A GOTHIC horror/comedy/melodrama that was creaky even when it debuted in 1930, The Bat Whispers (said to be the inspiration of the Batman comic books) might be the most fun thing playing on this city's screens this week. Yes, the actors ham it up mercilessly, and yes, you'll figure out what's going on pretty quickly, despite the postscript requesting the audience to not reveal the plot. What makes this film fly is the energy and zest of director Roland West's camera work.

He announces his flashy virtuosity right from the get-go, with a delirious swoop from a clock tower, down the length of a skyscraper, and to the street below. Models are used for the shot; they are cheap, obvious, clumsy, and in fact, work far better than any number of recent digital effects I can think of, being put forward with such bald-faced earnestness you'd feel like an ingrate not to go along with the flow.

The murderous exploits of the eponymous supervillian -- acrobatically sashaying down ropes or spreading his caped shadow over the city -- are equally compelling. Even when we're stuck in the gloomy mansion that becomes the film's only setting for the final hour, there are crane shots and pans to take your breath away. While the scurrying of multiple suspects around different rooms often spills over into farce, it never dilutes the movie's best chills.

West's indebtedness to German Expressionism is mentioned in the film's press kit to claim him as an overlooked genius; but comparing even the best moments of The Bat Whispers to Lang or Murnau only points up the difference between art and technically superb hokum. There are some scenes in this movie I'll enjoy as long as I remember them. That's a long way from being something I'll never be able to forget.

Bat-Fun in Our City's Bat-Theaters

by Bruce Reid

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