The movie The Bat Whispers (1930) is a pre-Code mystery film that immerses its audience in a world of suspense and intrigue. Directed by Roland West, the film is an adaptation of the 1920 play “The Bat” by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood. The story begins with a notorious criminal known as “The Bat,” who has eluded police capture for years and announces his retirement to the countryside. However, his retirement is anything but peaceful as he becomes embroiled in a series of events involving a bank robbery in the town of Oakdale.
The Bat Whispers (1930) begins in the serene countryside near Oakdale, while a shadow looms over the tranquil life as the infamous criminal “The Bat” announces a deceptive retirement. Meanwhile, the Van Gordner household is abuzz with anxiety following a bank heist in nearby Oakdale. The maid, Lizzie, is particularly unsettled, given that the house’s owner, Mr. Fleming, the bank president, is abroad, and the prime suspect, a cashier, has vanished without a trace.
Dale Van Gordner, the niece of the tenant, arrives at the mansion, followed by a new gardener, who is none other than Brook, the missing teller. Their arrival coincides with Dr. Venrees’ news of an impending return by Fleming due to the robbery. The mansion, however, is far from peaceful, with unexplained noises and flickering lights haunting its halls. A stone crashes through the window, bearing a sinister note demanding the occupants’ departure.
Amidst the eerie atmosphere, Dale and Brook secretly search for a hidden chamber within the mansion, convinced it conceals the stolen loot. Their quest is interrupted by the arrival of Detective Anderson, who interrogates Mrs. Van Gordner. Richard Fleming, the nephew of the absent owner, is summoned by Dale in hopes of uncovering the mansion’s secrets. Richard discovers the architectural plans but, in a sudden twist, is shot dead while ascending the stairs.
The plot thickens as a masked intruder coerces the caretaker into evacuating the house. The Bat’s ominous presence is felt by all, casting a long shadow over the frightened inhabitants.
Detective Anderson reveals a shocking twist: Fleming is not in Europe but is the mastermind behind the bank robbery, with Dr. Venrees implicated in the scheme. The discovery of an amnesiac man in the garage adds another layer of mystery, which Anderson entrusts to a private detective to unravel.
The secret room is eventually uncovered, along with the missing money and the lifeless body of Fleming, hidden behind a wall. A sudden blaze in the garage throws the mansion into disarray, allowing The Bat to emerge and be apprehended, only to slip away before his identity can be revealed.
In a dramatic finale, The Bat, while attempting to flee, is ensnared in a bear trap set by Lizzie. The masked figure is unmasked to reveal himself as the faux Detective Anderson, with the real Anderson being the man found unconscious. The Bat boasts of his inevitable escape, claiming no prison can hold him.
The narrative closes with a theatrical curtain, and Chester Morris, portraying Anderson, addresses the audience with a chilling warning: keep the Bat’s identity a secret, and they shall remain safe from his clutches.
- Chester Morris as Detective Anderson
- Una Merkel as Dale Van Gorder
- William Bakewell as Brook
- Grayce Hampton as Miss Cornelia van Gorder
- Maude Eburne as Lizzie Allen
- Gustav von Seyffertitz as Dr. Venrees
- Spencer Charters as The Caretaker
- Charles Dow Clark as Detective Jones
- Hugh Huntley as Richard Fleming
- DeWitt Jennings as Police Captain
- Richard Tucker as Mr. Bell
- Wilson Benge as The Butler
- Chance Ward as Police Lieutenant
- Sidney D’Albrook as Police Sergeant
- S.E. Jennings as Man in Black Mask
- Ben Bard as The Unknown
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Bat Whispers is its role in inspiring Bob Kane to create the iconic character Batman.
The film was considered lost for many years until a nitrate print was discovered in the Mary Pickford Estate in 1987 and subsequently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 1988 .
“The Bat Whispers is an extremely close reproduction of The Bat… As long as neither of the offending characters is around, The Bat Whispers is, if anything, superior to its predecessor; unfortunately, those occasions are very rare indeed after the first act, and the film suffers for it nearly as much as the audience.” 
“The Bat Whispers offers deliberately cartoonish sets, which the camera sweeps across like a hurtling winged thing; a nocturnal protagonist lurking about rooftops casting bat-like shadows; and a doppleganger relationship between a neurotic detective and a mad master criminal, who gets the last laugh in an eerie fadeout. Fine stuff, this, done with style and obvious relish, and a pleasure to watch.”