Directed by Roland West [Other horror films: The Monster (1925), The Bat (1926)]
One of the earliest-surviving full-talkie horror movies (assuming one doesn’t count 1929’s The Thirteenth Chair, or another oddball choice), The Bat Whispers stands up incredibly well, and ends up being a very enjoyable entry into the old dark house style of movie (despite being a remake of the 1926 silent The Bat, directed also by Roland West, as this film was).
First off, I have to talk about something I generally don’t, being the cinematography. There are some simply amazing shots and sequences throughout the movie. Just watch the first five minutes, and you’ll see what I mean. These pop up multiple times over the course of the film, and I’ve never seen something quite like it. I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, but it really makes this movie more unique than it otherwise probably would have been.
The story, about a master criminal trying to scare a bunch of people out of a house in order to look for some hidden money, isn’t overly unique, but it is done well. We have plenty of suspicious characters, and as the movie drags on, we find no less than three different parties contesting each other to find the money. Only a few people aren’t suspects, so the whole film has a fun vibe because of that.
Plenty of actors and actresses stand out. Gustav von Seyffertitz, playing a suspicious doctor, does well, though his character sort of becomes less important later on into the film. Chester Morris does pretty well playing Detective Anderson, a character with a few secrets himself, and really commands respect when on screen. Unfortunately, two of the characters, played by Charles Dow Clark and Maude Eburne (who did not have an unsubstantial role in The Vampire Bat, from 1933) were thrown in purely for comic effect. Luckily, one of the main characters, the lady of the house, played by Grayce Hampton, did fantastically. Her character never seemed to lose control or her cool, and was consistently solid throughout the whole movie, especially near the end.
I do wish the tone were a bit more consistent. As I mention above, there’s a few characters whose only purpose is comic relief, which is more than a little disappointing. That said, there’s plenty of more creepy scenes also. The Bat, with a sort of cloak that went on to influence Batman’s design, was pretty well-done, and his whispering (as the title alludes to) was moderately effective.
At the end, we have an actor from the film talking to us, the audience, about how The Bat would be disappointed if his identity got out, and implores us to not tell our friends, so that when they see the film, they too will find out with the surprise that we did. Is it corny? Sure, but is it fun? Hell yes.
The Bat Whispers is a very solid movie, especially for a talkie this early. Does it occasionally drag? Perhaps, but if you’re into old dark house mystery flicks like me, it’s no more or less than any other flick. Also worth mentioning, as I said, this is a remake of the 1926 The Bat, which was also pretty decent (though I’d need to rewatch it before really comparing the two). Also, in 1959, Vincent Price starred in a movie titled The Bat, which is another version of this story. That, of course, was very enjoyable (as almost every Price movie is). That said, I sort of doubt it could stand up to this 1930 adaptation.
If you’re into older horror and mystery flicks, I don’t think you’d be disappointed with this one. A solid rewatch all around, and one of the shining lights of the 1930’s, especially with those unique camera angles.