Batman 1.18 – Holy Rat Race

False Face is another character from the comics, but only barely. A character by that name appeared in a single eight-page strip in the Feb. 1958 issue of Batman, # 113, but unlike Mr. Zero / Mr. Freeze, DC Comics does not appear to have used the character ever again, although I see that in recent years they have used a gang of henchmen called “The False Face Society.” I’m wondering again how the producers ran across the nine year-old one-off character without a reprint readily available, or even if they didn’t, and just picked the name from some big list of trademarked characters that came with the Batman license.

The scheme, as it is finally revealed, is this: False Face used the theft of a diamond crown to finance a counterfeiting operation and planned to replace all the currency in the Gotham National Bank with his phony bills. This scheme goes awry surprisingly early in the day, and the last half of part two of the story is a chase and fight through an abandoned studio backlot. Since False Face’s moll, Blaze, betrayed him, having fallen in love with Batman as these dames are wont to do, the villain has her as a hostage in his van, which is equipped with missile launchers.

For a moment, he seems to have blown up the Batmobile, leading to a shocked gasp from Daniel, tears welling up immediately, but it’s quickly established that what False Face actually destroyed was an inflatable Batmobile, which our hero carries around in his car’s trunk for just such an occasion.

It’s on the backlot where we meet the program’s very first celebrity cameo, unless I missed one in the first eight stories. It’s an actor named Mike Ragan. I didn’t know who he is, either, but the director pays such attention to this cowboy on the set of an old west town, and his dialogue is aimed so precisely at the audience that I figured that he had to be somebody notable. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, when dozens of television westerns were in production, Ragan appeared in minor roles in what looks to be every one of them, multiple times. He racked up twenty-four credits on just Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and Cheyenne. He was never a star, but anybody who appeared in that many cowboy shows was certainly known to the audience of 1966, so casting him as a cowboy here was a big, funny wink to them.

In the end credits, it’s finally revealed that False Face was played by Malachi Throne, who wasn’t really known to the audiences of that time at all, making him the odd man out of all the Batman villains, sort of like Susan Clark in the first season of Columbo. Throne, who died in 2013, was a short ways into what would become a really long and successful career in Hollywood in dozens and dozens of small parts, and, a couple of years after this, he co-starred in the hit series It Takes a Thief. Throne was not only one of the very small handful of actors to play two different Batvillains – in the 1990s, he was one of Two-Faces’s extra personalities, “The Judge,” in the celebrated Bruce Timm-Paul Dini cartoon – he is the only actor to play a villain in both Batman and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

When Throne passed away, the writer Mark Evanier wrote an obituary, as is his custom, and noted the infamy of his non-credited role as False Face. Evanier explained that, after part one, audiences wondered who was behind the plastic mask, and were disappointed that he was not unmasked to reveal a really big star like Frank Sinatra or Peter Sellers. Throne was also disappointed, and was said to have been annoyed by both the lack of credit and that his real face was never seen. With all respect to Mr. Throne, I can certainly see his point – he did have a career to consider – but I really like that we never saw any other face underneath that hideous mask. That’s False Face’s face.

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