Batman 3.24 – The Joker’s Flying Saucer

Every once in a while, we run into an episode so boring that there’s nothing to say about it beyond noting the firsts or lasts. This one, like the second Louie the Lilac episode, is just plain dull. It’s the fourth and final appearance in the show for Richard Bakalyan, who here plays one of the Joker’s henchmen, painted green and sent to cause a Martian panic in advance of the Joker’s arrival in a craft-built flying saucer. It’s the final appearance of Cesar Romero, and I would say that it’s the final appearance of the Joker, but I think we’ve got one very silly cameo by a stand-in to get through before that.

Earlier this evening, I picked up two more volumes of the cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold for our son, since he’s watched the 13 episodes on the one that he has about six times each. This episode was so dull that I genuinely felt bad putting on this bore instead of letting him have fun with the cartoon. I’ll make sure he has time to watch a couple tomorrow.

Batman 3.17 – The Joke’s on Catwoman

I’m wondering what in the world they used for the “shag” on Catwoman’s car. Some old carpet, perhaps? That honestly looks like my kid brother’s bedroom carpet from 1974-82. Well, they really didn’t have as much money in season three, and brother, does it ever show in this episode. By this point, we’re used to the “limbo” sets of black nothingness dressed by random props. This time out, the limbo set is used for the baddies’ hideout, some rocky outcrop, the interior of a lighthouse, and a courtroom. Writer Stanley Ralph Ross evidently wasn’t told to keep the number of locations to a minimum.

In the one of the strangest casting moves in a series full of odd ones, Pierre Salinger plays Catwoman and Joker’s attorney, Lucky Pierre. Salinger was between careers in 1967. He had been President Kennedy’s press secretary and later, briefly, a U.S. senator, appointed by California Governor Pat Brown to serve the remaining term of the late Senator Engle. In the 1970s, he would become a correspondent for ABC News.

This was the final appearance of Catwoman, and Eartha Kitt, in the series, although the Joker still has another outing ahead. Cesar Romero really functioned more like a loudmouthed henchman than a criminal mastermind this time. It does at least end with a really big fight scene in the courtroom that Daniel adored. Except… rather than hiring another actor to play the Gotham DA, that unseen character gives Batman some offscreen permission to handle the prosecution.

Now just wait a minute. Remember what we learned last episode about Bruce Wayne’s activity with the prison system? So now we see that Batman arrests criminals, AND he tries them, AND, as Bruce Wayne, he decides whether they’re eligible for parole?! I think there’s a story here. Somebody give that Clark Kent fellow at The Daily Planet a phone call.

Batman 3.16 – The Funny Feline Felonies

In the previous installment, I mentioned how they made a trio of three-part(ish) stories in the final season of Batman. So far, there I have not noticed any continuity blunders like the props in the Egghead episodes to suggest that the producers might have run these in the wrong order, but I could be wrong. It’s possible that they intended to introduce Eartha Kitt here, driving a very ridiculous car, and “kidnapping” the paroled Joker, or they intended to introduce her in episode 14. Either way seems to work.

Two huge missed opportunities occur to me: the last time Cesar Romero got to sink his teeth in a really good script was the previous season’s “Pop Goes the Joker” two-parter, where, among other things, he got to really demonstrate a complete contempt for Bruce Wayne. Here, Wayne is the chairman of the parole board – now hang on a minute, he captures all the criminals and he decides whether they’re fit to rejoin society?! – and he gets to wish the Joker well and see him off in a new suit and a crisp new $10 bill, but since Romero is playing the Joker as pretending he’s gone straight and owes his freedom to Wayne, he doesn’t get to sneer at him. That’s a darn shame; that menacing contempt was a real highlight of that story.

Another is that there isn’t any kind of deathtrap this week, which, in a completely surprising development, annoyed my son! Considering how often he’s become annoyed or upset at the traps, I’m frankly shocked that he’d rather have seen another one than seen the baddies waiting outside in the bushes. According to my very badly beat-up copy of Joel Eisner’s Official Batman Batbook, a cliffhanger trap was planned and cut. It doesn’t say whether it was filmed, or if it was cut from the script.

A couple of interesting cameo walk-ons in this episode: Dick Kallman, a pop star who starred in a single season sitcom called Hank on NBC in 1965, plays a pop star hitmaker, and Joe E. Ross has about three lines as his agent. One of those lines, naturally, starts with “Ooh, ooh!”

Batman 3.10 – Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!

Here are the most entertaining things about tonight’s Batman:

1. This episode reminded me of the Hodads, and for that, I’m grateful. If you were in Atlanta in the late 1980s, you may remember this band. They had really fun and silly flyers for their shows. Here’s their track “Motel Six.” A hodad is somebody who hangs out at the beach and thinks they know about surfing, but they’re really just squares, daddio.

2. Y’all, there are some gorgeous girls in bathing suits in this episode. I’m serious.

3. This installment can be used as evidence to prove that “Cowabunga” was a real surfer-slang word a good seventeen years before the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

4. Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara, in disguise, look astonishingly like Jack Benny and Bob Hope in this breathtakingly unfunny skit from one of Benny’s shows.

5. Providing surf rock in this episode on the beach is a group called Johnny Green and the Greenmen, who claim, on their website, to have “played on 27 episodes of the Batman TV series.” Well, here’s one, and there are sixteen more episodes before we’re done, and math is hard, baby.

Speaking of before we’re done, Daniel asked to take a break from Batman. To be fair, we’ve been watching it straight, without a break, since we began the blog, so we’re going to take a few weeks off and slide something forward in the rotation. What will it be? Stay tuned!

Batman 2.58 – Flop Goes the Joker

Daniel really surprised us this evening by naming this his all-time favorite Batman story. The scene that took the honor was toward the end, when the Joker shows up at Wayne Manor with his hostage, Baby Jane Towser, who’s shown above apparently wearing Marsha, Queen of Diamonds’ costume from episodes 42-44 this season. Anything to save a buck, eh, costume department?

Anyway, Alfred proves himself more than a match for the Joker, who loses a brief bout of fencing with fireplace pokers, runs to the study, jars the Shakespeare bust and opens the secret passage to the batpoles. Mercifully, Alfred had taken down all the signage for a new coat of paint – amazingly, this was set up in part one of the story – and the Joker has no idea that it’s the Batcave down below him. Alfred just keeps sending him up and down on those compressed elevators until his employers arrive, and Daniel absolutely loved it.

Between the wacky painting competition in part one and the Joker’s foibles in part two, our son was in heaven. This was the perfect balance of slapstick comedy for kids and goofball satire for everybody else. This didn’t necessarily need Cesar Romero – this could have been jerry-rigged for one or two of the other regular villains or given to a new character – but he was having a ball as usual, and the season, despite all expectations, looks like it might actually end on a high note. There’s one more show to go, so fingers crossed…

Batman 2.57 – Pop Goes the Joker

“We artists should not be judged by ordinary standards,” the Joker says at one point in this very silly and very fun episode. “We’re a very special breed.”

On the one hand, this story is more evidence that the show was running out of gas. The Joker gets elevated as an artistic genius, and bamboozles several wealthy socialites into taking an art class, and then holds them for ransom. There isn’t anything interesting at all in that plot, and it certainly doesn’t require the Joker. But appearances are deceiving. The whole affair is a chuckling satire of modern art. It’s done with sledgehammer subtlety, and if you’re not watching it with a four year-old, there’s a three-minute sequence that goes on forever, but there are elements of delicious, nasty, biting commentary inside it.

Things start very well, with Fritz Feld playing a very bored artist who is suddenly inspired anew by the Joker’s vandalism of his tedious landscapes and Grant Wood copies. Feld is actually downright perfect in the role; oddly choosing to play it straight and not overact even a shade, making the parody of pop art more vicious.

Then we have an international painting exhibition, which isn’t anywhere as mean as it should be. Four incredibly renowned artists – their names, like Vincent Van Gauche, chosen just to be recognizable to a mass audience – deliberately paint like dimwits. One paints with his feet, another has a monkey toss rags at a canvas. The opportunity for great, gleeful cruelty was here, but they went for raucous comedy that had Daniel – oddly very talkative and kind of annoying tonight – roaring with laughter. He absolutely loved this scene, but what I thought was funny was the reaction of the judges after the “artists” finish, as they give this nonsense somber consideration, informed criticism, and their unfettered praise. Twelve years later, John Cleese and Eleanor Bron did a celebrated cameo in Doctor Who praising the TARDIS as a work of art with much the same pretentious, academic gravity as these twits.

Then they give the Joker the award for his completely blank canvas, which is entitled “Death of a Mauve Bat.”

It’s done with a sledgehammer, and it is hoisted by a bunch of old squares in Hollywood who just cannot believe what passes for art these days, darn kids, in my day we knew how to appreciate a good portrait, but there are traces of something very informed in there, and frankly, the whole thing is, quite surprisingly, a complete hoot.

Batman 2.48 – The Joker’s Epitaph

My heart sinks just a little when I see that an episode is written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. His gags and his planning don’t seem to pay any attention to how the world works, and are just there in the hopes of a guffaw. I really prefer the episodes by Stanley Ralph Ross, who seems to have thought things through with logic, consistency, and backstory. They don’t always work – the Archer story is his most notable turkey so far – but they’re never as dopey as Semple’s.

In part one, Gordon’s office is “haunted” by the booming laughter of the Joker, coming from nowhere. Batman uses a device to track the sound to a false cuff link on Gordon’s jacket. Clearly, the Joker bumped against the commissioner on the street and switched them. Never mind that for the better part of half an hour, he and O’Hara can’t find the speaker, Batman also sees that during the bump, Joker wrapped the other half of the device around the commissioner’s waist and down his trouser leg. We accept a certain level of helplessness on the part of the police for this show to work, but there’s helplessness and then there’s body-and-brain-dead.

Another example: Batman and Robin suspect that the Joker is running his counterfeit printer from a defunct comic book company recently purchased by a “W.C. Whiteface.” They know that’s likely a pseudonym, but just in case it is a real guy with an unlikely name, they can’t rush in and arrest him, leading to Bruce Wayne’s bozo “pretending to be bankrupt” scam. But… they know what the Joker looks like! They’ve sent him to jail at least five times by now! They don’t have to lead with a blind sock to the unknown man’s jaw, and further, look, we’re two-thirds of the way through the series at this point. Batman must know that: a) the Joker will have at least two henchmen, and b) Robin, on his own, is incapable of winning a fight against three men. He will get locked in a medieval torture rack with eggs on his head and shoved in an airplane’s engine.

In his scripts, Ross treated the characters as real, albeit square, silly, or ridiculous. Semple didn’t care; he was in it for the pop art gags, but they aren’t funny and induce eye-rolling, not giggles. Oscar Beregi plays this wacky German psychiatrist in part two, brought in because, well there’s no simple way to explain this. The Joker recorded Bruce Wayne’s story about embezzling foundation money, and now he’s blackmailing him into marrying his babe-of-the-week, who’s played by Phyllis Douglas.

When word of the engagement appears in the society pages, Commissioner Gordon has this doctor brought to his office, and the doctor – who’s about as believably German as Peter Sellers was French – diagnoses Bruce, whom he’s never met, as having lost his marbles two or three months ago, and so Gordon sends O’Hara and two men from the – get this – Anti-Lunatic Squad – to put Bruce in a straitjacket and send him to “Happy Acres.” And Gordon claims to be Bruce’s friend? I’d love to have heard the apology. “I heard you appointed the Joker to be vice-president of one of your banks and were going to marry the Joker’s babe-of-the-week, but it never occurred to me that you might have been threatened. I just figured you’d lost your mind, so I had you committed!”

At least the Joker’s dragster gets a few more seconds of screen time. Seconds.

Daniel was disinterested until Phyllis Douglas started smooching Adam West. Then he covered his head with a blanket. “That was horrible,” he concluded.

Batman 2.47 – The Joker’s Last Laugh

Can we get a round of applause for that car? Holy anna, what a car! It has a Rolls-Royce grill and ornament! The car was originally built by George Barris for the 1966 Elvis movie Easy Come, Easy Go, and modified for use here. It will make at least one more appearance in this series, in a season three episode. The car has since been de-Jokerified and returned to its original construction for the Elvis movie, and you can see some museum photos of it at Driving Line.

We have no real idea what the Joker’s plan in this episode is so far. Apparently he wants to use robots and counterfeit money to find the Batcave, but this plan gets derailed when his first effort to find it fumbles, and then Bruce Wayne, acting as though he’s bankrupt and about to be jailed for embezzling from his foundation, stumbles into the Joker’s hideout, desperate to use his printing press. So whatever the Joker was going to do next, it’s on hold.

There’s a really cute moment here when Batman knows that the Joker is following him back to the Batcave – Batman has one of the deactivated robots in the trunk – and he activates a fake beacon that instead leads the Joker to a small scale model of the Batcave entrance, labeled and everything. Underneath the model is a note reading “Laugh, criminals, laugh!”

Daniel hated the cliffhanger to this episode. He never likes it when Robin’s in danger, but this time, Robin has to fight alone, because Bruce Wayne is pretending to be on the Joker’s side. This was an amazingly poor plan. Bruce tries to reason with the Joker, saying he was willing to become a counterfeiter, but not a murderer, to no avail. Daniel did a really good job sitting still tonight, but he knew those robots were dangerous and did not like the idea of Robin fighting without help from Batman!

Batman 2.39 – The Penguin Declines

I don’t have very much to add this time. The three-part format worked incredibly well, and it’s probably a shame that the producers only used it twice more. There’s another giant pile of events, none of the scenes lasts very long, and the whole thing moves with incredible speed and zip. We’re used to 1960s television being so much slower-paced than today’s, and so something with so much activity, locations, and events feels practically modern!

Of note: Rob Reiner has a very small part as a delivery man in a scene with Burgess Meredith and Terry Moore. The Joker decided that he needs the Penguin to seduce the errant Venus into a trap, which is an amazingly strange plot development since he tried to feed her to a giant clam earlier. I love the notion that the Penguin is such a suave don juan that no woman can resist his charms for long.

And the trap? Well, it sort of requires suspending disbelief long enough to accept that there’s room in the Batmobile’s trunk for six people to hide, but it’s an invasion of the Batcave, which is absolutely the biggest plot development that this program has ever shown us. It lasts for another terrific fight, but the villains get no mileage from their bravado: it didn’t occur to any of them to try and crack the trunk and see where they were. Not that it would have mattered; Batman knew they were in the car all along and disabled the emergency trunk unlock switch!

Batman 2.38 – The Joker’s Hard Times

Cesar Romero always looked like he was having the time of his life as the Joker. As part two of this story goes on and the Joker’s crimes get ever more ridiculous, it just looks like he’s having so much fun. At one point, he steals a police car and starts giving out fake sightings of the truck that everybody is looking for. This wasn’t part of his plan, just some improvised chaos. I understand that the modern, bloodthirsty depiction of the character has fans, but this guy’s the real Joker.

This episode ends with the very surprise twist that it is not yet finished. For the first time, the formula gets the big changeup of a third episode. I have thought for years that the producers might have intended to sell compilation films of the three-part adventures as movies in Europe and Central and South America, like MGM did with all those Man from UNCLE movies, and as Fox would do with The Green Hornet after Bruce Lee died, but I’ve never actually seen any evidence that these actually happened.

This part concludes with one of the most surprising cliffhangers in the whole series: somehow, the Joker has got his hands on a gigantic man-eating clam, and drops Batman, Robin, and the traitorous Terry Moore into its tank.

The other theory that’s been temporarily sidelined is that giant clam prop might have come from an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I can’t find any evidence for that, but what I don’t know about Voyage would fill a huge, huge book. In the third season, however, a costume from an episode of Lost in Space did get repainted and recycled for this series.

Last night, I mentioned that it had been quite some time since Daniel got frightened by one of the cliffhangers. He’d been hissing and growling at the Joker all through the episode, while also paying close attention and being very well behaved, but that giant clam just did him in. He grabbed his security blanket and raced behind the sofa, horrified, and only popped his head up for a split second to see that the beast had gobbled Robin. We didn’t mention the clam again this evening.

Actually, now that I type it, he did hide his head under his blanket to avoid looking at an earlier scene where Terry Moore, all soft-focus and goo-goo eyes, got all romantic and mushy with the Caped Crusader. Yuck, that’s even worse than giant clams!