Variation on a theme 3 “The Bat” 1960

“The Bat” opens with the funeral of the owner of the local bank Cortleigh Fleming. He had been on vacation in Colorado with Dr. Wells (Shepperd Strudwick). Cornelia Van Gorder (Helen Hayes) and her maid and companion Lizzie Allen (Margaret Hamilton) have rented a house from Fleming’s nephew Richard (Karl Light). We find that the local bank has been robbed of a million dollars in securities. Plus, a sinister criminal known only as "The Bat" has committed several murders in the area.

Billy (Mark Satow), the butler, Van Gorder’s niece Dale Ogden (Bethel Leslie), the new gardener/or rather suspected bank employee, Jack Bailey (Martin E. Brooks) and Detective Anderson (Jason Robards), are present in the house. There is suspicion that the missing securities are hidden somewhere in the old rambling mansion. Also, somewhere about is the sinister criminal called The Bat.

This version of “The Bat” is a television kinescope production that aired live in 1960. It was directed by Paul Nickell. The teleplay was written by Walter Kerr. It is a comedy/mystery. “The Bat” was the first of seven classic mysteries presented live on television in March of 1960. Dow Chemicals sponsored the series. (The fine people that brought you ‘Agent Orange’ and nuclear weapons). A stellar cast which included Helen Hayes, Jason Robards Jr., Margaret Hamilton, and Bethal Leslie makes this old Mary Roberts Rinehart chestnut a very quick moving and entertaining 51 minutes of television history. As a footnote Joseph Welch, the lawyer who brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy on national television in 1954, served as the host and narrator for these seven programs.

Performances by Jason Robards, and Helen Hayes are marvelous. Especially Helen Hayes. She is the proverbial ‘hot ticket’. The part of Dr. Wells in the 1959 adaptation was bigger than in the 1960 version. Perhaps because of Vincent Price playing the doctor in the previous adaptation.

Some history on the story: In 1908 Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote “The Circular Staircase”. In 1915 a silent movie was made based on Mary’s book by Selig Polyscope Company. “The film was also called “The Circular Staircase”. It was the first feature length adaptation of the story. The film has since been lost. In 1920 Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood adapted the book into a three act play called “The Bat”. It was a Broadway hit. The play was turned into a silent movie in 1926 and was again called “The Bat”. It was remade in 1930 as a “talkie” and renamed “The Bat Whispers”. The story was once again remade in 1959 and called “The Bat”. The 1959 version starred Vincent Price and Agness Moorehead. It has also been adapted for television several times.

Each of the three adaptations (1930, 1959 and 1960) were the same but slightly different. And each one good in it’s own right.