Batman 3.4 – The Sport of Penguins

Somewhere, deep in the darkest archives of Hollywood, there’s a book full of dirt on all the producers and network executives. Within that book’s pages, perhaps we’ll learn what was going on when ABC and William Dozier were thinking when, deciding that they needed to appeal more to young adults, they cast Ethel Merman as the villain in week four, and then followed her up with Milton Berle in week seven. Now look. I’ve loved many of their performances – Berle and Merman actually shared my favorite scene in the brilliant It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World four years before they showed up on Batman – but the last time Ethel Merman and Milton Berle were a draw for young audiences, nobody had any televisions yet.

As always in Penguin episodes, there are chances for Burgess Meredith to run rings around everybody with convoluted logic and fifty-cent words. The best scene in this episode has him conning a horse out of a character played by Horace McMahon, who was Lt. Parker on Naked City, and oddly is uncredited here. Also uncredited is Gary Owens, playing a radio broadcaster. Way to cast against type, guys. Anyway, Meredith runs away with the episode and Ethel Merman gets to yell a lot. There’s a plot here, and it continues next week – without a cliffhanger – but the draw is watching the veteran villains be silly and have fun.

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