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The Sea Bat

USA 1930
produced by
Wesley Ruggles for MGM
directed by Lionel Barrymore, Wesley Ruggles
starring Raquel Torres, Charles Bickford, Nils Asther, George F.Marion, John Miljan, Boris Karloff, Gibson Gowland, Edmund Breese, Mathilde Comont, Mack Swain
story by Dorothy Yost, screenplay by Bess Meredyth, John Howard Lawson

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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The island of Portuga in the West Indies: Most of the population lives from sponge-diving, but that's a mighty dangerous profession, because the Sea Bat, a giant manta ray, kills divers every now and again, divers just as Carlos (Nils Asther), latest victim of the Sea Bat. This throws his sister Nina (Raquel Torres) into despair, and she turns away from her Christian belief and towards the voodoo rites of the native populace. Nina is also the prettiest girl on the island, and runs around in very revealing outfits, which is why all men on the island lust after her, especially Juan (John Miljan), a cutthroat if there ever was one.

Nina's father Antone (George F.Marion), mayor of the island, is worried sick about the girl, so he turns to the new reverend Sims (Charles Bickford) for advice. That's a bit of a problem because Sims isn't really a man of the cloth, he has just stolen a priest's cloths to pose as one, he really is an escapee from Devil's Island. He does however try to talk sense into the girl, but gives up way too easily, even when she in one scene virtually throws herself at him and wants to be lectured. Only when Sims finds her attending a voodoo ritual, he is shocked (and there are definite racist undercurrents) and drags her away rather violently. The next day, during a storm, Nina offers herself to the man who kills the Sea Bat that has killed her brother. Defying common sense, Juan and a few others go out into the sea ... but only Juan returns.

Sims stutters himself through the funeral, going back and forth in the bible and quoting rather aimlessly, but his sermon has still affected two people: Nina, who discovers her conscience and suddenly feels bad about sending a handful of people to their deaths, and Sims himself, who suddenly feels guilty of pretending to be a priest and being unable to help anybody.

Juan meanwhile has found out who Sims really is and wants to capture him and take him back to Devil's Island for a handsome reward. Sims decides to get off the island as soon as possible, but he can't without saying goodbye to Nina - and in the process he confesses everything to her, which prompts her to confess her love to him in return, and the two decide to make the escape together. But then Sims is captured by Juan and company, and finds himself on a boat to Devil's Island - when the Sea Bat attacks once more, killing Juan and friend and leaving Sims the last man standing. He returns to Portuga and into Nina's arms, but by now he knows he has to give himself up to authorities before long to serve his term so he will clear his conscience and eventually become a free man.

Boris Karloff plays one of Sims' friends, but he is only seen in a handful of scenes, and is hardly above extra status.


There are several good things to say about this film: The authentic outdoor locations are wonderful and beautifully photographed, the camerawork is rather fluent with nice tracking shots aplenty (which was a challenge in early sound cinema, actually), the underwater photography looks pretty impressive, the cast is at least adequate, and Raquel Torres brings just the right, steamy sexuality to the screen.

That all said, The Sea Bat is not a particularly good film, essentially it suffers from a poor screenplay, where a cheesy and (even then) old and overused story carries an unbearingly blunt conservative message. Add to this some direction and acting that seems to be too deeply rooted in silent cinema to not come off as a tad ridiculous even in 1930, and a very unconvincing manta ray prop, and you've got ... well, something that could have been a lot better.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD