Cast & Crew
In search of a calm environment conducive to writing, well-known mystery author Cornelia Van Gorder and her companion, Lizzie Allen, relocate to the country town of Zenith for the summer, renting the large vacant home of bank president John Fleming, known as "The Oaks." Upon settling in, however, Lizzie informs Cornelia that the newspapers are full of stories about a local murderer dubbed "The Bat" for his mysterious all-black attire and killing method of slashing the victim's throat. Shortly after arriving, Cornelia and Lizzie visit the Zenith bank, where vice president Victor Bailey expresses surprise that John would rent out The Oaks when he has always refused to do so. Cornelia admits that she leased the house through John's nephew, Mark, an insurance agent. A little later, Victor and his wife Dale take aside a board member, police lieutenant Andy Anderson, to reveal Victor's discovery that the bank is missing over a million dollars. Anderson advises contacting John immediately, but Mark reveals his uncle is hunting with the town physician, Dr. Malcolm Wells, and is unreachable. At a secluded cabin, John surprises Malcolm by admitting that he has embezzled a million dollars from the bank and offers Malcolm half if he helps him stage his own death to throw off the authorities. Malcolm asks John where they will get a body to double for John, and when the banker suggests murdering their guide, the doctor declines. John then threatens to kill Malcolm to prevent him from telling anyone about his crime, but is distracted by the smell of smoke. The men are startled to discover that the surrounding woods are on fire. While John turns to gape at the blaze, Malcolm quickly grabs a shotgun and tells him that he prefers all of the money, then kills the banker. Back at The Oaks a few days later, Cornelia reads of Victor's arrest for the theft at the bank and also of John's reported accidental death in a fire. Lizzie reveals that since John's death, there have been unusual noises throughout the house and all of the staff, except for the chauffer, Warner, have quit. As a storm rises outside, the banging of shutters and creaking in the house make the women anxious. Unknown to them, a man dressed in black lurks outside of the house, but when Lizzie spots the shadowy figure, Cornelia calls the police. The man in black breaks into the house through the library door and hurries to the third floor. The police arrive and, although unable to locate the intruder, confirm it is safe to go to bed. Later, the figure in black sets loose a bat in the women's bedroom and when Lizzie is bitten, Cornelia telephones Malcolm. The doctor arrives and after examining Lizzie and the bat, assures them that the animal is not rabid. Anderson comes to The Oaks shortly thereafter and, noting the break-in evidence, suggests that The Bat was the intruder and promises to assign a guard to watch the house. The next day, Anderson visits Mark to relay his suspicions that despite Victor's arrest, he believes that John was responsible for the bank theft and that he likely transferred the bonds into cash, which he has hidden in Zenith. Mark admits having no knowledge of his uncle's behavior, but reminds Anderson that bank secretary Judy Hollender is scheduled to testify with crucial information on Victor's behalf at the upcoming trial. A few days later, Cornelia invites Dale and Judy to stay at The Oaks for the weekend. The women are waited on by the new cook, Jane Patterson, and Warner, now acting as butler. When the group begins discussing Victor's upcoming trial, Cornelia announces her suspicion that John committed the theft. Wondering if he hid the money in the house, Cornelia telephones Mark to ask if he has floor plans for The Oaks and he offers to come to the house later that evening to search for the plans. That night as the women finish dining, Cornelia reveals her intent to write about The Bat and, unknown to them, Mark slips into the house. He pushes aside a grandfather clock and opens a secret panel where the floor plans are hidden. Before Mark can take the plans to Cornelia, however, he is attacked by The Bat, who has been watching from behind the curtains. When the clock, which has never worked, begins striking the hour, Cornelia and the others come out and, spotting the panel door, open it to find Mark dead. Malcolm, Anderson and the police are summoned and Anderson asks why Warner is absent. Later that night, after the women have retired, The Bat enters through an unlocked door and cuts the phone line before going to the third floor where he begins hammering on a wall. The muffled sound wakens the women and Cornelia discovers the phone line is dead. Despite Judy's entreaties, Dale insists on searching for the source of the sound and goes upstairs. Finding The Bat in the darkened room, Dale rushes at him, but he escapes and kills Judy as he flees down the steps. Attracted by the commotion, Anderson, who has been checking the grounds, rushes back inside and learns from Mrs. Patterson that Warner is not in the house. The butler appears moments later, claiming he was following Anderson until he was knocked out. Malcolm abruptly returns, asserting his car skidded off the road. Later, after Anderson leaves Det. Davenport to guard the house, Cornelia visits the third floor to investigate where The Bat was searching and, discovering a secret room behind the fireplace, accidentally locks herself inside. Meanwhile, The Bat visits Malcolm's laboratory and is surprised by the doctor, who declares he knows his identity. In the ensuing fight, The Bat shoots Malcolm. Alarmed by Cornelia's absence, Lizzie seeks help from Davenport and, spotting a light upstairs, they go to the third floor where Cornelia calls to them from the secret room. Davenport opens the panel, freeing Cornelia, then notices a safe inside the little room. The group then realizes the garage is on fire, but Cornelia declares the fire is a ruse to get them out of the house. They wait and in moments, The Bat returns. After wounding Davenport, The Bat turns on Cornelia and Lizzie, but is shot in the back by Warner. Removing the killer's black stocking mask, the group is stunned to discover The Bat is Anderson.
Robert B. Williams
Edward Morey Jr.
C. J. Tevlin
Roger J. Weinberg
The fourth big-screen adaptation of the venerable old dark house novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Circular Staircase (and later adapted by the author and Avery Hopwood into a stage play), this middle-tier spooker is most fondly remembered for its pairing of two Hollywood scenery-chewers, Price and Moorehead. Price had already established himself as a reliable character actor, usually appearing as vaguely oily rascals with unfulfilled designs on the leading lady. Though Price had demonstrated a flair for both comedy (His Kind of Woman, 1951) and drama (Laura, 1944), the 1950s brought a dramatic career shift which would determine the fate of his entire career. Though he first did top-rung ghoul duty in 1953's House of Wax, it took a third-billed but unforgettable turn in 1958's The Fly to establish Price as a horror icon to a generation of impressionable matinee audiences. Shock-gimmick master William Castle immediately recognized Price's potential as a horror leading man par excellence and, despite Price's fears of typecasting (according to the director's autobiography, Step Right Up! I'm Going to Scare the Pants Off America), they collaborated on House on Haunted Hill (1959, featuring the memorable flying-skeleton gimmick, "Emergo"). Now a household name, Price appeared in an astonishing succession of horror favorites including another teaming with Castle (The Tingler, 1959), numerous Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman, and The Bat (1959), which allowed him to sink his teeth into a juicy thunderstorm-and-lightning chiller with theatricality to spare.
With a career extending back to the earliest days of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre Company, Moorehead never quite attained leading lady status but became a very familiar face due to frequent film and television appearances. Though most knew her for her bravura dramatic work, Moorehead had no hesitation plunging into tongue-in-cheek melodrama like this film (or the later Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, 1964) or even TV sitcoms, as she found enduring fame as sorceress mother-in-law Endora on Bewitched. Other notable cast members include reliable character actor Gavin Gordon (whose career in bit parts dates back to the earliest talkies including 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum), frequent Price co-star Crane Wilbur (The Mad Magician, House of Wax), and the final on-screen appearance for Darla Hood, best known as Darla from The Little Rascals.
Second only to The Cat and the Canary as the most familiar of the twentieth century's "mad animal-like killer on the loose in an old house" yarns, The Bat first made its screen appearance in the sound era as 1930's The Bat Whispers. Shot in a very early experimental scope format, the first adaptation showcased some astonishing camera trickery to compensate for its creaky plot and stock characterizations. However, the 1950s version goes in the opposite direction by emphasizing the source material's antiquity; this is a nostalgia piece from top to bottom, and the cast virtually drips with greasepaint conjuring up the atmosphere of an intimate stage with a killer lurking just beyond the curtain. Such an approach proved mild in a decade filled with an increasing reliance on rampaging aliens and sinister ghouls, but time has been kind to the film; its public domain status (with the inevitable wide number of television and home video appearances) has further cemented its longevity after many of its contemporaries have been long forgotten.
Producer: C.J. Tevlin
Director: Crane Wilbur
Screenplay: Avery Hopwood (novel), Mary Roberts Rinehart (novel), Crane Wilbur
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Film Editing: William Austin
Art Direction: Dave Milton
Music: Louis Forbes
Cast: Vincent Price (Dr. Malcolm Wells), Agnes Moorehead (Cornelia van Gorder), Gavin Gordon (Lt. Andy Anderson), John Sutton (Warner), Lenita Lane (Lizzie Allen), Elaine Edwards (Dale Bailey).
by Nathaniel Thompson
In my report I shall state that death was caused by a stunning blow followed by severe laceration and hemorrhage.- Dr. Malcolm Wells
In plain English, he didn't know what hit him.- Lt. Andy Anderson
Oh he knew, but he didn't have time to think about it.- Dr. Malcolm Wells
An October 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that former RKO studio head C. J. Tevlin purchased the remake rights for The Bat from Mary Pickford, who first produced a film adaptation of the play in 1926. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Benjy Bancroft, Tony Redondo, George Mayon, Kay Garrett, Edward Haskett, Thomas Mullen, Fred Scheiwiller, Juanita Field, Dorothy Heller and Margarita Moyer, but their appearance in the film has not been confirmed.
The 1926 silent version of The Bat was produced by Feature Productions for United Artists, starred Jack Pickford and Emily Fitzroy and was directed by Roland West. Four years later, West directed a 1930 sound version of the film titled The Bat Whispers for UA, starring Chester Morris and Una Merkel. For more information on both of these films, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30.
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States 1959