When mystery novelist, Cornelia Van Gorder, decides to rent a house in the country for the summer, she considers herself lucky to stumble upon The Oaks. A sprawling mansion, built and owned by bank manager John Fleming, The Oaks seems like the perfect place to escape the heat of the city.
What Cornelia didn't realize was that John Fleming didn't know she would be taking the house, it was rented out by his nephew Mark Fleming, without his permission. You see, John was on a hunting trip in the woods with his physician, Malcom Wells, and before he left, he stole a million dollars from the bank, and hid it in the house. He set up his head cashier, Victor Bailey, to take the fall, and plans on faking his own death. When he confesses his crime to Dr. Wells, someone dies all right, and the hunt is on for that million dollars.
When you add in the faceless killer, The Bat, to the mix, danger lurks around every corner, and down every hallway. The Bat seems to have taken an interest in The Oaks as well, is he on the look out for the money, or is he there for a more sinister motive. But most importantly, who is the man behind the faceless mask and steel claws?
I know for a fact that I had never seen this movie before I ran across a copy of it at The Dollar Tree, about ten years ago. But when I saw that it had Agnes Moorehead playing Cornelia Van Gorder and Vincent Price as Malcom Wells, I had to pick it up. Agnes Moorehead has long been one of my favorite actress, and one that I'm not sure gets the respect that she deserves these day, and Vincent Price is a legend, how can you not like him. I'm even pretty sure I watched it that first night, and I was instantly in love. I've sine seen the movie at least ten times, and I'm sure I'll end up watching it at least 20 times more.
What I did not know until a few years ago, is what the movie was based off of, nor did I know it was actually the third movie adaptation of the source. It's based off the stage play, The Bat, by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart. The play itself is an adaptation of her book, The Circular Staircase. I won't even confuse you with the fact that the play was novelized again, by Rinehart, and was called The Bat as well. I actually have the lovely Yvette of in so many words... for cluing me in on this fact. She did a review of The Circular Staircase, which sounded so much like this movie, that I had to do a little further reading, and sure enough, one of my favorite movies was something I could read as well. Suffice it to say, I have since fallen in love with Mary Roberts Rinehart, a fact that many of you already know.
Enough of that, back to the movie. Directed by Crane Wilbur, the movie showcases the strengths of it's two main stars. Agnes Moorhead shines as the strong, older woman who has taken life by the horns, and run with it. She is independent, makes her own way, and speaks her own mind. Even in the face of fear, she takes charge and never lets the fear overwhelm her. It's the type of role that she was brilliant at, and the fact she gets to use that sharp wit of hers, didn't hurt. Vincent Price is at his slimy, oily best. I don't think there has been another actor who can play such a role, and still have the audience love him.
The rest of the case includes some great character actors. Lenita Lane is Lizzie Allen, Cornelia Van Gorder's maid, who has been with her for years, and is hilarious. Gavin Gordon plays Lt. Andy Anderson, who has a few secrets of his own, and may not be all he claims to be. John Sutton is Warner, the butler turned chauffeur, who has a past of his own, and could just as easily be The Bat. This movie also marks the last on screen appearance of Darla Hood, better know for her time with the Our Gang movies.
I'm not going to spoil the end and tell you who The Bat turned out to be, nor am I going to tell you the final body count, but I think you will be surprised by a few of the deaths. I hope you take the time to discover this thrilling gem for yourselves.