The Bat, a master criminal who dares the police to catch him, has been terrifying the city. A bank is robbed, and the home of the bank president becomes the center of mysterious happenings. Amidst thrills, chills and laugh... more »s, the stolen money is discovered, and the Bat's secret identity is revealed!« less
"Take a trip to yesteryear with me and enjoy a thrilling ride from a time when sound was just making its' way onto the silver screen, adding a whole new dimension to the entertainment we now take for granted. In this remake of his 1926 silent film The Bat, director Roland West gives his characters voices in The Bat Whispers (1930), which is based on a novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Not having seen the silent original version, I am unable to provide a comparison of the two films, but I found much to like in this 'talkie' version.
The movie opens on a lovely miniature of Gotham at night, with a lush matte paining backdrop. A slow pan down a large building leads us to policemen waiting outside the front of the building, and then we move inside through a lighted window. The cinematography is quite exquisite here, worth watching more than once. Inside the room is a man reading a letter, one written by The Bat, a criminal who claims he will steal a valuable necklace at 12 midnight, and dares the man to be alone in the room. With police just outside the door and surrounding the building, The Bat manages to pull off an impossible caper in a unique and interesting way. Soon we cut to a darkened bank, and someone opening the large safe, and making a hasty departure. The fellow is followed to a large house, one occupied by an older woman, her maid, and a creepy caretaker. The man who robbed the bank makes his way into the house, and is soon followed by a great number of characters.
First of all, let me just say this is one of the crazier plots in a movie I've seen in while. Throughout the entire first half of the film, there were characters coming and going in the great, spooky house with secret passages, moving paintings, hidden rooms, and lights that fail almost on cue. Some characters had formal introductions, some didn't, and confusion ran rampant. It was like every five minutes or so, I found myself asking, "Now who the heck is that?" Eventually everyone is made known, some not until the end of the film, as the plot threads untangle themselves. This is basically a crime/mystery/thriller with a dash of horror (the house is supposed to be haunted) and touches of comedy. You see, there is a large amount of money hidden in the house, and various characters are trying to locate it, each for reasons of their own. Not only that, but throw in a police detective, a private detective, a suspicious gardener, a man with amnesia, and arch criminal The Bat, and you've got quite the stew. The red herrings certainly do begin to fly fast and furious as the plot barrels along to its' final act, to which I was highly satisfied as all was finally revealed. In a nice touch, after the story ends, the film doesn't, as the audience is asked not to reveal the identity of The Bat, first as a plea, and then as an ominous warning, that if you do spill the beans to your friends, The Bat will haunt you up good. While the acting in the film may never win anyone awards and such, it does fit with the characters and the story. The under lit sets are wonderful, along with the cinematography, adding the moody atmosphere, playing with the light and darkness to create spooky shadows that serve well to send a chilling tingle up your spine. And throw in the occasional thunder and flash of lighting and you've got all the makings of a suitably hair-raising thriller from an age long ago.
Available here are two versions of the film, one in the standard full screen 35 mm print, and another in a 65 mm `Magnifilm' format, providing a rare wide screen presentation of a pre-1950's film. The wide screen format we are used to seeing nowadays wasn't really utilized throughout until the early to mid 1950's. Both versions look really great, despite the fact that the film is 70 plus years old, and do suffer speckling and slight deterioration due to age. The sound is a bit soft, but, again, given the age, one has to be somewhat generous in not being overly critical. Along with basically two versions of the film, also included is extensive liner notes on the fold out cardboard cover of the DVD case. The product information page here lists deleted scenes and alternative endings also available, but I didn't see those features. Could be that I missed them, but the menu options on the disc are limited to choice of which format you want to watch and chapter stops. I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone, but if you like old films and have the patience to hang in there, you will be rewarded at the end.
Masterpiece of Mirth
Gary F. Taylor | 10/15/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
"When I grabbed this video from the shelves of Virgin Megastore on Broadway, I raced home to watch it in a darkened room. It was even storming outside. I have been reading about this mythical, lost movie for decades. At last. It starts off with magnificent scenes of a fantastic Manhattan in l930: the tolling of a bell, an incredible aerial view, then an equally incredible descending shot to a street with pedestrians, traffic. But after that--good God! A hideous cast. Una Merkle makes your skin crawl with that high, cracking voice, Chester Morris over-acting all over the place. So many people coming in and out of nowhere, you lose count of whose supposed to be who. But one great plus: the first shots of "The Bat" are really terrifying. You see his distorted shadows, then see his dark image gliding through the darkness, with one twisted foot dragging behind him. This is mostly of interest to those who are addicted to lost treasures of the early talkies. Beautifully restored, shown in rare 65 mmm (and this in 1930!)when the Bat is finally unmasked, any macabre magic vanishes. He's just another old human being like you and me. Still, this is definitely worth a look at--just to see what was coming out of movie studios just a year or two after movies found their "voice." In this one, you wish they hadn't."
Technically and Historically Fascinating, But Unlikely To Ap
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 06/25/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"THE BAT WHISPERS has a convoluted history more interesting than the film itself. Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1957) created this tale of a master criminal skulking around a creepy country mansion as the 1907 novel THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE. Critics were not impressed, but the public loved it--and in 1917 Rinehart joined forces with playwright Avery Hopwood to adapt it to the stage. Retitled THE BAT, in 1920 it took Broadway by storm with its mixture of crazy characters, corny situations, and spooky atmosphere, and in 1926 film director Roland West brought the play to the screen. Once again it proved a great success; not only was the film an audience favorite, it was critically well-regarded too.
It was also made just as sound began to roar. In 1930 West decided to remake the film as a "talkie." He also decided to add a few innovative bells and whistles in a visual sense as well. Many directors of early sound films had enough to do in coping with sound technology--and so they tended to lock the camera down, a circumstance that gave most Hollywood films made between about 1929 and 1933 a visually static quality. Not so West: THE BAT WHISPERS would be noted for a remarkably fluid camera that made the most of detailed minitures and lavish sets. But more than this, THE BAT WHISPERS would truly stun audiences of the day via a widescreen format.
Widescreen format? In 1930? Surprising, yes, but true. Directors had tinkered with widescreen formats since the silent era, with French director Able Gance's 1927 masterpiece NAPOLEON a case in point--but although interesting, the results were hit and miss. With THE BAT WHISPERS, cinematographer Robert H. Planck nailed it flawlessly. He also left something of a puzzle: film historians are still not entirely sure how he brought it off. Most records seem to indicate that Planck actually shot the film on 35 mm, and then somehow managed to paste, cut, process, and reprint the original footage onto 70 mm. Regardless of how it was done, the result is astonishing, and every one who saw the film was amazed.
Unfortunately, those who saw it were few and far between. Theatre owners were still recovering from the expense of buying audio systems and they were not in a mood to pay for an expensive new screen and projection system as well. When the film went into general release, it went in standard ratio filmed by cinematographer Ray June. Again, it is hard to say exactly how this was done, but looking at both versions it would seem that June took a fair amount of Planck's footage, cropped it, and then re-shot most key scenes directly onto 35 milimeter stock.
We now come to something of a paradox. Planck's widescreen version is both visually beautiful and innovative--but Planck and director West were pretty much working without any precedent and they weren't quite sure of what do with the effect once they had it. Virtually everything is done in long shot, and when the camera isn't in motion THE BAT WHISPERS feels dry as dust and twice as slow. The June version, however, makes solid use of close-ups and medium shots, and while it sometimes feels a bit jumpy it has a better flow and a significantly better pace. Ironically, the June version is actually the more watchable of the two.
But I use the word "watchable" in a comparative sense here. The style of acting that worked so well for silent film proved horrifically awkward in sound film, and directors and actors struggled for several years to find a new acting technique. Both versions of THE BAT WHISPERS find the cast struggling in the gulf between old and new. The Planck version tends to highlight the difficulties involved; the June version softens them--but whether it be Planck or June, the performances are chiefly notable for their awkward quality.
The plot is also antiquated. Part of the charm of the novel, the 1920 play, and the 1926 film was the use of already old-fashioned plot ideas that had not yet worn out their welcome--but by 1930 the whole thing was wearing very thin, and it emerges here as overworked and lacking the necessary light touch. Every thing about the story had become very cliched, and two years later director James Whale would wickedly spoof the entire genre with a film aptly titled THE OLD DARK HOUSE. Although the Rinehart story received one more major turn before the cameras in 1959 with Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, the type of plot involved is now more often done tongue-in-cheek, with such films as MURDER BY DEATH and CLUE cases in point.
So what, exactly, is the value of THE BAT WHISPERS for a modern, casual viewer? The answer, rather sadly, is "not much." Hardcore fans of early 1930s film will likely enjoy the film, and film students interested in the history of cinematography cannot afford to miss it--but few others will be able to see beyond the awkward acting styles and now-absurd plot to experience the charm this film--in both widescreen and standard versions--had in 1930.
In terms of picture, the standard ratio version has the occasional blip and blemish but has weathered very well. Although it has been restored, artifacts abound in the widescreen version; even so, the picture is very clean and they do not significantly detract from the film. Sound quality is a problem in both versions, less so in the standard ratio version, more so in the widescreen version. To some extent, this may be due to the recording technology of the era (actors tend to become fainter as they move away from the center of the sets), but it seems safe to say that the entire sound balance is off on this DVD release. You'll have to turn up the volume all the way to hear it--and where the widescreen version is concerned you'll also have to sit by the speakers.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer"
tvrepairman | USA | 07/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Everyone else has said it all. So here is my 2 cents worth. Get the movie if you like 30's films and in particular old house and mystery films. The video quality is very good but i agree, the sound is a little low but hey, its great to have it. Now, this got me thinking, I like Chester Morris and wish i could find some Boston Blackie movies."
A Great Remake
James Middleton | Battle Creek, MI USA | 12/29/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Having been overwhelmed by Roland West's direction in the silent film "The Bat," I was equally astonished at how easily he took to the sound medium for the talkie remake. Most films of 1930 are immobile; here, the camera cranes, spins, and dances between miniature sets, elaborate mattes, and beautifully lit stages. The final scene must have been incredibly effective when shown in theatres."