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Batman 1.34 – Batman Makes the Scenes

Well, there’s an image that’s got just about all you want from Batman, yeah? A bad guy in a silly costume, a babe-of-the-week, great big props and labels on everything.

Daniel was alternately bored and thrilled by this episode. It is a little talkier than many, with some more Bruce Wayne scenes than many episodes. And the big set piece at the millionaires’ dinner is… well, these one-percenters are happy to let go of some of their cash if they get a floor show first. They literally throw money – one million dollars a head – at the bathing suit beauty posing as “Miss Natural Resources.” Good grief. I think half the room then went to some masked naughty party in the Hamptons that Tom Cruise wandered around.

But as much as he enjoyed the fights and the nonsense, there is surprisingly little of it in this episode. Victor Lundin continued to overact and try to steal every scene as the henchman Octopus. He just moves really weirdly, with bizarre body language, waving his hands behind Penguin as they’re looking over the loot. Then he loudly announces that he’s going to use his cut to go to the South Seas and open a school for pirates. What an incredibly odd character! Daniel got downright bored, however, and a lengthy epilogue, that sees the millionaires back at Wayne Manor along with more babes in bathing suits, was dull enough to send him out of the room. Commissioner Gordon escorted Julie Gregg’s character to the party on a day off from prison. She’s not the first young lady led astray by crime to get a brief look at Wayne Manor before paying her debt to society, and she probably won’t be the last.

This story was the final one in the first production block for the series, made in April 1966 and broadcast in May. The first season has an incredibly high episode count for a midseason replacement, but that’s because it was budgeted as seventeen one-hour episodes. That was a standard midseason order for ABC in the mid-1960s. At the time, it was less common for shows to be canceled midway through the year than it would later become; networks then stuck with their shows for much, much longer, and usually didn’t axe anything that launched in September until Christmas.

After the first story, “Hi Diddle Riddle,” was finished in the fall of 1965, the plan had been to shoot a feature film, launch with that in movie theaters in the summer of 1966, and then start a series that September. But ABC’s 1965 lineup was a complete disaster, and the network was deep in third place in the ratings. Before October was finished, ABC had decided that they wanted to cancel their weakest program, the variety show Shindig!, after Christmas and start Batman a full nine months early.

So the film was postponed until production of season one finished. In his memoir, Back to the Batcave, Adam West recalled that they literally began filming the movie after only one weekend’s break in mid-April.

One interesting thing about the film, by the way, is that ABC suddenly had a massive hit on its hands and the producers were about to make a movie. Watching this from across the street, somebody at Universal looked at the CBS sitcom The Munsters, dying in the ratings and about to be axed, and said “Make a movie of that, quick!” And somebody else at David Susskind’s Talent Associates looked at the sitcom Get Smart, which had just debuted, and said “Make a movie of that, too!”

Munster Go Home! was released first, and it bombed. The Batman movie came out a month later, and did sort of okay. The Get Smart people, seeing that neither had set the world on fire, put the brakes on their idea, and rejigged the in-progress script into a really terrific three-part story called “A Man Called Smart” that finished season two of that show. It might be my favorite episode of that series; I’m glad that they saved it for television.

I’m looking forward to watching the movie with Daniel this weekend. I haven’t seen it in a long time.

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Batman 1.32 – The Riddler’s False Notion

This episode… well, it’s really kind of horrible, actually. It’s just one eye-rolling moment after another. I even found myself very much on the Riddler’s side when he, naturally, let the very boring truth of his plan out. He’s just making the movie to get Van Jones to open his safe so he can burgle it.

It turns out that Van Jones has, in the collection of films in his vault, the only copy of the most famous silent film of them all. Hoarding bastard. Batman should have let the Riddler get on with it. Oh, yeah, Bruce Wayne’s probably buddies with Jones at the country club. Rich people.

There’s a long, long, bit where Batman brings Commissioner Gordon to the Batcave to administer a truth test to the Riddler’s dame of the week, and a really ridiculous bit where Batman tosses a rope down to the bound Robin, who is plummeting to his death, and who catches the batarang in his mouth, and is grateful to his dentist for his clean teeth after being hauled up. Never mind his teeth, what about his jaw, neck, and spine?

Anyway, the high point came after this awful one ended and we got a little freeze frame “next week!” shot that the Penguin will be in the season finale. Daniel declared that he’s not scared of the Penguin. Penguins are cool, because they live on ice!

Then I told him that after the Penguin episode, we would watch the movie, and asked him who might be in the movie. He immediately predicted that Batman will meet Mr. Snake, who’s like a snake, but he walks like a man. I said that he sounded like a bad dude and hoped he was wrong. I was corrected: Mr. Snake is a good guy, who punches bad guys super, super, super hard. Shame that he’s not in the film, really!

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Batman 1.30 – While Gotham City Burns

It’s absolutely one of the great images of the whole series: somehow, Bookworm and his men plopped a great big book on a Gotham City street. It’s a trap, of course. Inside, it’s a kitchen that fills with hot steam to kill our heroes.

I was thinking about how almost each and every criminal that we meet in this show is, even if they’re new to us, known to the police and Batman. It’s possible that a couple of the more forgettable bad guys toward the end of the run – maybe Nora Clavicle or Minerva? – might not qualify, but it would have been nice to see our heroes not sure who they were up against or how to combat them.

It wouldn’t have worked so well in this case, because Batman’s quick explanatory shorthand that Bookworm is a frustrated, failed novelist explains a lot in a jiffy, allowing things to move to that amazing scene in part one where he nearly clobbers Francine York with a huge book. Roddy McDowall gets a similar scene of insane rage in this episode, before calming down and moving to his next plot, but I also remember how entertaining “Zelda the Great” was, how our heroes were stumped as to who their foe was or how to catch them. It might have been fun, watching Batman put together a bunch of literary clues and deduce that their foe was working out complicated plots that he’d adapted from fiction.

There is one great scene along those lines. Bookworm has simultaneously robbed Wayne Manor of an old cookbook while also having his huge Bat-trap dropped on a city street. Batman sneers at how this is clearly the work of an amateur writer, working too many plot threads at once when just one would do. That’s a great line.

Also, we’re now at four thefts of the Batmobile in five stories. This time, it’s because Robin left the engine running, but come on, Caped Crusaders. The blasted thing’s nuclear-powered. You can’t just keep letting it get swiped like this.

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Batman 1.28 – The Pharaoh’s in a Rut

Okay, first thing’s first: this is the third time in four stories that an arch-criminal steals the Batmobile. Our hero definitely needs to do something about that.

As entertaining as it is watching Victor Buono rant as King Tut, I’m afraid that at this stage in the series the villain is really being kept aloft by luck and some good hires among his henchmen. His underlings are much more competent than he is, which kind of makes sense. They’re in the business of being bad guys; he thinks that he’s the reincarnation of an Egyptian god-deity and doesn’t quite know how he should go about it.

At one point, he has Batman and his traitorous Nefertiti stuffed into canopic jars to drop pebbles on their heads and drive them mad. Daniel was alarmed by how that looked, but had a ball when they were freed and ordered to dance for the king. Of course, that’s got to be just about the stupidest move a bad guy could make.

Batman keeps his sanity and clobbers the criminals; Daniel loved that fight, but he really loved the chase, as Batman, Robin, and Alfred steal Tut’s gold-plated pickup truck to follow the Batmobile. The high point: somehow a circuit gets crossed and King Tut gets ejected from the Batmobile.

After I post one of these stories, I like to see what else has been posted by other WordPress bloggers about the tags that I’ve used. Last night, I read up a little on Victor Buono, about whom I didn’t know very much. Classic film bloggers have written a lot about the 1962 film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which made him a star. I had no idea that Buono was so young! He seemed to be in his early forties in this episode, but he was actually only 28, and he died of a heart attack when he was 43. He had the unique privilege of playing a recurring villain in three separate adventure TV series: he was also Count Manzeppi, one of only two recurring baddies in The Wild Wild West, and the nasty Mr. Schubert in several episodes of Man From Atlantis.

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Batman 1.27 – The Curse of Tut

Before I get started this week, I wanted to make sure all of Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time’s Batman fans know that there’s another blogger covering the 1966 series. Over at Comic Alliance, a writer called Chris Sims is writing these up, one a week, with a lot more detail and illustration than yours truly, and is up to episode 31. They’re very entertaining, and you should check them out. I say that even though I’m horribly jealous that, months before I did, Sims figured out that the TV show’s producers got access to the comics that inspired stories three and four from a contemporary reprint volume. I was really happy about making that discovery, but he beat me to it by seven months!

Anyway, back in the present, and here’s the first example in FBDT of the condition that one of Doctor Who‘s producers, John Nathan-Turner, used to call “Memory Cheats.” I’ll come back to this with a bit in Pufnstuf next month, but there are times where the mind plays tricks on us, and my big example from Batman comes from this episode, the first to feature Victor Buono as the nefarious King Tut.

Tut is by leagues the most successful of the created-for-TV bad guys. He makes five appearances in the show (Egghead is second-best with three), and he’s also possibly the only one to get a proper explanation of why he’s a villain. Batman reminds the police, who are really exceptionally alarmed by Tut’s reappearance, that King Tut should be pitied. He was once a mild-mannered professor at Yale who was hit on the head during a student demonstration. He woke up thinking that Gotham City was Thebes and he was the reincarnation of King Tut.

The thing is… I remember seeing that happening. I distinctly remember Buono playing that part and getting conked on the head, but it doesn’t happen here. Maybe he gets back to normal and gets whacked again later in the series? I’m very keen to find out, but I seriously thought “The Curse of Tut” was an “origin” episode for the villain. Guess not!

Daniel has been a little wild and crazy today, but he found a new ally in his own war against crime today. We finally moved an old toybox into his bedroom today, and he found a few new treasures in it, including some Battlemech-type robot with cannons for arms. It stands about six inches tall, and he went into action as the Dynamic Duo faced off against five of King Tut’s minions in Gotham Central Park, blasting “ptchow! ptchow!” at the villains.

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Batman 1.26 – Batman Sets the Pace

One slight downside to the really sharp and colorful transfers on these DVDs is that some of the minor things we’d have overlooked on faded old film prints are crystal-clear. It’s not just the regular use of stuntmen in the fight scenes; we expected to notice those all the time now, and do. But suddenly lots of other things are painfully obvious that I’d always missed. For example, in the cliffhanger of the previous story, “The Ring of Wax” / “Give ’em the Axe,” modern viewers won’t be able to take their eyes off all the unsightly underarm sweat discoloring Adam West’s costume.

Then there’s this one, as Batman and Robin put their backs together and, using the pressure of their bodies against the walls, “walk” up the sides of the chimney as it fills with gas. Well, pressure and a tell-tale wire just visible between West and Ward’s bodies helping with that Hollywood magic! Oh, wait. That’s not West or Ward, either.

I really enjoyed this episode. It’s got a downright terrific twist, and a great scheme from the Joker. It’s not only a $500,000 ransom he wants for the safe return of the maharaja; he demands Batman participate in the money exchange. In other words, it’s not just the cash, he also wants to ruin his arch-enemy’s pride. Nobody’s yet pulled such a stunt, and I really liked the way Adam West played the scene. It’s not like this show was regularly presenting the leads or the guests with any real challenges, so the scene where Batman, on the phone, has to agree to something he finds completely immoral is interesting. For just a couple of seconds, we see the character respond with selfishness and pride before agreeing to do the right thing.

Oh, I almost forgot! There’s a deeply silly tag scene in which, just an hour after they solved the crime, Bruce and Dick are summoned back to the Batphone. Commissioner Gordon has called the Dynamic Duo because he’s heard a troubling rumor that Batman’s running for governor of California. Actually, Pat Brown had made so much of the electorate so darn angry that by early ’66, some people were saying that only Batman could save the state. In the end, it took Ronald Reagan to turn things around, whipping Brown in a landslide. I imagine the Caped Crusader got a write-in vote or ten as well.

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Batman 1.24 – Give ’em the Axe

Considering the previous entry, I guess I’m not sure. The American Revolution costumes might be more suspicious-looking than the criminals’ regular togs after all… but not by a whole lot.

I absolutely love where the Riddler finds the Incan treasure. It’s in a sarcophagus which is on loan to the Gotham City Museum. Batman goes on about how absolutely priceless this is to archaeology and to good diplomatic relations with our neighbors to the south. So, get this: on a day where the Museum is closed to the public and totally unstaffed and unguarded, the Riddler and his gang go to a basement room full of unused exhibits. These are five torture / restraint devices – one for each of ’em plus Robin – and stacks and stacks of empty cardboard boxes.

This is where the priceless treasure is “housed” – more like dumped – before it goes on display. It’s in a single big crate clearly labelled, as all things are in Batman, something like PRICELESS INCAN MUMMY SARCOPHAGUS, DO NOT EXPOSE TO AIR, with six or seven boxes stacked on top of it. I’d rather like to sit down with the executive committees of both the Mexican Museum and the Gotham City Museum and give ’em, not an axe, but an earful. This is no way to treat your priceless exhibits, people!

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Batman 1.23 – The Ring of Wax

A couple of stories ago, Catwoman was after a lost treasure. This time, it’s the Riddler’s turn, and he’s pretty certain he has found a riddle that only he can solve which will lead him to a lost Incan super-treasure. A villain who doesn’t want a fight with Batman would just arrange to read the rare book at the Gotham City Library during the appropriate hours, but of course the Riddler really, really wants to outsmart Batman every bit as much as he wants the treasure.

The villain and his henchmen and dame-of-the-week, Linda Scott as Moth, ambushed the Caped Crusaders while disguised as wax figures from Madame Soleil’s museum. This is all part of the convoluted plan to bring a deadly wax solvent that can eat through anything past customs and into the US, where it’s illegal. But it’s used in Madame Soleil’s figures, so Riddler starts this scheme by stealing the Batman statue, melting it down to get the solvent, breaking into the library to get the book, then waiting back at the museum for when Batman and Robin figure out what he’s up to.

Beautifully, after bringing our heroes back to his headquarters, Riddler tells his gang that they need to get into their regular clothes, because they look too suspicious dressed like this. Their regular clothes aren’t exactly inconspicuous!

Daniel did much better with this episode than he did with the previous two Riddler outings. Frank Gorshin is, of course, unhinged, manic, and unnerving, and he hid his eyes a couple of times, but this wasn’t a bad shocker. Whew!

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