Batman 3.20 – Penguin’s Clean Sweep

This is a phenomenally dopey episode, but at least it’s a fun one. This time, the Penguin contaminates some of the newly-printed money at the Gotham Mint with a sleeping sickness. It’s immediately collected for distribution, and one bank circulates $13,000 in the space of a couple of hours. A panicked populace dumps all their currency in the streets for Penguin, his moll, and two goons to sweep up. But he can’t spend any of it because Bruce Wayne warns all the world’s financiers that Gotham’s money is no good. Somehow they don’t find time in 25 minutes to address the economic upheaval that this might cause and still have time for a fight scene.

Daniel enjoyed this episode, which was the final outing for Burgess Meredith and the Penguin, in part because the heroes are almost not put in any real danger. Batgirl is almost entirely superfluous to the plot this week, but she does get a face full of knockout gas to lead into the commercial break, and that caused him to growl a little. I thought it was all kinds of fun because unlike some of the recent villains – Rudy Vallée, Barbara Rush, and Milton Berle in particular – Meredith was always having a ball on this show, yelling and making threats and running rings around everybody. No, the plot’s just plain dumb, but anybody bored of watching Burgess Meredith as the Penguin is bored of life itself, I say.

Batman 3.19 – Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club

This one is painful. Daniel adored it; the resolution involves leading several thousand explosive mice into the harbor playing tunes on flutes, and he thought that was incredibly charming and had a big smile on his face. I was grimacing because, in an episode that’s mainly filmed on the backlot, the producers somehow came up with the dopey idea to shoot the final scene in that awful limbo set.

But while Daniel smiled and I grimaced, Marie just fumed at the sexist awfulness of this very dated disaster. I suspect the writer must have been a real hit down at the Moose Lodge complaining about the womenfolk thinking that they could do men’s jobs. But the men doing the jobs in Gotham City are the most incompetent gang of numbskulls on television. Solution: make the women even worse.

Mayor Linseed’s wife has withheld cooking and dry cleaning until he appoints women’s libber Nora Clavicle as police commissioner. A month in, and unable to do his own shirts or learn to cook, he caves. Clavicle is played by Barbara Rush, a film star who had recently made the great Robin and the 7 Hoods with the Rat Pack and Peter Falk, and she’s accompanied by two blonde amazons in gold lame. (Incidentally, one of the amazons is played by June Wilkinson. Unfortunately, Jayne Mansfield had been killed about six months previously. Had she been alive to play the other character, that would have been the one good joke in the whole episode.)

Clavicle fires O’Hara and hires Mrs. Linseed as the new chief, and she then sacks the entire police force and replaces them with every screaming stereotype that the real women’s libbers in ’68 were warring against. I remembered that all the policewomen were terrified of the robot mice, because it was the 1960s and that happened on TV a lot then, and I was certain that would aggravate Marie. What I did not remember, apart from Linseed’s awful marriage, was that the policewomen cannot do their jobs because they are too busy putting on makeup, swapping recipes, gossiping, and using the police radio to alert each other to bargains at the shops.

Daniel occasionally enjoys the shows that we watch more than the grown-ups do. This was one of those times.

Batman 3.18 – Louie’s Lethal Lilac Time

Last night, we were talking about bad movies with our friend David and I mentioned my belief that the very worst films are the ones that are just plain boring. Then tonight we watched this episode of Batman which, by that definition, must be the worst so far, because it’s so amazingly dull.

In other episodes, we might have seen other guest stars seem unhappy that they chose to do this show, and that tends to result in rushed, sloppy performances that come across as abrupt and grouchy. See Rudy Vallee in the Londinium episodes for a fine example. But here, Milton Berle acts like he just does not care at all. He put in his eight or ten hours on the set, perhaps learning his lines immediately before delivering them, and never again thought about this show. In his previous appearance, he at least had a twinkle in his eye even if Louie the Lilac is played oddly straight, but in this, there is nothing.

Perhaps with an interesting plot this might have worked, but no, we saw Charles Hoffman’s name in the credits and knew it wasn’t to be. This should have been a Batgirl solo mission, rescuing Bruce and Dick from Louie the Lilac, but once she finally arrives, she’s immediately captured and Batman and Robin have to save the day, thanks to a pair of – oh, come on – instant unfolding Bat-costume capsules, just add water.

There’s so little to the plot that even having just twenty-five minutes to fill, Hoffman has to add a highlight reel of exciting moments from season two and a subplot of a maintenance man almost finding Barbara’s Batgirl room. Of course we have to keep Batgirl and the cops away from the warehouse as long as possible, because once they do arrive, there’s no doubt Louie is holed up inside. He has his name painted on the side of the building! Next!

Batman 3.17 – The Joke’s on Catwoman

I’m wondering what in the world they used for the “shag” on Catwoman’s car. Some old carpet, perhaps? That honestly looks like my kid brother’s bedroom carpet from 1974-82. Well, they really didn’t have as much money in season three, and brother, does it ever show in this episode. By this point, we’re used to the “limbo” sets of black nothingness dressed by random props. This time out, the limbo set is used for the baddies’ hideout, some rocky outcrop, the interior of a lighthouse, and a courtroom. Writer Stanley Ralph Ross evidently wasn’t told to keep the number of locations to a minimum.

In the one of the strangest casting moves in a series full of odd ones, Pierre Salinger plays Catwoman and Joker’s attorney, Lucky Pierre. Salinger was between careers in 1967. He had been President Kennedy’s press secretary and later, briefly, a U.S. senator, appointed by California Governor Pat Brown to serve the remaining term of the late Senator Engle. In the 1970s, he would become a correspondent for ABC News.

This was the final appearance of Catwoman, and Eartha Kitt, in the series, although the Joker still has another outing ahead. Cesar Romero really functioned more like a loudmouthed henchman than a criminal mastermind this time. It does at least end with a really big fight scene in the courtroom that Daniel adored. Except… rather than hiring another actor to play the Gotham DA, that unseen character gives Batman some offscreen permission to handle the prosecution.

Now just wait a minute. Remember what we learned last episode about Bruce Wayne’s activity with the prison system? So now we see that Batman arrests criminals, AND he tries them, AND, as Bruce Wayne, he decides whether they’re eligible for parole?! I think there’s a story here. Somebody give that Clark Kent fellow at The Daily Planet a phone call.

Batman 3.16 – The Funny Feline Felonies

In the previous installment, I mentioned how they made a trio of three-part(ish) stories in the final season of Batman. So far, there I have not noticed any continuity blunders like the props in the Egghead episodes to suggest that the producers might have run these in the wrong order, but I could be wrong. It’s possible that they intended to introduce Eartha Kitt here, driving a very ridiculous car, and “kidnapping” the paroled Joker, or they intended to introduce her in episode 14. Either way seems to work.

Two huge missed opportunities occur to me: the last time Cesar Romero got to sink his teeth in a really good script was the previous season’s “Pop Goes the Joker” two-parter, where, among other things, he got to really demonstrate a complete contempt for Bruce Wayne. Here, Wayne is the chairman of the parole board – now hang on a minute, he captures all the criminals and he decides whether they’re fit to rejoin society?! – and he gets to wish the Joker well and see him off in a new suit and a crisp new $10 bill, but since Romero is playing the Joker as pretending he’s gone straight and owes his freedom to Wayne, he doesn’t get to sneer at him. That’s a darn shame; that menacing contempt was a real highlight of that story.

Another is that there isn’t any kind of deathtrap this week, which, in a completely surprising development, annoyed my son! Considering how often he’s become annoyed or upset at the traps, I’m frankly shocked that he’d rather have seen another one than seen the baddies waiting outside in the bushes. According to my very badly beat-up copy of Joel Eisner’s Official Batman Batbook, a cliffhanger trap was planned and cut. It doesn’t say whether it was filmed, or if it was cut from the script.

A couple of interesting cameo walk-ons in this episode: Dick Kallman, a pop star who starred in a single season sitcom called Hank on NBC in 1965, plays a pop star hitmaker, and Joe E. Ross has about three lines as his agent. One of those lines, naturally, starts with “Ooh, ooh!”

Batman 3.15 – The Ogg Couple

At a very early stage in prepping this season, the producers planned for a trio of three-part adventures: one with Egghead and Olga, one with Lord Ffogg in Londinium, and one with Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. Then they and the network got cold feet, fearing that the audience wouldn’t stick with the stories that long. They couldn’t do anything about the Londinium story, short of shelving the fool thing, but they decided to split the others into a two-parter and a one-off.

In this case, it almost works, as each half-hour has its own little plot, and some quick reshoots in the set of Commissioner Gordon’s office try to paper over the cracks and make this feel like the villains, captured after episode 3.9, are back in town. But this episode is clearly the first of the three: it introduces us to the idea that Egghead intends to marry Olga after stealing enough of a dowry. Part of this is a heavy, solid gold egg which is clearly seen in their lair in episode 3.8. So they almost got away with it if it weren’t for these meddling props.

This does mean that the original ending for the episode must have been lost. Remember that this season is light on the cliffhangers, but there must have been some level of wrap-up, a “what do we do next” scene. Instead, we get the remarkable coda in which it’s just casually revealed that Egghead and Olga were arrested offscreen, before the teaser announcing another chunk of the Catwoman story. I certainly don’t think we’ve seen them do that before and I hope we don’t see it again!

Anyway, Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, and Yvonne Craig all look like they had fun making this episode. It felt kind of odd having Batman and Robin being so superfluous to the story. Really, all they do this time is rescue Batgirl from drowning in caviar, otherwise this story belongs to Batgirl and not them.

Batman 3.14 – Catwoman’s Dressed to Kill

Well, here’s something unexpected. Fashion designer Rudi Gernreich appears in this episode as himself. Whose wacky idea was that? He’s the guy who designed the “monokini,” which had everybody at Playboy very pleased for about a decade, and who later designed the Moonbase Alpha costumes for Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999.

Oh, sorry, I was so surprised to have Rudi Gernreich pop into a Batman episode that it actually overshadowed, briefly, the return of Catwoman, now played by Eartha Kitt. I think she’s tremendously entertaining in the part, even if she doesn’t appear to be the same character who Julie Newmar was playing in the doomed romance storyline across the second half of season two. Perhaps the Catwoman we had been enjoying really did meet her demise in the West River, and this is a new villain who picked up where the original Catwoman left off?

Like the earlier Newmar stories, this is also written by Stanley Ralph Ross, and he didn’t include any real tangible link to Batman and Catwoman’s earlier flirtation. I wonder whether Ross knew that Eartha Kitt had been cast when he wrote the script? American television networks were incredibly worried about depicting interracial romance in the sixties; when NBC allowed William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols to kiss on an episode of Star Trek a year later, half of the network’s executives feared that their affiliates would revolt. So no, West and Kitt do not make goo-goo eyes at each other, much less resume their discussions of a possible married life together.

It didn’t even register with our son that Catwoman had been recast at all, which is nice. He still hated this episode, however, because Catwoman has a particularly gruesome fate in store for Batgirl, leaving her strapped to a conveyor belt to be sawed in half. Come to think of it, the Riddler did something very similar to Robin in season one and he completely hated that deathtrap, too.

There are some really funny lines in this one, as you’d expect from a Ross script. At one point, Catwoman safely ducks into the women’s dressing room, knowing that Batman and Robin will not follow her into this “hallowed and forbidden no man’s land!” Outside, Robin protests that they can’t go in after her, because, yes, that’s right, “it’s a hallowed and forbidden no man’s land!” Pure genius.

Batman 3.13 – The Bloody Tower

Well, just when you thought this story could not get any dumber, Batman and Batgirl escape from Lord Ffogg’s dungeon by way of the Indian rope trick. The less said about that, the better.

Daniel identified his first special effect tonight. He saw right through that African killer death bee, or whatever they called it, and said that it was fake. But he wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be a toy bee with a killer sting that could still hurt Robin, or whether it was a fumble of the production. Eventually, he erred on the side of caution and ran to hide, just in case.

Anyway, this is the end for Rudy Vallée and Glynis Johns’ characters. This story really works for child audiences, but for adults, it’s a mammoth missed opportunity. Compared to the rollercoaster feel of the three-parters in season two, this really was tedious, dull, and really lacked focus. I didn’t enjoy it at all, apart from some playful innuendo that Adam West and Yvonne Craig brought to the scene where Batman uses a file to cut Batgirl free from her chains. Have a look at it sometime, and watch their faces. It’s not even remotely subtle.

Batman 3.12 – The Foggiest Notion

Oh, look, it’s 1967.

Watching this turkey through my son’s eyes reveals a little more about why I may have been enthralled by this story as a kid. It really is unusual in scope, and our heroes are constantly behind the villains, entrapped again and again. Even knowing who and where the villain is, they can’t get the upper hand. Lord Ffogg doesn’t even have to hide in some abandoned umbrella factory or disused joke book warehouse; he and his sister flaunt their wealth and power and the good guys cannot seem to win. Especially when most of the shows this season are over and done with in thirty minutes, to have Lord Ffogg and Lady Penelope Peasoup not just evading capture, but downright slapping the good guys around really does make them look like awesomely powerful foes.

The proof? Daniel is miserable. He’s having trouble articulating it, but things feel completely hopeless in a way that the old cliffhanger deathtraps just don’t convey. Here, it’s just one trap and one obstacle after another. Two episodes in and Lord Ffogg is totally in charge of the situation. If you’re an adult, it’s just tedious, but if you’re a kid, it’s apparently overwhelming. That is how I remember it, and that is how he is experiencing it.

But proving that some things never change even though they clearly should, co-writer Charles Hoffman still somehow found room for another wacky Batcomputer gag. This time, the computer is trying to spell “winch” but can’t get the vowel right until Batman slaps the computer hard enough. Hoffman is the only writer who attempts to mine comedy out of the computer. Everybody else knows that it isn’t funny.

Batman 3.11 – The Londinium Larcenies

The last time out, I said that we were tabling Batman for a bit, and we will. Its replacement show hasn’t arrived, and to be honest, I’m much happier to get this mess of a story over with rather than leave it as something to look forward to.

Yeah, time has not been kind to “The Londinium Larcenies.” It’s unusual, because I remember completely loving this story as a child and feeling that it was epic. Something clicked in my little kid head and I thought that Lord Ffogg was one of Batman’s greatest opponents, and that the story, which takes him away from Gotham City for the only time, left our hero out of his element. There’s also a really scary moment with a killer bee coming up.

About ten years ago, I went halfsies on a bootleg DVD set of this show, because it sure didn’t look like it was ever coming out legitimately. I left most of it alone as I never seemed to have the time, although I did marvel at the ten full hours of bonus features the bootleggers assembled. (No kidding; ten. It’s even got Peter Graves hosting an A&E Biography on Cesar Romero.) I did make time to rewatch the first two episodes of this story, expecting excellence, and couldn’t make it to the third. It’s awful.

A big part of the problem is the casting of Rudy Vallée, of all people, as Lord Ffogg. Why they couldn’t have hired, you know, an actual British person for this job is beyond me. The rest of the cast is full of the sort of expats who knew how to believably say “cor” and “blimey” and “stone the crows, missus, what a sticky wicket” and, like Glynis Johns (playing Ffogg’s sister Lady Penelope) and Maurice Dallimore, frequently ended up in Walt Disney films set in jolly, merrie old Engerlund. (Bizarrely, this isn’t the only example I can come up with of an ostensibly British criminal duo on TV played by a British female and an American male passing as English; there’s a Columbo with Honor Blackman and Richard Basehart.)

Anyway, Ffogg could have been played by Bernard Fox or Terry-Thomas or, heck, Dallimore himself would have made more sense, but they went with Vallée, fresh from the huge success of the stage and film productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and he just sleepwalks through the episode like he could not possibly care less. Earlier in this blog, I mentioned how Adam West had some animosity toward guest star Otto Preminger. Yvonne Craig was, similarly, less than impressed with Vallée, and had some really choice words about him and his crummy attitude in West’s autobiography.

But the real problem with this story is that it’s smug and it requires everybody to be stupid. There’s not even a reason to suspect Lord Ffogg in episode one. Somehow, the Dark Knight Detective jumps from “the criminal creates his own fog” to “there’s this guy with a big lawn full of fog grass,” and fingers him. And the humor never rises above “Barnaby Street! Londinium! Ireland Yard! Get it?”

It is amusing, at least, that Monte / Monty Landis, another expat who started his career in the UK in the 1950s and moved to Hollywood around 1964, plays Lady Penelope’s cockney butler and somehow manages to be even more wooden than Parker on Thunderbirds.

Batman 3.10 – Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!

Here are the most entertaining things about tonight’s Batman:

1. This episode reminded me of the Hodads, and for that, I’m grateful. If you were in Atlanta in the late 1980s, you may remember this band. They had really fun and silly flyers for their shows. Here’s their track “Motel Six.” A hodad is somebody who hangs out at the beach and thinks they know about surfing, but they’re really just squares, daddio.

2. Y’all, there are some gorgeous girls in bathing suits in this episode. I’m serious.

3. This installment can be used as evidence to prove that “Cowabunga” was a real surfer-slang word a good seventeen years before the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

4. Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara, in disguise, look astonishingly like Jack Benny and Bob Hope in this breathtakingly unfunny skit from one of Benny’s shows.

5. Providing surf rock in this episode on the beach is a group called Johnny Green and the Greenmen, who claim, on their website, to have “played on 27 episodes of the Batman TV series.” Well, here’s one, and there are sixteen more episodes before we’re done, and math is hard, baby.

Speaking of before we’re done, Daniel asked to take a break from Batman. To be fair, we’ve been watching it straight, without a break, since we began the blog, so we’re going to take a few weeks off and slide something forward in the rotation. What will it be? Stay tuned!