The Devil Bat

Catalan has been said to contain all other languages within itself, because of its remarkable mimetic properties. There is, for example, a Catalan phrase which sounds recognizably like the English, “no smoking, no talking,” but which in fact means, “don’t get me wet, don’t get your smell on me.”

The simplicity of this elegance is what you find in The Devil Bat, where an evil scientist destroys his victims by inducing them to wear his bat-lure in the guise of shaving lotion.

Perhaps the mortal importance of telling shit from Shinola is the whole point, from a scientific perspective.

This wonderful film builds its images carefully, from the mouse with the wings of a bird to the cosmetic merchants undone by a disgruntled lab rat.

 

So’s Your Aunt Emma!

She comes to the city, a place of rival gangs and crooked deals and even murder, to watch the boy fight professionally who was the son of her late fiancÚ, a champ.

Some crooks think she’s Ma Parker with a gat in her bumbershoot, she turns it to her advantage when the boy is shot and kidnapped.

 

Lure of the Islands

Bombshells of deadpan, with Jinx’s line, “if I’d a been a snake I’d a bit him!”

 

Jack and the Beanstalk

A very straightforward film for the kiddies, which is naughty enough to show the real basis of The Wizard of Oz.

 

Saintly Sinners

Almost immediately, which is to say after an establishing shot of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Saintly Sinners reveals the hand of Jean Yarbrough as the technical factor of the urbane Roman comedy in The Abbott and Costello Show. Flats painted as cityscapes, universal locations filmed close-in without further establishing than signs (a city street, a parking lot, a dirt road, a used car lot, a mountain highway, a filling station), a luxuriantly funny script filmed accurately and tellingly, precise camera work, deep-laid performances and continual inspiration.

It might have been Preston Sturges or a Damon Runyon film, it might have been Edgar G. Ulmer’s great St. Benny the Dip (or We’re No Angels), though it’s a little like a humorous fore-echo of Bresson’s L’Argent, even. Keaton was working on this type of comedy in a handful of three-reelers during the Forties.

Father Dan (Don Beddoe) is casting flies into the little fountain or birdbath outside the church. It’s trout season, up in the mountains the water and sky are “as blue as Our Lady’s mantle,” but his vacation plans are always foiled because he has no transportation, his old rattletrap is at Casey’s garage for repairs again. “Maybe,” says his housekeeper, Mrs. McKenzie (Ellen Corby), “the days of miracles aren’t past.” He replies, “I sincerely hope so.”

Casey telephones with a tale of parts to be replaced, and a recommendation. “I know I need a new car,” says Father Dan. “It’s hard to say if the Lord has any such category among His miracles.”

Mrs. McKenzie sympathizes. “Maybe now the Monsignor will move you out of this miserable parish,” beset by poverty and vice. So-and-so was a great drunkard, but Father Dan explains, “he was only seeking infinity like the rest of us, only he was seeking it in a bottle... Temperance is a small virtue, Mrs. McKenzie, charity a great one.”

Two parishioners are seen at their devotions in the garden. These are Big Idaho Murphy, known as The Mayor of Main Street, and Horsefly Brown (Clancy Cooper, William Fawcett), a couple of shady customers. They furtively place a slip of paper under the statue of St. Dysmas, the good thief and patron saint. “Wedding Bells,” it says. Could they be seeking intercessory prayer for matrimony? “The good Lord would never do that,” says Mrs. McKenzie, “to any good woman.” Father Dan answers, “Suppose we let the good Lord have His own way once in a while, Mrs. McKenzie.”

Young Mr & Mrs. Joseph Braden (Ron Hagerthy, Erin O’Donnell) are also having car trouble,. Joe needs his Fairlane for his work as an insurance salesman, the finance company needs $210, Susan’s on the telephone telling them off. He’ll be a very important man one day, she says with her Irish well up, just let them try and take the car. The couple talk things over. He was once broke, even arrested, Father Dan helped him. The Father doesn’t have that kind of money, but maybe he knows someone at the finance company.

Mrs. McKenzie receives Joe warily. “There’s some good pious literature there, Mr. Braden,” she says, asking him to sit. “It might be profitable readin’ while yer waitin’.”

Across the street from the church, with the stained glass windows filling their own second-floor hotel room window, Slim (Stanley Clements) and Duke (Paul Bryar) welcome the sight of the Fairlane parked out front. They’re planning to heist a bank drop in Stansbury on Monday morning at 10:45, when a girl always brings her company’s receipts for deposit. They need a car, what a good turn.

The Monsignor (Addison Richards) is lecturing Father Dan on prudence and the avoidance of extremes. St. Francis stripping off his clothes and running around naked in Assisi could hardly be called an example of prudence. Police Chief Harrihan, the Monsignor tells Father Dan, is greatly concerned about the rate of recidivism among the parishioners whom the Father shepherds past parole boards. Father Dan is meek and mild, saying only, “he has his job to do, of course.” The Monsignor is suave. “Be prudent, use discretion.” The rectory looks ailing, the Father’s clothes are shabby, it’s a poor parish, too much of the collection goes to charity, why, Father Dan has even taken the lock off the poor box. “It’s for them,” Father Dan says, “I thought they might as well help themselves.” But thieves use it as a matter of course! Henceforth, let more of the money be to the Father’s own personal use. It’s bad for anyone, especially a priest, to let himself go. The Monsignor makes it “a matter of obedience.” He smiles, pats Father Dan on the back, and says, “You are a good priest, Daniel, a good priest.”

No, Father Dan tells Joe Braden, he doesn’t know anyone at the finance company, and it wouldn’t do any good if he did, “they don’t work by the heart, they work by the computing machine.” Father Dan has an exhortation. “We don’t harass the Lord enough. We should be more demanding, like a small boy asking his father for a bicycle.” He tells Joe to “ask for your inheritance... ask for a miracle, a couple of miracles... demand your share” of the many miracles He performs daily, “holler! Our rich Father isn’t very far away.” Women know how to pull a man’s leg or bend his ear. Joe agrees, “you should have heard Susan tell the finance company off.” Father Dan continues, “tell her to tell the Lord off! After all, all you’re asking for is a fair shake. It shouldn’t take much of a miracle for that.” When Joe emerges from the rectory his car is gone.

Susan is wallpapering. The two men from the finance company were very nice, believe it or not. She’s disgusted to think they would turn around and take Joe’s car. “The man upstairs, “Joe explains, “is as rich as can be, Father Dan says.” They cheerfully holler help. “$210! $300! Help, Lord, help!” Mrs. Madigan bursts in, thinkin’ somebody’s getting’ murthered. “Prayin’ was ye! What are ye, hollerin’ hyenas? I thought ye was Catholics! Ye’d better get down on yer knees and say yer prayers like decent Christians. Or else!”

The heist goes as planned, but during the getaway, Duke and Slim hear a siren, so they lam out down a dirt road. False alarm. “There oughta be a law,” says Slim, “against lettin’ ambulances have sireens!” Duke has no time for this. “Why doncha write yer congressman.” They tape a row of numbers over the license plates, because the girl noted them (CEU 709). Now to establish an alibi, at Sam’s luncheonette, where they set the clock back to 10:45, chat Sam up, and walk out to find their car gone, with the money inside the spare tire in the trunk (“I sure hate to do this,” says one finance company man, “that dame’s sure nuts about that guy,” and the other replies, “what’s the matter with you, you some kinda love nut?”).

Father Dan really needs a vacation, but look at the collection plate! A button, a transit token, a few small coins, a Confederate dollar! It’s Mrs. McKenzie who points all this out, Father Dan is pleased with the collection, “they’re very proud people, they want to seem at least to support their parish.” Mrs. McKenzie demurs, “a wretched parish you have here.”

Horsefly and Murphy enter with a gift for the Father, “five hundred green ones” to buy a car (“we figured you could get a deal”). Why the dough? St. Dysmas came through! Wedding Bells never crawled to a finish before, it was “an honest bet, all kosher, we earned it shootin’ craps.” Father Dan tells them he couldn’t accept it, and besides, the Monsignor has new rules. “Aw, to heck with the Monsignor,” says Murphy, “we’re leavin’ the money for Dysmas, we’re callin’ it his cut.” They walk out.

Honest Jim’s Used Car Lot (“Wholesale... almost”) has a green Fairlane “just in from the finance company.” There’s the pitch, Father Dan drives home.

Duke and Slim are astonished to see the car again. With all that money, Duke will have time for the readin’ of good books (he riffles through one). Slim retorts, “you like to read so much, why doncha go over and knock off the public liberry!” Duke regards him quickly. Just one more job, he says. “I may be a louse,” Slim answers, “but I ain’t gonna rob a church!” Look at it this way, Duke tells him, if the situation was reversed and the Father wanted to borrow our spare tire for a little while, we’d let him, wouldn’t we? Sure we would!

Mrs. McKenzie watches them eyeing the car. “If they’re parishioners,” she says to ever-trusting Father Dan, “the car’s as good as gone.”

“You like it, gentlemen? The green is the color of birch leaves in Spring. You’re both obviously honest men,” etc. He can’t sell it now, he’s going to Lake Sapphire in the morning, arrangements all made, returning Saturday. “But today’s Tuesday,” Slim exclaims, they have a business deal, they need the car. Father Dan is serene. “The bigger the deal, the better it is for the side that’s in no hurry.” He locks the car in the garage.

Next morning, they follow him in a pickup truck, expecting him to stop for coffee along the way. “You know,” Slim tells Duke, “I’ve never been up this early in my life. The city looks queer, like it ain’t finished.” Duke is getting hungry. “When a hamburger starts to look better than eight thousand dollars cash, I gotta be starvin’.” They lose sight of Father Dan’s car.

Sixteen miles from Sapphire Lake, the Father pulls in at a glass-walled filling station to have his right front tire checked. The attendant (Bobs Watson) finds the spare low on air, can’t fill it. “No soap, we’ll have to take it off” the rim, but at the last second whatever was blocking the valve shifts, the spare is filled and replaces the damaged right front (which goes in the trunk). Slim and Duke pull over for a bite, see Father Duke at a table eating, notice the filling station next door, grab the tire from the trunk and scram. “How much,” Father Dan asks the attendant. “That’ll be a dollar.” Away to the lake.

Back in their hotel room, Slim is prying off the tire while Duke admonishes him. “Be careful, I don’t want you to bruise any o’ them bills!” Slim is floored. “We been hijacked!” They ponder the situation. “You know,” Slim avows, “I’m beginnin’ to think that somebody up there hates us!”

A policeman parked by the side of the road (near a sign reading “3 mi. to Sapphire Lake”) sees the Fairlane drive past, checks the hot sheet and stops the car. “I was only going 25, 27 at the most!” This officer, whose uncle runs the jail, arrests Father Dan. “Reverend Daniel Sheridan,” the uncle reads from the accused’s driver’s license, “does he look like a reverend to you?” “Looks more like he could use a reverend.” A parish on Canal Street, eh? They had a case like this once before, fellow called himself Right Reverend Worthington, burglar, dropped a safe on his big toe and hollered, that’s partly how they caught him. “Call the Monsignor!” Oh, he’s got a Monsignor, has he, that’s nice, the Right Reverend didn’t have no Monsignor. “If you keep on bein’ tricky like this,” says the uncle, “we’re gonna lock you up for a week, incommuni—[he pauses for the rest of it]—endo!” Father Dan has a last proposal, the uncle is nonplussed, “If I let him go, he’ll come back! Why, that is the darnedest buncha talk I ever heard in my life.”

Police Chief Harrihan (Willis Bouchey) has a great deal to say to the Monsignor. “Nothing about Father Dan makes the least sense to me, nor to the rest of the department, I might add.” The monsignor interjects, temperately, “I’m sure it was committed in all innocence.” The Chief is not greatly moved, he and his colleagues “have had a bellyful of crimes committed in all innocence.” Father Dan is an old grievance,” he’s almost a genius, you might say, at pulling the wool over the eyes of judges, probation officers... he may be a living saint for all I know,” but all these repeat offenders, the crime rate, etc. Look at Joe Braden.

Joe is arrested, He was at that very bank in Stansbury on Monday, “begging for money.” Slim and Duke pay Father Dan a visit, Mrs. McKenzie blames them and their ilk for putting him in such a state (“Is the Father sick?”), he’s praying in the church, they should do likewise. She ushers them out, gives them the bum’s rush.

They settle at a bar. “Naw, no thanks,” they say, refusing a free round, “we’ll ride these.” Murphy and Horsefly enter the bar, with a crowd of associates, likewise refusing service, “we got sober business.” They’re writing a letter to the Monsignor about his firing Father Dan. A chippie wonders if it wouldn’t “butter him up better if you wrote ‘Monsignor Dear.’” Murphy concurs, “yeah, that’s a great angle.” Composition is difficult, maybe they should go and see him. That scares Murphy. The chippie wonders if people like them are allowed. Slim chimes in, “Well, yer human bein’s aincha? That’s all the church wants to know!” The Mayor of Main Street is resolved, “if it’s OK with all o’ you, it’s OK with all o’ me.”

The Monsignor receives them at the rectory of St. Mary’s. “Your Honor,” begins Murphy, on his feet. “You ain’t in court,” Horsefly reminds him. “Well, you can’t be such terrible sinners if you admit it so openly,” says the Monsignor graciously. One and all, they agree with him. It’s our fault, they say, Father Dan was fired. Murphy puts it to the Monsignor. “If you give Father Dan his old job back, we’ll walk the old chalk, pious as a corpse. We show results.” The Monsignor is greatly impressed, however he has “a great responsibility, to the church, to the community, to Father Dan in particular... it is not always wise nor practical to let the heart rule the head.” Slim is incredulous, “you mean a lotta guys have double-crossed the Father?” The Monsignor concludes, “I’m sure that Father’s goodness can be put to better use in another parish.” Susan protests, “without Father Dan, Joe’s lost! He’s innocent!” The Monsignor consoles her, “we must trust in the courts.” That’s it for Slim. “I did it,” he confesses. Duke corrects him, “we did it.” The Monsignor is surprised. “Well, it looks like Father Dan did do some good after all.” He admits that someone was wrong, and it was “your Monsignor.” Slim and Duke are prepared to make restitution? “We haven’t touched a dime of the money,” says Duke, and Slim adds, “oh, no, not a cent!” It’s in a tire on Father Dan’s car. The Monsignor’s expression at this bit of news repays the look of pain on Father Dan’s face when the Monsignor was announced at the rectory after the Father’s release from jail.

The Bradens are back in their car. “It was a very nice miracle, Father,” she says, “and not a small one, either.” Father Dan is unruffled. “Now, don’t let the Lord off the hook, keep hollerin’!” Horsefly and Murphy enter the garden with a bet on Blushing Bride in the sixth. “The poor men, “says Mrs. McKenzie, “their only connection with women is horses.” Looking at the muscular, bearded saint in the garden, she tells Father Dan, “St. Dysmas is a powerful saint.” He is quick to agree, “and as the boys say, he sure can boot in the winners.”