4 May 2009 | genet-1
Above Average Early Sound Action Picture
Wesley Ruggles began directing THE SEA BAT but Lionel Barrymore completed it. This would account for the contrast between the outdoor scenes, shot on Mexican locations, and the interiors, particularly a sponge-diving episode, filmed in the studio tank, and some dialog between Charles Bickford and Raquel Torres.
The exteriors bear all the hallmarks of Ruggles - in particular a long tracking shot following Torres through the ramshackle village to the dock, where the sponge fishing boat is about to leave with her brother Asther aboard. The hand of Ruggles is also evident in the scene of Torres fending off potential rape on the rocky seashore, the star pulling a knife and snarling defiance at John Miljan and cronies as spray soaks her flimsy blouse (revealing a pre-code absence of lingerie.)
On the other hand, one is inclined to lay at Barrymore's door an embarrassing voodoo sequence, with Torres performing an unconvincing dance, and also the scene where she tries to vamp Bickford as he stolidly studies the Bible.
The casting, as often in early sound films, mixes talents on the way up with once-eminent silent performers working out the end of their contracts; Charles Bickford and Boris Karloff among the former, Gibson Gowland (GREED), Nils Asther (WILD ORCHIDS)and Mack Swain (Keystone) the latter. George F. Marion parades another of his excruciating accents, a serious rival to his performance in ANNA Christie as Garbo's father.
Considerable effort has gone into creating the manta ray "bat",a towed semi-submersible on the order of "Bruce", the shark in JAWS. More whale than ray, it spouts, and overturns boats. This impressive piece of physical special effects, as usual with early studio productions, is uncredited.