The Devil Bat

Dullsville

The Devil Bat (1940)

I have never found bats in themselves to be scary creatures. Their association with vampires drives a certain degree of fright, but you don’t often see movies about the rodent-sized flying creatures attacking people. The solution to the only moderate fear factor associated with bats is to, of course, make the beasts much larger. Thus is the monster in The Devil Bat.

Bela Lugosi plays a scientist whose primary occupation is to create new cosmetic formulas. Dr. Carruthers works for the Heath cosmetic company, owned by a Martin Heath (Edward Mortimer) in the town of Heathville. Martin along with Henry Morton (Guy Usher) built the prosperous company on a cream they bought from the doctor many years earlier, at which point Carruthers could have opted to be a partner in the company. Now he tolls away in his stony lab while the businessmen enjoy their wealth.

After all this time, the doctor opts to get his revenge. He has finally developed a method by which he can make an ordinary bat grow to five times its original size using some sort of electrical stimulation. The scientist has simultaneously created a “shaving lotion” with a strong odor that will attract the bat. To fulfill his plot, Dr. Carruthers one by one entices members of the Health and Morton families to test the new shaving lotion before letting the “devil bat” loose to hunt down the pre-selected prey.

After the first murder –and these are immediately considered murders– an out-of-town reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and a photographer One Shot Maguire (Donald Kerr) move in to not only report on the crime but to apparently solve it as well. Johnny immediately makes pals with the police chief and offers to help track down the truth. Johnny will also develop a crush on the Heath daughter Mary (Suzanne Kaaren), and the two will be the first to witness the murderer, AKA devil bat, but are unable to stop death after death.

Bela Lugosi is obviously the big-name star of the picture, but upon arrival of O’Brien’s Johnny to the scene, The Devil Bat attempts to become a reporter-as-detective drama. O’Brien’s poorly acting cannot, however, compete with the Lugosi’s star power despite the villain’s equally sad performance. O’Brien and Kerr attempt to bring humor to the story via their goofy interactions with each other and their curmudgeon of an editor. Lugosi’s doctor will ultimately die by the hand of his own creature, but the conclusion is far less dramatic or cautionary than your typical creature-turns-on-master ending.

The most notable thing about The Devil Bat are the effects, which are awful. The only real bats we see are those small ones exiting the rooftop window at Dr. Carruthers’ home. The normal-sized bad the scientist lugs from storage to his experiment room hangs stiffly upside down from its perch. Upon contact with the electrical impulses, the creature’s wings move rigidly and various cut-away edits allow it to become gradually larger at each glimpse. Lugosi, meanwhile, stands outside the chamber making expressions of delight at the viewing window. The doctor twice creates a devil bat via these means and the first time a strange use of back projection has the doctor listen to his creature with a stethoscope with the scene and the bat being projections. A later repeat of this scene actually involves the puppet bat.

When the bat takes wing, it “flies” clumsily through the sky and is hurled at victims who simply fall to the ground so we cannot see the lack of dexterity of the creature. It also has an awful caterwaul that is a combination of dog bark-type noises and outright screams.

To say The Devil Bat is humorous, is an understatement. The bat itself is such a pathetic creation that its appearance is substance enough for laughs. Lugosi –and other actors– sadly give uninspired and outright bad performances that will cause you either to cringe or snicker. Lugosi certainly was capable of better.

  • The Devil Bat is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 31 on TCM.

White Corridors & The Carroll Formula

Ring a Ding Ding

     I recently watched two more Screen Directors Playhouse episodes, one of which was highly thrilling the other of which was greatly amusing. The first, White Corridors, was like a mini horror movie. We open on Linda Darnell as Ellen who is distressfully driving her convertible with a panting passenger lying in the back seat. She pulls up to a hospital and wanders through the strangely empty nighttime halls until she meets Pat Hitchcock (daughter to Alfred) playing an unhelpful Nurse Windrod. The woman essentially refuses to admit the sick woman because she has no doctor instructing her to. When Dr. Bruno (Scott Forbes) appears, he agrees to help and brings the patient in.

     Ellen waits as her friend is operated on for a burst appendix and is told she should return to her hotel, and Nurse Windrod seems rather annoyed that visitor will not depart. Wandering the halls, Ellen overhears some moaning and shouting and cracks a door to witness a man dressed as a doctor strangling a patient who is threatening to expose him as a fraud. This happens in silhouette behind a curtain, so Ellen is unsure what the murderer looks like. She attempts to call the police but chickens out and instead confesses the scene to Dr. Bruno. When Dr. Gorwin (John Bentley) enters and informs the woman they two are the only doctors on duty, she realizes one of them must be the murderer, as do they.

     Upon inspecting the scene of the crime, Ellen and the doctors find a male patient fast asleep and no sign of a body. The doctors want to give Ellen a sedative, but when she gets the chance she re-examines the crime scene and hides in a closet where she overhears a doctor and nurse talking about the crime. The story will end with a chase scene once the murder is revealed to us.

     Director Ted Post‘s White Corridors was highly suspenseful and sets the viewer on edge as soon as we meet Hitchcock’s unpleasant and shady nurse. We get the impression seedy things happen in this hospital all the time and the plot pushes us toward our own conclusions about the murderer that will be turned on their head by the end. The performances are all great even if Darnell is rather unattractive. The shady set is also wonderfully eerie, setting us in the proper mood to be frightened.

     Next was the fun but not quite as exciting The Carroll Formula about a “nut case” who derived a magical power from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” story. Michael Wilding is a patient in a mental asylum because he insists that a box of toys were once full-size objects that he can shrink and reconstitute at will. As this David speaks with some psychiatrists, we learn that in researching Lewis Carroll, he discovered the man had found a way to do just that and so he used the technology to create his own shrinking gun.

     Showing this to his girlfriend Sylvia (Havis Davenport), the two realize this holds great potential for world peace because nations could shrink their armies and deliver them on one plane to the opposing country. David, therefore, starts visiting various branches of the military to demonstrate his discovery but does so in a way that baffles and enrages the government officials, which is how he winds up institutionalized. The man escapes, however, by shrinking the bars on the hospital window and re-enlarging a table and rope to allow for him to rappel out the window.

     The Carroll Formula, directed by Tay Garnett, was a lot of fun. One can easily get a laugh by showing people in utter disbelief of a goofy magic trick of sorts. Wilding is entertaining as ever and Davenport is enjoyable as the perhaps surprisingly supportive girlfriend. Some things are simply too real to deny, I guess. The funny device David uses to shrink thinks makes goofy sounds and has a twitching antena that makes it seem like it has a life of its own.

     This episode also made me realize the great resources directors must have had in creating these Screen Directors Playhouse shorts. This one depicts a hangar full of military planes and uses a huge cannon as part of the character’s stunt. This was one impressive series.

Trog

Dullsville

Trog (1970)

     I really need to stop setting my expectations so low for certain Joan Crawford movies because they keep turning out okay. Her last movie, Trog, is a sci-fi monster movie of sorts, but the then-blonde star does a great job in this otherwise mediocre story.

     When a few cave divers discover an untouched cavern and the murderous half man-half ape “with the strength of 20 demons,” as the trailer suggests, that has been trapped there, Crawford’s Dr. Brockton apprehends the monster and cages him in her lab. Brockton is a paleontologist who believes this thing is a troglodyte who had been frozen under the earth for millions of years and had been thawed and reanimated recently. He is the missing link between man and his ape ancestry and must be studied. Others in this British town, however, think the creature must be destroyed.

     Brockton works to educate the thing she has named Trog by offering him toys and teaching him to use them. He shows much progress but can be enraged by loud music and the color red. Land developer Sam Murdock (Michael Gough) is the biggest opponent of keeping the creature alive as it will frighten away prospective buyers. He conspires with Brockton’s colleague Dr. Selbourne (Jack May), who is jealous and annoyed that the lab has been neglecting its other work, and sets the beast free. While on his walk-about in town, Trog kills a man by throwing him through a window and another by hanging him on a butcher’s hook. He eventually works his way back to his cave after picking up a child and Brockton goes in after him. She rescues the girl but Trog does not meet a happy ending.

     Crawford’s performance was good. She did not overact as might be easy to do in such a film, but kept her cool as a brainy scientist. Her appearance even with the blonde hair was also not as freaky as she has been known to look. The monster was only moderately hokey. The face mask offered great animatronics and was decently creepy looking, but the man wearing the get-up, Joe Cornelius, wore only some fake hair around his shoulders and a loin cloth and moccasins of fur to give the impression of a part-ape creature. I’m not sure if the loin cloth was meant to be what it looked like or if we were supposed to accept that the beast had fur in that area of his body. Otherwise, the actor was very hairless. One would think a hairier man would have been hired to give the creature a better look.

     Trog is far from a masterpiece and certainly not the best way for a superstar like Crawford to end her career, but it is not without its merits. It primarily succeeds, as mentioned, in the face prosthetics of the creature and in Crawford’s performance but otherwise fails to realize its full potential.

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