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…

Batman 2.27 – The Penguin’s Nest

We have to say that Daniel didn’t like this episode much, apparently because the Penguin successfully escapes from jail. Perhaps when he’s older, he’ll appreciate how completely hilarious it is, because Penguin wants to go to the big, proper state prison with all the supercriminals. Batman, knowing that he’s up to something, deliberately ignores some of Penguin’s more egregious criminal acts, which include popping Commissioner Gordon in the face with a pie, and busts him for a violation of the local sanitation code, sending him to the city jail with the rest of the petty crooks.

This episode features the second appearance of one of the Addams Family cast in the show, this one in character! Ted Cassidy, as the Addamses’ butler Lurch, interrupts a little performance of that program’s theme song on a harpsichord (unseen, of course) to stick his head out the window. The Addams Family had been canceled by ABC a few months earlier; had that black-and-white show continued into the 1966-67 season, it would have been made in color. I adore that series, but as the lousy TV movie Halloween With the New Addams Family would show us a decade later, nobody would have wanted that.

There’s another tiny Addams connection this week; Vito Scotti, who played the recurring role of Sam Picasso on that show, is one of the Penguin’s henchmen, Matey Dee. He’s joined by Lane Bradford and Grace Gaynor, and they’re all present at one of the most memorable of the show’s cliffhangers, one of the handful in which the Dynamic Duo do not appear.

The gang got away with O’Hara as their hostage, and they have him stuffed in a trunk on a slide above a swimming pool. They have a machine gun battery to mow down our heroes when they arrive, and they’ve also got leads dropped into the water to electrocute O’Hara, and any superheroes who swim in to save him, with 100,000 volts, just in case they avoid the bullets. But oddly, we don’t actually see Batman and Robin in danger. The episode ends with the villains waiting for them. A usual Batman cliffhanger leaves you wondering what ridiculous and goofball way our heroes will get out of their latest deathtrap. This one’s more like spotting the dozens of ways they can avoid the problem entirely!

Batman 2.23 – Marsha, Queen of Diamonds

First things first: Daniel hated this episode. Wow, we haven’t seen him react like this in a few months. He’s never liked Robin being in trouble. This time out, the villainous Queen of Diamonds has shot O’Hara and Gordon, along with some other hapless suitors, with love darts, which instantly bend them to her will and leave them desperate to prove their devotion. Batman also gets one in the shoulder, but, while it’s touch and go for a few minutes, his iron will allows him to shrug off the drug. Robin is not so tough, and when Marsha zaps him, Batman has no choice to obey Marsha’s commands in order to get the antidote. Meanwhile, Daniel hid behind the sofa.

And so we come to a very labored, but nevertheless hilarious, set of obstacles in order to get us to the cliffhanger of Batman led down the altar, forced to marry his foe. In the previous installment, I mentioned that classic kids’ TV trope of the coincidence where the thing that the villain wants is suddenly depicted for the very first time as something the hero has. Queen Faroh wanted a magician who looks like an ape in the same episode that Tracy the gorilla starts to learn stage magic. In this episode, the Queen of Diamonds comes to Gotham looking for diamonds, and Batman is revealed to have a diamond about the size of an armoire powering the Batcomputer.

Marsha suggests trading Robin, Gordon, and O’Hara for access to the Batcave. The problem, which you wouldn’t think would be quite this insurmountable, is that Batman swore a sacred vow never to bring a stranger into the Batcave. Except for Jill St. John. And Francine York. And Sherry Jackson on Commissioner Gordon’s lap. And “Commodore Schmidlapp” with five dehydrated henchmen, although, in fairness, the Caped Crusader didn’t actually know those five were there.

So Batman mentions a vow, and the Queen of Diamonds pounces on it. He couldn’t possibly refuse her access to the Batcave if she isn’t a stranger, and who could be less of a stranger than Batman’s bride? And so Batman accepts in order to save Robin. The episode ends just as our hero is about to sadly say “I do.” I think they got the idea for the cliffhanger first and worked backward.

The Queen of Diamonds is played by Carolyn Jones, the first of a trio of Addams Family actors to appear in this series. According to The Official Batman Batbook – and more on it in the next entry – Zsa Zsa Gabor was originally announced in the role, but for some reason that actress couldn’t make the filming dates. The diamond-obsessed character of Marsha seems an obvious fit for Gabor, but she’d make her way to the show as a Batvillain in the next season.

But speaking of The Addams Family, isn’t it strange the way that child-friendly dramas and action shows from the 1960s and 1970s used to depict marriage as a terrible trap? I never watched the police series CHiPs, but I remember two family friends, about when I was nine years old, coming over with their parents one evening for the grownups to play pinochle or whatever, and the kids absolutely desperate to see the second episode of a two-part episode of that show. Apparently Ponch and Jon were going to get married – not to each other, but I imagine that there’s fanfic for that – and they were horrified that the show was going to end. Being good hosts, my parents let them watch that on the color TV in the den, while my brother and I watched our show (probably Wonder Woman) on the portable black and white set.

Another example: you remember why all the fun in The Avengers ended. It’s because Mrs. Peel’s husband finally showed up. But it was just the dramas and adventure shows that portrayed marriage as a dead end, destroying all the good times. Comedies like The Addams Family, The Munsters, and before them, The Dick Van Dyke Show, made marriage seem completely awesome. And they were right. What’s up with that?