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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
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The Bat
(1926)
 

Another prime example of one of the silent era’s old dark house mysteries, The Bat (1926) is fun fare for those who still have a bit of their childhood intact inside them. One can imagine how well the film played on a Saturday matinee’s audience. Independent producer and director Roland West produced his motion picture version of the popular play with the intent to simply entertain his audience. The film features the requisite amount of mysterious visitors with ulterior motives, shootings, creepy butlers, secret passages and hidden rooms.

The Bat, a master criminal who has been terrorizing the city, sends a letter to wealthy Gideon Bell boasting of his upcoming robbery of the Favre Emeralds at midnight, in spite of the presence of the police. After successfully completing the theft, The Bat proceeds to the Oakdale Bank where he witnesses another criminal robbing the bank’s safe. The Bat pursues the robber to the estate of Courtleigh Fleming, president of the bank. There, rich Cornelia Van Gorder has left New York City and leased the mansion in search of peace and quiet, accompanied by her niece, Dale Van Gorder, and her comic-relief maid, Lizzie Allen. The Bat follows the robber to the house but is unable to determine where he has gone with the bank’s money.

The next day, a newspaper report indicates, not only has the bank been robbed of $20,000 and the prime suspect is bank cashier Brooks Bailey, that bank president Fleming has been found dead in Colorado. His nephew, Richard Fleming, has leased his uncle’s home to square some gambling debts, and now learns from Dr. Wells, the Fleming family physician, that the buzz around town is that the stolen money may be hidden in the Fleming mansion and Van Gorder must be scared into leaving.

Meanwhile, Dale smuggles her fiance Brooks into the situation as a gardener so that he may find the stolen money in order to clear his name. Dr. Wells, Richard Fleming and a police detective Moletti appear on the scene to begin puzzling over the location of the money and the identity of The Bat. Fleming finds the mansion’s original blueprints to uncover the location of the hidden room, but before reaching it, he is mysteriously shot to death by The Bat. Moletti suspects that Dale is the murderer and has the missing scrap of blueprint.

Enter Anderson of the Judkins Detective Agency, who was hired by Cornelia Van Gorder, and a mysterious man with no name who wanders about the house in a daze. Meanwhile, The Bat discovers the location of the safe and Brooks sees the living Courtleigh Fleming catwalking the roof of the mansion. The band of frightened amateur detectives pursues Fleming as Dale discovers the location of the hidden room. In a struggle, The Bat shoots Fleming and escapes into the house. The group investigates the empty room, discovers the now-truly dead Fleming, and Dale discovers the satchel full of the bank money. Setting a diversion, The Bat returns for the money, is held at gunpoint, but still manages to escape with the money. He is captured again, by dumb luck, and his secret identity revealed.

We like William Cameron Menzies’ spare but visually impressive set design of Gideon Bell’s penthouse.

The film has been credited as Bob Kane’s inspiration for the creation of the comic book character, Batman. Not only does the master criminal wear a bat mask disguise, there is even a rudimentary form of ‘the Bat Signal’ present in the film. — Carl Bennett

2004 Alpha Video DVD edition

The Bat (1926), black & white, 88 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Video, ALP 4470D, UPC 0-89218-44709-8.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 6 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
DVD release date: 31 August 2004.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 4 / additional content: 1 / overall: 4.

This budget edition from Alpha Video appears to have been prepared from the same video transfer as the Sinister Cinema edition noted below, for it too shows signs of having been mastered from a VHS videotape, with its smeary image details, and right-hand edge streaking. Although it may not be seen on some televisions, the full-frame video transfer shows its VHS origin with a thin strip of misaligned scanlines tracking at the bottom of the picture. The picture is full of VHS and video compression artifacts that will bother discerning viewers. The source print appears to be a 16mm reduction print that features a slightly-flat range of graytones, and is mildly compromised by some light speckling and dust, and minor print damage in the form of splices, emulsion scrapes, some sprocket damage to the image area, and momentary print decomposition.

Another indication that this edition originated from the same videotape source is this newly-created inset shot, adorned with digital dust and scratches that make it look contemporary, of a letter from The Bat. It replaces the original inset shot that, in the Sinister Cinema edition, is quite broken up with picture tracking errors.

Alpha Video has deemed it necessary to alter one of the main title cards to include credit for Paul David Bergel, the composer of their custom music score for the film. Alpha has also taken the initiative on its 2004 releases of silent films (unheard of from other budget disc producers). And while the synthesizer scores are not impressive (they sound like off-the-cuff improvisations), they are better than listening to cobbled-together music soundtracks taken from preexisting recordings.

Our reevaluation of this disc on high-definition equipment leaves us with our original opinion. Ultimately, this edition has many of the same problems as the Sinister Cinema edition and their comparative quality is nearly a push, but this Alpha disc produces a slightly smoother image due to its slightly higher video bit rate. Either edition will be passable until a high-quality home video edition is produced.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2002 Sinister Cinema DVD edition

The Bat (1926), black & white, 86 minutes, not rated.

Sinister Cinema, ST32, no UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 256 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 17 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $16.95.
DVD release date: 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 4 / additional content: 6 / overall: 4.

We suspect this edition from Sinister Cinema has been prepared from the same analog video source (as is indicated by the dark streaks to the right of bright highlights and intertitles type) as the Alpha Video edition noted above, and has been duplicated to DVD-R on a personal computer, as can be assumed from the low-resolution still frames. Despite the low resolution of the full-frame video transfer and the modest video bit rate of the DVD, the disc remains quite watchable.

For the video transfer, it appears that a very-good 16mm reduction print has been utilized that features a good range of graytones, and is mildly compromised by some light speckling and dust, and minor print damage in the form of splices, emulsion scrapes, some sprocket damage to the image area, and momentary print decomposition, as is the case with the edition above. The transfer has been generously framed, with no distracting cropping of intertitles or the actors’ heads, but inset shots of newspaper items may be slightly cropped on some television monitors.

A shot of a letter from The Bat at 2:01 into the film is horizontally notched as video scanlines are offset randomly, indicating a problem with the video transfer. And our review copy also has a minor video master playback glitch at 1:12:00. Throughout the disc a video offset glitch appears at the bottom of the picture, but may not be seen on television monitors that perform overscan cropping.

The film is presented with a canned monaural orchestral score that is appropriately mysterious and has been well-synchronized to the film’s action, but it is also choppily edited and has an audible background of hiss.

The content of the disc brandishes a small ‘SC’ logotype over the lower right-hand corner of the picture, as is common on broadcast and cable television networks, presumably to discourage home video pirates. We are a bit frustrated that the logotype is there, as it can be ignored but it does occasionally and persistently grab the attention of the viewer to the point of distraction from the film’s action. After 46 minutes the type disappears, not to be seen again.

Supplementary materials include a trailer for Roland West’s sound remake The Bat Whispers (1930), which is transferred from a good 16mm reduction print, and a trailer for The Bat (1959) starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, transferred from a good 16mm reduction print, which is missing its ending.

Forgiving a few disc production shortcomings, we recommend this passable DVD-R edition of a fun silent era mystery comedy-drama.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R is available directly from SINISTER CINEMA.
 
This DVD is also available as an NTSC burn-to-disc download from EZTAKES.
Other OLD DARK HOUSE FILMS of the silent era available on home video:
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Haunted Spooks (1920)
Midnight Faces (1926)
 
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