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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Devil Bat (1940)

I reviewed this movie a couple of years ago on Facebook, and gave it a two star (out of five) rating.  Revisiting this film again for this review, I feel I was a little harsh- and found more to enjoy about it.
The members of the wealthy Heath and Morton families are being killed.  The only clues are bite and claw marks... and a strange scent.  Henry Laden- a reporter, and his photographer "One Shot" McGuire must figure this case out before "The Devil Bat" claims another victim...

"The Devil Bat" is a horror/comedy produced by Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC)- which was considered to be part of the "poverty row studios" of the time.  PRC was well known for quickly filmed movies that cost little, and had plenty of humour.  This movie was actually their first venture into the horror genre.

Even though it's classified as a horror/comedy, the comedy isn't as overwhelming as in others- such as the rather disappointing, "The Gorilla" (1939)- which also featured Bela Lugosi.  It's also limited to just a couple of characters, and is sprinkled lightly through the film... rather than being a constant, in your face factor.  Dave O'Brien is great as Donald Kerr's straight man, and I quite enjoyed their back and forth banter.  Unlike The Ritz Brothers in the aforementioned "The Gorilla", these two are charming and likeable characters.

The other actors had pretty small roles, but still worth mentioning a few things about their acting.  Suzanne Kaaren as Mary Heath was beautiful- but I found it hard to like her.  Maybe it was the fact that her character had a touch of superiority that turned me off.  I felt the same dislike for Alan Baldwin's character, Tommy Heath.  In fact, I was glad when his character was killed.  I will say that I enjoyed Arthur Q. Bryan's humorous performance as the grouchy newspaper editor Joe McGinty.  His scenes with both O'Brien and Kerr made me smile and even chuckle.

Along with the comedic pairing of O'Brien and Kerr, Bela Lugosi was a joy to watch.  He exudes anger and menace beautifully as the vengeful Dr. Paul Carruthers.  And even though he's dedicated to getting revenge, you can still hear regret in his voice as he bids his victims, "Good-bye".  All around, an excellent performance by one of the masters of horror.

I mentioned in my review of 'The Vampire Bat" (1933), that I don't like bats.  That, in fact, I have a hard time watching them in movies, etc.  I couldn't help but shudder a bit when close-up shots of a real bat were shown mixed in with wider shots of the large, fake bat.  Beyond the close-ups, I didn't have a problem with the bat in this movie- possibly because I could tell that it was pretty much made of rubber and fur.  In fact, the Devil Bat itself is kinda silly as it flies across the screen... and hovers at a window.  Mind you, fans of b-movie monsters will probably get a kick out of it (I know I did).

There is some decent- if simple, camera work in this film.  Basically stationary camera shots, with maybe a couple of tracking shots.  Regardless of its simplicity, the angles and framing is very effective at moving the story along.  Similar to how "The Ape" (1940) used super-imposed  action images to announce the arrival of a circus in town, "The Devil Bat" effectively uses the same technique for when it displays newspaper headlines about the killings.

One thing I liked was the use of a voice over to express the thoughts of Dr. Carruthers.  It broke up the general practice of either displaying a journal page, or the character talking to himself.  It was definately a nice touch in my opinion.

Fans of Bela Lugosi will enjoy this film- as I did.  I'm going to give this firm place near the top of "The Bad".

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