To begin with this week, I’ve done you all a disservice by not mentioning another blogger who is writing about the ’60s Batman series. He goes by the handle “The Squonk” and he’s writing a new installment every Friday at Channel: Superhero. He’s just finished the fourteenth episode, which is Mad Hatter’s first story, so go check that out and enjoy!
Anyway, tonight’s episode is… odd. The original draft was written by Ellis St. Joseph, who is best known for writing several live productions from the late 1940s and early 1950s, back when quite a lot of TV drama came via anthology programs. Joel Eisner’s Official Batman Batbook gives this story a little more space than most, as the writer had a very high opinion of what he had submitted, and considerable disappointment at how it was rewritten by Charles Hoffman, and talked at length about it.
Briefly, St. Joseph contended that his submission was very unique and original, and owed a lot to German expressionist cinema and Dr. Caligari. Robert Morley was cast as the villainous Sandman, a rare example of a villain whom Batman has not met before, but then the reality of the grind of TV production reared up. The problem was that Julie Newmar had been contracted for several episodes, since the ratings were slumping and she was just about the only thing that could reliably prop them up a little. They had Hoffman bolt a Catwoman plot onto St. Joseph’s script, and Morley was less interested in playing the role if he was going to be Newmar’s second banana. Michael Rennie was cast in his place.
The finished product is still pretty entertaining, much better than the last couple of stories. Catwoman really doesn’t have a lot to do in part one, but Newmar still controls the screen when the two villains are together. Still, Rennie has a calm demeanor that most Batvillains don’t have, and it’s refreshing watching how he plays the part. I like the way that during the Batfight, Sandman mostly stays out of the way while his henchmen brawl, looking on with his hands in the pockets of his fur coat, waiting for a chance to gas a hero with his sleeping powder.
Daniel enjoyed it all, but the episode did come to a crashing, noisy halt with one of the stupidest moments of the whole series. They’ve asked the Batcomputer to identify any wealthy insomniacs in Gotham City, who Sandman, alias “Dr. Somnambula,” may have targeted. The computer suggests the rich J. Pauline Spaghetti, not by a name on a card, but by belching pink spaghetti out at Robin. This sort of dopey Hanna-Barbera comedy moment is probably precisely the sort of thing that St. Joseph was trying to avoid with his German expressionism storyline.