I read an interview with Joe Dante the other day where he said the Looney Tunes should have been retired after 1960. I can’t argue with the man. In my lifetime, they’ve only been impressive in Roger Rabbit and that’s because Disney had the final vote on quality control. The original Space Jam is okay but Shawn Bradley is funnier in it than any of the Looney Tunes. You could remove the Looney Tunes entirely and still have a decent movie about NBA players fighting aliens. The animation is just a gimmick. And to paraphrase Chuck Jones, the real Bugs Bunny wouldn’t need Michael Jordan’s help to win a basketball game.
Now we have Space Jam: A New Legacy, which is more of a remake than a direct sequel. If you’re the type of person who can spend hours staring at that poster where Kermit The Frog is dressed like Garth Brooks, this movie will be your Star Wars. Everything you’ve read is correct — A New Legacy is just a commercial for Warner Bros. IP. Would you believe they’re treating most of this stuff as poorly as the Looney Tunes? Scooby Doo, Fred Flinstone, and Space Ghost make brief cameos that are visually on par with the Patterson Bigfoot clip. Meanwhile, the camera lingers on several real life human extras in screamingly awful Batman costumes. They’re on the sidelines of the big showdown, practically rubbing elbows with the main characters, even though they should be on house arrest at a Spirit Halloween.
If you’ve never seen the Looney Tunes before, Space Jam: A New Legacy will give you zero insight into their personalities. You might literally believe that Elmer Fudd is just a short guy from Austin Powers. That’s all they give him in this movie; they animate Fudd over the Verne Troyer reveal from The Spy Who Shagged Me. The premise here is that an evil computer algorithm has convinced the Looney Tunes they should be involved with more exciting franchises, so they’ve all left Looney Tune Land for stuff like The Matrix and Mad Max. See? The movie told the Looney Tunes they were boring and they agreed! And they don’t return to Looney Tune Land because they miss it. They return because the story necessitates that they partner with LeBron James to defeat Don Cheadle and his ragtag crew of NBA mutants.
There is a “serious” death scene for one of the characters in A New Legacy — “th-that’s all, folks!” they sputter melodramatically — but it doesn’t mean anything because the whole thing is reversed two minutes later. So not even a movie this big and dumb and critic-proof can escape the Marvel influence. Death is meaningless, life is meaningless, let’s smash our toys together. On the other hand, if they made 25 more Space Jams perhaps they’d eventually land on something interesting.
Space Jam: A New Legacy made me laugh once, when they dress Foghorn Leghorn up like Khaleesi from “Game of Thrones” so he can soar by on a dragon and throw out some catchphrase. I think that’s the most meaningless thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It deeply amused me.
CORRECTION: Bunsen Honeydew is the Muppet who dressed like Garth Brooks. I can’t believe I misremembered that thing I only saw once.
– the reputation of this two episode “event” from 1979 precedes it: it’s the Justice League of America as another cheap and witless variety show, the first entry bouncing flimsy adventure between two or three sets and a thicket of curdled jokes while the second is a roast of the superheroes hosted by Ed McMahon; serious comic heads treat “Legends” like the bubonic plague but it doesn’t reach the scalding hell of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” or “The Chevy Chase Show” (then again, maybe this reviewer has spent too much time entrenched in dreadful horse vomit and is now numb to true pain)
– with the rights to Superman and Wonder Woman tied up in much better properties, this Justice League is lead by Batman; Adam West returns to the cowl and proves time cannot weather his intoxicating dopiness; at his side is Burt Ward’s Robin, who also has no problem getting back on the horse (and his comedic chops feel like they’ve improved since 1968); another “Batman” reprise comes via Frank Gorshin as that maniac the Riddler; though Gorshin isn’t in command of the baddies he’s certainly in command of all the acting talent; that said, Jeff Altman is devilishly charming as Weather Wizard and you can see why they later paired him with Pink Lady
– for Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, the Flash, and Hawkman, NBC called in rent-a-hunks, deliciously sculpted figures with high watt smiles and heroic-seeming dispositions; alas, none of these guys were in danger of sweeping the Emmys, though perhaps Bill Nuckols should have received an honorary award for not dying of embarrassment while wearing the helmet “Legends of The Superheroes” shit out for Hawkman (the mask might be nothing more than construction paper); by the way, these shows aren’t the only peacock droppings Nuckols has on his résumé: he’s also Wally on “Supertrain”
– there are women in “Legends of The Superheroes” but not very many and they aren’t given much to do; in fact, famed rogue the Huntress doesn’t even speak in the first episode; hard to believe a series that introduces an African American character named Ghetto Man would marginalize women like that
– yes, the enormously problematic Ghetto Man debuts in the latter episode to clown his fellow do-gooders and shout his magic catch phrase, “Kareem!”; on a more positive note, future “Night Court” star Marsha Warfield pops up in the first entry and is deftly funny as a flabbergasted woman lingering in a phone booth as our heroes grapple with Solomon Grundy; Warfield goes uncredited but let’s choose to believe the comedienne was savvy enough to have her name removed from this not A+ production
– Batman calls Robin “laddy bubby” at one point, which might be the clearest indicator there’s more going on in the Batcave than previously figured
– a big surprise in “Legends” is that the wizard Mordru, undisputed master of black magic and various other nefarious sorceries, prefers to travel by jet ski
– Adam West, god rest his beautiful soul, refuses to tuck his cowl into the Bat costume for the duration of these programs and it is slightly infuriating how lazy and drunk it makes the Caped Crusader appear
– Hawkman’s mother shows up in episode two and get this…she’s not a hawk, falcon, or bird of any kind
– Ruth Buzzi is also present as Aunt Minerva, a nemesis of Captain Marvel who inexplicably wants to marry him; guess she didn’t get the memo that he’s secretly a ten year old boy
– judging by the reactions of the heroes during the roast episode they didn’t screen the jokes ahead of time; what looks like genuine amusement breaks out across all their faces after each playful barb (Captain Marvel Garrett Craig in particular is having a real hootenanny of a good time)
– in addition to jet skiing, the wizard Mordru (here portrayed by Dead End Kid Gabriel Dell) treats us to a ghoulish rendition of “That’s Entertainment” which concludes with the Dark Nobleman taking a cream pie to the face; no better proof exists that wasting food is hilarious
– Warner Bros released “Legends of The Superheroes” on DVD in 2010 but because this thing was shot on video it still looks like a greasy shit sandwich; didn’t they realize ding dongs in the future would feast on this as meaty irony and crave it in the highest of definitions?
– airing in January of ’79, “Legends of The Superheroes” pre-empted the Jack Webb series “Project U.F.O.” which suggests the government created these terrible comic book tv shows to keep a lid on extra terrestrial activities; assume Jimmy Carter will confirm or deny this before he dies
Prince's music is so potent and intoxicating that despite universal acclaim it still seems underrated. What sacred art, what sacred love.
— James Greene, Jr. (@HoneyIShrunkJG2) April 21, 2016
To say anything else may be exceptionally unnecessary. And yet…
It was only a few years ago that I began digging into the Prince catalog. I purposely started with The Black Album, my reasoning being, I know the hits, I know Prince can orchestrate pop perfection, let’s see what it’s like when this guy is stumbling. Prince suppressed Black for nearly a decade because he felt dissatisfaction with it (one rumor suggests a bad ecstasy trip convinced him the album projects too much evil). Yes, I often begin my journey into legendary bodies via a most dubious property. What can I tell you? I’m American, I’m obsessed with failure.
My immediate reaction to The Black Album: if this is Prince at his worst, sign me up. Sections of Black’s malcontent electro funk are misguided, sure, but as with all his work, Prince commits with such totality (even to utter silliness) you can’t deny the sale. You remain absorbed and ultimately feted.
Now The Love Symbol Album and The Gold Experience are go-tos. Bold, decadent, liberating, rich with flavor. I also spend a lot of time getting lost in the grooves and hymnals of Chaos & Disorder. Sign O’ The Times? That thing is a best of / greatest hits unto itself. And of course, the one Prince album I paid close attention to at the time of its release, Batman.
I want to say I understand people who dog the Batman album but I actually don’t. Prince captures the glamor, the restlessness, and the bankruptcy of Gotham City. The music freezes, it bleeds, it works both within and outside the motion picture’s context. I can’t comprehend why “Partyman” and “Trust” aren’t FM radio staples. The balladry avoids being overwrought. What a thrill to have it all culminate in the white knuckle lunacy of “Batdance.”
“Batdance” is on this Warhol level, a gleeful vandalism of Neal Hefti’s 1960s theme, a schizophrenic pastiche of Burton’s film driven by fascist percussion, indiscriminate keyboards, searing guitar, and direct dialogue samples. It’s jarring and insane but again, Prince commits. That’s why the song reached #1; the Artist’s dedication willed this cacophony into something incredible.
It feels strange to comment on all the risks Prince took in his career, if only because he possessed the celestial wizardry to more or less conquer them all. Is there another human being who could have successfully changed their enormously bankable and recognizable name to a singular character of their own invention with no known (or offered) pronunciation? Ricky Shroder has spent decades trying in vain to make people drop the “y.” If he had adopted a symbol we would have sent him to live on the international space station.
Thanks for the fifty-seven years, Prince. You will never be equaled.
“Why you in my movie now, bro?” “I just am, bro. Deal with it.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Zack Snyder
2013’s Man of Steel establishes a Superman who is profoundly uncertain of himself and his place on this alien planet. Is he a savior? Is he a threat? His parents don’t know what to tell him (raising a normal kid is hard enough—imagine if your child is bulletproof and can fly). The defining battle arrives and though he does come out on top there’s no questioning that Superman makes a handful of serious mistakes. This set the stage for a potentially excellent sequel where the Last Son of Krypton could work through his identity issues that are now also issues for the world at large.
Batman v Superman tries to get to the heart of all this, but as the title implies Superman (Henry Cavill) is now sharing the marquee with another financially solvent comic book hero. Shoehorning the Dark Knight into Man of Steel 2 is a cheap move that cripples our favorite Kryptonian’s character development, but this Batman (Ben Affleck) proves an interesting personality contrast in the sense that he is not lacking in confidence. Fearless, undaunted, occasionally brash, Gotham’s rogue has an answer for everything. Unfortunately, he’s also totally fried from twenty years on the prowl and not in good headspace to be entering a “Superman: friend or foe?” debate with the exile himself.
Ben Affleck, by the way, succeeds as Batman because it is easy to believe Ben Affleck would go fucking crazy if he had to be Batman for any amount of time in real life. He’s barely handling the terrible reviews this film is getting, can you imagine if he had to hide the Batmobile every night?
There’s enough to work with when Batman and Superman are investigating one other, the former running back to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) each act break, the latter to Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Alas, once Batman was throw into the fray the filmmakers thought, “Why not everybody else?” So we also have Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Lex’s cronies, the U.S. Senator trying to stop Lex (Holly Hunter), the U.S. Senator who isn’t trying to stop Lex, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Wonder Woman’s computer, a little bit of the Flash (Ezra Miller), a little Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a dash of Cyborg (Ray Fisher), one or two characters who died in Man of Steel, and another major villain who probably should have held out for his own years-long franchise.
And yet, as overstuffed as this caped opera gets piling all these people atop one another, Batman v Superman keeps pace and manages to engross. Not everything onscreen is agreeable but nothing catapults you from the universe (not even the Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo). There’s intrigue, suspense, a few iconic visuals, and even a couple great jokes.
Going back to the self-assurance motif, Wonder Woman steals every scene she’s in because she knows exactly who she is, why she’s there, and where and how to draw the line (the thunderous musical sting she’s granted by the score doesn’t hurt either). Gadot’s buoyancy cuts through the visual pallor and makes you hope for Wonder Woman v Anybody. Actually, maybe start with Wonder Woman v Perry White. I want to see Laurence Fishburne—who plays White, boss of Lois Lane—take his delightful grump to the main event.
Similar sentiments can be extended to Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a mincing prick you love to hate who appears closer to victory than a great deal of his cinematic predecessors. Killer wardrobe, too.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice gets just as grim and heavy as any other Zack Snyder film but the entire premise is grim and heavy: two of our favorite superheroes hatin’ on each other like a couple of goddamn haters. In order to make it anywhere near plausible you have to saddle these guys with handicaps of disquiet, fear, exhaustion, and recurring nightmares. If this isn’t your flavor of choice, don’t worry—depending on the way you count, BvS is the seventh Superman movie and the tenth Batman movie and there’s no way Hollywood won’t make that many more for each dude because they’re some of the most profitable folklore America has to its name.
And if all those stink, there’s always Wonder Woman.
FINAL SCORE: Three grumpy Larry Fishburnes (out of four).
The final season of “Batman” is notoriously bonkers. Sagging ratings inspired the arrival of Batgirl, a third costumed crime-fighter who cooperates with the Dynamic Duo but remains her own independent entity. Sadly for Batgirl and her alter ego Barbara Gordon (played by the unflappable Yvonne Craig), the average adventure length is sliced in half from the previous seasons, leaving thirty minutes to pivot between Batman, Bruce Wayne, Batgirl, Barbara, the villain, and those beleaguered dopes at police headquarters. Suddenly a lot of vital stuff is happening offscreen.
And yet, as the blocking grows jerkier and each caper more outlandish, this concluding batch does a good job stressing the severe difficulties Batman, Robin, and Batgirl have in trying to protect their secret identities. Turns out it’s not so easy explaining away every little inconsistency, especially if you’re a millionaire playboy, the ward of said playboy, or the police chief’s kid.
Other pre-episodic breakdown observations:
I. There are two interesting musical developments in the third season, the first being a distinct and furious surf rock sting that is employed whenever Batman and Robin start tusslin’ with hoods. Very Dick Dale, it gets the blood pumping. Meanwhile, Batgirl has her own theme, a brassy sway with some vocal accompaniment (“Batgirrrrrrl!” the female chorus lilts, “who’s baby are you?”). Neither piece is commercially available on any of the soundtrack releases I know of from this bat era.
II. Cesar Romero’s Joker hair seems to go a brighter shade of green with each passing episode. Obviously they were having some budgetary and/or quality control problems by this point but I like to believe that perhaps the Joker—who looks the way he does because he fell into a vat of chemicals—has to deal with flare ups and weird allergies just like the rest of us. Imagine how toxic waste might exacerbate a rash or a thyroid problem. Then again, this idiot is pretty slap happy most of the time. Maybe prolonged exposure to toxic waste can result in a never ending orgasm.
III. If you think that lizard person in the program’s animated introduction is Killer Croc, you are wrong. Killer Croc was not introduced into the Batman universe until 1983. This strange figure is just a generic lizard person, a nondescript reptile freak who may / may not be associated with the Gorn.
IV. The Batman series will always hold a place in my heart but the biggest bang this franchise can give for your buck, peso, or ruble is the theatrical film the crew produced between the first two seasons. Simply known as Batman (sometimes stylized as Batman: The Movie), it’s 104 minutes of breathless bat movement, four times as madcap thanks to four arch criminals (Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, teamed up to conquer the world), capturing everything that’s boffo about this property. Also, as much as I cherish the beloved tv intro, the opening credits of Batman: The Movie are a pop noir jewel, Nelson Riddle’s orchestration included.
Alright, atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed. Ready to move out.
1. “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin”
The lightning strike of season three. Feels like we’re peering into pulpy pages as that dastardly Penguin tries to weasel his way into Gotham’s police force by attempting to kidnap and wed Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. What better time for Babs to make her debut as the Batgirl? This is the first time in the history of the series that the ending rhubarb looks real. The Caped Crusaders are really clobberin’ the baddies (and vice versa).
2. “Ring Around The Riddler”
The Riddler may be an intellectual but he’s not above climbing into a boxing ring to whoop up on Batman, which he does in this episode. Of course, there is some subterfuge—Riddler is posing as a boxer from the Middle East called Mushi Nebuchadnezzar. Thankfully, Gorshin forgoes brown face. The final bout lacks the drama of Rocky but there is something breathtaking about seeing Adam West in the Batsuit and enormous boxing gloves.
3. “The Wail Of The Siren”
Joan Collins arrives as ear-piercing foe the Siren. Her sonic hypnotism sounds so much like a modern fire alarm it is disconcerting. It’s music to the men she seduces and/or subdues; Commissioner Gordon is so transfixed he agrees to stow away in the trunk of the Batmobile for treasonous purposes. The panic grips Batman enough that he turns down a soda at one point because he might “find it too relaxing.” Dark Knight ain’t about that lean.
4. “The Sport Of Penguins” / 5. “A Horse Of Another Color”
The Penguin causes chaos at a horse race, but half the time this entry is just guest moll Ethel Merman stiffly pissing out exposition. For a brief moment we get to see Burt Ward dressed as a jockey and it’s everything you could ever hope or desire. Equally satisfying is Herbert Anderson as a flustered race track official who lays into Bruce Wayne about the chicanery he believes the millionaire himself is pulling.
6. “The Unkindest Tut Of All”
A landmark episode; King Tut stumbles upon the secret that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Of course, he can’t prove it after our Caped Crusader and Bruce are seen standing near each other (a weird bit of engineering involving a dummy in a Bat costume Bruce has at his ready). In a subplot, Barbara and Bruce attend an accordion recital where they hear “Lady Of Spain” eight times in a row. It’s unclear if this is irony or if people actually did this for kicks during the Johnson Administration.
7. “Louie, The Lilac”
“Batman” addresses the hippie phenomenon the only way it knows how: clumsily. Dandy gangster Louie The Lilac (a so-so Milton Berle) infiltrates Gotham’s radical youths through some noxious plant-based chemical. The police are wary of putting the Dynamic Duo on the job until Robin reassures them: “The flower children think we’re cool, man—like, we turn them on, you know?” If you think that’s ridiculous, hang in there for the climax where man-eating lilacs attempt to slowly devour our heroes.
8. “The Ogg And I” / 9. “How To Hatch A Dinosaur”
The money’s evaporated to the extent the series can’t even afford to hire a band of roving Cossacks; all we get are agog passersby on street corners as these alleged marauders ransack Gotham (with a brief glance at Egghead as he struggles to ride a mule). Returning guest star Anne Baxter is a delight as Cossack Queen Olga, a ginger firebrand investing in Egghead’s scheme to birth a dinosaur. For a minute, it appears this program might introduce some Jurassic Park style science. Don’t worry—DNA has yet to be discovered in 1960s Gotham, so we are spared anything plausible or thought-provoking.
10. “Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!”
The dizzying apex of this season’s lunacy. The Joker has a device that can transfer skills from one person to another; naturally he uses it on some local hodad so that he may become the clown prince of the surf circuit. Batman steps in, yellow trunks at the ready, to challenge the harlequin’s nefarious hang ten. Doing leg work for the Joker is a striking beach bunny spy named Undine (played by future “Gong Show” fixture Sivi Aberg). Undine strides in like a lethal Bond temptresses but immediately undercuts her power by talking into a radio shaped like a hot dog.
11. “The Londinium Larcenies” / 12. “The Foggiest Notion” / 13. “The Bloody Tower”
Rudy Vallée’s Lord Marmaduke Ffogg is an inventive and charming villain, a British nobleman who absconds with treasured loot amidst billowing clouds of smoke from his pipe. There was no need, however, to stretch Ffogg and his accomplice Lady Peasoup (Glynis Johns) across a three parter, nor was their reason to move the action to a London facsimile when the show clearly never left Los Angeles. Tedious, asinine, kinda boring. Lyn Peters shines, though, as a Ffogg protégé who radiates flavorful intensity—especially when she’s quietly rhapsodizing about Robin’s sex appeal.
14. “Catwoman’s Dressed To Kill”
Eartha Kitt’s wonderfully feral take on Catwoman arrives in a pretty bumpy exercise around the fashion industry. Still, you’ll probably thrill to Eartha menacing a bound Batgirl and you’ll probably guffaw when Burt Ward is forced to sell the line “Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!”
15. “The Ogg Couple”
In which Batgirl almost freezes to death in a giant vat of caviar. Egghead is of course the culprit, trying to set up a comfy life for himself and Olga, Queen of the Cossacks. They’re not really a good match; when it comes down to brass tacks, Egghead is a simpering idiot, while Olga seems to live for conflict. It sexually excites her. My kind of woman.
16. “The Funny Feline Felonies” / 17. “The Joke’s On Catwoman”
The Joker. Catwoman. A hidden trove of explosives. Joe E. Ross. Pierre Salinger. All the elements for a whip cracker and yet it remains a painful slog. The sets have become so minimalist it’s almost insulting. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Little Louie Groovy, the Phil Spector parody who gets caught in the villains’ crosshairs. Spector used to be a happenin’ guy in our culture. Then he became a crazed hermit who shot a woman point blank in the face.
18. “Louie’s Lethal Lilac Time”
Our favorite flower-obsessed gangster kidnaps Bruce and Dick, opening up the playing field for some major Batgirl heroics. How aggravating it is that the writers eat up her time with a pointless scene wherein Babs has to deceive a handyman into believing her secret Batgirl room is just a regular-ass secret room. By the way, the reason Louie swipes Bruce is because he needs the millionaire to extract some kind of scent from a muskrat. We never see the muskrat and I don’t think we hear it, either. It is just referred to as some mythical offscreen creature.
19. “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club”
Women’s rights activist Nora Clavicle tries to replace Gotham’s beat cops with her own squad of lady officers, but things don’t go according to plan. Hard to tell what’s worse here—the assertion that women could never hold positions of authority because they’re easily frightened and preoccupied with clothing or the grand finale where Batman and Robin thwart Nora (Barbara Rush) by skipping through the streets of Gotham City while tooting on flutes. Either way, this is “Batman’s” nadir. They didn’t even film the finale outdoors, and it’s supposed to take place near a large body of water.
20. “Penguin’s Clean Sweep”
That foulest of crooked fowls infects batches of Gotham currency with a foreign sleeping sickness but we’re the ones who feel drowsy. The Penguin’s moll in this one is played by Monique van Vooren, an actress who is in the Troy McClure league of incredibly-titled films. You may remember Monique from such classics as Tarzan & The She-Devil, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, Flesh For Frankenstein, and Tomorrow Is Too Late. She also attended NYU to study law on a Fulbright Scholarship. Holy accomplishment!
21. “The Great Escape” / 22. “The Great Train Robbery”
Shame returns, and amongst his posse is another cringe-inducing Native American stereotype named Chief Standing Pat. Balancing that out is Barry Dennen as the crony Fred, a erudite European gunslinger whose withering bon mots are all but lost on the titular baddie. An unexpected Jerry Mathers cameo ends with the kid getting bonked on the head, which is satisfying for all who feels his portrayal of Beaver Cleaver is less than endearing.
23. “I’ll Be A Mummy’s Uncle”
“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” Batman utters at one point, evoking the higher quality Bat outings that came decades later. This King Tut ep at least has a serious premise in Tut tunneling under Wayne Manor looking for some mineral and inadvertently drilling into the Batcave. Tut comes close to spilling the beans, but rather than give this show a new dynamic, rather than take a chance, they drop a boulder on the guy’s head and he’s back to his harmless professor alter ego, remembering nothing.
24. “The Joker’s Flying Saucer”
Giving the Joker a UFO to zoom around in is a neat idea but so much action is described instead of acted out that you lose investment and begin praying for the inevitable donnybrook you know will close these proceedings. Cesar Romero is game til the end, though, bragging as he’s about to rocket Batgirl into space that he’s “thrilled many a woman…but never sent one completely in orbit before.” Have fun imagining the Joker performing sex acts!
25. “The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra”
Id Lupino of High Sierra fame begins a crime spree with her awkward hipster husband, an easy feat thanks to their magical ability to become invisible. This one’s ambitious in that Cassandra sneaks into Gotham’s max security prison to release Catwoman, the Riddler, and the other MVPs of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Alas, it fails miserably when Kitt, Gorhsin et al do not reprise their roles. Instead we get scabs who are only seen from behind, uttering no honest dialogue. What a slap in the face.
26. “Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires”
At long last we get to see Adam West completely shirtless when he visits the spa of the enchanting Minerva (Zsa Zsa Gabor). Little does he know Minerva uses some kind of mind control device to extract the secrets of the rich and richer. Somehow this does not result in Minerva learning Bruce’s clandestine hobby. Instead, there’s rigamarole over one of his bank vaults. In the end Minerva goes quietly, but only after she’s grappled with Batgirl a la Greco-Roman. Your heart will jump in some direction.
There you have it, bat fans. What a ride. The show runners had the sets destroyed once it was clear ABC would not be picking “Batman” up for a fourth season. A shame only because NBC later expressed interest in hosting another round of bat-sanity. Oh, what might have been.
Guess there’s nothing left to do but visit the grave of every “Batman” actor who has now passed. Finally, as excuse to traverse Bavaria (the final resting place of Clock King Walter Slezak).
Until then, stay golden, my little bat freaks.
Did you miss the recap of season one? Click here, bat fan.
A normal half hour television program in the 1960s would produce around thirty episodes a season. Drunk with success, “Batman’s” second season turned in twice that number, spreading quality and consistency ever so thin. Periodically the show rises to the occasion. Other times, it digs its own sad, swampy grave. Still other times, “Batman” manages to be thoroughly okay.
The only element you can truly rely on is Neil Hamilton, who commits to his character of Commissioner Gordon as if he’s playing Hamlet for both the first and last time. No matter what asinine or childish nonsense is unfolding, Neil makes you believe all of Gotham teeters on the brink and that the Caped Crusaders are our only hope. Neil’s so solid you’ll want his face on a t-shirt.
A few asides before the episode-by-episode breakdown:
I. Season two finds Batman’s ancillary vehicles in regular rotation—the Bat Copter, the Bat Boat, etc. All these vehicles debuted in the theatrical Batman movie the show filmed and released right after the first season (a film meant to sell foreign markets on the greatness of this wacky property). One mode of transport not featured in Batman: The Movie is the Alf Cycle, the bike Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred pedals around on when he is occasionally called into action. That’s dumber than spit, but who could look the wonderful Alan Napier in his caring eye and even hint at that? He’s such a sweetheart of a man, doing everything he can to help his employer live out a dangerous and elaborate vigilante fantasy with nary a question. Let him have his Alf Cycle.
II. Apparently in the first season Adam West found his Batman cowl to be too tight, so the costume people loosened it. The result is this weird open pocket of fabric under his cheeks, like the cowl’s stretched out from violent tugging. Similarly, the collar of Burt Ward’s yellow cape seems a bit loose in these adventures, allowing the collar of his red vest underneath to poke up the neck. Highly distracting but I suppose it would throw snoops off their trail. Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman; Bruce could afford a better tailor.
III. Every once in a while Bruce Wayne will reference the murder of his parents but we never learn Dick Grayson’s backstory. It’s never even so much as implied that Dick (as we learn in the comics and later films) once belonged to a famous family of traveling acrobats, the rest of whom died during a particularly daring stunt (sometimes written as sabotage at the hands of the Joker or Two-Face). We are to assume here that Dick’s Aunt Harriet didn’t have the means to support the orphaned boy on her own and Bruce, who was at the fatal circus performance, simply invited them to live with him. Maybe if they had given Burt Ward a few dramatic moments to talk about all this he could have avoided the B movie hell that awaited him following this program’s cancellation.
IV. This season is where Batman and Robin really get into taking pills to combat everything. Sorry, Joker, but we swallowed our anti-hypnotism bat pills before you handcuffed us to this giant pair of scissors. Big pharma propaganda has never looked so dashing.
Without any further adieu, allow me to tear apart this classical mess.
1. “Shoot A Crooked Arrow” / 2. “Walk The Straight And Narrow”
Art Carney rides into town as a would-be Robin Hood character called the Archer, because when you think of debonair English folk heroes you think of Ralph Kramden’s neighbor. Maybe that’s the joke. Aiding Art in his rob-from-the-rich-pretend-to-give-to-the-poor hoodwink is model Barbara Nichols (as an equally Brooklynese Maid Marilyn) and Doodles Weaver (wasted in a tiny henchman role). This adventure marks the first (and not the last) time Alfred must don the Bat suit; the old bean doesn’t look too bad in his boss’s duds.
3. “Hot Off The Griddle” / 4. “The Cat And The Fiddle”
This pair of episodes, centered around average larceny by the otherwise brassy and bewitching Catwoman, is loaded with references only true ’60s fossils will understand (Schwab’s Drugstore, anyone?). Hard to believe the Boy Wonder’s assessment of fictional hit record “The Catusi” hasn’t been sampled by a boat load of contemporary punk bands (“Oh boy! I like rock n’ roll music as much as the next red-blooded average American teenager but this stuff is awful!”). James Brolin pops up in the conclusion as truck driver Ralph Staphylococcus. It’s a better moniker than Zubin Zucchini, one of the dismal food-based names we’re beaten senseless with this season.
5. “The Minstrel’s Shakedown” / 6. “Barbecued Batman?”
On paper a villain named the Minstrel who strums a medieval instrument as he taunts Batman about stock fraud sounds torturous but somehow they lend this absurdity proper gravity. There’s great shadow work (darkness lurking almost literally in every corner) and Van Johnson is camp-free in his turn as the titular villain (hey, the guy knows how to pluck a lute menacingly). You can almost envision this jaunt working in the Chris Nolan Bat films. Granted, there’s a lot of Batman talking to guys in suits here, but negotiation is a vital part of his crime-fighting skill set. Did I mention the Phyllis Diller cameo? Surprisingly, she does not appear as herself.
7. “The Spell Of Tut” / 8. “Tut’s Case Is Shut”
In which the potion-based plotting of King Tut teaches us the meaning of words like scarab, apothecary, and Cavia porcellus. A tremendous series moment occurs when Sid Haig, appearing as one of Tut’s henchmen, is given a chance to reply to a question about what lurks behind a mysterious door. “Trolls and ghouls and amulets,” Haig intones a la possessed wizard, head tiled back, eyes a-bug. “Evil spells that will turn your bones to celery stalks!” Unfortunately, we do not get to see Robin transform into celery. We do, however, witness Batman using a public telephone, which today is as antiquated at Tut himself.
9. “The Greatest Mother Of Them All” / 10. “Ma Parker”
These entries mark one of the rare instances where criminals fire real guns at Batman and Robin. You’d think that would happen more often. Alas, only Ma Parker and her gang are smart enough to realize our Caped Crusaders wear nothing bullet proof. History buffs might be annoyed that the villainess played by Shelley Winters perpetuates the myth that her real life counterpart (Arizona Donnie “Ma” Barker) was a deft criminal mastermind. Less stodgy folk will probably have no issue getting down with Parker and her takeover of Gotham State Penitentiary. Go big or go home, you know?
11. “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” / 12. “The Clock King Gets Crowned”
Bob Kane may have been able to smudge Batman collaborator Bill Finger out of history for several decades but he couldn’t prevent his former pal from co-writing these two episodes. Shame it had to be Clock King, a malefactor who has forever been a punchline. What’s onscreen here doesn’t help (did the guy really need multi-colored clock faces glued to his black cape?). As the King Walter Slezak does what he can, but if this were baseball he’d languish in the minor leagues. The cannibalistic undertones in the scene where Batman and Robin eat bat burgers are dampened when they order Orangeade to drink. No self respecting creatures of the night would be caught dead sipping juice.
13. “An Egg Grows In Gotham” / 14. “The Yegg Foes In Gotham”
Just when you think this television show from the mid-60s is doing a good job keeping its head above water in terms of social issues they vomit up a broad and offensive Native American character named Chief Screaming Chicken (portrayed, of course, by a white guy named Edward Everett Horton). That’s the only thing marring Vincent Price’s debut as nefarious dandy Egghead. At least the plot recognizes the fact that Gotham really belongs to its indigenous peoples; Egghead maneuvers around city government to gain control of the municipality from the Chief so he may ban Batman and Robin from policing inside its borders. Of course the final battle includes a lot of egg throwing.
15. “The Devil’s Fingers” / 16. “Dead Ringers”
Liberace played some really fantastic piano in his day. If you listen to live recordings, he was also pretty clever with onstage banter. Unfortunately Lib was no actor, and as clumsy as he is playing himself he’s even worse as an evil twin brother. This is one of those sad moments where a merger that seems like a slam dunk bounces coldly off the rim. Too much garish camp and your stew becomes slurry. On the plus side, they give Aunt Harriet more stuff to do; Lib’s evil musician strikes up a dubious romance with Aunty H and they come so close to making out you want to reach for the Bat signal. It’s enough to make Bruce and his youthful ward fake their deaths, again. They’ve done it so many times already but it’s still such a shock!
17. “Hizzoner The Penguin” / 18. “Dizzoner The Penguin”
The Penguin runs for mayor, and Batman decides the only way to stop this waddling ne’ever-do-well is to run for mayor himself. It’s punishing for us until Batman refuses to kiss a baby; this kicks off a Batman backlash and there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching strangers yell at Adam West. Please note: despite her credit as Little Egypt, the belly dancer who cameos at the Penguin’s campaign rally was merely a Little Egypt imitator named Lorraine Shalhoub. The three women usually credited with pioneering the Little Egypt character (enchantress of rich and curious Western audiences in the early 20th Century) all died decades before this show existed. Now Paul Revere and The Raiders, they’re the real deal here—right down to their trademark Revolutionary War regalia.
19. “Green Ice” / 20. “Deep Freeze”
As the frosty villain Mr. Freeze Otto Preminger wears your patience by declaring anything and everything as “wild, WILD!” With each refrain your lobes dull and you angrily curse the concept of catchphrases. Burt Ward sports a mysterious injury on his right arm during these entries; they try to block it with other actors and Robin’s cape, but every so often you catch a glimpse of a large bandage around the appendage. If we’re to believe Burt’s autobio he most likely hurt himself roughly sexing a zealous fan. At any rate, the show runners could have never guessed we’d one day live in a world of high def screen capture and endless reruns. All your mistakes live forever.
21. “The Impractical Joker” / 22. “The Joker’s Provokers”
Somehow the Joker invents time travel, but the rules are vague and the special effects vaguer. Equally painful is the introduction of Alfred’s twin cousin who works for the city. “Batman’s” split screen tech makes “Patty Duke” look like Multiplicity. This is season two’s nadir, veering into bargain basement Saturday morning dreck produced at your local affiliate. Chris Bale should have dropped the nuke on these eps at the end of Dark Knight Rises.
23. “Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds” / 24. “Marsha’s Scheme Of Diamonds”
Gotham’s posh cougar Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds (the refreshing Carolyn Jones) tries to trick Batman into holy matrimony—though she has more in her arsenal than mere feminine charm. You see, Marsha’s eccentric aunt is a bonafide witch who mixes up love potions for her niece in a giant bubbling cauldron. Just when you think this story is going to end in the most ludicrous way possible—Batman and Robin turned into frogs!—something even more ludicrous comes along—Batman and Robin were just pretending to be frogs via ventriloquism! So that’s what Bruce and Dick practice in their down time.
25. “Come Back, Shame” / 26. “It’s How You Play The Game”
The climax of this western-themed yarn features the Dynamic Duo amidst a stampede and it looks like the program actually spent the money to get real bovines. Cowpoke Shame isn’t a very inspired bad guy but Cliff Robertson finds a way to make the grizzled saddlesore work. A major surprise arrives in the form of Werner Klemperer, who cameos as Col. Klink and establishes the fact that “Batman” and “Hogan’s Heroes” take place in the same goddamn universe. Seems like apprehending a Nazi would be bigger potatoes than Shame; Bats doesn’t agree, not even touching upon the Third Reich’s many atrocities in the polite chat he has with Klink. Is Gotham actually in Brazil?
27. “The Penguin’s Nest” / 28. “The Bird’s Last Jest”
If you dislike Stafford Repp’s bumbling Chief O’Hara, this is the adventure for you. In the midst of a forgery plan the Penguin kidnaps O’Hara, locks him in a trunk, and throws him in an electrified swimming pool. As if that isn’t crazy enough, later the feisty bird captures Alfred and attempts to cook him in a pie crust. That would probably be a very drawn out, painful way to die. Naturally, on this series they make it look like the least dangerous situation in the world. God forbid youngsters get the wrong idea about those human sized pie crusts you see at the market.
29. “The Cat’s Meow” / 30. “The Bat’s Kow Tow”
A sloppy Catwoman outing saved as always by the amount of vulnerability Julie Newmar brings to her performance. Our feline mastermind attempts to steal the voices of singing sensations Chad & Jeremy because she somehow thinks it will wreck the British economy. Finally, Batman and Robin have an excuse to visit the British Embassy, and do they ever. Don’t worry, though—they manage to crowbar in a sequence where Chad & Jeremy have tea with Aunt Harriet. Guess the old biddy is cruising the airports looking to pick up foreign twinks. Well, maybe C&J are too tall and masculine to be true twinks. As you can tell, these episodes are very inspiring.
31. “The Puzzles Are Coming” / 32. “The Duo Is Slumming”
Negotiations with Frank Gorshin were rough in season the second; hence, this obvious Riddler script was mutated for the Puzzler, a weird fop whose preoccupations with aviation and Shakespeare seem like more than enough characterization. And yet he insists on teasing authorities with puzzles. We get it, you were a Lit major. Puzzler’s plan is to bilk some billionaire out of his fancy aircraft; Sadly, we do not get the Batman skydiving scene we deserve. Skydiving may not have been invented yet, but gay subtext certainly had, as evidenced in Batman’s firm vocal desire to “cross swords” with Puzzler.
33. “The Sandman Cometh” / 34. “The Catwoman Goeth”
The program goes against type here, casting the emaciated and clean-shaven Michael Rennie as a version of the Sandman (a character I think we collectively agree is a rotund gent with facial hair in the style of Santa Claus). This is another where the crook’s objective is to steal money from a citizen of great wealth; here, it’s a frumpy pasta heiress named J. Pauline Spaghetti. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon attempts to calm a panicked O’Hara by rattling off weird farm colloquialisms (“Grain by grain, the hen fills her belly!”). Batman takes the subway in the second chapter, but that happens offscreen, so no shots of West awkwardly jostling for the best position in the train.
35. “The Contaminated Cowl” / 36. “The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul”
The Mad Hatter is back and he still wants Batman’s ugly-ass cowl. No one minces quite like David Wayne, especially when he’s posing as a foreign dignitary who uses radiation to turn the Caped Crusader’s hood bright pink. Events take a morbid turn when Mad Hatter convinces all of Gotham that he’s murdered Batman and Robin in cold hat-fueled blood. The Hatter is thwarted atop a water tower as stock footage from V-J Day represents the cheering, relieved citizens of Gotham. Shameless but beautiful.
37. “The Zodiac Crimes” / 38. “The Joker’s Hard Times” / 39. “The Penguin Declines”
This might be the apex of the entire fershluggin’ series. Joker and Penguin combine forces for a rollicking crime spree that follows the twelve astrological signs. Reigning in the outlandishness, the show’s writers provide our crooks with creative set-ups grounded in enough reality to convey Batman’s acute frustration as he struggles to thwart the gruesome twosome (and yet they still work giant man-eating clam into the narrative). Cesar Romero presents his greatest performance as the Clown Prince of Crime, a gleeful beacon of evil who almost comes across as metaphysical. He also rolls off one of the better Dynamic Duo insults, referring to them as “Caped Cabbage-heads.”
40. “That Darn Catwoman” / 41. “Scat! Darn Catwoman”
Catwoman poisons Robin with a drug that makes him horny for crime and her young protégé Leslie Gore. Welcome to more of the fresh hell that is Burt Ward’s uncomfortable interpretation of juvenile delinquent. Adam West isn’t much better when he’s under the influence of the drug—muttering things to “Catsy Baby” while slowly rolling his head around like a bowling ball—but perhaps that’s the point. Gore is delightful as Catwoman’s junior, instantly adding herself to the “why didn’t they ever bring this character back?” list. Guess there’s only room for one sexually-charged tabby in Gotham.
42. “Penguin Is A Girl’s Best Friend” / 43. “Penguin Sets A Trend” / 44. “Penguin’s Disastrous End”
We come so close to seeing a nude Carolyn Jones in these episodes it’s surprising more hasn’t been made of it over the years. People just aren’t buying what Jones is selling outside Morticia Addams, which is sad and wrong. At any rate, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds and Penguin collaborate to make a movie starring the Caped Crusaders. Penguin thinks he can control Batman and Robin if he’s directing them, but these guys only serve Lady Justice. There’s a long stretch where the boys are trapped in suits of armor, which is fun if you’ve ever fantasized about Adam West torturing you in the 14th Century.
45. “Batman’s Anniversary” / 46. “A Riddling Controversy”
Speaking of the Addams Family, here be the notorious engagement where John Astin dons the green question mark jumpsuit to replace a contractually unhappy Frank Gorshin. A goddamn thankless job but Astin proves himself worthy of super reprobate status with this one and only turn as el hombre de adivinanzas. Aiding him are some of the program’s most inventive set pieces, like a fight in an underwater bank vault and a giant birthday cake made of quicksand. Stupid enough to be fun, real enough to seem dangerous. That’s what we’re really after here, right? Believable scenarios for a man and a boy who fight crime adorned in multi-colored silk and spandex?
47. “The Joker’s Last Laugh” / 48. “The Joker’s Epitaph”
The titles here suggest Joker buys the farm; it’s a fake out. Batman’s greatest foe survives this folly that finds him implanting androids as bank tellers while simultaneously tricking Bruce Wayne into making him VP of Gotham National. I don’t remember the exact joke Batman tells the one android to make it malfunction but I cannot agree with Robin’s assertion that it was “super funny.” Batman’s about as funny intentionally as Adam West is unintentionally. By this point they’ve given the Joker his own custom wheels, referred to as the Jokemobile. Like many novelty autos of the era it’s just a modified 1920s jalopy. In terms of cool it may be above the Porter from “My Mother The Car” but it’s definitely below the Monkeemobile.
49. “Catwoman Goes To College” / 50. “Batman Displays His Knowledge”
Our devious Catwoman loves Batman with all her feline heart, but could she ever give up a life of crime to win his love? Batman’s interested in exploring this but worries about Robin’s future. “I’ll have him killed!” the Cat cheerily suggests, bringing of the program’s biggest and most twisted laughs. These episodes introduce Captain Courageous, a police cop who’s new in town and knows nothing of the costumed weirdos who either perpetrate or fight crime. A strange diversion but again, always funny to see anyone giving Batman and Robin the business.
51. “A Piece Of The Action” / 52. “Batman’s Satisfaction”
Wherein Batman and Robin meet rival vigilantes the Green Hornet and Kato. Even in restraint Bruce Lee impresses during the fights; at last, a hero who actually looks like he could defeat an enemy with one or two blows. “Kung Fu is Kung Fu,” Lee shrugs, one of the few lines he can get in between the thick dialogue wicket flowing between his boss, the regulars of the Batman crew, guest villain Colonel Gumm (a boisterous Roger C. Carmel), and Gumm’s put upon lady Pinky Pinkston (Diane McBaine). Alex Rocco pops up as one of Gumm’s henchmen, proving he was never young.
53. “King Tut’s Coup” / 54. “Batman’s Waterloo”
Another stacked tale featuring Victor Buono’s Tut, “Star Trek’s” Grace Lee Whitney as female crony Neila, “77 Sunset Strip’s” Byron Keith as Mayor Linseed, Suzy Knickerbocker playing herself, and bride-against-her-will Lee Meriwether (who of course played Catwoman in the 1966 theatrical version of this show; Julie Newmar was unavailable). Buono begins to careen into a W.C. Fields impression with his characterization of the evil Egyptian king, but to be fair I can’t think of the last time I saw / heard anyone referencing the permanently drunk William Claude of Philadelph. Fields is fading into an obscurity populated by Charo, Wally Gator, and all the cave people who continue to reference them. Holy passage of time.
55. “Black Widow Strikes Again” / 56. “Caught In The Spider’s Den”
Tallulah Bankhead appears in her final role ever as the elegant and elegantly sassy Black Widow. It’s kind of difficult to make out what she’s saying half the time but you get the general idea—she’s into bank heists and wants the Dynamic Duds dead. There’s an unsettling scene toward the end where it appears a police officer is going to shoot Batman at point blank range (because Black Widow has tricked the world into believing Bats has gone bad) but what’s more frightening is the subplot about Aunt Harriet trying to buy a miniskirt. Apparently the sales person told her she doesn’t have the face for it. I’d like to see a seething Dick Grayson confront that evil doer.
57. “Pop Goes The Joker” / 58. “Flop Goes The Joker”
The Joker infiltrates the Gotham art world, holds some aspiring painters for ransom, and we all put up with his quasi-moll, one Baby Jane Towser (Diana Ivarson, whose acting is more blanching than any of the abstracts we see on display). The story culminates in a dumb but metaphorically appropriate bit where the Joker gets trapped going up and down the Bat poles.
59. “Ice Spy” / 60. “The Duo Defy”
Eli Wallach, the third and final Mr. Freeze, a fine heavy even if he insists on using an adorable little seal for most of his dirty work. Poor innocent seal. For some reason Elisha Cook’s Icelandic professor, an unwitting accomplice to Freeze in his quest for planetary domination, has absolutely no accent. An odd creative decision. Even odder: in these final episodes, Commissioner Gordon keeps mentioning his daughter Barbara but we never see her. It almost seems like they wanted to include Barb and her alter ego Batgirl but couldn’t find the right actress. Why else would Gord be yakking about his family? We never hear word one about O’Hara’s private life, and why would we want to? Do any of his kids turn out to be avenging super people?
Fin. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this, the Berlin Alexanderplatz of Batman television seasons. And yet I did. What awaits in season three? Batgirl. Shorter narratives. Rudy Vallée. Milton Berle. That episode where the Joker and Batman enter a surfing contest. Marauding Cossacks. It’s gonna get weirder but not necessarily better.
Stay tuned. Same blog time, same blog channel.
They said it would never happen, not in a million years, but then late last year it did: the 1960s “Batman” tv series was freed from copyright quagmire and released for the first time ever on multiple home viewing formats. What an immense sigh of relief for crust-laden artifacts such as myself who grew up marveling at the reruns in a barren pre-Michael Keaton Bat world. Had to be 1984 when I first caught Adam West overacting in my living room. I was five. Milk cost $1.94. Orson Welles wasn’t dead yet. Anything seemed possible.
The last time I remember a channel airing “Batman” was fourteen years ago, on TV Land. I’m sure they’ve played somewhere since then, but who has time to watch television as it happens? I need Neil Hamilton and Stafford Repp on demand. For my on demand lifestyle.
Praise be to the corporate gods for packaging euphoric childhood memories and selling them to me at a reasonable price. For once, capitalism works.
Before the episode-by-episode breakdown, a few general comments:
I. The writers / producers of “Batman” really loved gassing their characters—that is to say, spraying plumes of brightly colored smoke into their faces to rob them of consciousness. It happens in practically every single episode. Was it that prevalent in the comics? Seems like it’d be easier (and cheaper) to just conk everybody on the head with a blackjack. “Batman” was aimed mostly at children, I suppose, so maybe they were trying to avoid inciting similar violence in American living rooms. Maybe it cost a lot of money to develop the colored smoke effect so they used it as much as they could. “Batman” definitely had a strict budget (they didn’t even paint the Joker’s exposed wrists to match his face).
II. Adam West and Burt Ward are so natural, so genuine, as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson you almost wish the series had dialed down the costumed hijinks and focused more on life above the Batcave. That Adam West I can see as James Bond, that Burt Ward I can see in The Graduate (which Ward reportedly turned down in favor of “Batman”). Perhaps this charm is why so many people close to them who ostensibly don’t know they’re Batman and Robin choose to ignore the insane coincidences. Wow, the guy who answers the Batphone sounds just like Bruce’s butler, that’s some funky shit. Oh, you guys gotta go do something inexplicable that you never mentioned until this moment after Alfred whispered in your ear? Hey, none of my business, man. By the way, Dick, you smell just like Robin.
III. Something I never noticed before in the opening cartoon is after Batman and Robin shake hands and Batman looks toward the camera (as he turns into the program logo) Robin continues to look at him, grinning from ear to ear. Like, Robin has such reverence for the Dark Knight, he can’t stop looking at him. It makes me uncomfortable.
IV. There’s a theory that, despite being filmed and airing in the late ’60s, “Batman” actually takes place in the early ’60s, before JFK’s assassination. There are little clues, like newspaper headlines and asides in the dialogue, none of which I can remember specifically. This theory is plausible if not a tad asinine. Were the producers afraid people would call Batman a draft dodger? This begs the question: if Batman were real, would the government make him go to Vietnam, or would it be his choice? What the hell could Batman even do in a war? He never uses guns. He doesn’t have a shield and/or super strength like Captain America. He’d just be some costumed detective standing on a rice patty.
V. “Batman” is an overwhelmingly white show, but when you do see people of color among the cast they always seem to be in authoritative positions (cops, reporters, store managers, etc). That’s progressive compared to the 1978 Superman movie, where the only person of color is the pimp who jumps up momentarily to compliment Superman on his “bad out-fit.”
VI. If we’re to believe the hand-painted signage outside the Batcave, Gotham City is fourteen miles from Wayne Manor. So Bruce Wayne does not actually live in Gotham. He lives in some tony suburb. Must be a tax thing.
VII. Two half hour episodes make up one complete story on “Batman” and originally ABC aired them over as many consecutive nights (Wed-Thurs). Not sure why they didn’t just make the program a full hour; “Batman” is usually presented in syndication as a 60 minute thing. The business is weird.
Now, let’s tear into the adventure.
1. “Hi Diddle Riddle” / 2. “Smack In The Middle”
Strong opener, could be the best entries of the season. The Riddler hatches an ingenious plan: stage a crime, sue Batman for false arrest, unmask the Caped Crusader in a court of law. He pulls off the first two-thirds and makes Batman look like a Grade A chump. The scene that follows all that is one of the few times the Dynamic Duo actually seem defeated; as Bruce and Dick, they sit crestfallen in Wayne Manor, watching a Gotham newscaster explain their dilemma. Also, although they defeat the Riddler in the end, they don’t capture him, proving that this guy is top tier trouble for Gotham. Of course, you know that just from Frank Gorshin’s performance—he plays the Riddler as an unrepentant sadist. “You’re really scared, aren’t you?” he asks Robin at one point, beaming with satisfaction. Hell, I was.
3. “Fine Feathered Finks” / 4. “The Penguin’s A Jinx”
Penguin has never been any favorite of mine. On paper, “what if Franklin Roosevelt was a dick obsessed with fish?” sounds fun, but something just doesn’t connect for me. You know, I’m not a purple top hat kinda guy. The digital remastering also does nothing for the gloriously phony nose Burgess Meredith sports as Das Peng. At any rate, Burgy growls his way through a frame-up positing Batman as the real criminal, and at least with this baddie you can always count on a few solid groans over his punny civilian aliases (K.G. Bird, P.N. Quinn).
5. “The Joker Is Wild” / 6. “Batman Is Riled”
The Joker is Batman’s number one foe, but instead of giving him a fitting dramatic introduction “Batman ’66” opens on the non-threatening scenario of our Clown Prince playing softball in prison (looks just as weird as it sounds). You’ll never believe this but the Joker escapes and soon terrorizes Gotham with confetti, sneezing powder, and other party store gimmicks. Eventually Laughing Boy invades a televised performance of Pagliacci, during which he hopes to unmask Batman before an audience of however many people were watching televised performances of Pagliacci in 1966. I sorta wish they kept the Joker in the traditional harlequin outfit he wears during these scenes. Way more frightening. Any way he’s dressed, Cesar Romero manages to lend the Joker a strange sexuality, especially when he uses adjectives like “succulent” and draws out Batman’s name as if post-orgasm.
7. “Instant Freeze” / 8. “Rats Like Cheese”
George Sanders would make a great brooding heavy even without the Mr. Freeze character. Still, it’s nice to have that extra layer wherein Batman is responsible for turning this crook into an ice cube-sucking freak of nature. People tend to bag on Adam West’s physique not being all that resplendent in the Bat costume but the scene with multiple Batmen proves West filled the spandex better than most. Toward the end Freeze offers Bats a cordial but he declines, for this Dark Knight is a teetotaler. Do you think anybody could really be Batman without taking a drink? Seems like a stressful life. On the other hand, he’s got a kid to look out for, he can’t be getting sloshed if there’s a chance Robin might be kidnapped or injured or tied to a giant whatever.
9. “Zelda The Great” / 10. “A Death Worse Than Fate”
Renowned magician Zelda goes crooked, teaming up with everyone’s favorite “strange Albanian genius” Eivol Ekdol for a robbery / counterfeiting scheme. This eventually turns into a kidnapping caper when Zelda snatches Dick Grayson’s elderly Aunt Harriet, ties her up, and dangles the old biddy over a vat of boiling oil. Nabbing Dick himself would probably yield greater ransom but Aunt Harriet’s easier to burgle. What’s interesting about these episodes is Zelda is never totally convinced a life of crime is for her—she’s just struggling so much as a magician she has no other recourse. C’mon, Harry Blackstone, help a sister out. Fuckin’ magic cabal.
11. “A Riddle A Day Keeps The Riddler Away” / 12. “When The Rat’s Away The Mice Will Play”
King Boris, a dignitary from an unnamed and ill-defined European country, comes to Gotham and is almost immediately seized by the Riddler. Another fine Gorshin performance but the real entertainment comes when Batman and Robin are tied to enormous spinning wheels and it is hilariously clear in the wide shots that dummies are substituting for the actors. I remember that looking fake as hell even when I was a child. Whomever is responsible for those dummies should be ashamed, if they’re still alive. If they’re dead, I hope they carried that shame to their grave(s). Harsh words but it’s not that hard to make a dummy not look like a sack of loose potatoes.
13. “The Thirteenth Hat” / 14. “Batman Stands Pat”
Perhaps intimidated by David Wayne’s flamboyantly fussy performance as the Mad Hatter, these entries find Adam West dialing up his hamminess to radioactive levels. West shouts and gesticulates like an angry grandpa at the Elks Lodge and subsequently flushes away all vestiges of Bat being a cool, collected character. Naturally Mad Hatter is consumed with owning Batman’s cowl and goes to great lengths in attempting to obtain it. This certifies him for the loony bin in my eyes because this cowl is so weird-looking compared to the cowl of the comics (and later film properties). Granted, it’s the cowl that most resembles the true look of a bat (stout, wide), but you get my drift. By the way, what’s the penalty for cowl theft? Like $50 and time served? I think that would even be laughed out of “Night Court.”
15. “The Joker Goes To School” / 16. “He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul”
A landmark story only because it confirms that Gotham City and New York are two separate and co-existing entities. In the next pair of episodes it is revealed that Gotham is also on the BMT transit line; this prompted me to look up the exact location of Gotham in the comic universe and it turns out the bustling urban hive is situation in north east New Jersey. Anyway, the Joker’s crimes in these eps are pretty inconsequential. Rigging vending machines in some hair-brained attempt to corrupt teenagers. On the plus side, he fires off a pretty funny dead dog joke and manages to get Batman and Robin in electric chairs. This arc also presents a painful scene where Burt Ward has to pretend to be a happenin’ street though. Hey Kookie, lend me your knife so I can stab this kid.
17. “True Or False-Face” / 18. “Holy Rat Race”
False-Face is a text book example of a character who is very comic book but not cartoonish. I attribute this to the fact you can’t see Malachi Throne’s face contorting behind the mostly opaque False-Face mask (by the way, the name Malachi Throne has an amazing ring to it, they should have worked it into the script somehow). The Dutch angles feel a little out of control here but maybe that’s intentional, maybe that’s supposed to underscore how topsy-turvy this adventure is (Batman v. the Unknown). False-Face proves so tough that the Dynamic Duo have to fall back on Alfred to escape the harrowing climax; I like to believe the underground gossip in Gotham points to a third shadowy figure in the Batman equation, one alleged to be of advanced age (hence his seclusion) but who never fails as a nuclear option.
19. “The Purr-fect Crime” / 20. “Better Luck Next Time”
Consider the family dynamic that exists between Julie Newmar’s powerful feline-obsessed antagonist and the Dynamic Duo: Catwoman is the bored mother figure seeking a liberating and lawless independence; Batman, the lovelorn father too aloof to know what to do; Robin, the eager son who just wants Mommy and Daddy to love each other again. Wait ’til you catch the horror on Boy Wonder’s face when it appears Catwoman (who spends her story trying to locate the lost treasure of some made up pirate) dies at the end of the second episode. Poor Dick. Catwoman, fyi, has one of the best accompanying leitmotifs of Nelson Riddle’s scoring—eerie, hypnotic, fun.
21. “The Penguin Goes Straight” / 22. “Not Yet, He Ain’t”
In which the Caped Crusaders appear to be dead for a small chunk of time, saddening Gotham but exciting that ever fiendish Penguin…who, as it turns out, is trying to trick the world into believing he’s become a do-gooder. Tim Burton famously cribbed Penguin’s theft of the Batmobile in this adventure for 1992’s Batman Returns. Who knows why a covert crime-fighting team would insist on tooling around in a convertible. Seems like an open invitation. The Penguin carjack allows for introduction of the Batcycle, which is a far more bad-ass means of conveyance (even with the side car). Ghost Rider would be a complete joke if he was riding out of Hell in a Sedan.
23. “The Ring Of Wax” / 24. “Give ‘Em The Axe”
Usually the requisite bad girl or “moll” amongst a gang of male villains in “Batman” is just that, a wayward youth blinded by power. Here, however, the lady by Riddler’s side (as he tries to uncover some weird Incan treasure) is a cape-wearing figure called the Moth—a budding mastermind in her own right, we may assume. It’s a shame they didn’t give her more to do (or even her own episode later on). A tremendous scene pops up about midway wherein Batman asks a librarian, voice absent of irony, “Have you seen any unusual looking people around here?” The librarian says she has not and somehow avoids comment on the two guys in front of her dressed as winged forest creatures.
25. “The Joker Trumps An Ace” / 26. “Batman Sets The Pace”
A visiting Maharajah! The Batmobile cruising over a golf course! Someone writing Batman a check and misspelling his name! Definitely not the most exciting outing…they meander around a fairly eye-rolling money laundering plot, stretching out the flimsy premise / final reveal, but I’m forever grateful we get to hear Cesar Romero shout, “Egads, I’ve been deflated!” Again, so unnecessarily sexual.
27. “The Curse Of Tut” / 28. “The Pharaoh’s In A Rut”
The blustery charm of Victor Buono as King Tut makes up for lackluster action. The bulk of episode one is Gotham trying to figure out what to do about a giant statue of a cat that suddenly appears in a park and begins making strange pronouncements. Seems like a noise complaint, but the authorities call Batman anyway. Later, for the umpteenth time this season, a woman comments upon Batman’s handsome looks, which is nuts because 80% of his face is covered at all times. King Tut’s backstory is interesting because it’s the only time “Batman” references the social unrest of the ’60s: Tut was a Yale prof cracked on the head during a student riot; he woke up believing he was the famed Egyptian. Never mind the fact King Tut died at around 18 and this guy is 40. Brain injuries are no laughing matter.
29. “The Bookworm Turns” / 30. “While Gotham City Burns”
Are you ready for the darkness? This one opens with Commissioner Gordon getting shot in the back and falling off a bridge. Later, Batman goes into a Manson-esque trance while attempting to figure out his enemy’s next move, spooking Chief O’Hara and every viewer at home. Though Roddy McDowell gives the nefarious Bookworm a frightful edge anytime he saunters onscreen the character’s trump card is real corny: he traps the Caped Crusaders in a giant cook book, choking them with noxious soup fumes. It all pays off in the end when a defeated Bookworm meets Bruce Wayne; after some banter, the Bookworm dismisses Bruce, exclaiming, “This guy’s almost as annoying as Batman!”
31. “Death In Slow Motion” / 32. “The Riddler’s False Notion”
The Riddler sets up a bunch of robberies he also films so he can sell the resulting movie to Gotham’s biggest silent film buff (some people want to meet the Dynamic Duo, this guy just wants to watch them run around at twice their normal speed in black and white). Somehow the Riddler also finds time to spike the lemonade at a temperance party; tensions are stirred and while blitzed on the drank Commissioner Gordon angrily dismisses Chief O’Hara’s assertion that Maury Wills is “50 times better” than Honus Wagner. You think this will be the best part of the episode until Robin, tied up and thrown off the ledge of a high rise, staves death by catching the Batarang in his fucking teeth. Batman of course uses this as a teaching moment re: dental hygiene. Yeah, it’s okay for a minor to fight crime without a bullet proof vest, but heaven forbid you stop flossing.
33. “Fine Finny Fiends” / 34. “Batman Makes The Scenes”
This time Alfred is kidnapped, by the Penguin, a.k.a. Knott A. Fish. The Peng is trying to uncover the location of some secret millionaire’s dinner being held by Bruce Wayne. This is one of those plots that wouldn’t happen in the 21st Century. No millionaire dinner is secret from the expanse of the Internet. The most fascinating part here is the Penguin’s henchman, Shark and Octopus; Shark looks suspiciously like Clint Howard and Octopus is wearing a very obvious bald cap (or he’s actually bald and has some insane skin condition at the base of his neck). “Batman” hench work is good stuff if you could get it. Joe E. Tata did it a handful of times.
And there you have it. “Batman ’66” Season One. Still plenty weird, still plenty fun. Satiating for a fan of über-insanity such as myself but who knows how the uninitiated would feel at this point (to wit: I can’t stand a goddamn second of “Sigmund & The Sea Monsters” any time I’m trapped in front of it). Glancing at the Season Two lineup I see things kick off with Art Carney as the Archer. Somehow I am not fatigued from the previous 34 chapters of lunacy. I’m ready to dive in. Holy crippling addiction.
P.S. Did I forget to mention that in the very first episode Batman goes to a nightclub and go-go dances with Jill St. John? What, like you’re not gonna go-go dance with Jill St. John? I think we can forgive the Bat for actin’ a fool there. And he’s got better moves than Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man.
A: Gorshin’s Riddler. Cartoony but unquestionably malevolent. Very strong currents of rage, madness. Possibly more intelligent than the rest of the Bat-villains, even Bookworm. A laugh that could shatter glass (too bad for Cesar Romero, whose Joker debuted later and never found a chuckle as iconic).
Thank dog the ’66 Batman series is finally coming to home video this year. There just ain’t enough classic Gorsh on that YouTube.
Today marks twenty-five years since the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, a.k.a. Batman ’89. The arrival of that property seemed like the most important event of its decade (please note: I was only a decade old in 1989). It was definitely the most important Batman movie—the first outing since Adam West’s goofy tenure. Could they reclaim Bats from the campy mire of his 1960s tv series? Imagine if they’d messed it up. Twenty more years might have passed sans Batman. On the other hand, a chasm like that would have left the floor open for something totally wild, like a Wonder Woman movie.
There are, of course, folks out there who think they did mess up Batman ’89 and that the one true Bat-film is Batman Returns or The Dark Knight or one of the animated features. I am not one of those people. I dig Batman Returns, Dark Knight is probably my favorite film of the current era, but Batman ’89 is pure intoxication. The perfect meld of 1940s gothic and ’80s decay, a grime-streaked world where inky blackness acts like some kind of bizarre security blanket. They had trouble replicating that atmosphere even in the sequel where Burton was directly involved. And how can you top the disturbed, punchy combo of Keaton and Nicholson?
Sure, they cut a few corners. The Joker as the guy who murdered Batman’s parents is too convenient and in the end pointless when all they do is have Bats and J argue about it like sixth graders. They posit Vicki Vale as some big shot journalist but the solution to the Batman mystery is just served up to her on a plate. What do you want? No movie is perfect. Nothing’s perfect. Methinks the dialogue is crackling enough to cover these stumbles in plot.
This is the part where I remind you my parents did not let me see Batman ’89 at the cinema; a friend’s mother told my mother it was too violent. I must have complained all summer and fall because my dad brought it home on VHS that Christmas. He wouldn’t let me watch it straight up, though: first I had to sit through The Bells of St. Mary’s, which is one of those Bing Crosby movies where he breaks up fights between altar boys and croons for nuns. I appreciate this torturous move now but at the time I was pretty outraged. Still, I endured, and then Daddy-o let me watch Batman in peace.
To celebrate today’s auspicious occasion I will of course engage in some binge listening of Prince’s Batman ’89 soundtrack. I think a few Pat Hingle impressions are also in order. By the way, I’ve never understood those who gripe about the Prince music in Batman. The sexual undercurrent of pop funk accents the blackness and grit so nicely. Also, like the Joker, Prince is a garish weirdo outfitted in purple who is constantly on the verge of either kissing or slapping someone. Would you have preferred Michael Jackson? MJ was originally approached to write for the movie but couldn’t commit.
It could have been worse. They could have asked some hair metal band to write a power ballad about the Batmobile. One of the greatest joys Batman ’89 brings me is that I can watch it and not think about Vince Neil.
Such was my thought when I saw this, the first image of Ben Affleck suited up and ready to fight
Clock King Julie Newmar Superman. Why so steamy, Batso? Will you be my father figure? Can you be my preacher teacher? When’s Cindy Crawford showing up in the claw tub?