BatcoverGrade: B
Entire family: No
1959, 80 min., Black-and-white
Not rated (would be PG for some violence)
The Film Detective
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

The Bat (1959) is billed as horror-thriller-mystery, but the way those genres have evolved over time it’s now mostly a straight-up mystery, noir style.

Vincent Price stars as a doctor doing bat research and Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) as a mystery writer looking for new material. She finds plenty at an old country estate she’s rented—a quintessential dark-and-stormy-night Victorian mansion that comes with servants . . . at least until they’ve abandoned her because they’re convinced a murderer called The Bat might be returning to the scene of his crimes. A local detective (Gavin Gordon) plods around and a complicating factor is that bank securities were recently stolen and may be stashed somewhere inside that same creepy old house. A lot happens, but the spotlight is on Price and Moorehead, two iconic actors.

The Bat won’t be for everyone, but if your children aren’t averse to old black-and-white movies, this one is family-friendly. The violence is mostly bloodless or mostly off-screen, and the focus is on the mystery.

BatscreenMy son is a teen who appreciates good plotting, and he and I both marveled how a relatively simple concept could be complicated by believable twists and enhanced by cinematography that showcases all the shadows and angles we’ve come to associate with film noir. There are only a few melodramatic moments, with otherwise straight dramatic acting—decent acting, too. Director Crane Wilbur had written the script for the Price horror classic House of Wax, so it’s not surprising that with Price in the starring role he’d slip in a few Gothic elements here too.

Old films like this are often campy, but while The Bat has its unintentionally funny or tongue-in-cheek moments, it really is a mystery that unapologetically goes about it’s business of planting clues and red herrings. There are a few slasher moments, and The Bat’s hat and distorted face and claws will suggest to horror-slasher fans that this film may have had a direct influence on the Freddy Krueger character design from the popular A Nightmare on Elm Street series. That’s kind of cool for film buffs, who might also find it fun that Darla from the original Our Gang/Little Rascals short films turns up as one of the adult female characters. And it’s certainly enjoyable seeing Moorehead in a serious role before she turned into one of TV’s most famous witches.

The Bat is now in the public domain, and while The Film Detective’s restored version looks good, for the most part, there are vertical white lines in spots and other flaws that are obviously a part of whatever print was used for the master. I haven’t seen the DVD version so I can’t offer a comparison, but I have no complaints other than what I just mentioned.

I asked my son what grade he’d give this, and he said a B+ or A-, since he really liked it. That’s almost ironic, because Price went on record as saying he thought the script wasn’t very good. I lean toward a B for this B-movie because mystery fans will recognize a formula and certain other conventions. That’s part of the genre, but the bottom line is always how well were those conventions and plot points integrated and developed? With The Bat, I’d have to say it does a fairly decent job on both counts, and still holds up today. If you grab a copy for a family home movie night, you might as well go all out and for the warm-up also show a “Thriller” video featuring iconic horror actor Price—maybe even dance a bit. Those are the kind of things your kids will remember years from now!

Language: Not much
Sex: n/a
Violence: Several murders, not very bloody or graphic (see trailer)
Adult situations: Nothing besides the murders
Takeaway: Vincent Price was always fun to watch onscreen

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