Monthly Archives: December 2015

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.

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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…

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Thunderbirds 1.13 – Terror in New York City

Hooray! We’re back for more Thunderbirds, which Daniel will happily tell you is the very best show ever.

Ages ago, A&E Home Video released Thunderbirds in six silly-priced box sets. I bought four of the six at slightly more sensible prices, but, having made the investment, I didn’t feel like double-dipping when Shout Factory/Timeless put out a much, much more sensibly-priced eight-DVD box set. So extra special thanks to our Fire-Breathing buddy Matt for finding used copies of the missing A&E sets 3 and 5 for practically pennies at the excellent McKay Books‘ Chattanooga location.

(Incidentally, in October, we dropped by 2nd & Charles in Kennesaw, which keeps disappointing me. I brought a small stack of old books to trade in, maybe thirteen in all, and they offered me the princely sum of $11.49 in credit. I kept the books, took them to McKay the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and received literally four times that amount. This is why Atlanta book lovers include McKay in their Chattanooga itinerary.)

Anyway, skipping from episode 12 to episode 19 like we did, I sort of felt that we were getting a little more of the secret agent and comedy stuff and not enough mayhem. “Terror in New York City” is one disaster after another, a situation that starts bad, with Thunderbird 2 being knocked out of commission when a trigger-happy naval commander mistakes it for a hostile craft, and then the jawdropping events in New York that happen.

The world of Thunderbirds is one where generals and criminals and titans of industry come up with great big ridiculous plans without ever once considering whether their idea is actually a good one. This time, some bozos decided to redevelop all the area around the Empire State Building, and move the building – just pick it up and MOVE IT – two hundred yards. This doesn’t work. The ground gives way and the Empire State Building is destroyed. It’s just amazing. The whole building and the enormous super-contraption they made to move it goes down into pebbles and matchsticks.

Daniel was edge-of-his-seat thrilled. He loved it to pieces, especially since Gordon and Thunderbird 4 get lots of screen time, navigating the underground river to find the two missing newsmen. When a second building gets ready to topple over onto the crash site, his eyes were as big as dinner plates, his blanket was in his mouth, and he was curled up in Mommy’s lap, holding on for dear life.

Captain Scarlet is good, but it isn’t this good!

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Captain Scarlet 1.15 – The Launching

Daniel really, really got into this episode. When the Mysteron “eyes” make their way across the debris of a plane that just crashed into a mountain, he (over)reacted wonderfully. He growled “Grrrrrr! Those Mysterons!” and threw his security blanket on the ground.

This was kind of an average episode, but it’s notable for the first appearance of a new end credits tune. Apparently there was a manufactured pop band called The Spectrum making the rounds and releasing flop records like a cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” when somebody at Century 21 figured they could make some publicity together. So The Spectrum, a five-piece, dressed in the captains’ colorful costumes for some pin-up photos, and maybe appearances on the pop music TV shows singing their revised version of the Barry Gray original. Bizarrely, it doesn’t look like they actually released the recording as a single.

Even more bizarrely, the drummer for The Spectrum was a guy named Keith Forsey. I’m not sure which one he is in the photo above. He’d later go on to play and produce hits for Donna Summer and Billy Idol, and wrote the worldwide smash “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” for Simple Minds.

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Batman 2.44 – Penguin’s Disastrous End

This deeply odd story finally comes to a ridiculous end in the third part, when we finally learn the Penguin’s billion-dollar plan. Everything has been arranged to get him into a subterranean treasury where $10,000,000 in gold bars await him. There, he, Marsha, and Aunt Hilda all kick back locked in the vault for three days while his finks, using the WW2-era plans that he stole from the military last time, fashion the bars into a solid gold tank.

This is a really amusing visual, and of course, for a kid under the age of ten watching in the 1960s or 1970s who has a small collection of military toys and a stack of back issues of G.I. Combat, tanks are completely unstoppable and the most amazingly awesome things in the universe. So, if you’re under ten, there’s probably some undeniable eye-popping wowness to come from the Penguin’s new toy, which the police instantly label as completely impregnable.

So you’d think it would be a bit of an anti-climax when Robin takes out the tank with a single shot from the Batzooka to its treads, but Daniel was paying complete and total attention and said that was the best part of the whole story. Well, just as long as he’s happy, that’s what matters!

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Batman 2.43 – Penguin Sets a Trend

You know, I found out about the existence of this three-part story about twenty-five, twenty-six years ago. The least it could do is not be so absolutely brainless. It’s occasionally really funny, but it sure is dumb.

I am actually very curious about its production. Batman and Robin spend almost the entire episode trapped by the Penguin, and Marsha and Hilda get just a single short scene. (They’re looking for old toads for one of Hilda’s dopey spells.) Obviously production of this series was a brutal and busy one – thirty hours in about eight months – and any chance to give the stars a day off from shooting one story so they could get ahead somewhere else was one they couldn’t afford to miss.

So Burgess Meredith gets to walk away with everything in this half hour. He’s having a ball, of course, but I couldn’t help but wish the two officers at the “Hexagon” gave him a little more of an acting challenge. It’s a treat watching Meredith do his thing, but he’s more fun to watch when his opponents are not simpletons.

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Batman 2.42 – Penguin is a Girl’s Best Friend

Marsha, Queen of Diamonds is just the oddest character. For the most part, all the Batvillains are cut from pretty similar cloth, but Marsha and her Aunt Hilda honestly seem to have wandered in from some entirely different TV show. I wonder whether this is because, as I mentioned last time she appeared, I somehow managed to completely and entirely miss this character’s appearances when I was a kid.

Anyway, there’s a bit this time where Marsha goes back to Aunt Hilda’s cave to complain, again, that her spells did not work, and the two of them interact with this oddball puppet that Hilda has conjured up, a silly monster that lives in her cauldron. Every other villain gets their gadgets from something that at least sounds like technology, even if these things have no basis in real science whatever. Only Marsha and Aunt Hilda practice magic, albeit incompetently. They’re really the biggest surprise that the program offers.

So anyway, this is the start of the show’s second three-part adventure, and the tone, throughout, is quite interesting since it completely dispenses with the Bat-formula. Our heroes are actually on their way to give a lecture in the pre-credits sequence when they stumble upon an apparent robbery. The Penguin has actually got clearance to shoot a film, and only agrees not to sue Batman and Robin for assault, as well as the city for not providing adequate protection, if Batman and Robin agree to act in his picture. So what is he up to?

Needing capital, because running a movie studio is expensive, Penguin invites the wealthy Marsha to become an investor. She agrees on the condition that she be cast as the leading lady, and Penguin forces Batman to kiss her in a love scene so many times that Batman goes home with his lips chapped! That’s after Batman “arranges” for the cancellation of Marsha’s nude milk bath scene by making sure that the Gotham City Film Decency League gets a copy of the script.

This is a deeply silly, strange episode. I laughed out loud several times and really want to know what the heck is going to happen next.

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Pippi Longstocking 1.6 – Pippi at the Fun Fair

The sixth episode of Pippi – and, for us, the last one – is a gentle little episode set at a traveling fun fair, where nothing of great consequence happens. There’s really not so much of a plot; instead there are just some amusing little incidents and chances for Pippi to use her super powers.

Daniel was a little bit unnerved when they visited the snake charmer’s tent, however! The nice woman performs with a pair of thirteen-foot boa constrictors! About nine months ago, we visited Zoo Atlanta’s new reptile house and he looked at everything there with wide eyes and a bit lip. The sight of Pippi playing with that snake sent him behind the sofa.

That’s all for Pippi Longstocking for now. If we find an inexpensive copy of the box set, we might think about picking it up to watch the remaining seven episodes. I think the show is charming, despite the awful dubbing, and have always loved the character. It’s been nice to reacquaint myself with the character, and these productions, after I enjoyed the films so much as a kid.

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