Batman 3.26 – Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires

Well, it’s not as though anybody was expecting this show to do much more than limp across the finish line, but this is one of Charles Hoffman’s very few scripts to impress me a little. With cancellation assured by this point, they messed with the formula just a little more than usual, and had the villain be a character known and trusted throughout Gotham City.

Her name’s Minerva, played by Zsa Zsa Gabor, and she runs a spa. She’s begun extracting secret information from all her millionaire clients, and, in a great little bit of continuity, has enlisted Freddie the Fence to move the stolen goods. We saw Freddie, played by Jacques Bergerac, once before in a season two episode. I like the idea of a villain who’s hiding in plain sight, but that’s about all I liked.

It’s a weak, smug, dull episode, and even the final Batfight is boring, but it does have a tremendously colorful corridor set, and I was very pleased by an observation that Daniel made. As Minerva extracted the “deep secrets” of two of her clients, who are producers William Dozier and Howie Horwitz playing themselves, Daniel said “Hey, I know who she is! The Queen of Diamonds!”

This was a remarkably neat thing to say, because Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, whom we saw in five episodes of season two, was written for Zsa Zsa Gabor to play, but they couldn’t work out the schedule and Carolyn Jones took the part instead. It was nice for Gabor to get the chance to join the show in the end as a different character (albeit one who calls everybody “DARLING!” as often as possible), but oddly, Joel Eisner’s Official Batman Batbook says that Minerva was written for Mae West, of all people! West ended up being unavailable, and Gabor appeared after all.

So that’s it for the 1960s Batman, but that’s not quite it for Adam West and Burt Ward… and for Frank Gorshin…

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 3.12 – 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 3.5 – A Horse of Another Color

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.

Batman 2.33 – The Sandman Cometh

To begin with this week, I’ve done you all a disservice by not mentioning another blogger who is writing about the ’60s Batman series. He goes by the handle “The Squonk” and he’s writing a new installment every Friday at Channel: Superhero. He’s just finished the fourteenth episode, which is Mad Hatter’s first story, so go check that out and enjoy!

Anyway, tonight’s episode is… odd. The original draft was written by Ellis St. Joseph, who is best known for writing several live productions from the late 1940s and early 1950s, back when quite a lot of TV drama came via anthology programs. Joel Eisner’s Official Batman Batbook gives this story a little more space than most, as the writer had a very high opinion of what he had submitted, and considerable disappointment at how it was rewritten by Charles Hoffman, and talked at length about it.

Briefly, St. Joseph contended that his submission was very unique and original, and owed a lot to German expressionist cinema and Dr. Caligari. Robert Morley was cast as the villainous Sandman, a rare example of a villain whom Batman has not met before, but then the reality of the grind of TV production reared up. The problem was that Julie Newmar had been contracted for several episodes, since the ratings were slumping and she was just about the only thing that could reliably prop them up a little. They had Hoffman bolt a Catwoman plot onto St. Joseph’s script, and Morley was less interested in playing the role if he was going to be Newmar’s second banana. Michael Rennie was cast in his place.

The finished product is still pretty entertaining, much better than the last couple of stories. Catwoman really doesn’t have a lot to do in part one, but Newmar still controls the screen when the two villains are together. Still, Rennie has a calm demeanor that most Batvillains don’t have, and it’s refreshing watching how he plays the part. I like the way that during the Batfight, Sandman mostly stays out of the way while his henchmen brawl, looking on with his hands in the pockets of his fur coat, waiting for a chance to gas a hero with his sleeping powder.

Daniel enjoyed it all, but the episode did come to a crashing, noisy halt with one of the stupidest moments of the whole series. They’ve asked the Batcomputer to identify any wealthy insomniacs in Gotham City, who Sandman, alias “Dr. Somnambula,” may have targeted. The computer suggests the rich J. Pauline Spaghetti, not by a name on a card, but by belching pink spaghetti out at Robin. This sort of dopey Hanna-Barbera comedy moment is probably precisely the sort of thing that St. Joseph was trying to avoid with his German expressionism storyline.