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.

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