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Batman 2.16 – The Dead Ringers

Missed it in part one: the redhead in Chandell and Harry’s gang is Marilyn Hanold, who I think is the first Playboy Playmate of the Month to show up in our little TV viewing. She had been Miss June in 1959. This is Edy Williams’ third and final appearance on the show. And yes, the cute girls are much, much more entertaining than the rest of this mess.

I think the main problem is that Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s wild pop art fantasy for the show is badly at odds with what’s been working this season, which have been witty capers with the humor coming, fairly naturally, from the scripts, mostly the ones by Stanley Ralph Ross. This is so forced, and all the comedy just flops. Everybody is playing to the rafters, just trying too hard. The camp aesthetic needs something stronger to anchor it than this dull adventure. It’s a sitcom without a situation.

Liberace brought with him a heck of an audience, because he was just a phenomenally popular entertainer in his day. There’s no denying his talent and his flair, and there are one or two amusing things around him. I quite like the piano that he plays in the prison having its own set of stripes; that’s pretty cute. Unfortunately, he can’t act for anything; it’s difficult to say whether his lousy line reading as Chandell is worse than his cigar-chomping kind-of-Edward G. Robinson kind-of-Jimmy Cagney impression as Harry. The puppet gangsters in Thunderbirds are less wooden.

Years and years ago, I bought this book by Joel Eisner called The Official Batman Batbook, which was released in the mid-1980s. It’s from the era where well-researched books were kind of ruined by terrible editors, even worse designers (POW! ZAP!), and still worse binding. Mine’s coming apart. I’ve kept Eisner’s book all these years, somehow, and was amazed to learn, all those years ago, that this drew the highest audience of all the Batman installments. My guess is that Liberace’s enormous fan base tuned in and saw how unbearably stupid this story was, and how badly their hero performed in his dual role, and they weren’t about to come back. I think that they squandered a good opportunity to use Liberace in one role, which he was certain to have performed better than two, and have somebody else play the villain.

With this story, we come to the ignoble end of the first chunk of season two. It’s bookended by two lousy adventures, but the run of (mostly) one-off villains was much, much better than I recalled, with several good star actors looking like they were having lots of fun in their roles. For whatever reason, the format didn’t continue, and we’ll start to see many of the more popular comic book villains start making multiple comebacks, and I suspect that in one or two cases, it will be to diminishing returns. Happily, I remember the next story as being particularly fun. Fingers crossed!

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Batman 2.15 – The Devil’s Fingers

Ah, Aunt Harriet Cooper, you patron of the arts, you.

There’s very little of kindness that can be said about this dire, awful, episode, other than Chandell has, in his employ, redhead, blonde, and brunette henchgirls, and one of them is Edy Williams. For all his showmanship, Liberace was a horrible actor, and it’s impossible to say which role he plays worse: the pianist Chandell or his twin brother, a gangster named Harry.

The only thing of note thus far – and part two, after Batman and Robin escape being perforated by a player piano machine, will reveal one or two more things – is that, in 2001, TV Land or some similar cable channel was playing this show, and I sat down to watch this with my older son, Julian. I cringed, because it’s just so dreadful and stupid, by leagues the worst episode of Batman up to this point.

“This is BAD!” shouted Julian, displaying a level of critical insight that few five year-olds have.

“Pretty bad, huh?” I said.

“Yes! That evil piano player is going to commit a crime!”

Well, never mind what I was saying about insight…

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Batman 2.3 – Hot Off the Griddle

WOW! This episode is completely terrific. Man alive, is it ever entertaining. I mean, you know it must be a winner if I’m passing up a perfectly reasonable opportunity to post a sexy photo of Julie Newmar in favor of something from this amazing scene in which our heroes visit the new, happening nightclub, where the latest crazy dance, the catusi, had been popularized on record by Benedict Arnold and the Traitors. So let’s hear it for Aunt Harriet, supporting local music. You just know she’s a sponsor of the local university’s college radio station. (Save WRAS.)

The specials at this club, our hostess tells us, include catburgers and chicken cacciatore. I just love this scene. It’s got totally with-it and hip kids from 1966 dancing to this twangy guitar songs, and it looks exactly like a scene from 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I said that to myself and totally did not recognize Batman and Robin’s hostess. It’s Edy Williams! Sheer perfection.

Anyway, so I had this little hypothesis that since the Batman movie was originally planned to precede the series, even though circumstances required it to be filmed and released after season one, the narrative still takes place before episode one. That seems to be borne out here. There was the odd continuity error of Batman not recognizing Miss Kitka as Catwoman, but it makes sense if the movie is actually the first time he saw her without a mask. That’s borne out here, as Gordon refers to her as coming back from the dead, as we saw in her previous television appearance.

Daniel really started wondering about the books on the shelf that slides back to reveal the batpoles. He wondered what would happen if you had your hand there and the shelf slid back. He was still asking about that during the “what can all these clues mean” scene in the commissioner’s office.

But I said that this was entertaining, and that’s got to be for more than one mod scene, a continuity fill, and Daniel’s curiosity. Okay, for starters, Jack Kelly – Brother Bart Maverick himself!! – appears in a small role as an oddball gossip columnist whose office is a phone booth in a drug store, and he’s hilarious. Batman doesn’t want to have lunch with such a disreputable character, and even after the reporter betrays Batman to the villainess, she shoots him down too. “Nobody wants to eat with me,” he grumbles. I died. It’s an example of the absurdly witty dialogue by Stanley Ralph Ross, which probably reaches its apex when Robin, roasting on a butter-smeared griddle in the baking Gotham sun, whimpers “Holy oleo,” and Catwoman replies “I didn’t know you could yodel.”

But to be clear, this really appears to be a case where Newmar watched Lee Meriwether in the movie and said to herself that the gauntlet had been thrown. Catwoman is now in full dominatrix mode, and purring how sad it is that she and Batman are on opposite sides of the law. It’s a particular shame, since Batman’s such a he-man, and she’s had to turn down offers from the Joker (“green hair”) and the Penguin (“too short”). It’s also the first time that she finds a way to dismiss Robin as just being a teenager. Forty million people watched this episode in 1966 and lit a cigarette when it finished.

Daniel, of course, sees none of this. He’s four. Catwoman’s just mean.

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