This month, let me tell you about the most underrated public domain Vincent Price film, The Bat. The Bat is a mystery with horror elements, and is based on a play that apparently terrified Vincent Price as a child, which makes me wish I could see that play. This is the third and last adaptation of this play, and the only adaptation I have seen. The film stars Agnes Moorehead (best remembered as Endora from Bewitched) as Cornelia van Gorder, and Vincent Price as Dr. Malcolm Wells.
The story follows Cornelia Van Gorder, a famous mystery writer who has rented an old house for the season; and her maid, Lizzie Allen, played by Lenita Lane. Unbeknownst to them, the bank president, who owns the house, has embezzled a million dollars and has hidden the fortune in the house, and a masked figure will do anything to get it.
The horror elements of this film come from the creepy old house and the mysterious Bat. Unfortunately, the worst part of the film is the mystery. The Bat, as the villain, is effective, but the moment you find out the Bat is Lt. Andy, the story falls apart as it makes very little sense. Either of the other two suspects made more sense. They spent too much time trying to misdirect you into thinking Dr. Wells was the killer, and it would have been disappointing if he was The Bat. They do try to wrap it up and make sense of it, but it doesn’t really work. What really works (and I think the big reason I love this film) is Agnes Moorehead, whom I already love. She is unlike almost any of the other female characters I knew from 1950s and 1960s horror movies. It’s fair to say that the women in this film, especially Ms. Van Gorder, are not what you are used to in most movies of this era. The women may get scared, but they do not let the fear define them; they don’t need the men to protect them for the most part. In fact, except for the police and Dr. Wells, they don’t turn to any men for help. Most of the film follows Ms. Van Gorder, Lizzie, and, later in the film, their two female houseguests. It’s Ms. Van Gorder that finds the secret room and then has to be rescued by Lizzie. In a rather good scene she orders the cop around, because she knows what needs to be done and has no time for him.
These women were intelligent and, compared to the other woman of that era, pretty fearless. Though they did have moments of fear like when The Bat first broke into the house, Ms. Van Gorder quickly showed her strength. While the cops are shown as the usual movie ineffective force, Ms. Van Gorder is able to piece together the clues to not only find the hidden fortune, but also who actually stole it and discover who The Bat really is.
I am always surprised at how few people know about The Bat. I have noticed that many horror hosts don’t even show it on their own programs, which is a shame. It is a good movie (well, at least it has really fun characters). It is not the high point of anyone’s career, but it is still a very enjoyable movie with a stellar cast. So please, check it out! As it is a public domain film, it can be found almost everywhere, including YouTube.