Batman 1.29 – The Bookworm Turns

Boy! Just when the episode one formula (something weird / call Batman / interrupt study / rush past Aunt Harriet) was getting stale, this story shakes it up and is really entertaining. The Bookworm arranges for Commissioner Gordon to be delayed on the way to a bridge opening, but sends a double to be “shot” on live television while Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are watching the event. It’s a great way to control exactly when our heroes will pull up at police headquarters. That way he can plan to put a bomb in the Batmobile.

The bomb doesn’t work – there’s a Bat-bomb detector in the car – but the Bookworm has a “plot B.” The bomb is secreted in a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls with a reinforced asbestos cover which survives the blast in the sky after Batman ejects it. I remember, as a child, being really struck by that ominous cut to commercial, with Batman growling “…it tolls for thee!” Mainly because I was a child and didn’t know what it meant.

Bookworm is a tremendously good villain. He’s played by the great Roddy McDowall, who has a very interesting little criminal resume. He and Anne Baxter (“Zelda the Great“) were the only two Bat-villains to also appear as criminals on Columbo, and he and Baxter are also in the ultra-exclusive group of actors who played two separate Bat-villains. Baxter would return as a different character in season three, and in 1992, McDowall played Mad Hatter in the celebrated Dini/Timm Batman cartoon. His portrayal of Bookworm is clearly inspired by Gorshin and Romero, but wow, what a character. I love the way he thinks and schemes and lays out intricate plots, but the kicker is that he’s a frustrated novelist who can’t come up with an original plot of his own, so he rips off the greats in weird ways.

His frustration is so acute that when this week’s criminal babe sidekick, played by Francine York, who does not know Bookworm’s pathetic inability to be original, says that he should write a book, he instantly loses his head, roars in fury and becomes downright scary. He grabs a gigantic hardback book and fully intends to smack her with it until he notes the title: The Secret of Success: Self-Control. I’ve noted before how awesome Frank Gorshin’s insanity as the Riddler is to watch, but what McDowall did as Bookworm in this scene really is incredibly surprising.

Marie had some fun shaking her head in exasperation over some of the show’s more, shall we say, self-aware moments. This is the first episode to establish there’s a van parked around for parachute pickup duty after the Batmobile makes a 180-degree turn, and the first episode to feature a celebrity guest cameo interrupting the Bat-climb. It’s Jerry Lewis, the first of many celebrities making a quick appearance to wow their son or niece showing up on the fabbest show on TV.

Scientist that she is, Marie raised an objection to Batman using a sonic beam of 12,000 decibels to send anybody hiding inside the criminal’s Bookmobile scurrying out. Not 120 decibels, which’d do it, 12,000. And since Francine York’s character is “helpless” inside, as Bookworm’s subplot requires her to fake that she’s a hostage, that’s an incredibly dangerous and stupid thing for Batman to do. Should any criminal happen to actually have a real hostage – or, you know, one of these criminal babe sidekicks who really aren’t all that bad, just misguided and needing a little help from the Wayne Foundation for Wayward Girls after they’ve fallen in love with Batman – a sonic attack’s probably a bad idea. But on the other hand, how amazing is the Batmobile, being able to generate 12,000 decibels? What a machine!

Daniel was briefly troubled by the cliffhanger and hid his eyes, but didn’t get upset. The whole scheme seems to have been designed to separate Robin from Batman, gas the Boy Wonder, and strap him upside-down to the clapper of the bell inside the Wayne Memorial Clock Tower, which I believe is not the last time this show will try to pass off stock footage of Big Ben as something it’s not.

H.R. Pufnstuf 1.15 – The Almost Election of Witchiepoo

“I wonder how the witch will lose this time,” Daniel asked, showing some understanding about how this show works.

Unfortunately, this episode only works so far before it ends up in a corner, and the writers had no idea how to extract it. Witchiepoo tries running for mayor, but doesn’t persuade any of the electorate, so she uses love bombs to make everybody adore her. This does result in the funny scene of Pufnstuf bawling in Dr. Blinky’s house – dragon tears instead of crocodile tears! – but the only solution they can come up with is a reversal bomb to wind time back thirty minutes.

In other words, it’s a pretty lame way to make sure the witch loses this time.

There is an intriguing little bit that might have gone somewhere amusing though. The good trees point out that Pufnstuf always wins the mayoral race because nobody runs against him. But when pressed on the stump what he’s actually done for the people of Living Island, he really has no idea. That’s the funniest thing in this episode. I think they should have run with that, and got a little subversive.

Thunderbirds 1.20 – The Man from MI.5

This is the second Lady Penelope spy story in a row – three in a row since we skipped episodes 13-18. Even worse, for the impatient four year-old who likes all the vehicles and machinery and exploding things, I just looked on Wikipedia and confirmed that the six stories on A&E’s Set 3 – “Terror in New York City,” “End of the Road,” “Day of Disaster,” “Edge of Impact,” “Desperate Intruder,” and “30 Minutes After Noon” – all appear to be full of the mayhem that he enjoys the most.

No, sorry to say that Daniel was incredibly bored by this one. And sure, as it happens, I slept very, very badly last night, but I caught myself nodding off trying to pay attention to this slow, slow, slow story. It’s promising in places, though, but the realities of what the producers could actually accomplish with their budget and puppets certainly didn’t extend to recreating a busy casino in Monte Carlo. So we get lonely figures on yachts at night, and bad guys rifling every single drawer in a room looking for secret plans.

You can expect a kid to stay awake for sixty seconds of “launch porn,” but sixty seconds of digging around in a drawer through some magazines is a bit much. Even Dad starts to lose itsszzzzzzz…

Well, one other thing of note is how Lady Penelope swings back from being a barely competent, you know, girl like she was last time into a superbly talented super-agent like she was in episode 12. Penelope is a lot more fun when she is in charge and in control, but this episode is just dull.

Incidentally, if you enjoy classic Thunderbirds, check out this amazing project by Stephen La Rivere on Kickstarter to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary: New Episodes from 1960s Recordings. I’m a backer, and you should be, too!

Batman 1.28 – The Pharaoh’s in a Rut

Okay, first thing’s first: this is the third time in four stories that an arch-criminal steals the Batmobile. Our hero definitely needs to do something about that.

As entertaining as it is watching Victor Buono rant as King Tut, I’m afraid that at this stage in the series the villain is really being kept aloft by luck and some good hires among his henchmen. His underlings are much more competent than he is, which kind of makes sense. They’re in the business of being bad guys; he thinks that he’s the reincarnation of an Egyptian god-deity and doesn’t quite know how he should go about it.

At one point, he has Batman and his traitorous Nefertiti stuffed into canopic jars to drop pebbles on their heads and drive them mad. Daniel was alarmed by how that looked, but had a ball when they were freed and ordered to dance for the king. Of course, that’s got to be just about the stupidest move a bad guy could make.

Batman keeps his sanity and clobbers the criminals; Daniel loved that fight, but he really loved the chase, as Batman, Robin, and Alfred steal Tut’s gold-plated pickup truck to follow the Batmobile. The high point: somehow a circuit gets crossed and King Tut gets ejected from the Batmobile.

After I post one of these stories, I like to see what else has been posted by other WordPress bloggers about the tags that I’ve used. Last night, I read up a little on Victor Buono, about whom I didn’t know very much. Classic film bloggers have written a lot about the 1962 film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which made him a star. I had no idea that Buono was so young! He seemed to be in his early forties in this episode, but he was actually only 28, and he died of a heart attack when he was 43. He had the unique privilege of playing a recurring villain in three separate adventure TV series: he was also Count Manzeppi, one of only two recurring baddies in The Wild Wild West, and the nasty Mr. Schubert in several episodes of Man From Atlantis.

Batman 1.27 – The Curse of Tut

Before I get started this week, I wanted to make sure all of Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time’s Batman fans know that there’s another blogger covering the 1966 series. Over at Comic Alliance, a writer called Chris Sims is writing these up, one a week, with a lot more detail and illustration than yours truly, and is up to episode 31. They’re very entertaining, and you should check them out. I say that even though I’m horribly jealous that, months before I did, Sims figured out that the TV show’s producers got access to the comics that inspired stories three and four from a contemporary reprint volume. I was really happy about making that discovery, but he beat me to it by seven months!

Anyway, back in the present, and here’s the first example in FBDT of the condition that one of Doctor Who‘s producers, John Nathan-Turner, used to call “Memory Cheats.” I’ll come back to this with a bit in Pufnstuf next month, but there are times where the mind plays tricks on us, and my big example from Batman comes from this episode, the first to feature Victor Buono as the nefarious King Tut.

Tut is by leagues the most successful of the created-for-TV bad guys. He makes five appearances in the show (Egghead is second-best with three), and he’s also possibly the only one to get a proper explanation of why he’s a villain. Batman reminds the police, who are really exceptionally alarmed by Tut’s reappearance, that King Tut should be pitied. He was once a mild-mannered professor at Yale who was hit on the head during a student demonstration. He woke up thinking that Gotham City was Thebes and he was the reincarnation of King Tut.

The thing is… I remember seeing that happening. I distinctly remember Buono playing that part and getting conked on the head, but it doesn’t happen here. Maybe he gets back to normal and gets whacked again later in the series? I’m very keen to find out, but I seriously thought “The Curse of Tut” was an “origin” episode for the villain. Guess not!

Daniel has been a little wild and crazy today, but he found a new ally in his own war against crime today. We finally moved an old toybox into his bedroom today, and he found a few new treasures in it, including some Battlemech-type robot with cannons for arms. It stands about six inches tall, and he went into action as the Dynamic Duo faced off against five of King Tut’s minions in Gotham Central Park, blasting “ptchow! ptchow!” at the villains.

H.R. Pufnstuf 1.14 – The Visiting Witch

This episode is amazing, but it sure went over Daniel’s head for a minute.

Okay, so Witchiepoo gets notice – via a tickertape announcement in her image machine – that Boss Witch is coming for an inspection. Nobody has met the Boss Witch or knows what she looks like, which turns into an obvious, but hilarious plot point. Billie Hayes is in fine form this week, because she’s in a complete panic, absolutely convinced that Boss Witch will hate her.

What Witchiepoo doesn’t know is that Boss Witch cancels her inspection, and she doesn’t know that because Stupid Bat, carrying a “bat-o-gram,” crashes in the forest and loses the note to the good guys. Witchiepoo decides that Pufnstuf will make a nice gift for the queen of magic and empress of evil, and so, to rescue him, the good guys dress Jimmy as what they imagine Boss Witch might look like, so he can go into the castle, be groveled at, whack Witchiepoo in the head a time or three, and generally command the place. Then Jimmy adds insult to injury by threatening to banish the ineffective witch from Living Island.

It’s absolutely one of the high points of the show: Jimmy-as-Boss Witch interrogates Pufnstuf about how rotten Witchiepoo is, and Puf throws her under the bus, bragging how she’s such a sweetheart and even once brought some nice cookies to his cave.

But we had to pause and go back, because Jack Wild’s makeup job was so hilariously good that it completely convinced Daniel. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t reveling in seeing the witch get such a long and deserved comeuppance until I realized that he didn’t know that was Wild. He saw this strange newcomer as somebody who was much more frightening than Witchiepoo and reacted with a bit lip, accordingly. He enjoyed it a lot more the second time around!

Which makes me wonder… we actually will be meeting the genuine Boss Witch in a few weeks. I wonder what he’ll think of the real deal?

Thunderbirds 1.19 – The Impostors

This episode introduces another of International Rescue’s field operatives. Agent 47 is Jeremiah, who lives with his Maw somewhere in the Ozarks or someplace. He’s an old army buddy of Jeff Tracy’s, and it’s kind of curious how his sons genuinely do not know who the heck all their field agents are.

We don’t meet any of the others, but all the agents are activated when the world’s military forces start a massive manhunt for International Rescue. Two impostors staged a phony mine rescue in order to tunnel into a top secret base and steal some plans worth $25 thousand million dollars. The general in charge of the operation is like Michael Palin in an episode of Monty Python making fun of a dunderheaded American general, even down to interrupting a satellite station’s repairs just to yell at the astronauts to work faster.

Daniel enjoyed getting to see Thunderbird 3 again. Even with everybody looking for them – I love the corollary to this, suggesting that the media of 2065 is polite enough to leave them alone when they’re not Public Enemy Number One – Jeff decides that they have to try and rescue one of those astronauts. Meanwhile, on Earth, Lady Penelope and Parker have teamed with Jeremiah and Maw to find the two criminals. About the only amusing thing about the hillbillies is the way that Jeremiah pronounces his guest’s name as penn-el-oap. Well, Daniel did enjoy the gag about Maw’s cans of beans secretly being hand grenades.

Last time, I praised her ladyship for being a great action heroine. This time, she’s back to acting like, you know, a girl. She overpacks for the trip with two dozen suitcases, but of course didn’t bring any hiking boots, so she stumbles in the mud in her white high heels.

Wait, last time? Wasn’t that episode 12? Yes, we skipped six episodes because I do not have the complete series, but rather four of the six box sets that A&E released around 2001 instead. Even as that network was transitioning from ’70s detective shows and modern British dramas like Cracker into reality gunk, they were among the first outfits to start releasing TV on DVD, mainly British commercial programs like the Gerry Anderson stuff, The Avengers, The Saint, and Secret Agent. They were all in sets that were priced really high by contemporary standards, but five or six episodes for thirty bucks was what we got at the time. Readers will understand that after buying the ones that I did, I don’t really feel like investing another $40 to get the eleven episodes that I’m missing.

Readers will understand. I hope the kid does! Besides, I spent $45 on just two and possibly three more episodes, as you’ll see in the note below the line…

Incidentally, if you enjoy classic Thunderbirds, check out this amazing project by Stephen La Rivere on Kickstarter to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary: New Episodes from 1960s Recordings. I’m a backer, and you should be, too!

Batman 1.26 – Batman Sets the Pace

One slight downside to the really sharp and colorful transfers on these DVDs is that some of the minor things we’d have overlooked on faded old film prints are crystal-clear. It’s not just the regular use of stuntmen in the fight scenes; we expected to notice those all the time now, and do. But suddenly lots of other things are painfully obvious that I’d always missed. For example, in the cliffhanger of the previous story, “The Ring of Wax” / “Give ’em the Axe,” modern viewers won’t be able to take their eyes off all the unsightly underarm sweat discoloring Adam West’s costume.

Then there’s this one, as Batman and Robin put their backs together and, using the pressure of their bodies against the walls, “walk” up the sides of the chimney as it fills with gas. Well, pressure and a tell-tale wire just visible between West and Ward’s bodies helping with that Hollywood magic! Oh, wait. That’s not West or Ward, either.

I really enjoyed this episode. It’s got a downright terrific twist, and a great scheme from the Joker. It’s not only a $500,000 ransom he wants for the safe return of the maharaja; he demands Batman participate in the money exchange. In other words, it’s not just the cash, he also wants to ruin his arch-enemy’s pride. Nobody’s yet pulled such a stunt, and I really liked the way Adam West played the scene. It’s not like this show was regularly presenting the leads or the guests with any real challenges, so the scene where Batman, on the phone, has to agree to something he finds completely immoral is interesting. For just a couple of seconds, we see the character respond with selfishness and pride before agreeing to do the right thing.

Oh, I almost forgot! There’s a deeply silly tag scene in which, just an hour after they solved the crime, Bruce and Dick are summoned back to the Batphone. Commissioner Gordon has called the Dynamic Duo because he’s heard a troubling rumor that Batman’s running for governor of California. Actually, Pat Brown had made so much of the electorate so darn angry that by early ’66, some people were saying that only Batman could save the state. In the end, it took Ronald Reagan to turn things around, whipping Brown in a landslide. I imagine the Caped Crusader got a write-in vote or ten as well.

Batman 1.25 – The Joker Trumps an Ace

The Joker has an amazingly funny member of his gang in this episode. He keeps his blue cap down over his eyes, and as they debate whether they’re going to kill the Dynamic Duo (naturally, the bad girl of the week, this time played by Jane Wald, doesn’t want him to die), he delivers this amazing line: “That’s right! We gotta get rid of ’em! We owe it to the criminal woild!”

Front and center in the image above, though, is Henchman # 1, wearing the blue shirt and white cap, played by Norman Alden. He’d go on to star as Frank, the inventor of Crimescope and valued assistant to Electra Woman and Dyna Girl a decade later.

This episode is a really good one, since we spend the whole thing completely baffled as to what the Joker is up to. Cesar Romero’s actually only in three scenes, and one of them’s just a tiny establishing shot to confirm that Romero did accompany the rest of the cast to the golf course, where his men abduct a visiting maharajah.

Daniel wasn’t very interested in this episode, though. Earlier today, he got the gift of a Doc McStuffins tent in which he may do his thinking. It lured him off the couch a time or twenty. He’s a great kid, but doesn’t have the longest attention span in the world.

H.R. Pufnstuf 1.13 – A Tooth for a Tooth

It’s a rare day when Billie Hayes gets upstaged in this show, but one of the very few examples comes in this episode. This time out, when Jimmy escapes into her forest, she calls out the always-incompetent evil trees again, leading to one of this goofy show’s goofiest moments.

You sometimes wonder whether this program’s writers, Lennie Weinrib and Paul Harrison, actually remember their previous scripts, because the trees are so patently bumbling that you’d think Puf would, by this point, just sit back and wait for Jimmy to kick the bejesus out of them as he’s done at least five times before. But Pufnstuf fears the worst and calls for the good trees to step in.

Now, up to this point, Hayes has, as always, been the star of the show. She gets to rant and rave because she has a toothache, pose as a little girl to get her tooth pulled by Dr. Blinky (reusing the costume from “The Stand-In“), and, once she’s given the whammy of a love potion, act like a bundle of sunshine who loves everybody on Living Island. But then the trees have a fight, which turns into a dance once the evil trees get a dose of the love potion, and it’s the funniest thing in the universe.

I’m impressed by so much about the bizarre costuming and puppetry in the Krofft series, and just the way the actors navigate around each other while wearing these silly things is always amusing. But this is a really funny spectacle of chaos, especially when Jimmy takes off his jacket so he can start swatting one of the evil trees from behind. We loved it!