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.