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.
There’s kind of an amusing scene in the middle of this episode. Richard Bakalyan, back for his third appearance in the show and playing one of Louie the Lilac’s gangster cronies, has tailed Barbara Gordon back to her apartment and locked her in her bedroom to keep her from notifying her dad, the commish. Barbara, of course, changes into Batgirl and re-enters her main room from the terrace, and Bakalyan acts all innocent, like he’s just had a quarrel with his sweetie, who won’t come out to talk.
Otherwise, this is like watching paint dry. Milton Berle isn’t actually bad in his role, it’s just that he plays it so straight that his character is simply boring. The plot is some bafflegam about making all of Gotham City’s twenty flower children love him so much that when they become successful grown-ups, they’ll become his ticket to political and financial power, I guess. I was left wondering, after director george waGGner’s unhappy experience working with noted control freak Otto Preminger in the previous season, whether the similarly difficult and controlling Berle made his life similarly awful.
Daniel confounded us again by saying that he really liked this dull story, but apparently his favorite part was seeing Egghead show up in the teaser for next week’s episode. Who knows?
For what it’s worth, Yvonne Craig really did seem like she was having a ball as Batgirl. If she didn’t enjoy this job, then she was a far, far better actress than anybody credited her. Above, she’s just about to smash one of the Penguin’s goons in the face with the door of a locker.
Ethel Merman wins the unfortunate award as the villain with the least interaction with the heroes. Honestly, apart from telling Batgirl that she can’t go into the men’s locker room, and opening her umbrella in Chief O’Hara’s face, she doesn’t have any lines with any of them. Her principal shtick seems to be, whenever anybody calls her by her name, Lulu Schultz, yelling “I am Senora Lola Lasagne!”
I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for the writer, Charles Hoffman, especially after yet more weary, wacky Batcomputer gags in part one, but this story clearly did not require a female villain at the first draft, and Lola Lasagne’s presence is pretty clearly bolted on. It resulted in some funny exchanges between Meredith and Merman, but she really is completely superfluous to what plot there is, and Hoffman probably had the sense to know not to even bother giving Lola Lasagne a character, since that would require some subtlety and of course Merman was just going to bellow all her lines at the cheap seats.
For what it’s worth, even though the outcome of the horse race is never in doubt at all, our son really got into it and found it tremendously exciting.
The breath of fresh air that Batman badly needed, the incredibly gorgeous and sexy Yvonne Craig comes high-kicking her way into the show in the first of the self-contained episodes. Daniel was thrilled, figuring out that a new superhero had joined the show, and loved her motorcycle. “She is so cool!” he shouted as she drove after the bad guys.
This is actually much better than I remembered it. It’s incredibly zippy, doing the job of introducing Barbara and Batgirl really well and still having a bit of room to breathe. Some of it doesn’t make sense – who the heck built the secret Batgirl base on the eighth floor of a midtown apartment building, and why doesn’t Penguin recognize Alfred, despite having interacted with him at least three times previously – but it doesn’t matter much. It’s just plain fun and it’s always a treat to watch Burgess Meredith yelling at everybody.
What does look troubling is the immediately obvious slashing of the budget. In order to get renewed, ABC and the producers worked out an awkward compromise, cutting the numbers from what they’d pay for a one-hour drama to the cost of a half-hour sitcom. So apart from the new Batgirl theme, the music is all repurposed from earlier episodes (and, apparently, from The Green Hornet), Madge Blake was let go to pay for Yvonne Craig, other speaking parts get dropped except where absolutely necessary, and the set designers were thanked for their trouble. The Penguin’s lair is the first of many stark, minimalist sets, with a black curtain for a background, stairs to nowhere except a solitary door, and random colorful walls. It looks like a blown-up game of Mouse Trap done on a high school stage. Sadly, we’ll see lots more like it before we finish.
I’m very sad to read that Yvonne Craig passed away on Monday. She made crimefighting fun and inspired millions of children to want to be superheroes. I’m looking forward to seeing her episodes of Batman again in a few months.
Filed under batman, goodbye