Welcome to the Waiver Wire’s EVERY BATMAN EVER MARATHON. In the weeks leading up to the release of ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘ I will be watching and analyzing every feature film based on the Caped Crusader. The Batman film franchise is an old one with roots stretching all the way back to film serials produced in the 40’s. The first feature film came about in 1966 and our love affair with The World’s Greatest Detective has continued on. Check back every Wednesday for the newest installments and I encourage you to join in and do the marathon with me. Here’s the schedule (click on the date for past installments):
Intro: 5/23; Batman (1966): 5/30; Batman (1989): 6/6; Batman Returns (1992): 6/13; Batman Forever (1995): 6/20; Batman & Robin (1997): 6/27; Batman Begins (2005): 7/4; The Dark Knight (2008): 7/11; Recap/Rankings: 7/18; The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 7/25
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin
Plot: I was going to try and explain this but I think I better leave it to Wikipedia: “When Batman (West) and Robin (Ward) get a tip that Commodore Schmidlapp (the final role of actor Reginald Denny) is in danger aboard his yacht, they launch a rescue mission using the Batcopter. After a tangle with an exploding shark which seizes Batman’s leg but is repelled by shark repellent after the Yacht disappears, Batman and Robin head back to Commissioner Gordon’s office where, through deduction and wisdom, they figure out that the tip was a set-up by The United Underworld, a gathering of four of the most powerful villains in Gotham City (Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman), who plan to defeat The Dynamic Duo once and for all, and take over the entire world.” There’s also a whole plan to kidnap the Security Council of a stand in for the United Nations using a human dehydrator. Yeah…
Production History: This incarnation of the Dark Knight is based on the camp-tastic television series that ran from 1966-1968 and established many elements of Batman iconography, including putting the word “bat” in front of all equipment and title cards with things like “BAM.” The immensely popular series is pretty upsetting in terms of being a Batman story but is pretty insanely entertaining as a campy take on the neutered Golden Age version of the character which removed any trace of the character’s dark roots. The films featured many actors from the series(but had to substitute Lee Meriweather in for Catwoman due to contract issues with Julie Newmar) and was made for $1.4 million.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: The film opens with a long “ode to lovers” of crime fighters, escapism, the bizarre and several other things. It goes out of its way to say we shouldn’t take the film seriously. We’re then treated to Bruce and Dick (Robin) on a lovely Sunday afternoon drive (sort of creepy) which is interrupted when they find out a yacht has been hijacked. The narrator seems to imply this is pretty routine, must be sort of a nuisance. The movie really goes batshit (pun intended) insane once Batman and Robin arrive at the yacht and lower the “Bat Ladder.” Not only have they named a regular rope ladder, the “Bat Ladder”, but they’ve actually gone out of their way to label it. From there Batman is attacked by a shark which he spends almost 3 whole minutes punching in the gills before yelling to Robin “pass me the Bat Shark Repellent” which apparently doesn’t just work on the fictional Bat Shark, but also on
rubber real ones.
Some other highlights include Batman trying to dispose of a comically oversized bomb for about 5 minutes. Everywhere he turns he encounters something that he doesn’t want to blow up. Finally he gets to water only to encounter a family of ducks. We’re dealing with a version of Batman that would sooner explode that kill a family of ducks.
THE BAT: A lot of comic book writers and filmmakers have explored the notion that Batman is insane. He dresses up at night on an eternal quest to avenge the death of his parents yet never finds peace. Despite all the years of work delving into this I suspect that Adam West’s Batman may be the most insane ever put on film. He carries himself like a delusional boy scout in the depths of a cocaine binge. He’s manic yet pauses to reflect on things, often departing wisdom which is borderline schizophrenic. His moral code is also oddly specific, including his reticence to alter the dehydrated Security Council members for the good of the world but, when they get altered anyway, calling it the “greatest service” they’ve ever done the world. At one point the Penguin blows up a shark and Batman says “Nothing is sacred to these devils.” Apparently Batman really respects the noble shark people, even if he does enjoy punching their gills.
THE BRUCE: This Bruce Wayne is prone to falling in love extremely quickly. Catwoman poses as a Russian woman and agrees to go on a date with Bruce and it’s hard to accurately describe the awkwardness that ensues. Sure, he says all the right things and is technically charming but Adam West seems almost as if he’s unsure of where he is during it. Then he becomes oddly fixated in other moments and suddenly propositions her for sex. Later, when the truth of her identity is revealed, Batman stares at the screen stoically for about ten seconds before saying this is part of a crime fighter’s life and decides it “means nothing.” I’m still not convinced drugs aren’t heavily involved.
THE SUIT: How you feel about this costume depends on how you feel about spandex as a tactical superhero costume. Batman and Robin’s costumes make them look like they are attending a costume party which is odd because the Villains all have mildly logical outfits (relatively speaking). The Boy Wonder looks a lot like a walking statutory rape law suit (not helped by the scene in which he, without explanation, takes a pill from Batman). On a nerdier note I hate that Batman’s “ears” are short. I’ve always thought they were the most important part of the cowl and that the modern Batman’s are the perfect length. Adam West’s are just tiny flaps of felt.
THE GADGETS: I can’t imagine any other upcoming films in this marathon topping the gadgets on display here. There’s a bat-cycle hidden on the side of the road in a gilly suit. There’s bat shark repellent, a bat ladder, a super molecular dust separator, a bat boat, a bat copter, bat cuffs, anti-penguin gas pills and so much more.
THE CAR: The bat mobile here is a black car with red lines all over it. They spend so much time in helicopters and boats that nothing really stands out.
THE ROGUES GALLERY: Well, they really blew their load all in one movie. FOUR MAJOR VILLAINS! Today, studios are meticulously picking villains to keep the franchises afloat forever and this crazy movie is dropping everything it’s got. Cesar Romero’s Joker has a wonderful laugh and is deliciously over the top, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler feels like a cheap Joker rip off, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin is fantastic and Lee Meriweather says the phrase “purrrr-fect” over 8,000 times. Riddler’s costume is the silliest because it’s just a unitard while the others at least try and dress themselves. These were the days when you wanted painfully inept villains and boy oh boy did you get them. They are astonishingly bad at everything and for some reason they keep a group of pirates on staff as henchmen. Villainous line of the film: “If we don’t somehow manage our super criminal pride we’ll never defeat Batman.”
THE SIDEKICK(S): Robin…oh jeez. Burt Ward plays a really really really ultra conservative, pro-eugenics, alcoholic hating All-American Robin. He is super eager to please Batman, takes pills from him without blinking, refuses to follow Batman’s order when it comes to monitoring a Bruce Wayne date (which is clearly about to become sex) and he loves his speedo. I’m not sure there’s much I could say that couldn’t be better encapsulated by the scene in which Robin is annoyed that Batman saved a bar from a bomb because it was filled with “derelict drinkers.” Apparently he has no sympathy for drinkers and wishes his mentor would just let them die. Yeah…
THE VERDICT: The tone is campy as all hell and it’s not to be taken seriously as a Batman movie. On its own terms it is wildly entertaining and encapsulates a pretty unique moment in superhero film history. I definitely recommend you gather up some friends and watch this with some sort of drinking rules. Every time a gadget has Bat in front of it, drink. Every time the Joke laughs, Penguin squawks or Catwoman purrs, drink. Every time Robin says something disturbing, drink. Every time Batman appears to be under the influence of narcotics, drink. And so on.
Next up: Batman (1989): 6/6