Classic Film Talk: ‘The Devil Bat’ (1940)

Reels of Gold: Classic Film Talk

Today we reminisce about

The Devil Bat (1940)

Directed by Jean Yarborough

Cast of Characters:

Béla Lugosi – Dr. Paul Carruthers

Suzanne Kaaren – Mary Heath

Dave O’Brien – Johnny Layton

Synopsis

All Heathville loved Paul Carruthers, their kindly village doctor. No one suspected that in his home laboratory on a hillside overlooking the magnificent estate of Martin Heath, the doctor found time to conduct certain private experiments – weird, terrifying experiments.”

Dr. Carruthers develops and tests products for the Heath family’s company, Martin Heath Cosmetics, Ltd. Not long ago, he produced a facial cold cream that was a big seller, bringing in lots of money and making the Heath family wealthy people. Despite being the one responsible for this success, the Dr. was only paid a small bonus for his work, presented to him by his employers as if they were going out of their way to think of him. The Dr. Is infuriated at not being recognised and is jealous of the Heath family’s new-found economic and social statures. So, he hatches a plan of revenge – he concocts an after-shave lotion with an exotic ingredient that, once rubbed into a victim’s skin, will attract the bats that he is simultaneously breeding. He then uses a special machine to turn the bats into giant beasts with the power to kill.

Slowly but surely, the Dr. starts giving the lotion to unsuspecting members of the Heath family who, thereafter, are attacked and killed. The police are stumped so Johnny Layton, a reporter from the Chicago Register, is asked to help solve the mystery. In order to make headlines, Layton comes up with the name “Devil Bat” and along with his cameraman ‘One Shot’ McGuire, seeks to uncover the story.

Can Layton and his fellow newspaper sidekick find out who is behind the killings? Will they be able to foil the machination before it is too late?

Hint: Your guess is as a good as the ending.

Observations

As Béla Lugosi is the Actor Spotlight of the week, I felt quite bad at having picked The Body Snatcher because his part is so small. I thought that I owed him a little more time in the limelight so he were are with The Devil Bat.

While this movie was made by a no-name studio, the result is not as bad as one would think. Producers Releasing Corporation was a member of Poverty Row, a term used to describe a group of studios who specialised in low-budget B-movies. Known for never spending more than $100,000 per production, The Devil Bat was the very first horror film they made. The movie was filmed quickly and cheaply but it is honestly not badly written and the sets are pretty good. In fact, the Dr.’s laboratory was nicely decorated and gives off a creepy, ghoulish feel that definitely puts you in a horror/thriller mood.

The best part of this film is Béla Lugosi who delivers a wonderful performance. Clearly, Béla is in his element playing the part of a mad scientist and he exudes both ease and happiness on-screen.

Like any good B-movie, there are plenty of wacky moments and obvious plot inconsistencies. Here are a few of them for your pleasure:

  • When the first victim is killed and, the police – in a dumbfounded attempt to identify claw-like marks on the neck – suggest that there could have been a circus in town recently or that there could have been an escape from the zoo.
  • While talking to the police, who are still baffled even after receiving the coroner’s report, Layton blindingly suggests that a bat could be responsible for the marks. This is most impressive for a medically untrained newspaper reporter.
  • When Layton’s boss hesitates in letting him continue working without any concrete evidence of a giant bat, Layton advises ‘One Shot’ to buy a stuffed bat at the village taxidermist shop. (Doesn’t your town have resident taxidermists who sell stuffed animal corpses on-demand?)
  • When another victim gets killed, Layton goes to his residence and finds a bottle of the Dr.’s experimental lotion. It’s funny that the police should overlook such a piece of evidence! Later on, he presents said bottle to the Chief Inspector who exclaims after smelling it, “this is what has been on every one of the victims”. Yet, he said himself about the first victim that any fluids had evaporated by the time the body underwent an autopsy.
  • After the contents of lotion bottle gets analysed, it is Layton who picks-up the results instead of having them sent to Police Forensics!
  • In the beginning of the film, the Dr. is presented a bonus of $5,000 and later on, it is said that he received $10,000.
  • Is the Dr. a scientist/chemist AND a general practitioner? After the first killing, Dr. Carruthers is called immediately to the scene rather than paramedics.

Am I over-thinking aspects of this Public Domain film? Certainly!

My verdict is that if you are in the mood for a fun, silly Classic horror B-flick, you need not look any further than The Devil Bat! It is only 1 hour and 8 minutes long plus the full movie can be found online. 🙂