I randomly stumbled across this six minute clip reel, for 1930′s talkie film, The Bat Whispers. It was one of the first films to adopt the experimental 70mm widescreen format similar to what you would see in an IMAX cinema today. But ultimately was shelved in 1932, due to the massive budget cuts around the time of the Great Depression. It also made an impression on a young 15 year old, by the name of Bob Kane, later inspiring him to create the iconic character Batman. This Bat-man however is one of the bad guys and, in a very joker-esque way, leaves a calling card with his victims.
The film was ahead of it’s time, and used scaled miniatures to achieve grand sweeping shots across buildings and manor houses, much like Citizen Kane did 12 years later.
A mysterious criminal by the name of “The Bat” eludes police and then finally announces his retirement to the country, while a wealthy Cornelia Van Gorder takes up residence in the estate of a famous banker. Along with her maid Lizzie, her niece Dale, and a bank teller disguised as a gardener, she is terrorized by a series of strange events seemingly set in motion by the mysterious bat. Possible suspects include a doctor, an elderly police lieutenant, a butler, a handyman, and a big-city cop.
They filmed scenes using two cameras side by-side, one in 35mm and the other in 70mm. Both slightly angled into one another to form a large obtuse angle that resulted in two very different shots for the same scene. Effectively there ended up being two versions of the same film – the same scene in 35mm would look like a close-up, but the 70mm would include more of the actors and set. This technical feat was necessary to allow the film to be screened in older cinemas using 35mm, as well as deluxe screenings adopting the newer 70mm format.
It wasn’t until 1953 that wider aspect ratios were once again adopted. Perhaps the craziest bit of information I was able to find, while wondering even further down the rabbit hole, was that they had to re-shoot every scene several times for each language market – meaning they switched actors and directors, depending on the language to be used in the film. So if you wanted to market the film in the US, France, Spain and Germany, you’d have to allow four different director/actor pairings to produce the same film for each market. Later on, someone realized that dubbing was the way forward.