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Magnificently restored by UCLA to its original Grandeur wide-screen format The Bat Whispers may not be a cinematic masterpiece but is certainly worth a second look.
Opening with a series of flamboyant tracking shots, director Roland West soon enough settles down to the usual Old House shenanigans of sliding panels, mysterious bumps in the night, crawling hands, thunder and lightning (sounding more like an earthquake, incidentally, than a storm), etc.
An official remake of the 1926 The Bat (which was itself based on an Avery Hopwood play), The Bat Whispers owed just as much to The Cat and the Canary (1927), the true grand-daddy of all haunted house mysteries. After taunting the New York City police a final time, the notorious criminal The Bat announces his retirement to the country.
Meanwhile, in said country wealthy spinster Cornelia Van Gorder (Grayce Hampton is leasing the Courtleigh Fleming estate.
The news of The Bat and the simultaneous disappearance of cashier Brooks Bailey (William Bakewell) shortly after a robbery at the Fleming bank set in motion a series of troubling events -- troubling especially for Miss Van Gorder's eternally frightened maid Lizzie (Maude Eburne).
The missing Brooks Bailey shows up soon enough courtesy of Van Gorder's pretty niece Dale (Una Merkel), who persuades the young man to impersonate a gardener -- a disguise that fools no one.
There is a mysterious doctor who speaks with an accent (Gustav von Seyffertitz); an equally alarming caretaker (Spencer Charters),; a piece of missing blueprint that leads to a secret room; and, of course, The Bat, who appears to be prowling the estate as well.
Enter into all this Detective Anderson (Chester Morris), who in his unique gritty way gets to the bottom of things.
The Grandeur wide-screen format was lost on most movie-goers when the film premiered in late November of 1930. Exhibitors who had just spent fortunes rigging their theaters for sound were of course loath to spend even more on yet another newfangled invention.
Of course, some of cinematographer Robert H. Planck's more breathtaking shots of The Bat climbing towering skyscrapers were lost in the standard 35mm prints.
But cartoonist Bob Kane reportedly had this film in mind when he nine years later created his eternally popular comic-strip hero Batman. A sadly neglected craftsman, Roland West directed only 11 films before he retired at the age of 44. West (who also directed the 1926 The Bat co-starring his then-wife Jewel Carmen as the imperiled niece) left films to run a Santa Monica café with girlfriend Thelma Todd.
He was questioned by the authorities but was apparently never a suspect in Todd's mysterious death in December of 1935.