Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween Guilty Pleasure: The Bat (1959)

Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead
A few months ago I saw The Bat for the first time. My husband David was surprised that I had never seen this movie since it stars are two of my favorite actors Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price. Recently, my husband found the film in a compilation set along with the 1926 version for FIVE DOLLARS! We watched both  versions and thoroughly enjoyed them. In addition, the quality of the DVD was great. Both copies of The Bat were very clean. I decided I would write about the 1959 film as it is the Halloween season.


Cornelia (Agnes Moorehead) & Lizzie (Lenita Lane)
 The Bat starts off by introducing us to mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead). Cornelia is leasing a country estate called "The Oaks." She has brought her longtime housekeeper Lizzie (Lenita Lane) and her chauffeur Warner (John Sutton). However, she needs more staff for the mansion and Lizzie informs her that the locals do not want to work at "The Oaks." Cornelia is puzzled since she is willing to pay well. However, it is not pay that's the issue. Apparently, there were murders committed at the mansion during the winter by a criminal known as "The Bat." This murderer killed his victims viciously by ripping out their throats. In addition, the locals believe this master criminal is still on the loose and releasing rabid bats into the community. Cornelia is not scared and determined to stay at "The Oaks" and find additional staff.

"The Bat"

Cornelia and Lizzie go into the city to do some errands. The women stop at Zenith City Bank. While speaking with bank vice president and head cashier Victor Bailey (Michael Steele), Cornelia mentions she has rented "The Oaks." Bailey is shocked because the estate's owner is his boss, Zenith Bank President John Fleming (Harvey Stephens). Fleming said he would never lease or rent "The Oaks" again. Cornelia tells Bailey that the house was leased to her by his nephew Mark Fleming (John Bryant) who never mentioned it. Once again, Cornelia expresses that she is not afraid to be at "The Oaks."

Cornelia & Lizzie head to the bank

While at the bank, Cornelia chats with Bailey's wife Dale (Elaine Edwards) and Lt. "Andy" Anderson (Gavin Gordon). Anderson is at the bank in his capacity as a member of the Zenith Bank's Board of Directors. During Van Gorder's visit to the bank, a shocking discovery is made. One million dollars in bonds and negotiable securities is missing. Since only Fleming and Bailey have access to the vault where the bonds and securities are kept, one of the two must be guilty of embezzlement. Fleming is on vacation and since the head cashier goes into the vault often, it is assumed Bailey is the guilty party. Therefore, Mark Bailey is arrested and charged with the crime.

Meanwhile, John Fleming is on vacation at a remote hunting lodge with friend Dr. Malcolm Wells (Vincent Price). Fleming confesses to Wells that the purpose of the trip was to fake his own death. Fleming tells Wells that he has embezzled one dollars in negotiable securities from the bank. Fleming also reveals that he has converted it to small bills and hidden it. Wells is shocked when Fleming tells him that he plans to murder their hunting guide and disfigure the body. Fleming then expects Dr. Wells will identify and certify the body as John Fleming. Fleming will split the money with Wells as payment for his help. However, Wells has no intention of cooperating. Wells knew about the embezzlement already. Apparently, Fleming confessed during an illness where he had a high fever and was delusional. Now, Dr. Wells realizes the confession was true. Fleming pulls a shotgun on Wells and threatens to kill the doctor if he does not cooperate. In a twist of fate, a forest fire has broken out and distracts Fleming. Wells then shots Fleming and decides to certify it as a hunting accident.


John Fleming(Harvey Stephens) & Dr. Wells (Vincent Price)
When the death of John Fleming is announced in the papers, Lizzie tells Cornelia they'll never find help now locals are completely convinced that "The Oaks" is cursed. Cornelia still plans to stay at the estate. It's obvious that her mystery writer persona is intrigued by all the happenings. That evening "The Bat" breaks into "The Oaks." Cornelia and Lizzie barricade themselves in the master bedroom while the police are contacted. The police can't find anyone in the house or on the grounds. The police do agree to watch the premises. While the police are outside, "The Bat" is inside. He releases a real bat into the master bedroom through the transom. The real bat bites Lizzie. Cornelia calls Dr. Wells to treat Lizzie. He agrees and arrives at mansion.


It just so happens Dr. Wells conducts experiments with bats. Therefore, he captures the real bat quite easily. In addition, he treats Lizzie's arm and promises to test the bat for rabies. Wells is confident that the bat is health but will test it anyway. While Dr. Wells is at "The Oaks," Lt. Anderson is searching Dr. Wells' house/laboratory. Obviously, the police detective is suspicious of the good doctor. When Anderson sees that the doctor is obsessed with bats, it only confirms his suspicions that Wells may be "The Bat."  He then heads over to "The Oaks" to check on the situation. Anderson shows Cornelia how "The Bat" cut a hole in the glass of the front door to gain entry. Anderson also assures her, in front of Dr. Wells, that the police will remain on duty for the rest of the night.



Lt. Anderson (Gavin Gordon)
 Several weeks pass by and things have settled down. Cornelia has managed to hire John Fleming's cook Mrs. Patterson (Riza Royce) to help out at "The Oaks." In addition, Warner is now butler in addition to chauffeur. Cornelia's attention is now focused on proving Mark Bailey did not steal the million dollars from the bank. Bailey's attorney has a witness who may point to Bailey's innocence, bank secretary Judy Hollister (Darla Hood). Cornelia believes John Fleming was the true embezzler and wonders if perhaps the money might be hidden at "The Oaks." Cornelia invites Dale Bailey and Judy Hollister to stay at "The Oaks" and shares her theory with them. Cornelia wishes they could find blueprints of the mansion to see if any secret rooms exist. Dale believes Mark Fleming might have the blueprints so she asks him to come over to "The Oaks" that evening.
Cornelia and Judy (Darla Hood)
 
The request convinces Mark that Uncle John probably did steal the million dollars. He wants the money for himself. Mark decides to sneak into the mansion while the women are dining. Mark finds a secret compartment behind a grandfather clock in the living room. But Mark is not alone, "The Bat" is also in the house and kills Mark. Cornelia, Dale, Lizzie, and Judy hear the grandfather strike while in the dining room. However, the clock has not worked since Cornelia leased the house. They go to investigate and notice the clock has been moved. The women move the clock to discover the secret room. They also discover Mark's dead body!
 
Mark Fleming(John Bryant)
 Anderson and Dr. Wells are called to the scene of the crime. Wells confirms that Mark's throat has been clawed just like the other victims of  "The Bat." Lt. Anderson decides to check the premises and stay for the night since it is Warner's night. The women will pair up and barricade themselves in their bedrooms. What will happen next?  Is the money really hidden at "The Oaks"? And who is "The Bat"? All theses questions can be answered by watching the film.


Lt. Anderson, Dr. Wells, and Cornelia standing over the body of Mark Fleming
 I really liked this movie. Agnes Moorehead gives a great performance as the spunky mystery writer. Moorehead had a way of elevating the material she was given. This film is a good example of how Moorehead could make a potentially very campy movie, a decent little thriller. Vincent Price also does an excellent job playing Dr. Wells ambiguously -- is he or isn't he "The Bat"? The movie is also a chance to see Darla Hood, famously known as Alfalfa's girlfriend in the Our Gang comedies, as a grown up. The plot has some nice twists, so give it a chance -- I think you'll enjoy it!

2 comments:

  1. Excellent article once again honey !
    Keep em coming !

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  2. Gilby, I have not yet seen this movie. I will add it to my Halloween "must see list".

    ReplyDelete