What has got to be one of the strangest little bits of meta-fiction happens in this episode of Batman. The plot involves the every-fifth-year contractual obligation that the heirs of the Savage, Tyler, and Wayne families have to the Mohican Indians. Centuries before, their ancestors leased the land of Gotham City for a payment of nine raccoon pelts, and tonight is the night that each must bring three more to the last Mohican Indian, Chief Screaming Chicken, who’s played by Edward Everett Horton.
Now, casting Horton is a great big wink at the audience in the first place, as Horton is basically just repeating his F Troop role of Roaring Chicken. Of course, it’s done with all the grace and subtlety that you’d expect from a 1966 sitcom to give to native Americans: none whatsoever. But what you’re seeing is exactly like when George Clooney and Noah Wyle showed up as doctors on an episode of Friends. It’s a good reminder that even in 1966, TV networks acted like TV networks, and found reasons for their actors to cameo in the other shows in the lineup.
But here’s the really weird part: Bruce Wayne explains that the last time they did the raccoon exchange, they got the pelts from a popular singer from the 1920s who wore a raccoon coat, and who had fallen on hard times and had to sell it. This is a reference to Rudy Vallée, who was sometimes called America’s first pop star, and who sang jazz age hits such as “Doin’ the Raccoon” and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” Vallée hadn’t worked in Hollywood for several years when this was made, having spent quite a time on Broadway, but he’d make a comeback the following year playing a villain on this very show. How fun is that!
So I’ve talked around the real highlights of the episode: the villain and the script. The baddie is Egghead, played by Vincent Price, and the script is another laughs-first effort by Stanley Ralph Ross. Egghead speaks in egg-scrutiating puns about egg-splosions and uses the word egg-sactly as much as possible. This pleased my pun-loving wife, who said something about how she appreciated a good yolk as much as the next guy and I’ve only myself to blame for showing her this and encouraging this behavior. I was, on the other hand, inordinately pleased that she caught a reference to The Lone Ranger among all of Chief Screaming Chicken’s “how” babble. She normally misses all the pop culture stuff.
Daniel wasn’t too taken with this episode. He was really wild and hyper this evening and did not want to sit still tonight. He growled at the cliffhanger, and said “That wasn’t any fun.” It’s a shame that he didn’t like it, because Stanley Ralph Ross, showing again that he’s more interested in developing an internal continuity and growth of characters than just shoehorning celebrities in (no matter how well that has worked, and, Archer aside, I think season two has worked a lot better than I remember it), came up with a humdinger of a cliffhanger.
Egghead believes that he’s the smartest of all criminals, and has been thinking about Batman’s secret identity. He has a double purpose in abducting Bruce Wayne and the other heirs, Pete Savage and Tim Tyler beyond intercepting the contractual pelt delivery. He has deduced that Batman must be an athletic millionaire in his early thirties. Tyler is left-handed and Savage, who spends most of his days in Paris, has an accent, and so Batman is most probably Bruce Wayne… or possibly, he concedes, a wealthy rock star who lives in Gotham. He intends to use his wild-looking machine to egg-stract all the knowledge from Bruce Wayne’s mind and settle the question. I really enjoyed that; like the bit earlier this season with Catwoman complaining about all the other supervillains asking her out, it shows that Ross really did consider how the characters would think and act when they’re not onscreen.