm Wells), Agnes Moorehead (Cornelia van Gorder), Gavin Gordon (Lt. Andy Anderson), John Sutton (Warner), Lenita Lane (Lizzie Allen), Elaine Edwards (Dale Bailey), Darla Hood (Judy Hollander), John Bryant (Mark Fleming), Harvey Stephens (John Fleming)


As a monster movie-loving kid growing up in the 1970s, as Halloween approached, I’d go through the TV Guide and newspaper with a fine-tooth comb, looking for the treats that would be running on the local TV stations (and if lucky, an area theater). Then with my roster all planned out, and armed with a plastic pumpkin full of candy, I’d sit down to watch as much of it as I could take in. (Bet I wasn’t the only one doing this.) 

Of course, it works nothing like that now. Tons of old monster movies can be plucked out of thin air through streaming services and YouTube. But for us hardcore collector nerds, who want to own something physical, and for those of us who demand that these things look as good (or better) than they did when they came out, Halloween works a tiny bit like it did back in the day — who’s putting out what on DVD and Blu-Ray as October 31st rolls around?

One of this year’s treats is The Bat (1959), now on Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. This is actually a picture I first caught during one of those Halloween movie marathons. And if only for the simple reason that it stars Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, it’s wonderful.

It’s not really a horror picture, but a murder mystery complete with all the necessary ingredients — a million bucks in stolen money, a murder or two, a shadowy figure called The Bat, Vincent Price in a laboratory (studying bats, ironically) and a mystery-writer-turned-sleuth (Agnes Moorehead) trying to get the bottom of it all. This was the fourth film adaptation of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel, which had also been turned into a play.


The Bat
comes from a real sweet spot in Vincent Price’s career, as he became a true horror icon. He’d already done The Fly and its sequel, House On Haunted Hill and The Tingler. He’d soon kick off the Corman/Poe “cycle” with House Of Usher (1960). Price is a hoot in films like this, rarely taking himself too seriously. Agnes Moorehead is always a joy to watch, and she’s terrific here.

Crane Wilbur’s screenplay and direction are pretty good, keeping things moving and letting the leads do their thing. As an actor, Wilbur is known for 1914 serial The Perils Of Pauline. As a writer, he gave us some really cool stuff, pictures like He Walked By Night (1949), House Of Wax (1953), Crime Wave (1954) and The Phenix City Story (1955). 

One of the film’s biggest assets is the camerawork of Joseph Biroc — whose black and white work is always incredible, in pictures ranging from Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) to William Castle’s 13 Ghosts (1960) to Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964, he worked with Aldrich a lot). Biroc won an Oscar for The Towering Inferno (1974).

The Film Detective has done Biroc proud with this new DVD and Blu-Ray. Working from original 35mm elements, this thing looks gorgeous. I don’t know that the sharpness and contrast could be any better, and the 1.85:1 framing is perfect. Any lines and dirt have been cleaned up without any noticeable manipulation, and the audio is as clear as a bell.

Along with the spectacular transfer of the film itself, we’re treated to plenty of extras. The booklet contains an essay, “The Case Of The Forgotten Author,” about author Mary Roberts Rinehart and her source material for The Bat. There’s a featurette from Ballyhoo, “The Case For Crane Wilbur,” covering his long, varied career. Then there are nine radio shows featuring Price. They sound terrific and they’re very, very cool. Finally, there’s a feature-length commentary by Jason A. Ney.

Overall, this is a fabulous package. The movie’s a lot of fun, and it’s presented flawlessly. The extras are top-notch, with the radio shows being a real bonus. The Film Detective folks are on a real roll these days. Highly, highly recommended. 

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6 Comments

Filed under 1959, Agnes Moorehead, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Monogram/Allied Artists, The Film Detective, Vincent Price

6 responses to “Blu-Ray Review: The Bat (1959).

  1. Walter

    Toby, good and enjoyable write-up of THE BAT(1959). This movie managed to elude me over the years, but I did finally catch it on TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES in 2012. I enjoyed it because of Agnes Moorehead, Vincent Price, and Lenita Lane(wife of Crane Wilbur). Although, I think the movie belonged to Agnes Moorehead.

    I enjoyed reading about your memories of gleaning through TV GUIDE to find the movies that went along with the Halloween season. In my neck of the woods the local tv station programmers didn’t pay attention to Halloween per say on that particular day, or week. It might have been because Memphis’ WHBQ Channel 13 aired FANTASTIC FEATURES and CHILLER THEATER every weekend showing horror and science fiction movies anyway. After 1972 those shows were no longer on, but some of the movies continued to be shown, but not during Halloween, in particular. This changed after 1978 and I think it was because of the blockbuster small budget indie hit HALLOWEEN(1978), which was released right before Halloween. When the movie had its network tv premiere it was on the NBC FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES on October 30, 1981. The local programmers followed suit, with late night showings of the old favorites, such as DRACULA(filmed 1930, released 1931) and FRANKENSTEIN(1931) and others. Those were fun years.

    Today, we are the physical programmers by way of dvd and blu-ray. When October comes around(which seems faster every year) we just pull them out and view the good stuff like the Classic DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and all the others. Today is a “Golden Age” of viewing because of technology.

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  2. john k

    Even if I wasn’t blown away by Toby’s very fine write up this
    release would be essential for the Wilbur featurette alone.
    Wilbur (and his often partner in crime Bryan Foy) to me are
    genuine unsung heroes of American Cinema.
    Wilbur’s career stretched from 1915 right up to MYSTERIOUS
    ISLAND (1961)
    More known as a writer as opposed to a director a couple of
    Wilbur’s Universal pictures that he directed namely THE STORY
    OF MOLLY X and OUTSIDE THE WALL( the latter I believe
    soon to be released on one of Kino’s Noir sets.) are both very
    good. Wilbur (and Foy) seemed to love Prison Flicks-their
    BEHIND THE WALLS OF FOLSOM PRISON inspired a young
    Johnny Cash to write Folsom Prison Blues.
    For years I’ve wanted to see Wilbur & Foy’s WOMEN’S PRISON
    a combination of Sam Katzman/Fred F Sears type exploitation
    flick combined with hard nosed Warner Bros late 30’s early
    40’s Prison drama.,,,WOMEN’S PRISON does not let you down
    on either score.
    One delicious dialog exchange as Jan Sterling and Cleo Moore
    as inmates holding sadistic warden Ida Lupino at knifepoint:

    Cleo:” One squeak out of you and this goes through your diagram”
    Jan: “Diaphragm, Honey”

    How can you resist dialog like that.
    Jack Warner could not have been too peeved when Foy and
    Wilbur jumped ship to make THE MAD MAGICIAN and
    WOMEN’S PRISON for Harry Cohn as Foy later produced
    Warner’s tentpole production of 1963 PT 109.

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    • So glad you brought up Crane Wilbur. He’s one of those people whose name you see fairly often but don’t know much about. He did some really cool movies.

      Women’s Prison is terrific. Ida Lupino is top notch always and I really love Jan Sterling — thanks to Women’s Prison, Rhubarb, Split Second, The Vanquished from Pine-Thomas and High School Confidential. Great stuff.

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  3. john k

    Despite my love for Foy and Wilbur I should also add that
    WOMEN’S PRISON was very capably directed by Warners
    veteran Lewis Seiler possibly best known for the silent
    Tom Mix classic THE GREAT K & A TRAIN ROBBERY.
    Seiler unlike Foy would never return to Warners but stayed
    with Columbia to make several other interesting pictures.
    OVER EXPOSED again with cult actress Cleo Moore is an
    offbeat tale of the rise and fall of a society photographer.
    The initial stages of the film are intriguing and the whole
    thing ends in a blast of violence worthy of Phil Karlson.
    I hope to see more of Ms Moore in the future Kino have
    HOLD BACK TOMORROW coming soon in one of their Noir sets
    which has death row convict John Agar spending his final
    night on earth with hooker Moore….really what more could
    anyone want from a B Movie.
    Seiler’s last Columbia picture, a Bryan Foy production was
    THE STORY OF LYN STUART with THE TIN STAR’s Betsy
    Palmer and Jack Lord….yet another title on the must track
    down list!

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  4. john k

    Sign me up to the Jan Sterling fan club!

    Kino Lorber’s (12th I think) Noir Box Set includes
    William Castle’s terrific UNDERTOW
    Crane Wilbur’s OUTSIDE THE WALL with Richard Basehart
    and Hugo Haas’ HOLD BACK TOMMOROW three winners
    in one set.
    I’d love to see more of Haas’ little epics ONE GIRL’S
    CONFESSION is also very good.

    Toby I’m beginning to think those Mill Creek Horror/Sci Fi
    sets were only a weird dream!

    Like

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