Movies and Film

A Criminal Known Only as… – The Bat (1959)


With a title like The Bat and the fact that it stars Vincent Price, one would automatically assume that this would be a horror film of some sort, perhaps about vampires or killer bats or what have you. That would be about as far away from the truth as one could get as the movie is actually about a criminal named The Bat, one based upon the book by gothic mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart and a criminal who murders women. Price is used to full effect and starring alongside him is Agnes Moorehead, the leading lady of the piece and the woman around whom much of the film revolves.

The Bat finds Moorehead starring as a mystery writer who needs a little time away in order to do a little writing and it is not long after that a mystery presents itself, as if fate had thought of her specifically. The only problem with said mystery is that she finds herself in the middle of it and the danger that it presents is all too real as there are bodies dropping all around her. She has an idea of who this mysterious Cat person might be and it is the same person that the audience will naturally assume as well, but director Crane Wilbur throws a wrench into the mix and keeps everyone guessing. All would be good if it were not for a hidden treasure kept somewhere in the house that Moorehead’s character Cornelia Van Gorder is renting and that being said, she means to find the money so that perhaps she can bring the Cat to justice and hopefully keep herself and those around her alive.

While one might tend to look at this as a Price-starring vehicle, and in a sense it is, Moorehead shines just as bright, if not brighter than her co-star. She gives a great performance as a strong woman with an iron will, one who is not so much afraid of the criminal known as The Bat, but one who is curious. Finding out who The Bat is and where the hidden loot might be is just what the doctor ordered so to speak, when the mystery of it comes to light. That is not to say that Price just phones it in though as the man is always very dynamic in every role that he takes. Here he might simply be a murderous doctor, one who takes advantage of certain situations when they present themselves, something most people never resort to, but he also assures those around him that he is not the masked marauder they call The Bat, much to the disbelief of all those that reside in the house where the bulk of the film takes place.

While it might not be a horror movie in the strictest sense, there are moments where the house seems to be closing in on the cast, trapped inside with a murderer and nowhere to go. Wilbur and cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc do a great job of keeping things tense and moving during the final act with the identity of The Bat keeping everyone guessing. There is one particular moment that shocks and it stands out as there are few moments that do so. For the most part, the movie manages to grab the viewer’s attention, but it does tend to lag a little during its first couple of acts with the various characters going about their business and little happening until everyone and everything comes together towards the end of the film.  What would have been nice was a little more background on The Bat, perhaps learning as to why he killed various women before this and why it is he does what he does, but it is purposely left out, perhaps to lend an air of mystery around the character itself and to make him seem more menacing for those moments he does appear.

Altogether The Bat is a good film, but it is one that given Price’s appearance, should have used him in a more able manner by playing upon his strengths though he would give an excellent performance. It is a passable time-waster, but not a film though, that will ever be remembered as one of Price’s best, but one where Agnes Moorehead was able to strut her stuff.

3 out of 5

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