A heinous burglar known as “The Bat” terrorizes the city with a series of daring crimes. The criminal’s latest misdeed, a bank heist, leaves the police baffled. In a nearby town, a wealthy lady rents a mansion where her guests start showing up dead. Is “The Bat” responsible for these people’s deaths too?
Reaction & Thoughts:
This early talkie, an adaptation of the Broadway play The Bat, written by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood, is a fine example of the dark-house-horror genre, a type of movie that was very popular in the ’20s and ’30s. It’s creaky in places, but the film introduces a series of technical innovations that are still eye-catching.
Firstly, in order to fairly asses the merits of The Bat Whispers, you have to consider its historical context. Filmmakers were just starting to get the hang of sound. Camera movement was dictated by the unsophisticated sound hardware. It’s under these primitive conditions that director Roland West (The Monster and Alibi) managed to create a visually stylish movie.
The Bat Whispers was shot in the then unknown widescreen format — they called it “Magnifilm” — and you can clearly see director West having fun experimenting with the larger 2:1 frame. The film is full of out-of-the-ordinary camera angles. There are many overhead shots and other playful camera set ups that are totally at odds with the shooting style of the Pre-Code era — it all feels very avant-garde.
Finally, the film unexpectedly breaks the fourth wall. Actor Chester Morris steps out of the movie and addresses the audience. Morris instructs viewers not to reveal the identity of “The Bat.” I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is a first for an American movie.
Unfortunately, the actor’s crude acting style gives away the film’s age. There is a lot of screaming and over-emoting. Morris (The Big House), the star of the film, is working on all cylinders. The rest of the cast is no better. The only actor who manages to tone it down a bit is Una Merkel (Destry Rides Again), who would later become one of the most delightful character actors of Hollywood’s Golden Era.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Bat Whispers allegedly inspired artist Bob Kane to create a little known cape crusader named Bruce Wayne. I was thinking that “The Bat” also has a touch of “The Joker” — the killer has a creepy, maniacal laughter. For these reasons alone, this is an interesting movie. Remade in 1959. B&W, 83 minutes, Not Rated.