Batman 1.31 – Death in Slow Motion

What an odd, odd series of coincidences. See, yesterday, at work, I decided to put on my headphones and listen to some music on a YouTube playlist of mine while I did some data entry. One of the songs on it is one that we’ll be seeing with Daniel in a week and a bit, Mama Cass Elliot singing “Different.” I happened to glance over there as I got to a stopping point, and saw, on the YouTube sidebar of recommended similar videos, a 1973 episode of Match Game, the greatest game show ever made, featuring Elliot. Well, there was what I was doing during my lunch break settled.

So on this episode, Jack Klugman berates the host, Gene Rayburn, for his inept impression of Chester from Gunsmoke. “You got a job! What are you trying to do, put Frank Gorshin outta work?!” Celebrity impersonations were Frank Gorshin’s bread and butter. He had an extremely successful nightclub career in the 1960s and 1970s, and routinely appeared on programs like The Tonight Show doing his repertoire. Batman didn’t offer him very many chances to do that kind of thing, but darned if tonight, we didn’t watch an episode which begins with the Riddler dressed as Charlie Chaplin doing a long shtick in the lobby of a fancy theater, being chased around by faux Keystone Kops, a big distraction while he robs the box office.

You have to ask… what are the odds that, on top of his expertise with explosives and safecracking, his brilliant criminal mind, his obsession with leaving clues in the form of riddles, his encyclopedic knowledge of US Customs regulations, foreign wax solvents, and Incan history, the Riddler is also a skilled Charlie Chaplin impersonator? Did he pick this up in the penitentiary talent show or something? Do he and the Bookworm sing Charles Aznavour duets together?

Unfortunately, the amount of screen time devoted to Gorshin doing his Chaplin routine meant that there must have been some fierce editing done, because unless you’re paying enough attention to recognize Gorshin as Chaplin, there’s literally not one thing given to the audience to announce the foe before Commissioner Gordon calls in Batman. So having already paused the action to explain to Daniel who the heck Charlie Chaplin is, we had to then say “And oh, yeah, that Chaplin guy was actually the Riddler… just roll with it.”

The real surprise and confusion comes from the Riddler reminding his crew that their robberies and mayhem are because the millionaire Van Jones, a grumpy old teetotaler whom we met in the theater lobby, has hired them to make a silent movie of their criminal exploits. That’s Richard Bakalyan in the image above as the gang’s cameraman. Bakalyan made a career playing cops and heavies, often in Disney live-action films, and will turn up in this show a couple more times in other roles. He died earlier this year. The robbery of the Mother Gotham Bakery payroll is amazingly entertaining, incorporating sleeping cream pies, daysticks that look like French loaves, exploding eclairs, and Sherry Jackson, dame of the week, begging for charity in what looks like a cast-off Li’l Abner costume.

The cliffhanger had Daniel hiding behind the couch. Apparently as part of the Riddler’s movie opus, he kidnaps Robin and, in classic silent movie melodrama style, has him unconscious on a conveyor belt heading toward a spinning sawblade. The mustache-twirling bad guys of old movies really were sick in the head, weren’t they?

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