Missed it in part one: the redhead in Chandell and Harry’s gang is Marilyn Hanold, who I think is the first Playboy Playmate of the Month to show up in our little TV viewing. She had been Miss June in 1959. This is Edy Williams’ third and final appearance on the show. And yes, the cute girls are much, much more entertaining than the rest of this mess.
I think the main problem is that Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s wild pop art fantasy for the show is badly at odds with what’s been working this season, which have been witty capers with the humor coming, fairly naturally, from the scripts, mostly the ones by Stanley Ralph Ross. This is so forced, and all the comedy just flops. Everybody is playing to the rafters, just trying too hard. The camp aesthetic needs something stronger to anchor it than this dull adventure. It’s a sitcom without a situation.
Liberace brought with him a heck of an audience, because he was just a phenomenally popular entertainer in his day. There’s no denying his talent and his flair, and there are one or two amusing things around him. I quite like the piano that he plays in the prison having its own set of stripes; that’s pretty cute. Unfortunately, he can’t act for anything; it’s difficult to say whether his lousy line reading as Chandell is worse than his cigar-chomping kind-of-Edward G. Robinson kind-of-Jimmy Cagney impression as Harry. The puppet gangsters in Thunderbirds are less wooden.
Years and years ago, I bought this book by Joel Eisner called The Official Batman Batbook, which was released in the mid-1980s. It’s from the era where well-researched books were kind of ruined by terrible editors, even worse designers (POW! ZAP!), and still worse binding. Mine’s coming apart. I’ve kept Eisner’s book all these years, somehow, and was amazed to learn, all those years ago, that this drew the highest audience of all the Batman installments. My guess is that Liberace’s enormous fan base tuned in and saw how unbearably stupid this story was, and how badly their hero performed in his dual role, and they weren’t about to come back. I think that they squandered a good opportunity to use Liberace in one role, which he was certain to have performed better than two, and have somebody else play the villain.
With this story, we come to the ignoble end of the first chunk of season two. It’s bookended by two lousy adventures, but the run of (mostly) one-off villains was much, much better than I recalled, with several good star actors looking like they were having lots of fun in their roles. For whatever reason, the format didn’t continue, and we’ll start to see many of the more popular comic book villains start making multiple comebacks, and I suspect that in one or two cases, it will be to diminishing returns. Happily, I remember the next story as being particularly fun. Fingers crossed!