The Devil Bat (1940)


All Heathville loved Paul Carruthers, their kindly village doctor. No-one suspected that in his home laboratory on a hillside overlooking the magnificent estate of Martin Heath, the doctor found time to conduct certain private experiments – weird, terrifying experiments…”

[aka Killer Bats]

Director:  Jean Yarbrough

Starring:  Bela Lugosi, Dave O’Brien, Suzanne Kaaren, Donald Kerr, Edward Mortimer, Guy Usher, Alan Baldwin, John Ellis, Hal Price, Yolande Mallott, Arthur Q. Bryan, Wally Rairdon, Gene O’Donnell, John Davidson

Screenplay:  John Thomas Neville, from a story by George Bricker



Synopsis:  In a secret attic over his laboratory, Dr Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) keeps the result of one of his experiments: a giant bat, which he has created by subjecting a normal bat to electrical impulses. Carruthers receives a phone-call from his employer, Martin Heath (Edward Mortimer), inviting him to a party given by himself and his business partner, Henry Morton (Guy Usher). Carruthers is reluctant, but agrees to attend when informed that Mary Heath (Suzanne Kaaren) has specifically requested his presence. Carruthers returns to his giant bat, waving a certain scent under its nose. The creature reacts angrily; Carruthers is delighted. That night, the gathered Heath and Morton families are disappointed when Martin Heath announces that Carruthers isn’t coming after all, as the true purpose of the gathering was to present Carruthers with a bonus cheque for his work for Heath Cosmetics, Ltd. Mary Heath suggests that her brother, Roy (John Ellis), take the cheque to Carruthers’ laboratory. Roy does so. Carruthers is angered and insulted by the gesture, but conceals his emotion. He tells Roy that he has been working on a new shaving-lotion. Roy remarks on the lotion’s strong scent, but rubs some of it onto his throat anyway, finding it soothing. When Roy has gone, Carruthers reflects bitterly that the Heath and Morton families built their fortunes on his work; he then releases his giant bat, which flies into the night… Mary Heath tells Don Morton (Gene O’Donnell) that she cannot marry him. As the two are talking in the garden, Roy drives up to the house. The bat attacks him. Hearing a terrible scream, Mary and Don rush to Roy’s side. Don sends for Carruthers, who announces that Roy is dead, his jugular vein severed. Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien), a reporter with the Chicago Daily Register, is sent to Heathville with his photographer, ‘One-Shot’ Maguire (Donald Kerr), to investigate the killing. After attending the inquest, Layton visits Police Chief Wilkins (Hal Price), who reveals that Roy had strange scratches on his chest and shoulders, while hairs like those of a mouse were found on him. He also remarks upon a strange scent emanating from the wound, which unfortunately has since dissipated. Wilkins arranges for Layton to talk to Mary. Carruthers joins them, and they discuss the doctor’s theory that a wild animal was responsible for Roy’s death. That night, Tommy Heath (Alan Baldwin) is invited to Carruthers’ laboratory, and given some of the shaving-lotion to try. As he walks home, he passes Mary, Layton and Maguire, who are keeping vigil in the garden. Suddenly, the three hear cries for help, and then a scream. They rush to the terrace, where to their horror they finding Tommy lying prostrate, a giant bat tearing at his throat…

Comments:  The Devil Bat was really the beginning of the end of Bela Lugosi’s serious acting career. Prior to it, in films such as Dark Eyes Of London, Son Of Frankenstein, and even The Gorilla, he was able to maintain his dignity, giving in Son Of Frankenstein what may have been his best performance. However, from The Devil Bat onwards, Lugosi’s roles became ever more self-parodic and demeaning, until the final indignity of his posthumous appearance in Plan 9 From Outer Space. As it stands, The Devil Bat is a grim forewarning of the rest of Bela’s career: the acting is universally terrible, the plot is ridiculous, and the “special effects” somewhat less than special.

Which is not to say, oh gentle reader, that the film isn’t a great deal of fun…

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In The Devil Bat, Lugosi plays “kindly Dr Carruthers” (as every other review of the film I’ve ever seen calls him – why should I rock the boat?), beloved village doctor by day, textbook mad scientist by night. An ominous title informing us of Dr Carruthers’ “weird, terrifying experiments” has barely faded before, oh, God bless ’em, they’re serving up an image of Bela surrounded by Conical Flasks filled with Mysterious Coloured Fluids and self-evidently doing SCIENCE!!

See, this is the problem with film-making today: there are people out there who spend as many millions making their science fiction movies as PRC did cents on this, and yet struggle to provide anything as fundamentally entertaining as that single frame of film.

And no, I don’t think *I’m* the one with problem.

“Kindly Dr Carruthers” completes his experiment to his satisfaction, if his smirking expression is anything to go by; upon which we discover that not only does his home laboratory have a secret room behind it, but that the secret room has a secret room! After flicking a switch to swing open a door disguised by a set of chemical shelves, Carruthers passes through and flicks another switch, opening a second concealed door built into a wall. Inside this room is a staircase, which leads up to another room hidden by a concealed door, and behind that is the reason for all these precautions: Paul Carruthers’ bat colony; his very inert bat colony.

So, less than three minutes into this film (counting the credits), Paul Carruthers stands revealed to us as a general physician, a mad scientist, a chemist and a batologist. Impressive.

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One of the bats within the colony is larger than the others, and Carruthers addresses it, giving Bela Lugosi the first of his many hilariously unforgettable lines of dialogue:

“Ah, my friend! Our theory of glandular stimulation through electrical impulses was correct!”

Well, I won’t repeat my observation about the problem with film-making today— I could, but I won’t.

Carruthers goes on to exposit that only a few days before, this bat was just like all the others. He then unhooks the perch from which the bat is dangling and carries it back into his laboratory, and from there into another attached room, this one filled with the proceeds of Kenneth Strickfaden’s yard-sale. Carruthers dangles his bat from underneath one of the pieces of equipment and hooks an electrode to the tip of each of its wings (!); and then, presumably, sets about stimulating its glands with electrical impulses. And how nice of the bat to just go on dangling there, too, while being subjected to a treatment that causes Carruthers to scuttle from the room and don a pair of goggles, before watching events through a window.

Carruthers fiddles with a control panel outside the room, and immediately the equipment within springs into life, in particular the rabbit-ear doo-hickey at the back of the lab. Events at first cause Carruthers to shake his head in a dissatisfied way, but after adjusting some of his equipment and trying again, he advances from head-shaking to a highly gratified stroking of his chin. The result of all this (as some forced perspective tries to convince us) is that the experimental bat has grown to an enormous size in the space of about thirty seconds. Carruthers checks its heartbeat with a stethoscope, and couldn’t look any more like a proud poppa if he tried.


Now, if film-making today has taught us anything, it’s that a mad scientist doesn’t really need a reason to start dicking around and creating killer bats. Carruthers, however, stands apart from his professional descendants, inasmuch as he has a very specific reason for doing so indeed, as we now begin to learn.

The phone in the laboratory rings. Answering it (oh, love the skull on the telephone table!), Carruthers finds himself talking to one of his two employers, Martin Heath, who invites him to a shindig being hosted by himself and his partner, Henry Morton. Carruthers declines, insisting that he is “busy working on a formula for a new shaving-lotion”…which, as lousy excuses go, sits somewhere between “my alarm clock didn’t go off” and “my dog ate my homework”. Heath presses the point, though, insisting that if Carruthers doesn’t show up, Mary (Heath’s daughter) will be terribly disappointed; a line of argument that allows Carruthers awkwardly to exposit his supposition that, “Mary is going to announce her engagement to that young rascal, Don Morton.” Heath does not disabuse him and, on that basis, Carruthers agrees to attend.

After Carruthers hangs up, Heath and Morton chuckle over their own cleverness, and preen themselves over how surprised the scientist will be when he learns that “the special occasion” is the presentation of a $5000 bonus cheque. Possibly the two wouldn’t be quite so pleased with themselves if they could see what Carruthers is doing in his lab, namely soaking a piece of cotton-wool in his new “shaving-lotion” prior to sticking it in the face of his newly embiggened bat. The animal reacts violently, and Carruthers beams at it. “You have not forgotten. You hate this strange Oriental fragrance!” he exclaims, adding that should the bat again detect this scent, “You will strike – you will kill!

(In case you’re wondering why it didn’t just kill Carruthers, the bat is supposed to be reacting to the scent “even in your sleep”.)

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You can understand why ‘no-one suspected’, can’t you? He’s just that lovable!

Now, I told you there was a point to all this, and so there is. Martin Heath and Henry Morton are the co-owners of a booming cosmetics firm, who have both made millions from the “formulas” devised by Paul Carruthers, while paying him peanuts for his services. (So— General physician, mad scientist, chemist, batologist and cosmetician.) Carruthers has been brooding for some time over the many wrongs done him by Heath and Morton; and that $5000 cheque, which looks generous on the surface of it, is in fact exactly the kind of tokenism that could push someone already teetering on the brink right over the edge.

Mind you, as we will learn during the course of the film, Carruthers was offered the choice between a percentage of the profits and a flat fee for his services, and chose the latter; so his situation is entirely his own fault. In an unexpected piece of psychological realism, this fact, far from dissipating Carruthers’ resentment, ramps it up…although the elephantine tactlessness of his employers has more than a little to do with it too, as we shall see.

Anyway, despite his promises, Carruthers fails to show up at his own party. The two host families – Martin Heath, his sons, Roy and Tommy, and his daughter, Mary; and Henry Morton and his son, Don – sit around twiddling their thumbs until it becomes clear that the guest of honour isn’t going to show. Heath phones the lab, and reports back that, “He just got busy with his new formula and forgot all about it.” While the others express various degrees of disappointment, Roy Heath, speaking with the kind of condescension that can get a man’s throat ripped out, if he’s not careful, observes that Carruthers would soon forget about his formula if he knew about the cheque. Mary suggests that Roy take the cheque up to the lab, to which he agrees, asking if he should make “the doc” a speech?

Tommy Heath:  “You won’t have to! That cheque speaks for itself!”
Don Morton:  “Yeah, it says a mouthful!”

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Like I say, Carruthers’ problems are his own fault. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take long in this self-congratulatory company before your sympathies shift to the side of mad science. (Assuming that they weren’t there to start with.)

Finding that fate has delivered a guinea-pig into his hands, Carruthers starts his campaign of revenge. He shows his new shaving-lotion to Roy, asking him to try and few drops, and in particular encouraging him to rub it, “On the tender part of the neck!” Roy does so, agreeing with Carruthers about its soothing qualities, and asks when it will be ready for the market? Carruthers responds drily that he wants to try it out on a few other people first; and, as Roy wishes him goodnight and leaves, sends him on his way with a pointed, “Good-bye, Roy!”

It is here that we get Carruthers’ own description of his woes, and his plan for revenge, delivered in voiceover and in that unforgettable Lugosi style, as he reflects upon the fact that, “Yoo made zem rich, doctor! It vaz yooah formoola!” Meanwhile, Carruthers’ expression changes from a profound scowl to a look of glee and back to a scowl again, as he broods, “Zat vas yoooahh money zey gave you, like a bowen tozzed to a fayuhful dog!” Finally, he stomps up into his hidden bat-room, informing his oversized pet that it has work to do, and pulling open a window, through which it makes its exit.

(By the way, I just love the random crap that Carruthers keeps in the passageway leading to the second hidden room: a chest of drawers, an old bedstead, a wheelchair, a globe, a woven basket, even the family portraits! That’s one of the difficult things about being a scientist: inadequate storage space. Because you always end up using your basement and your attic for, uh, something else.)

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As winged death is making its way to the Heath estate, we get one of the creepier moments in the film. Naturally, it has nothing to do with bats. Don Morton is pressing Mary Heath to let him announce their engagement, making it necessary for her to break it to him that she “loves him like a sister”. (This, mind you, after she sat unmoved through her brother Roy’s description of herself and Don as “the lovebirds”.) “Well!” says the understandably mortified Don. “I had no idea you felt that way!” Given that he’s just proposed marriage, we hope not. An uncomfortable silence follows, leading some of us to put on our best Seymour Skinner voice:

“What I wouldn’t give for something to interrupt this awkward moment!”

At which point, as Roy Heath pulls up near the house in his car, an embiggened killer bat drops out of the sky and severs his jugular vein.

<Seymour Skinner> “That will do nicely!” </Seymour Skinner>

Mary and Don hear Roy’s despairing scream and run to the scene, where they find Roy lying on the ground. Mary exclaims, “Roy!” in a confused voice, as if he’d just fainted, while Don decides they’d, “Better call Carruthers.” So it is that, although there’s been enough time for a small crowd consisting of not just Don and Mary, but Martin Heath, Henry Morton, Tommy Heath and Yolande the maid to gather, and for Carruthers to be summoned to the scene, it still takes a professional head-shake from Carruthers before the grim reality begins to dawn on the others.

Dr Carruthers:  “There’s nothing I can do.”
Martin Heath:  “You mean he’s dead?”

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The Long Goodbye.

I say again, people: SEVERED – JUGULAR – VEIN.

Of course, these things were harder to diagnose in the 1940s, when it was considered impolite to bleed.

Mary Heath’s romantic dismissal of Don Morton is of course the cue for the introduction of the film’s “hero”, and for The Devil Bat, which up until now has been non-stop fun, to become an exercise in grim endurance. In an unnamed Big City, the editor of the Daily Register sends for Johnny Layton, who is – *shudder* – a distillation of every reporter cliché ever concocted by the movies, as we realise from the moment he walks into his editor’s office, sits on the desk, and smirks, “Who wants me fired this time?” (Ooh, ME, ME!!)

Layton is played by Dave O’Brien, who the true B-movie fan will recognise instantly as the drug-crazed pianist of Reefer Madness, but even that isn’t enough to dull the hurt of his sub-Lee Tracy routine. And as if all this wasn’t painful enough, the screenplay sees fit to saddle Layton with a sidekick, a photographer rejoicing in the soubriquet of ‘One-Shot’ Maguire, who to nobody’s surprise turns out to be the Odious Comic Relief du jour.

Explaining that Martin Heath Cosmetics Ltd, proud makers of “all that goo that the women put on their faces”, is also a major advertiser, the editor sends Layton and Maguire off to Heathville to attend the inquest.

(Pardon a digression, but I really must call attention to Johnny Layton’s taste in ties. I can only assume he was a big fan of The Three Investigators.)

“…and his head is missing, and his intestines are in a pile by that tree.”
“So he won’t be joining us for coffee?”

Our Unnamed Big City also gets a name here, as Layton introduces himself as representing the Chicago Register. (It’s all your fault, Begg!). So I guess he works for the Chicago Daily Register. Or maybe his editor just prefers him to identify himself as being affiliated with some other organisation.

Just to complete The Devil Bat’s Warner Brothers riff, apart from a wisecracking reporter the film also boasts the laziest, most ineffectual Police Chief seen anywhere outside of Warners’ anti-cop films of the early thirties. Chief Wilkins – who doesn’t seem to have attended the inquest, where they don’t seems to have presented any evidence anyway; interesting official procedures they have in Heathville – comments amicably, “To tell you the truth, I haven’t gotten very far with this [case] myself!” We are not surprised at this, as doing so might, of course, require the Chief to get out of his chair occasionally.

In lieu of doing so, Wilkins hands the whole business over to the amateur newcomers, showing them a photograph of the fatal wound and pointing out the accompanying scratch marks on Roy’s body. Layton comments that this jibes with Carruthers’ theory, presented at the inquest, that a wild animal of some sort might have been involved. Wilkins then reveals a fact held back from the public, that hairs were also found on the body, which he adds have been identified as coming from a mouse (!). “Say, a bat has hair like a mouse,” observes Layton (!!). Wilkins also reveals that there was “a peculiar odour” about the wound.

Layton asks Wilkins to arrange a meeting with Mary for him, with Maguire chipping in to explain that at the inquest, Carruthers wouldn’t let them near her. Describing Carruthers as, “One of the finest men in Heathville” (!!!), Wilkins excuses him thus:

“He just thought you’d add to Mary’s grief so you could get sensational news stories.”

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What with war-time shortages, this is the best they could do by way of “heroes”.

Why, Chief! – how prescient of you.

Layton and Maguire get their interview with Mary, and we’ve just learned that Roy was in charge of the experimental division of the family business when Carruthers wanders in, announcing for no particular reason, “I took a shortcut from my laboratory through a garden hedge!” Carruthers goes on to voice again his wild animal theory, insisting in the face of Layton’s scepticism that, as a scientist, he takes many things into account that a layman might overlook.

This meeting is, of course, the beginning of Layton and Mary falling for each other. Meanwhile, following a grand dramatic tradition, second-banana Maguire is off pursuing Mary’s French maid, Maxine. (Short as the film is, the “comedy” scenes between One-Shot and Maxine seem to go on longer than Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.)

That night, as Layton and Maguire exercise their journalist instincts by sitting around and hoping that something happens, Carruthers is busy ensuring that something does. He invites Tommy Heath up to his lab (Tommy seems remarkably chipper considering that his brother’s inquest was that morning), asking him to shave before he comes and then to try the experimental lotion. Tommy first comments, as Roy did, on how strong the aroma of the lotion is – “That’ll make the customers think they’re getting their money’s worth!” – before rubbing some of it on the tender part of his neck.

Tommy Heath:  “That feels great! – very soothing!”
Dr Carruthers:  “I don’t think you’ll ever use anything else!”

Tommy adds that he thinks the lotion is almost good enough to be used as a cologne. He reaches out a hand to splash some on Carruthers, who leaps back abruptly, excusing his behavior by saying hurriedly, “I have a violent dislike of perfumes!”

Which certainly explains why he went into the cosmetics business.

“Oh, no! A giant killer bat! And there’s nowhere I can possibly take cover!”

Having laid Tommy’s suspicions to rest with this bit of fast talking, Carruthers says “Good-bye” to him and shakes his hand. He does take the precaution of removing his jacket before venturing up into the bat-room, but it doesn’t occur to him that the hand he shook in parting was the one covered with the lotion. Come to think of it, he didn’t notice that when he shook Roy’s hand, either! But fortunately, the bat only seems to attack when the lotion is rubbed on the tender part of the neck. We are then treated to exactly the same footage of the bat leaving by the window and swooping across the sky as during the first killing.

Out in the garden, where Layton and Maguire have been joined by Mary, Tommy Heath pauses just long enough to provide high dramatic irony by scoffing at Layton’s watch for the “wild animal”, before being attacked on the terrace. Luckily for Carruthers, after the bat misses him on the first pass, instead of walking the three feet or so that would take him inside the house, and to safety, Tommy just stands there looking bewildered and shouting, “Help! Help!” The bat gets him on the second go. The others do arrive in time to see that a bat is responsible, but it gets away in spite of Layton shooting at it.

Layton phones in his story to his editor, Joe McGinty, insisting that the name “Devil Bat” will look great in a headline. McGinty starts out accusing Layton of making the whole thing up (Layton protests, “If it ever got out I cooked up a fake story about a Devil Bat, I wouldn’t be able to get a job on a country weekly!”, a line you might want to keep in mind, people), but finally agrees to run it, demanding at the same time that Maguire get a photograph of “the Devil Bat”.

We are next assailed by the inevitable spinning newspapers, the headlines proclaiming MYSTERIOUS DEVIL BAT KILLS THOMAS HEATH and VILLAGERS LIVE IN FEAR OF DEVIL BAT. The story beneath this latter one informs us that the villagers of Heathville “cringed in terror” after the second mysterious death. The editor of the Peoria Gazette must have taken a shine to this rather insulting phrase, as the next headline we see, carried by that vital news organ, announces VILLAGERS CRINGE IN TERROR OF MURDERER.

But what sayeth Thucidydes?

Actually, there’s no end to the entertainment provided by these mock-ups. We might note, for example, the ongoing series on AMERICANISM, with that word reappearing all throughout the reign of the Devil Bat. Or that the Heathville Daily apparently has so much news to print that at the height of a rampage by a Devil Bat that has so far killed two of the town’s most prominent citizens, they have to have that story – in what is, mark you, an extra edition! – …continued on page 5. Still, for my money nothing beats the first front page of the Chicago Daily Register, which fulfills what we take to be a very long-standing promise to its readers by running the story, PERICLES THE GREAT ATHENIAN SPEAKS.

Still, despite all this CRINGING – and AMERICANISM – we next find Don Morton busy shaving, and trying out some AFTER SHAVING LOTION – EXPERIMENTAL. Carruthers is just lucky he was carrying out his scheme in the forties, when people didn’t let their appearance slip no matter how grief-stricken and/or terrified they were. Don soon goes the way of his predecessors, an incident which, alas, we are not permitted to witness. Instead we just get more headlines: DEVIL BAT STRIKES AGAIN. They seem to have run out of ideas pretty quickly. Oddly, Don is the only one of the victims so far to rate a photograph.

Now, you might be wondering what our heroes have been up to all this time? No sooner did Layton finish protesting his professional credentials to McGinty and hang up than he and Maguire set off for the local taxidermists, where they placed an order for a fake giant bat. Recruiting Maxine to the cause, Maguire rigs up some wires and his camera, and tells Maxine to give the thing a push when he’s ready. We get a good look at the fake-a-roo here and, honestly, to measure the difference between this thing and the “real” bat would take an electron microscope.

Well, it turns out that all it takes to get Police Chief Wilkins out of his chair is three unsolved murders. Wandering around in the woods, Wilkins stumbles upon One-Shot and Maxine, and blasts the mock-up mammal with his shotgun before hauling Maguire off to jail. Unsurprisingly, Wilkins will later prove rather less handy with a gun when it comes to shooting the real Devil Bat.

“It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose. And if it does, it gets the bat. It’s all good!”

Layton intervenes, getting Maguire off with a lecture before sending him on his way with a broad wink. He then shows to Wilkins (by now back in his chair) the bottle of shaving-lotion he found in Don Morton’s bedroom. Wilkins recognises the scent as that found on all the victims, and promises to send the lotion to the police chemists. Pointing out that all the victims have been Heaths or Mortons, Wilkins reveals that they are working on the theory that a “disgruntled factory employee” might be behind the killings. Disgruntled employees must have been a bit more imaginative in those days.

Meanwhile, One-Shot’s photo is published, but is exposed as a fraud when a radio news service – presumably delighting in getting some kicks in on their print colleagues – brings in “the world’s greatest authority on animal life”. This, um, “expert” starts off by opining that in “the Dark Ages”, when “men and women lived in caves” (!), there might have been a bat of this size; but “not in this day and age”. A cutaway shows us a listening Carruthers having a good laugh at this, possibly not only because of the whole making-the-Devil-Bat thing. However, the expert scores rather better on the exposé front when he points out that, under a magnifying glass, a tag reading “Made In Japan” can be seen attached to the “Devil Bat”’s silk wing.

(The “authority”, Dr Raines, is played by John Davidson, who made such a splendid villain in the seminal serial, The Perils Of Pauline.)

Reaction to the broadcast is swift. The first phone-call to Layton is from McGinty, informing him that he and Maguire are sacked. The second is from Mary Heath. Layton tries to explain that the fraud was merely his attempt to “get the news” but Mary is unimpressed.

“Why did you make a joke of a tragic thing like this? I suppose you call it getting the news when you arrange to print a picture that’s a deliberate hoax?”

I’m with Mary on this one. It’s hard to see how a faked photo could help “get the news”, unless Layton was expecting the real bat to turn itself in as a consequence, possibly in a fit of professional indignation: “I did it! I did it all!”

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Spot the fake.

Mary hangs up, and Layton turns on Maguire. “’Made In Japan’! I oughtta nail your hide to a barn door!” In other words, it’s fine for a reporter to fake a story: just not to get caught. Some professional ethics you got there, Johnny. Besides, anyone who would rely upon One-Shot Maguire to put over his zany scheme deserves anything he gets.

Sacked or not, Layton carries on with his “investigation”, in order to redeem himself with both McGinty and Mary, and is next seen with Chief Wilkins, who obviously isn’t perturbed enough about that whole “fraud” thing to dissolve the partnership (well, it beats working). Ensconced in his comfy chair, Wilkins tells Layton that there was one element in the shaving lotion that the police chemists were unable to identify. Layton voices his suspicion that Carruthers is somehow behind the killings. Wilkins scoffs at the idea, informing Layton that Carruthers is “the last man in town who would harm anybody” and that “everybody loves him”.

(I dunno – do you get the feeling that this role wasn’t originally intended for Bela? This whole scenario feels more like Boris to me… [Who at the same time was paying his dues over at Monogram.])

Layton persists in his belief that Carruthers is somehow involved in the murders, prompting Wilkins to suggest that he’s been working too hard. Oh, and he ought to know! Layton then proposes that they ask Carruthers to analyse the shaving-lotion. If he denies recognising it, they will have proof of his involvement.

But to Layton’s annoyance, Carruthers outsmarts [sic.] him, immediately claiming the lotion as his own formula; although Carruthers’ admission here doesn’t mean that the lotion wasn’t responsible for attracting the bat, as Wilkins seems to think. Of course, Wilkins also thinks that a bat is a bird, so we might just leave him out of any further debates on the subject.

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“Why anyone would listen to some raving loony of a sci— Oh, wait…”

Layton asks Carruthers if he heard the radio broadcast, prompting the latter to describe the opinions of “the world’s greatest authority on animal life” as “very interesting, and very asinine”, and to declare his belief in the Devil Bat; adding that if Johnny himself has seen the bat and knows it exists, “Why worry about what one scientist says?”

Presumably he means one other scientist.

Layton’s reaction here is rather interesting. “That ‘one scientist’ got me fired,” he comments. Evidently the whole sacked-for-faking-a-news-story aspect of this hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Hearing of Layton’s firing, Carruthers’ eyes light up. “Oh, that’s too bad!” he chortles merrily, supposing that Layton will be leaving town. (You wish, Bela, like the rest of us.) Layton disabuses him of the idea, announcing that he will be staying on to, “Work with the Chief.” Or at least, for the Chief. Or instead of the Chief. Whereupon, a very casual Carruthers offers some of his shaving-lotion to both his visitors. Wilkins declines, but the suspicious Layton accepts, promising to use it the next morning. Carruthers wishes him “Good-bye.”

The next bit is very odd. Layton and Maguire resume their midnight vigil, and apparently Layton has now accepted Wilkins’ theory that because Carruthers told them what the secret ingredient in the lotion is, it can’t be responsible for the bat attacks (either deliberately or accidentally), and therefore neither can Carruthers. Furthermore, Layton has splashed some of the lotion on himself, even though he doesn’t like it, explaining that, “I was a little ashamed of suspecting the old guy.” Meanwhile, having no reason to think that Layton was already wearing the lotion, Carruthers nevertheless lets his bat out.

It does indeed attack, but is apparently as fed up with One-Shot Maguire as any viewer of the film: it ignores the lotion-wearing Layton and tries to tear out One-Shot’s throat instead. YESSSS!!!! Unfortunately – NOOO!!!! – Layton intervenes, proving himself a truly remarkable shot by plugging the bat four or five times despite standing directly behind One-Shot as he is attacked.

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Tragically, not even a severed jugular vein and a bullet in the back could finish off the Odious Comic Relief.

REPORTER KILLS DEVIL BAT is the next headline, pushing AMERICANISM down the page again, and leaving us to ponder the content of the story simply headed, GIRLS. As we peruse the relevant article, we see that Layton has rather oddly referred to himself in the text as “Henry”, not “Johnny”. Modesty forbade, presumably. Oh, and now the story is being …continued on page 12! We further note that it is the Springfield Daily and not the Chicago Daily Register that describes Layton as a “famous reporter” (and that gets his name right). Meanwhile, “scientists”, unspecified, are held to “marvel at huge Devil Bat”, while Dr Raines is wheeled back in to pronounce the “Devil Bat” the last of its species, a “type of giant bat that existed in great numbers during the Neolithic Age”…

…at which Carruthers, listening in, gives a contemptuous bark of laughter. “Imbecile!” he exclaims, and returns to his laboratory to produce Devil Bat II. We get a classic moment here when Carruthers is tormenting the bat with the scent, and obviously they forgot to dub in the sounds of the bat’s cries, having Carruthers’ comment, “Enraged, aren’t you?” seemingly provoked by…nothing in particular. Perhaps it was an inarticulate rage.

After some wheeling and dealing with McGinty, Layton and One-Shot get their jobs back; and then Mary shows up to apologise for getting mad over the fake photograph. Sigh. Tell me, why do movies always make women apologise for being justifiably angry? Look at the quote up above: what did Mary say to Layton that wasn’t perfectly warranted? I suppose it’s to make them look sweet and gentle, but personally I think it makes them look feeble-minded and spineless. (Hmm – you say “to-may-to”, I’ll say “to-mah-to”…)

Putting his nose back to the grindstone, Carruthers calls upon Henry Morton, who spends about ten minutes cheerfully rubbing his employee’s face in the company’s profits, reminding Carruthers how rich he could have been if he hadn’t asked for a cash deal. “But then, you’ve had a lot of fun in your laboratory!” he concludes. (He doesn’t know the half of it!) This is too much for Carruthers, who loses his temper, telling Morton that he is in the presence of a great scientist; one who not only has the power to control men’s destinies, but has already done so – three times.

TDB40-expression11b  TDB40-expression5b
Urge to kill…rising

This hint is so broad even Morton manages to pick up on it; and after Carruthers, having made a, “Whoops! I’ve said too much!” gesture, withdraws, Morton arranges to meet Heath and Chief Wilkins at Heath’s house, because he thinks he’s got a clue to “all those murders”. But it’s too late for Morton. Carruthers has already persuaded him to rub a little of the lotion where “the texture of the skin is always very delicate”. Morton was at first put off by the lotion’s scent, but Carruthers assured him, as he did every other victim, that it quickly evaporates; and that, indeed, it may even be the basis of the lotion’s success.

Henry Morton:  “I guess you never know what’s going to happen in this business!”
Dr Carruthers:  “Believe me, Henry: you don’t have to worry!”

With that, Carruthers wishes Morton, “Good-bye”. When Morton arrives at Heath’s house, Carruthers is already there – with Devil Bat II in the boot of his car! He then casually calls upon Heath, learning of Morton’s theory, and is thus on the spot when Morton comes staggering through the front door clutching his throat.

DEVIL BAT’S MATE KILLS HENRY MORTON is the next headline. Sadly, no-one thinks to call in “the world’s greatest authority on animal life” to explain this little development, although those unnamed “scientists” are apparently responsible for the “mate” theory. (Meanwhile, to the side, we see yet again that mystifying pronouncement, PERICLES THE GREAT ATHENIAN SPEAKS.) Carruthers, while visiting, manages to sneak into Mary’s room and top up her perfume atomiser with his scent; while downstairs, Layton is thanking Martin Heath for inviting him and One-Shot to stay at the house. (Well, why not? They’ve got plenty of room these days.)

Carruthers scoffs at the notion that someone could be in charge of the bats: “As a scientist, I assure you, the thought, of a human controlling a bat, is fantastic!” he jerks out. Mary offers to show the guests to their rooms, upon which Carruthers rather reluctantly bids her, “Good-bye.”

Who knows what giant killer bat lurks in the attics of men? The Shadow knows!

Devil Bat II does attack, but thanks to the screens on Mary’s windows is unable to get to her. Mary wakes up to find it hovering rather improbably on her balcony, looking like the alter-ego of the world’s fattest vampire. Her screams bring the others running, and at Layton’s insistence she gives an incidental account of her pre-bed movements, including Maxine fixing the screen, “Which had somehow become unhooked”, and her own discovery of the “new perfume” in her bottle, which she assumed was a gift from her father.

Now sure of Carruthers’ guilt, Layton has Mary pretend to have a nervous collapse so that Carruthers may be called in to attend her; although he refrains from mentioning Carruthers’ name in connection with his suspicions. In the scientist’s absence, Layton searches his lab. However, the wary Carruthers deflects the rather obvious attempts of the others to keep him at Mary’s side, and does not stay away for long. Layton finds nothing incriminating but, after hiding upon hearing Carruthers’ return, he manages to follow the scientist to his secret attic and observes him putting his bat out for the night.

Circling back and pretending to call upon Carruthers, Layton reveals his belief that the shaving-lotion is attracting the bats, and announces his intention of using himself as bait. Carruthers is delighted with this, and willingly accepts Layton’s invitation to sit out with him. But once in the garden, Layton splashes the lotion all over Carruthers, forcing him at gunpoint to stay where he is.

“Not so funny when it’s your own juggler vein that’s in danger, is it, doc?” observes Layton.

Before Carruthers even has the chance to reply that that entire remark is pretty damn funny, Devil Bat II attacks! Carruthers jumps Layton as he tries to shoot the creature, and the two men struggle. (Watch them kick up the “grass” as they roll around!) Suddenly, there is a shotgun blast, and then another, from nearby, and the bat flies away. Layton hauls Carruthers to his feet to find Chief Wilkins standing nearby. “What are you doing here?” asks Layton. “Don’t think you’re the only man working on this case!” replies Wilkins. (Gee, I can’t imagine where anyone could have gotten that idea!)

“You created a giant killer bat!? Why?”
“I’m a scientist. That’s what we do.”

Layton hands Carruthers over, announcing that he is the murderer; something Wilkins accepts without asking for a shred of proof (well, it beats working).

Johnny Layton:  “Tell me, doc: how did you create a giant bat like that?”
Dr Carruthers:  “You wouldn’t understand the scientific theory!”

At that moment, Devil Bat II attacks again! A flurry of shooting follows, to no avail. Carruthers takes advantage of the situation to make a break for it. He tries to abduct Mary Heath, convincing her that he will take her to Layton, but Justice is on its winged way. Devil Bat II swoops, and soon Carruthers, like so many of his mad scientist colleagues before him, and after him, has met his fate at the hands—er, wings?—anyway, teeth ‘n’ claws of his creation.

The bat then attacks Mary for no apparent reason, other than that she is the heroine of the movie. (Granted, she’s just dumb enough not to have washed the perfume off.) Layton shoots and brings the bat down before breaking the news to Mary that “kindly Dr Carruthers” was responsible for the wholesale slaughter of the Heath and Morton families.

Wilkins confirms that Carruthers is dead, Mary sinks into Layton’s arms, and The Devil Bat ends, strangely enough without anyone observing that Carruthers had been meddling in things that man must leave alone. Well, let’s face it: that was Wilkins’ job, wasn’t it? And I guess it was just too much damn trouble…


Want a second opinion of The Devil Bat? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting.

Click here for some Immortal Dialogue!

More on The Devil Bat in Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer.

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9 Responses to The Devil Bat (1940)

  1. Pingback: lmmortal Dialogue: Films A – D | and you call yourself a scientist!?

  2. Pingback: Devil Bat’s Daughter (1946) | and you call yourself a scientist!?

  3. Pingback: The Creeper (1948) | and you call yourself a scientist!?

  4. Pingback: Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer | and you call yourself a scientist!?

  5. One of the things I review is the 1960s supernatural soap opera, Dark Shadows. In an episode I watched recently, there is a delightfully goofy fake bat. Normally, the show used a cartoon bat superimposed, or else the classic bat-on-a-string, but this one is a truly unconvincing push toy. There’s a screencap of it near the bottom of the page at


    • lyzmadness says:

      WANT!! 😀

      (I shall have to stop by and take a proper look at your blog…)


      • Sorry-there’s a typo in my message above. That should be “plush toy” bat.

        I think you’d love Dark Shadows if you haven’t seen it, There’s a massive bunch of DVDs; I’ve been renting them and reviewing for about 3 years, but a lot of the show is also on YouTube. It’s ridiculous and addictive, borrowing plots from not only Dracula, but Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, The Manchurian Candidate, and who-knows what else in genre fiction. It’s like a B-movie that keeps going on and on for years.


      • lyzmadness says:

        That’s okay, I knew what you meant. 🙂

        I’m very aware of Dark Shadows but I don’t think it was ever on here. Although, hmm, now that I look into it, it seems like my good friends at Madman have released at least some of it on DVD. We’ll see…


  6. David Conner says:

    I just realized – the background for Carruthers is the same as in Breaking Bad!


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