Batman 2.50 – Batman Displays His Knowledge

The last time we saw Catwoman in this series, I wondered whether they might have run her last two stories in the wrong order. I’m completely certain of it now. Whatever bonehead at ABC decided that they wanted to get a few viewers on the back of the latest Lesley Gore single and juggled the episode order really should have been kicked in the head. Sure, as continuity errors go, this isn’t as bad as, say, every third week watching Firefly on Fox, or that episode of Homicide: Life on the Street which mentioned one of the characters being dead before NBC showed the hour where his body was found, but it really rankles.

American television in the 1960s just didn’t have continuity like this, and what Stanley Ralph Ross wrote for Catwoman is a genuine arc with progression of her character across three stories, from December 1966 to February 1967, and ending with her tragic demise, choosing death over prison. So for this to open with her in prison and accepting Bruce Wayne, who shows no emotion over this situation after being quite openly – and surprisingly – devastated by her death, without addressing her – and let’s be blunt – attempted suicide, is a mockery of what Ross intended.

I’d strongly suggest that anybody watching these DVDs to swap the order around; watch this story in between the two three-parters in season two, and then watch the “That Darn Catwoman” two-parter in place of this one. You’ll still get the Penguin and the Joker hopping in and out of jail like the door’s a revolving one, but you’ll see the stories in the order the producers intended.

As for the content of what was meant as the second act and not the finale, it’s great fun. Daniel, who was restless and wild last night, was calm and awesome and enjoyed the show, asking me to pause only to get an explanation of what in the world Catwoman was wearing (a mink stole) in the climactic scene, which is set in a real estate agency’s model home with a staircase almost exactly like the one in the Brady Bunch house. Ah, the sixties. Stanley Adams has another scene in this episode, but the real acting surprise is having Jacques Bergerac show up as French Freddy TouchĂ©, a fencing instructor who’s also a fence. Bergerac, beloved to fans of bad old movies as the “Gaze into…The Hypnotic Eye!!!” guy, had been married to Ginger Rogers, and he’d retire from acting a couple of years after this to take a job as a high-ranking executive at Revlon, which is an awfully strange career arc.

So, this was Julie Newmar’s last appearance in the show. When Catwoman returns in season three, she’ll be played by Eartha Kitt. One note on that point: the story that everybody repeats is that Newmar was not available for the three weeks in November 1967 that they filmed those three Catwoman half-hours because she was filming the Western MacKenna’s Gold, which has one of the most amazing casts of any film, ever: Gregory Peck, Telly Savalas, Omar Sharif, Ted Cassidy, Burgess Meredith, Edward G. Robinson, and more are in that movie. But I don’t buy that explanation. MacKenna’s Gold wasn’t released until May 1969. I figure that November in the desert might can look a lot like any other time, and they could have shot it then, but spending a couple of months shooting a Gregory Peck film and letting it sit on the shelf for seventeen months wasn’t how movies were made or distributed in the sixties, I think. Hmmmm….

Batman 2.49 – Catwoman Goes to College

So of course, happy tender moments like the one shown here never last. Robin rushes in and spoils Batman and Catwoman’s milkshake date with the news that the police are after our hero! Stanley Adams, whom we saw a couple of months ago in a Ghost Busters episode, and who would get to have his pair of iconic guest star roles in Star Trek and in Lost in Space in the next TV season, has this very oddball guest part as Captain Courageous, an officer on exchange from Los Angeles who has never heard of Batman, and arrests him because twenty eyewitnesses saw him rob a supermarket.

This is all part of Catwoman’s plan, of course, to get him out of the way while she leads a student riot, and slips away in the confusion to steal some jewels. Things don’t go quite as planned, there’s a Batfight, and the episode ends with our heroes tied up in a giant coffee cup on a motorized billboard, with sulfuric acid about to be poured over them.

So yes, this is a suddenly silly installment for Catwoman, and it has one of the funniest moments in the series, when Bruce Wayne knows that the Batphone is about to ring, and just pauses with his hand above the receiver. I had to pause the DVD from laughing.

Daniel was in little mood for any of this tomfoolery, especially Batman and Catwoman sharing a milkshake. The boy just cannot stand the mushy stuff.

Thunderbirds 1.15 – Day of Disaster

Well, some episodes of Thunderbirds are better than others. This is one of the others.

Daniel got a huge kick out of it. He enjoys Lady Penelope and Parker, and Thunderbird 4, and this has all of them in a big rescue. A bridge has collapsed while a space rocket was being driven across it to its launch site. The rocket is manned and full of fuel, which probably increased its weight a whole heck of a lot, and the countdown to ignition starts when it hits the bottom of the river, which is up there with “I said ‘lunch,’ not ‘launch’!” in the dumb astronaut sweepstakes.

But Thunderbirds has the most calming effect on him, no matter how wild and crazy he is beforehand, and today he was so full of energy that I was afraid he was going to pop. He sat patiently and wide-eyed, asking understandable questions about the show, and asking us what certain words on the screen said, and was completely wowed by the whole experience.

This show was made for kids, and not adults, and while every so often they contrived a completely ridiculous situation, and filled the story with incredibly dumb characters – the same “the bridge can’t possibly collapse!” guy turns into “we don’t need International Rescue!” guy, making him doubly tedious – but we can forgive missteps so dopey when they’re so exciting to their young fans.

Weird symmetry department: Remember how, in the last episode of Batman that we watched, two nights ago, we had a wacky German psychiatrist diagnosing Bruce Wayne because of his “planning to marry a cute crook” issues? Well, Brains spent seven or so hours in the company of “we don’t need International Rescue!” guy, talking to the Tracys via his wristwatch, and somehow once the day gets saved, Brains ends up on the couch of some wacky German psychiatrist because of his “talking to his watch” issues, until Lady Penelope rescues him. It doesn’t make any sense, just go with it…

Captain Scarlet 1.17 – The Trap

Hey, it’s the Robert Mitchum puppet again, shown here with Symphony Angel. He’s appeared on at least one other instance since we first saw him, too. It’s kind of cute the way they reused puppet heads on this show. The commodore in this episode was also in episode 13 in a different role. It’s almost like a little repertory company of actors coming in for different parts each week.

This is a really exciting episode, with a great finale. The Mysteron duplicate of the commodore has a great big machine gun on the battlements of a castle in remote Scotland, ready to shoot down a “magnacopter” full of important bigwigs as soon as it takes off. Captain Scarlet goes after the guy while wearing a jetpack. Daniel got really excited during this scene, with good reason. It’s huge fun.

My only complaint about this fun episode is that Colonel White showed off his lousy leadership skills again. The most important conference ever is going on, and he’s lost contact with Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel, who are meant to be providing security, and he finally figures out that the Mysterons plan to murder all the delegates. So he sends everybody, right? He launches all four angels and all four captains on base, and starts moving Cloudbase to Scotland, yeah? No, he sends Captain Blue. Alone. Who has to pick up an SPV at the Auld Lang Syne factory first. No rush. This isn’t that important.

Batman 2.48 – The Joker’s Epitaph

My heart sinks just a little when I see that an episode is written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. His gags and his planning don’t seem to pay any attention to how the world works, and are just there in the hopes of a guffaw. I really prefer the episodes by Stanley Ralph Ross, who seems to have thought things through with logic, consistency, and backstory. They don’t always work – the Archer story is his most notable turkey so far – but they’re never as dopey as Semple’s.

In part one, Gordon’s office is “haunted” by the booming laughter of the Joker, coming from nowhere. Batman uses a device to track the sound to a false cuff link on Gordon’s jacket. Clearly, the Joker bumped against the commissioner on the street and switched them. Never mind that for the better part of half an hour, he and O’Hara can’t find the speaker, Batman also sees that during the bump, Joker wrapped the other half of the device around the commissioner’s waist and down his trouser leg. We accept a certain level of helplessness on the part of the police for this show to work, but there’s helplessness and then there’s body-and-brain-dead.

Another example: Batman and Robin suspect that the Joker is running his counterfeit printer from a defunct comic book company recently purchased by a “W.C. Whiteface.” They know that’s likely a pseudonym, but just in case it is a real guy with an unlikely name, they can’t rush in and arrest him, leading to Bruce Wayne’s bozo “pretending to be bankrupt” scam. But… they know what the Joker looks like! They’ve sent him to jail at least five times by now! They don’t have to lead with a blind sock to the unknown man’s jaw, and further, look, we’re two-thirds of the way through the series at this point. Batman must know that: a) the Joker will have at least two henchmen, and b) Robin, on his own, is incapable of winning a fight against three men. He will get locked in a medieval torture rack with eggs on his head and shoved in an airplane’s engine.

In his scripts, Ross treated the characters as real, albeit square, silly, or ridiculous. Semple didn’t care; he was in it for the pop art gags, but they aren’t funny and induce eye-rolling, not giggles. Oscar Beregi plays this wacky German psychiatrist in part two, brought in because, well there’s no simple way to explain this. The Joker recorded Bruce Wayne’s story about embezzling foundation money, and now he’s blackmailing him into marrying his babe-of-the-week, who’s played by Phyllis Douglas.

When word of the engagement appears in the society pages, Commissioner Gordon has this doctor brought to his office, and the doctor – who’s about as believably German as Peter Sellers was French – diagnoses Bruce, whom he’s never met, as having lost his marbles two or three months ago, and so Gordon sends O’Hara and two men from the – get this – Anti-Lunatic Squad – to put Bruce in a straitjacket and send him to “Happy Acres.” And Gordon claims to be Bruce’s friend? I’d love to have heard the apology. “I heard you appointed the Joker to be vice-president of one of your banks and were going to marry the Joker’s babe-of-the-week, but it never occurred to me that you might have been threatened. I just figured you’d lost your mind, so I had you committed!”

At least the Joker’s dragster gets a few more seconds of screen time. Seconds.

Daniel was disinterested until Phyllis Douglas started smooching Adam West. Then he covered his head with a blanket. “That was horrible,” he concluded.

Batman 2.47 – The Joker’s Last Laugh

Can we get a round of applause for that car? Holy anna, what a car! It has a Rolls-Royce grill and ornament! The car was originally built by George Barris for the 1966 Elvis movie Easy Come, Easy Go, and modified for use here. It will make at least one more appearance in this series, in a season three episode. The car has since been de-Jokerified and returned to its original construction for the Elvis movie, and you can see some museum photos of it at Driving Line.

We have no real idea what the Joker’s plan in this episode is so far. Apparently he wants to use robots and counterfeit money to find the Batcave, but this plan gets derailed when his first effort to find it fumbles, and then Bruce Wayne, acting as though he’s bankrupt and about to be jailed for embezzling from his foundation, stumbles into the Joker’s hideout, desperate to use his printing press. So whatever the Joker was going to do next, it’s on hold.

There’s a really cute moment here when Batman knows that the Joker is following him back to the Batcave – Batman has one of the deactivated robots in the trunk – and he activates a fake beacon that instead leads the Joker to a small scale model of the Batcave entrance, labeled and everything. Underneath the model is a note reading “Laugh, criminals, laugh!”

Daniel hated the cliffhanger to this episode. He never likes it when Robin’s in danger, but this time, Robin has to fight alone, because Bruce Wayne is pretending to be on the Joker’s side. This was an amazingly poor plan. Bruce tries to reason with the Joker, saying he was willing to become a counterfeiter, but not a murderer, to no avail. Daniel did a really good job sitting still tonight, but he knew those robots were dangerous and did not like the idea of Robin fighting without help from Batman!

Thunderbirds 1.14 – End of the Road

One thing this particular episode really drives home is how lonely the Tracys’ lives can be. Alan spends the entire series quietly pining for Tintin, but in this episode, he has a rival. An old friend in the construction business, Eddie Houseman, shows up unannounced on their island to woo her for a couple of days, and Alan, with all the one-note sadness of a character who’s appearing in a TV show that will get broadcast in random order on stations across the world and can’t actually develop, pouts about it. But it also shows that they can’t have guests, other than Lady Penelope, since they can’t launch a mission if anybody’s on their island.

The mission this time is rescuing Houseman himself, because he’s an impetuous blowhard who will risk his life to save his company. He gets in a ridiculous scrape and is trapped in a genuine cliffhanger that reminded me of the end of the movie The Italian Job, with added explosives. When Eddie’s vehicle is lifted by Thunderbird 2 via a magnetic clamp, and starts to slip, Daniel had to hide under his blanket because it was so exciting.

The production is absolutely first-rate, but our older daughter Ivy, who’s seventeen, joined us and raised an eyebrow about how dated it appears to her jaded teen eyes. Hmph! I’d like to know what show from 1966 was willing to film the wild things this series did. At one point, the Eddie puppet is halfway up a mountain, jackhammering into it to plant explosives while being pelted by artificial rain. All in a day’s work for the Supermarionation crew!

Captain Scarlet 1.16 – Lunarville 7

Unless I’m mistaken and there’s an episode of Fireball XL-5 set there, this may be Gerry Anderson’s first crack at setting a story around a base on the moon. When he finally got to make a live action series in 1970, UFO, he incorporated a moonbase, and that later led to the proposals which became Space: 1999.

This is almost a terrific episode, and certainly among the best from the series’ first half. The writer, Tony Barwick, seems to have run out of ideas how to end it, and the production team’s desire to blow everything up real good left him fumbling for a way to make the moonbase blow up, but getting there was very fun.

It’s just a really creepy installment, with the moonbase characters acting obviously suspicious, but no really good way for Captains Scarlet and Blue and Lt. Green to know what they’re up to. It’s the same sort of story that would be done better in an hour drama, with more time to develop it, because the slow, creepy, and deliberate pace doesn’t allow for a fast-moving plot. That’s probably why the foolish climax – the Mysteron duplicate of the lunar controller throws a tantrum and starts shooting his computer because it won’t listen to him – is such a disappointment. This was an episode that didn’t need to end with a big explosion for once.

Of course, having said that, I don’t know that anybody in the television business in the 1960s could make things blow up nearly as well as Anderson’s team. If we must end with fireworks, it’s nice to see them done so well!

Daniel was restless and initially not interested in watching, but he was captivated pretty quickly. Even though it is not a thrill ride episode, it’s so strange and mysterious that it caught his attention. For the most part, he sat still, curled up with Mommy, occasionally fibbing “I’m scared” when we could tell that he wasn’t. It’s always nice when he plays along and gets into the spirit of things.

Batman 2.46 – A Riddling Controversy

Well… this was not as good as I remembered it. It’s still pretty good, though. There are worse Riddler episodes than this.

The story draws elements from the very first Riddler adventure by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang, which was originally published in Detective Comics # 140 in 1948, and it returns the character to his comic book roots, where his riddles are really word games, like the “banquet” / “bank wet” sequence from part one. The story is much truer to the character as he was originally scripted than anything with Incan treasure maps or silent movies, anyway.

While this adventure has a totally different plot, some of the set pieces are drawn from the original comic. Most obviously, there’s the bit where a millionaire named Eagle is caught in a trap of interlocking steel bars, which Batman and Robin have to disassemble. At the last minute, however, the producers decided that the millionaire should be a doppelganger for Fidel Castro named “Aquila,” necessitating some rather poor dubbing of new dialogue over what had been recorded in Commissioner Gordon’s office!

John Astin never really did seem comfortable as the Riddler, and the gorgeous Deanna Lund, who would would have a co-starring role a couple of seasons later on ABC’s Land of the Giants, is completely wasted in her part here. It’s all a shame and a missed opportunity, because the script, with its dense, cerebral word games and puzzles, wasn’t a bad one. It’s unfortunate that Frank Gorshin refused to come down on his price. His dangerous, unhinged edge would have elevated the story.

Daniel didn’t seem to enjoy part one much at all, but liked this a little bit more. The extra fight this time around probably helped. I was impressed that he was able to spot that the Riddler was played by a different actor. I can’t swear that I noticed that when I was a kid.

Batman 2.45 – Batman’s Anniversary

As with any old series under the “cult TV” umbrella, Batman has a handful of episodes that are well-remembered, a whole pile that all sort of run together, and a handful known by fans as absolute stinkers. Think “Spock’s Brain,” or “The Great Vegetable Rebellion,” or “The Rules of Luton.” This two-parter is remembered as one of those kind of turkeys.

One teeny scene won’t redeem it, but I do want to note that the luncheon held in Batman’s honor has one of the all-time funniest moments in the whole show. Byron Keith is back in his recurring role as Mayor Linseed, and he’s roasting the Caped Crusader with a testimonial about how much the Dark Knight Detective means to the city. Keith is completely stealing the show from everybody with his over-the-top delivery of this mawkish script, and Adam West just steals it right back. With just two teeny little gestures, his hand on his heart and a barely-perceptible bow of his head, he just takes the scene completely away from Keith, and makes it look absolutely effortless. It’s the funniest thing ever.

If you don’t mind the personal gripe, I had some aggravating news from our insurance company today and I really, really needed that laugh.

Okay, to be fair, you can kind of turn the TV off after watching that and come back for part two – I hope I remember that it’s worth it – because the rest of part one is about as bad as its reputation.

See, here’s the problem. John Astin is a tremendously good actor, one of the all-time greats. Between Gomez Addams and Professor Wickwire in Brisco County Jr., he was often pretty reliably entertaining, but here, he’s just remarkably, oddly, bizarrely weak. He’s not even doing a passable impression of Frank Gorshin, but he’s asked to act as unhinged and as unrestrained as Gorshin made the Riddler, and he just doesn’t do it. The script is calling for Gorshin’s dialed-to-twelve performance, and Astin seems far too self-conscious to get there.

The script also calls for an underwater Batfight, which means the actors brawl in slow motion pretending to be underwater while walking around a stage and the action is shot with a fish tank between the camera and the actors. It goes on forever.

Well, you know, it’s great that Astin got some work – after Carolyn Jones and Ted Cassidy, he was the last Addams Family regular to appear in the show – and it’s always nice to have Deanna Lund to look at, even though her character does absolutely nothing in this episode, but they probably should have stuck some more Shakespeare in the script and asked Maurice Evans to come back as the Puzzler. However, I remember that part two is actually lots better. At least I hope so…