Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bela Lugosi, Suzanne Kaaren, Dave O'Brien, Guy Usher, Yolande Mallott, Donald Kerr, Edmund Mortimer, Gene O'Donnell, Alan Baldwin, John Ellis, Arthur Q. Bryan, Hal Price, John Davidson, Wally Rairden
Written by: John T. Neville, based on a story by George Bricker
Directed by: Jean Yarbrough
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 68
Date: 09/18/2013

The Devil Bat (1940)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Winged Vengeance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After Dracula (1931), Bela Lugosi became a huge star, instantly recognizable (to this day) throughout the world. However, due to various factors, he ended up, more often than not, making movies for low-budget poverty row studios. The Devil Bat was one of the cheaper ones, but also perhaps one of the most ludicrously entertaining. It can be characterized as a black comedy, detailing the ridiculous attempts of the main character to murder his victims, and the equally ridiculous way he's captured.

Lugosi stars in a role he must have loved: he's Dr. Paul Carruthers, a doctor beloved by everyone in town, but who performs sinister and secret experiments behind closed doors in his lab. He tells everyone he's working on a new aftershave lotion, and he is, but he's also working on a genetically-enhanced giant bat. The bat is trained to attack when it smells the lotion. Carruthers plans to kill everyone involved in a cosmetics company that made millions off of Carruthers' ideas, while Carruthers himself only received a few thousand.

If that's not loony enough, then enter big city newspaper reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O'Brien) and his comical sidekick photographer 'One-Shot' McGuire (Donald Kerr). They use everything but actual journalism to solve the crime. (Their editor rightly fires them, but they blackmail him into giving them their jobs back.) They perform half-baked detective work, and even stage a fake photo. They also try to pick up on two local girls, Johnny, the respectable daughter (Suzanne Kaaren) of the cosmetics king, and One-Shot' a French maid (Yolande Mallott). No kidding.

Director Jean Yarbrough apparently began in the movie business as Hal Roach's chauffeur. He was perhaps better known for several of the lesser Abbott and Costello movies, lots of TV, and one of the cheaper Universal horror movies, She-Wolf of London (1946). Nonetheless, he did his job and brought in The Devil Bat at around 68 minutes, not wasting a single moment.

Besides the wonderful giant bat prop, the best moments, of course, involve Lugosi, and his spirited, doubled-edged line readings. Anytime one of his victims says "good night," Lugosi responds with "goodbye." And the ways in which he coaxes them to use the lotion -- on the tender part of the neck -- are priceless. With the pushy newspaper guys as the movie's "heroes," it's no wonder that Lugosi's character is more sympathetic.

Anyway, The Devil Bat has been in the public domain for a while, and is available streaming, for free, at But now Kino Lorber has given it a proper DVD and Blu-ray release with a fine black-and-white transfer. There's even a fun commentary track by historian Richard Harland Smith, who doesn't apologize for his love of the movie. There are no optional subtitles, and the only extras are a trailer for Kino's earlier release White Zombie and some promotional stills.

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