Barbary Coast 1.8 – An Iron-Clad Plan

Well, how nice! Last month, when we watched episode six of Barbary Coast, I noted that Francine York had a blink-and-miss-it part as one of Cash Conover’s employees, and hoped she’d have more to do in her next outing. Indeed she does. York and Aldine King are both critical to tonight’s mission as inside agents while Jeff Cable orchestrates the theft of some stolen submarine plans from a local bigshot criminal.

Obviously, Barbary Coast didn’t last long enough to develop a semi-regular supporting cast, but I do think there was a missed opportunity here to keep York and King along for undercover work when needed. York basically plays the same role – if not strictly the same character, you understand – as Bobbi Jordan and Sherry Jackson in the first three stories. If a fourth red-haired actress turns up in any of the next episodes as a different dealer in the casino, I’m going to have something to say about it.

On the other hand, our son wasn’t thrilled to see this returning to the lineup after its short break, and he just sat stone-faced as it played out. There wasn’t even a fight scene this time, and I was probably more amused to see Severn Darden turn up in a small role than he was when the sound of an alley cat conveniently convinces the bad guy that there wasn’t any nefarious noise in the alley behind his house. He might need a brawl and an explosion next time, so fingers crossed.

Barbary Coast 1.6 – Irish Luck

Our son wasn’t too wild about this one, other than a raucous chase-slash-fight through the Golden Gate. Jeff and Cash use the old Mission: Impossible trick of convincing their mark, played by William Daniels, that he’s spent two full days unconscious to get some intel from him, but there’s a political angle to the story which I thought was utterly unnecessary to understand what was happening, but our kid got hung up on it and was hopelessly confused. I’d have to agree it isn’t one of the stronger episodes, but it does have Francine York in a criminally tiny part as one of Cash’s employees. Fingers crossed they find a little more for her to do when she shows up again in a later story.

Jason of Star Command 2.11 – Mimi’s Secret

Interesting… I had assumed that the second season of Jason of Star Command was made up of four three-part adventures, but “Little Girl Lost” and “Mimi’s Secret” seem to be a two-parter, with nothing really to carry over into the final episode, which we’ll see this weekend. The strange Mimi doll, as it turns out, isn’t actually alive, but it’s a semi-sentient tracking device to home in on the missing scientist. That’s not as creepy as it appeared last time.

And speaking of weird assumptions… I’ve written previously, especially in regard to Ark II, about how information about some of these old kid shows was a little iffy in the pre-internet days. Some magazines and books just gave out information, like episode guides, that was flat out wrong.

With that in mind, I swore that I remember copying down an episode list to this show many, many years ago that contained an episode called “The Adventures of Peepo and W1K1,” but there’s not an episode by that name in this set. So I dug around my shelves and found it, hidden away in a 1991 book by Jeff Lenburg called The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons.

In the listing for Tarzan and the Super 7, which was the anthology home of Jason‘s first season, there’s an episode list for the first sixteen chapters, and thirteen of them are incorrect. For example, it says that the ninth chapter was called “The Adventures of Peepo and Wicky (sic),” when it was actually entitled “Peepo’s Last Chance.” Perhaps one of Lenburg’s sources provided him with pre-production information, before the episodes were completed and the titles finalized? Or maybe some joker just made stuff up and pranked Lenburg? Whatever the case, the misinformation didn’t creep out too much; I’ve only found the incorrect titles on just one site, the Big Cartoon Database. But this is a good reminder of those weird days when research was shaky and mistakes were easy to publish, whether by accident or design.

Anyway, this episode was the last for the evil Queen Medusa, played by Francine York, who made for a pretty entertaining recurring villain. Dragos didn’t have much of anything to do this time, but maybe he’ll go out with a bang in the finale? Stay tuned!

Jason of Star Command 2.10 – Little Girl Lost

You may well wonder why I picked an image of a knockoff Raggedy Ann doll to illustrate an episode that features both a thirty foot-tall ape monster and the return of Francine York as Medusa. That’s because the doll, Mimi, surprised the heck out of me about three minutes into the show by coming to life and looking around. Amazingly, nothing more was done with this plot development this week as Jason and his friends, rescuing a little girl called Heidi, get chased around by the monster and Medusa. Then, right at the end, the doll raises its head and looks around as everybody heads back to Star Command. Neat little cliffhanger, honestly.

Obviously, I think the doll was this episode’s high point, but our son was floored by the big monster. It wasn’t quite scary enough to send him behind the sofa, but it did have him hiding his head behind his mother’s back. So call that a medium-level fright!

Jason of Star Command 2.3 – Web of the Star Witch

We’re taking a short break from Doctor Who, since the current story is a long one. Tonight, our son got a terrific little fright in the third episode of Jason‘s second season when a hairy ape-alien – one of Tehor’s people we met in the previous installment – emerges from hiding inside the ship that they stole from Jason and Samantha. His blanket was over him like a shot!

We met Medusa, one of Dragos’s allies, a few weeks ago in chapters 11 and 12 of the original serial. She was originally played by Julie Newmar, but Francine York took over the part in this story, in which she doesn’t actually do much of anything. Despite a terrific title for this episode, it’s a bit dry.

We saw Francine York almost two years ago – have we really been doing this so long? – in the Bookworm story of Batman‘s first season. She had appeared in guest parts in just about everything in the thirteen years between Batman and Jason and had many more roles ahead of her, including playing Marilyn Monroe in a bizarre 1992 horror film called, alternately, Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars and/or Scream Your Head Off. She passed away last month at the age of 80.

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.

Batman 1.29 – The Bookworm Turns

Boy! Just when the episode one formula (something weird / call Batman / interrupt study / rush past Aunt Harriet) was getting stale, this story shakes it up and is really entertaining. The Bookworm arranges for Commissioner Gordon to be delayed on the way to a bridge opening, but sends a double to be “shot” on live television while Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are watching the event. It’s a great way to control exactly when our heroes will pull up at police headquarters. That way he can plan to put a bomb in the Batmobile.

The bomb doesn’t work – there’s a Bat-bomb detector in the car – but the Bookworm has a “plot B.” The bomb is secreted in a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls with a reinforced asbestos cover which survives the blast in the sky after Batman ejects it. I remember, as a child, being really struck by that ominous cut to commercial, with Batman growling “…it tolls for thee!” Mainly because I was a child and didn’t know what it meant.

Bookworm is a tremendously good villain. He’s played by the great Roddy McDowall, who has a very interesting little criminal resume. He and Anne Baxter (“Zelda the Great“) were the only two Bat-villains to also appear as criminals on Columbo, and he and Baxter are also in the ultra-exclusive group of actors who played two separate Bat-villains. Baxter would return as a different character in season three, and in 1992, McDowall played Mad Hatter in the celebrated Dini/Timm Batman cartoon. His portrayal of Bookworm is clearly inspired by Gorshin and Romero, but wow, what a character. I love the way he thinks and schemes and lays out intricate plots, but the kicker is that he’s a frustrated novelist who can’t come up with an original plot of his own, so he rips off the greats in weird ways.

His frustration is so acute that when this week’s criminal babe sidekick, played by Francine York, who does not know Bookworm’s pathetic inability to be original, says that he should write a book, he instantly loses his head, roars in fury and becomes downright scary. He grabs a gigantic hardback book and fully intends to smack her with it until he notes the title: The Secret of Success: Self-Control. I’ve noted before how awesome Frank Gorshin’s insanity as the Riddler is to watch, but what McDowall did as Bookworm in this scene really is incredibly surprising.

Marie had some fun shaking her head in exasperation over some of the show’s more, shall we say, self-aware moments. This is the first episode to establish there’s a van parked around for parachute pickup duty after the Batmobile makes a 180-degree turn, and the first episode to feature a celebrity guest cameo interrupting the Bat-climb. It’s Jerry Lewis, the first of many celebrities making a quick appearance to wow their son or niece showing up on the fabbest show on TV.

Scientist that she is, Marie raised an objection to Batman using a sonic beam of 12,000 decibels to send anybody hiding inside the criminal’s Bookmobile scurrying out. Not 120 decibels, which’d do it, 12,000. And since Francine York’s character is “helpless” inside, as Bookworm’s subplot requires her to fake that she’s a hostage, that’s an incredibly dangerous and stupid thing for Batman to do. Should any criminal happen to actually have a real hostage – or, you know, one of these criminal babe sidekicks who really aren’t all that bad, just misguided and needing a little help from the Wayne Foundation for Wayward Girls after they’ve fallen in love with Batman – a sonic attack’s probably a bad idea. But on the other hand, how amazing is the Batmobile, being able to generate 12,000 decibels? What a machine!

Daniel was briefly troubled by the cliffhanger and hid his eyes, but didn’t get upset. The whole scheme seems to have been designed to separate Robin from Batman, gas the Boy Wonder, and strap him upside-down to the clapper of the bell inside the Wayne Memorial Clock Tower, which I believe is not the last time this show will try to pass off stock footage of Big Ben as something it’s not.