The Bat Whispers
the bat whispers | roland west | mary roberts rinehart | avery hopwood | chance ward | richard tucker | wilson benge | based on | play | crime | thriller | drama | mystery | comedy | united states | grayce hampton | maude eburne | spencer charters | chester morris
Film: The Bat Whispers
Director: Roland West
Writer: Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood
Starring: Chance Ward, Richard Tucker and Wilson Benge
This was a film that I never heard of until I decided for my podcast to move from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. Interesting fact is that this is the only horror film from the year that I could find as well. It does seem there are others, but they’re lost, no copy to purchase and not streaming online anywhere. Regardless, I did give this a watch. The synopsis is a master criminal terrorizes the occupants of an isolated country mansion.
What I want to lead off here stating is that this movie really did feel like a stage play, so seeing that is where this is based. I’m not surprised in the least bit. The movie starts us outside of a building where Mr. Bell (Richard Tucker) lives. He has a bunch of police officers outside as he received a note that a thief and murderer, The Bat, is going to steal a necklace from him without being caught. Mr. Bell scoffs, but we see The Bat is outside of his window. He does what exactly he says, with Mr. Bell bringing the item to the window. His butler knocks on the door and with no answer they come in to see that aftermath. The Bat left a card stating that he is going to the country.
The movie then shows us a bank robbery that happens from a skylight. The person is fleeing from another in his car and both vehicles end up at Fleming’s Estate. He is supposed to be in Europe with Miss Cornelia van Gorder (Grayce Hampton) occupying the mansion at this time. She has a maid who is high strung in Lizzie Allen (Maude Eburne). They hear something outside and it spooks Lizzie. Both people get in through a window in the basement and one of them goes up the laundry chute with a ladder. Lizzie thinks the place is haunted and is worried about the news of The Bat. Miss Cornelia is more level headed.
The robbery brings great a many people here including Miss Cornelia’s niece Dale (Una Merkel). She is trying to get her fiancé Brook (William Bakewell) a job as a gardener, even though he doesn’t know anything about plants. They both think the stolen money is in the house so they’re trying to find it to clear his name. Dr. Venrees (Gustav von Seyffertitz) shows up mysteriously along with Detective Anderson (Chester Morris). The detective is there trying to follow the stolen money. More people arrive here, complicating the situation even more and it makes you wonder, who stole the money and who is The Bat?
Now the first thing that I noticed about this movie on was that this is a ‘Talkie’ and now officially out of the silent film era for my journey through the aughts. On top of that, the movie does some interesting camera angles in that we start on a large clock tower before moving down to the road. This is still early cinema, so a couple different times they’re using toys and models, but we would see that for the next few decades, so not a problem there. This is also staged like a play, so I wasn’t shocked as I said to see this is based off one. It felt like The Cat and the Canary, so again, not surprised. I would say that the cinematography was good with how they hide things in the shadows as well.
What I wasn’t expecting is how violent this movie is. We don’t really get to see the violence on screen, but that’s not a big deal for me. I did have a slight problem though is I wasn’t sure if characters were killed or not. It didn’t surprise me though, as the Hays Code was adopted in 1930 in the United States, but not enforced until 1934. We do still get a bit of what they would push though at the end.
This movie did have an interesting mystery for sure. The character of The Bat was intriguing to me. You don’t get a lot of cat burglars who also kill people, but we do here. This character also speaks in whisper, which I think is two fold. It goes with the title, but we learn it is one of the characters in the movie so it is done to hide the voice. As I was saying about the mystery though, I like that we introduce all of these characters with a different motives. The Caretaker (Spencer Charters) is just odd, Brook was the teller at the bank and along with Dale, they claim they want to give the money back, but does he really? Dr. Venrees is just creepy, it is auspicious that Detective Anderson shows up as well as the nephew of the man who owns the estate, Richard Fleming (Hugh Huntley). I’m not going to lie, I had no idea who The Bat was and much like giallo films, I do want to rewatch this now that I know to see if I can piece together how this night happened.
I will admit, I did have a slight issue getting into this movie. They do introduce all of the characters, but a few of them look alike to me so I had trouble picking out who was who. I’m glad this wasn’t difficult to see like many of the silent films I had been watching, as that would make it nearly impossible. I like the setting though, as this house has secret rooms which always tickle me if I’m going to be honest. Despite this though, I did settle in and enjoyed how smart The Bat is and the ending of the movie. I did find it interesting this is the first of its kind that at end, it implored the audience to not give away the secret or The Bat would get them.
Taking this to the acting of the movie, I thought they were fine. My favorite would have to be Hampton, the woman renting this big house. She plays with an Ouija board, doesn’t put up with nonsense and won’t be scared out of her house. I love this film being 90 years old at the time of watching is such a strong character. Eburne is that annoying, scaredey-cat comic relief character, but she played this role well. Charters is different from Lizzie, but plays much in the same way and he was fine. Merkel, Bakewell, Seyffertitz, Morris and the rest of the cast really help to build this mystery that had me guessing all the way through.
Now with that said, I wasn’t the biggest fan right after watching this, but haven’t sat and thought about it, it is better than I realize. It really does feel like a play on a grander stage. The mystery did hook me in and I thought the acting really helps to develop most of these characters. I did have some slight issues figuring out who was who at different times, but not enough to ruin things. Even though we don’t see really any of the deaths as they happen off-screen, I was pretty surprised how violent this movie is. The soundtrack didn’t stand out, but it also didn’t hurt the film either. I would say that this is an above average movie and one that I will seek out again. I will warn you again. This is from 1930 so it is in black and white. If that is an issue, I would avoid this.
My Rating: 7 out of 10