Lugosi on Poverty Row
While they may not be true classics in the minds of most people, many of Lugosi’s ever-growing legion of fans have great affection for his Poverty Row features, and anything with Lugosi is collectible.
Though he’d made a bit of a comeback in the role of Ygor in Son of Frankenstein, Lugosi found himself unable to capitalize on his success, and by 1940 had signed on with the lowest of the Poverty Row studios for a series of horror thrillers. In Producers Releasing Corporation’s The Devil Bat (1941), Lugosi plays a beloved scientist who is secretly out for revenge against the men he believes swindled him out of a cosmetics fortune. By applying electric current, he makes bats grow to the size of rottweilers. He also makes them vicious killers when they smell a rare Tibetan herb, which he cleverly adds to his latest after-shave lotion formula.
Director Jean Yarbrough, who would go on to a prolific career in b-movies and television, made full use of the cheesy virtues that PRC had to offer, showing off the low-rent old dark house sets full of Kenneth Strickfaden’s electrical machines, secret passageways, and odd props. What’s that headboard doing leaning against a wall? And what’s with that wicker basket?
Lugosi also gets to strut his stuff, always giving his all to a role. He seems to really enjoy it every time he gets to say “Goodbye” to another victim. He seems like Olivier next to leading lady Suzanne Kaaren, who doesn’t seem the slightest bit distracted by the fact that her family is being torn up by devil bats. With bat-ravaged corpses piling up, the local police can do little but call in a shifty big city reporter (Dave O’Brien) from the Chicago Register to crack the case. As for the bats – in between attacks they bob merrily on their wires waiting for O’Brien and his sidekick Donald Kerr to track them down, doing their best to look as unlike the stock footage of real bats they’re intercut with as possible.
Most prints of old Poverty Row pictures are worn, but this release of Devil Bat is especially so, with even large fingerprints showing up on several frames. Devil Bat is also available on DVD in a double feature with Scared to Death, Lugosi’s only color feature.