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THE BAT WHISPERS

USA, 1930 (MIFF 1989, Retrospectives)

Director: Roland West

Made at a time when stodgy stage adaptions were the rule, The Bat Whispers is every bit a movie of great pictorial inventiveness. There are scenes which hark back Do the bravura gestures of silent melodrama — to Fritz Lang's Spies, for one — and others which look forward by nearly a decade to Citizen Kane. No actual proof exists, but I think there is real evidence on screen that Welles and/or Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland saw — and were marked by — West's film.

The Bat Whispers was shot in two versions— 65mm widescreen and 35mm standard. The widescreen version has not been available for more than half a century — UCLA restored it on modern 65mm film and from that produced a 35mm anamorphic printing negative that was used to make the print now being shown. This tale of a mad master criminal was directed, designed, and lit by masters. There were cameras on elevators rigs, catapults, cables, rails, and perambulators. One of the cameras rode a large tricycle. The extraordinary flexible lighting patterns vary from shot to shot. A wildly stylized bank robbery scene in the opening reel makes use of forced perspective, sweeping camera movements, superb miniature work, and, extraordinarily, zooms, certainly not a common practice in 1930. All the performances are enjoyably overripe.

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