Halloween is just a matter of days away and just in time for the big day, independent movie distribution company The Film Detective will re-issue Universal Studios’ 1959 movie The Bat on DVD and Blu-ray. The cult classic has been panned by audiences and critics alike, getting a 20% score from Rotten Tomatoes. Even Vincent Price (who played more of a supporting part in the movie than lead) allegedly said he was ultimately disappointed with the movie in hindsight. All of this aside, it is still a work that its established audiences will find just as appealing in its latest presentation as in its theatrical premiere. That is due in part to the movie’s central story, which will be discussed shortly. The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its latest re-issue is far from perfect but does add at least a little something to the presentation. The audio and video in this latest presentation is also of note and will also be discussed later. When it is considered alongside the other elements noted here, the whole makes The Film Detective’s forthcoming re-issue of The Bat a welcome addition to this year’s field of new DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.
The Film Detective’s upcoming re-issue of The Bat is a mostly successful offering from the classic cinema distribution company. The movie’s success comes in part through its central story. The story is simple: $1 million that was embezzled by a bank president is hidden in a house that has been rented by author Cornelia Van Gorder (Agnes Moorehead – Bewitched, Charlotte’s Web, Citizen Kane). Van Gorder and a group of others are in the house and are well aware of the money, searching for it during their stay. There’s just one problem, the infamous killer known as “The Bat” is also looking for the money, and will stop at nothing, including murder, to get the money first. While Moorehead is the lead here, the movie continues to be marketed, oddly, more on the back of Vincent Price (The House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax, The Great Mouse Detective). That is of note because for all intents and purposes, Price’s character of Dr. Malcolm Wells is in fact more of a supporting character here than a lead. Not to give it away for those who have yet to see the movie, but he is more or less a red herring and not the star, showing up at only certain points in the story. The Bat’s identity is eventually revealed in the story’s finale, but only after Dr. Wells ends up being killed by The Bat. Sorry, folks, that had to be revealed. The money is also found after The Bat is also killed. Who finally ended The Bat’s reign of terror (so to speak) and how will be left for audiences to figure out for themselves. There are some very real plot holes and other problems with the acting throughout the movie, but otherwise, they can be overlooked when looking at the bigger picture of the movie’s story. To that end, the story here is reason enough for audiences to take in this movie.
While the story at the center of The Bat gives audiences reason enough to makethe movie worth watching, the bonus content that accompanies the movie in its latest iteration makes for at least a little bit more reason to take in the movie. The most notable of the bonuses featured with the movie’s new re-issue is the essay composed by professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney. Ney’s essay is presented in a booklet that comes with the package. He notes in his essay, the roots of The Bat, pointing at that it was author Mary Roberts Rinehart’s debut novel, The Circular Staircase, that paved the way for what would become the stage presentation of The Bat. That presentation, which apparently Price greatly enjoyed as a child, went on to be made into a movie three times over, the final time with Price as one of its stars. He also points out the very deliberate choice by Rinehart and those involved in The Bat’s creation. From there Ney furthers the discussion, pointing out how Moorehead’s character of Van Gorder intentionally takes it on herself to try to solve the mystery of The Bat’s identity and the location of the stolen money. It really is a reflection of changing roles of women in society and again, Ney addresses this, too. It could be a starting point on so many discussions on feminism and its role in society and in cinema. As if all of this background is not enough, Ney also offers audiences a background on Rinehart’s very motivation for becoming an author. Not to give everything away, but it has to do with her family’s own standing. Interestingly, according to Ney, Rinehart remains one of the lesser-known figures in the literary world today, despite the maintained popularity of The Bat to this day. This and so much other background information and history that Ney provides in his essay makes for plenty of engaging reading material, and in turn really the most notable of the re-issue’s bonus content.
Ney also provides a feature-length audio commentary throughout the movie. The problem though, is that he clearly reads from a script throughout the course of his discussion. That is clear through his pacing and general delivery. He is not sitting there watching the movie at the same time as audiences. It detracts from the viewing experience and leaves one feeling like he only did the commentary to get paid, rather than out of love for the movie. It all just feels too scripted and fluid rather than organic. To that end, it really does detract from the movie’s presentation. Thankfully, the negative impact that the commentary leaves is not enough to doom the presentation.
The career retrospective of Crane Wilbur, who wrote the screenplay for The Bat also adds little if anything to the viewing experience and appreciation for the movie. That is because of how fast it moves. It just goes from one movie to the next on which he worked, so rapidly that it makes it difficult to follow even for those who fully engage themselves in the brief presentation.
On the positive side of things, the bonus radio broadcasts, which feature Price, of other programs make for their own enjoyment. They are not connected in the least to The Bat but are still fun to hear. They take audiences back to another time and give audiences more of a profile of Price’s work. Keeping that in mind, this and Ney’s essay do just enough to make the bonus content its own positive overall.
Knowing that the bonus content featured in The Bat’s new re-issue is neither entirely good nor bad, there is one more complete positive to note. That positive is the movie’s overall production. The audio and video presented here is so clear, even more than 60 years after the movie made its theatrical debut. It is unknown if any work was done to remaster the footage for its presentation here, but regardless, the overall presentation looks and sounds so good. That alone more than wakes for reason to take in the movie, especially among its established audiences. When this and the story are taken into account with the re-issue’s more notable bonus content, the whole makes The Bat’s new re-issue all the more engaging and entertaining.
The Film Detective’s forthcoming re-issue of Universal’s The Bat is a mostly successful presentation that classic film buffs will find enjoyable. That is due in part to its story, which is a simple soft-boiled crime tale. The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its new re-issue makes for its own appeal, at least to a point. The movie’s production rounds out its most important elements. That is because of the high quality of the sound and video. Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the movie in its new presentation. All things considered they make The Bat a welcome addition to this year’s field of new DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.
The Film Detective’s forthcoming re-issue of The Bat is scheduled for release Oct. 25 on DVD and Blu-ray. More information on this and other titles from The Film Detective is available at: