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The Bionic Woman 3.15 – The Martians are Coming, the Martians are Coming

When NBC picked up The Bionic Woman, they asked for one of those pre-credit showreels that you often saw in the seventies, with clips from the episode you’re about to watch. These are always obnoxious, but I liked the way they did this one. All the clips are from about the first seven minutes of the story.

I’m not giving away too much when I reveal this is one of those incredibly common hoax flying saucers that we often saw on TV in that decade, because the show gives it away after about ten minutes. These always let me down as a kid. But to their credit, the bad guys behind this hoax stick to their guns and keep their “holograph” projectors going even once the heroes and the audience are in on the scam. That way the kids in the audience can still have a special effect to look at.

Speaking of effects, while these are about as good as what you could expect to see on TV in 1978, there are a couple of shots where the plate which is used for the image of the flying saucer is pockmarked by two big black blobs right in the center of the picture and what looks like a huge ink smear in the upper left of the frame. Kind of hard to suspend disbelief when Universal’s special effects crew couldn’t even wipe down the plate with some glass cleaner, really. On the other hand, it gave us the opportunity to wind it back and talk with our son how they used to do special effects like this. I used to absorb every article about visual effects in magazines like Dynamite to understand how things like this were made.

In the cast, Jon Locke, who had played the leader of the Sleestak and a couple of other monsters in the last year of Land of the Lost the previous season, has a small part as one of the townspeople excited by the flying saucers. Jack Kelly plays a scientist who has been “abducted” along with Rudy Wells. Kelly is shamefully misused by this story and given next to nothing to do. Since Kelly was all over television doing guest parts during this period, often for Universal, perhaps he was only available for what looks like just two days of filming. That’s idle speculation on my part, but there are three other adult male roles in this story with much more meat on them where I’d prefer to have seen Kelly, who I really enjoy.

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The Bionic Woman 1.5 – Claws

A couple of years ago, the strange film Roar was reissued, and with it came the even stranger tale of how the actress Tippi Hedren and her teen daughter Melanie Griffith, who starred in the movie, spent the seventies sharing a house with a 400-pound lion named Neil. Roar went into production in October 1976, eight months after Hedren and Neil appeared in this episode of The Bionic Woman, along with William Schallert, Jack Kelly, and the omnipresent child star Robbie Rist.

All that guest star power didn’t overwhelm Jaime, who is caught in a local feud without any OSI support. A neighbor is raising a menagerie of hopefully tame animals, while a rancher believes the lion is killing his cattle. He doesn’t believe it could be a massive cougar.

Our son was transfixed by this story. He thought all the animals were completely charming and he was incredibly worried about the lion, the cougar, and Jaime. Full credit to the director: the scene where Jaime tries to calm an injured and frightened Neil, only to get injured herself on her non-bionic arm, really is a tense one.

I must add, though, that I was honestly most amused by a hint that Neil may be behind the attacks after all. There’s no reason for Neil to hunt cattle since he’s fed well, but money is tight and his owner has recently been feeding him half beef and half soy. If somebody was forcing me to eat slugburgers instead of sirloin, I might go hunt cattle myself!

(You can read more about Roar, in which none of the animals were injured but between 70 and 72 members of the cast and crew were, here. See more photos of Neil hanging out at home with Hedren and Griffith here.)

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Batman 2.4 – The Cat and the Fiddle

You know, I’d really sold Marie on part one of this being completely wonderful. I don’t appreciate part two being so downright ordinary.

I should probably leave it there, but it really does have some great visuals, including Batman using little “jet” rockets to lift a stalled elevator 102 stories, and Jack Kelly’s gossip columnist suddenly turning into a partner in crime so he can join in with the batfight. It would totally not surprise me to learn that, eight or nine years previously, Adam West and Kelly traded punches in an episode of Maverick. (Or 77 Sunset Strip or The Alaskans or whatever late 1950s Warners Brothers adventure show needed them that week.)

And it does have the great surprise of James Brolin, of all people, playing an armored truck driver named Ralph Staphylococcus. I didn’t recognize him. imdb.com surprised me with the revelation that he plays small roles in two other Batman episodes. Later, among sixty gajillion other roles, he’d play the father in The Amityville Horror and star for years in the 1980s nighttime soap Hotel.

And we probably should mention that Catwoman gets all sweet on Batman this week. After he saves her life, she gets a last scene in the epilogue after her trial, before she heads off to prison for ten to twenty years (or weeks). She gets to cuddle up to Batman and rub cheeks and give a deeply inappropriate but hilarious ecstatic growl. Neil Hamilton got a lot of great, great lines in this show, and delivered them all perfectly, but “Why, Batman, are you blushing?” might be the very best of them.

But overall, it just doesn’t have that weird, funny, zippy, sexy, and very sixties vibe that part one had. Kind of a letdown.

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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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