Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Bat Whispers (Roland West) ***

Director: Roland West

Cast: Chester Morris, Una Merkel, Maude Eburne, Richard Tucker, William Bakewell, Wilson Benge

Background: The story was adapted by West from a play by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart. This was a remake of Roland West's 1926 silent film called The Bat. None of the original cast survive to this version, but West does reteam with his Alibi star Chester Morris.

Story: A criminal known as The Bat has been terrorizing police by announcing his intentions before his crimes and still managing to pull them off. His latest task is to go after $500,000 of stolen money from a bank heist that he knows is hidden in a secret room of a country mansion.

Thoughts: Roland West had already made one of the better early talkies with the previous year's Alibi. Once again, he's able to create a strong visual style and include some breathtaking camera tricks, including a breathtaking shot where the camera sweeps in to the house from far out. There are many eerie scenes taking place in almost complete darkness, with only enough light to see shadows of the effectively ominous presence of the Bat. It's a little disappointing then that this film doesn't quite live up to the promising beginning. The third act is the biggest problem, for when we fianlly see the villain in his bat costume, he's not scary at all and actually quite funny. Probably would have been better to never show the costume if they couldn't design a better one than that. Then there is an odd little final monologue that breaks the fourth wall and tries to be too clever. Still a pretty good horror movie, but it had the potential to be much better.

Postscript: This was the second to last film for director Roland West, whose career was hurt by rumors that he murdered his mistress. The villain in this film did inspire comic artist Bob Kane to create Batman (thankfully he changed the costume!).

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