Tag Archives: joker

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!

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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!

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Batman 2.37 – The Zodiac Crimes

I wish that I could say that Daniel’s mind was blown when the Penguin shows up about a quarter of the way into what seemed initially like the Joker’s episode. Unfortunately, my son was very restless, wiggly, and not on his best behavior tonight. He was a little more alarmed by the cliffhanger than he has been in quite a long time, though.

This time, our heroes are trapped in a museum, tied down underneath an eight-ton meteorite. They’ve just lost a fight with the Joker and his men because his moll-of-the-week, Venus, finally decided to stay evil instead of good. Venus is played by Terry Moore, who had been a glamour girl and in-demand actress in the early 1950s, but parts had been drying up. Charitably, accepting that the babe-of-the-week role is a fairly routine one, she’s not the best actress to tackle this role. Moore largely faded from the spotlight not long after this appearance, before reviving her career in the mid-1980s along with the surprising claim that she had spent a quarter of a century as Howard Hughes’ secret bride.

But that was much later. What happens onscreen is what I recall as one of my favorite stories, and it’s held up pretty well, without any of the eye-rolling goofiness that had been punctuating recent episodes. The original story was by Stephen Kandel, who wrote an episode or two of dozens of interesting TV series over a thirty-year career*, and it’s a great example of throwing dozens of ideas and locations at the wall, seeing what will stick. I think that I liked it when I was a kid because I liked the Zodiac for a time, as kids do, but I like it today because while the heroes know that the Joker intends twelve Zodiac-related crimes, they don’t know the order or the exact targets.

Dropping the Penguin into the proceedings just makes things more complicated, and that’s a great thing. The plot moves far too quickly to afford Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith more than one scene together, but Meredith does his usual, calm, stealth stealing of every scene that he’s in. At one point, he calls the criminals’ lair from a payphone with a message about the evening’s plan, then casually does that old stunt of repeatedly tapping the hookswitch to get his dime back.

But the Penguin is arrested before the final fight – seriously, this episode moves at warp speed – because this is Joker’s show and he’s just one of many elements of it. If the previous Joker story had been disappointing with its half-finished laundry list of extremely odd ideas, this one’s much better, with trick magic wands and distracting, exploding jumping beans, and Romero ratcheting up the egotism and the mania. He’s in peak form and having a ball in this story.

(*These include Banacek, Mission: Impossible, the Nero Wolfe with William Conrad and Lee Horsley, MacGyver, Harry O, Wonder Woman, and all the Harry Mudd episodes of Star Trek – even the cartoon version!)

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Batman 2.22 – The Joker’s Provokers

All right, Dark Knight Detective. We’ve been putting up with temperatures hotter than the sun in an industrial furnace, and sounds that are louder than any that have ever been recorded that make a tiger meekly lose interest in its prey, instead of liquifying its brain, but here, our heroes and the villain all fail middle school science, and the chemical formula for water, for the purposes of the Joker’s clue, is HO2. I’m genuinely amazed that nobody involved in this production noticed this until it was too late.

Now, in part one, we had the Joker create a magic box that briefly hypnotizes people. That’s an interesting gadget, and, apparently in character. Batman gives us the surprising news that, in his younger days, before he turned to a life of crime, the Joker had been a stage hypnotist. But here, he refines his box a little further into something that can speed up, freeze, or reverse the flow of time.

Wow.

Hang on a minute. That’s absolutely amazing. Such a device could turn everything on its head. And the script just treats it like it’s no big deal at all, and the sort of thing that any garish criminal can cobble together in something about the size of my wallet. The Joker uses this to make the traffic go really fast, and then make an airplane go backward and a ball player run backward. Then he threatens to do it some more, unless he gets ten million dollars, oh, and he’s going to poison the city’s water supply, too.

Two people are credited with writing this episode. I kind of figure that the two people never met each other, and that random pages from two separate teleplays were filmed to make a final script, because none of this makes any sense. At least Cesar Romero seems to be having a great time. We certainly didn’t.

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Batman 2.21 – The Impractical Joker

One-third of the way into season two and things are very uneven. This is a very dull and uninspired episode, with very little of note. One thing is that they found a familiar costume for the babe of the week. Kathy Kersh, as Cornelia, is wearing the same outfit that Linda Gaye Scott wore as Moth in season one.

Another thing is that, following their meeting with the Green Hornet and Kato during a Batclimb earlier in the season, Bruce and Dick sit down to watch The Green Hornet on television. As the ratings for both shows started edging downhill, and sharply, it was nice to imagine that somebody was watching that program Friday nights, even if it was only the fictional millionaires in imaginary cities.

I did not recognize the Batclimb cameo in this episode. It’s Howard Duff, the star of Felony Squad, a cop show that began on ABC that fall and continued for three seasons, in his role as Detective Sam Stone. Like Batman and Hornet, Felony Squad was also made by 20th Century Fox, so corporate synergy is very hard at work in this episode. Unless I’m in for a surprise, Duff might be the only actor to show up for a Batclimb cameo and later appear as a Batvillain.

But no, this really is a dull episode. Marie was so bored that she pulled out her tablet to confirm that the producers did not bother to obtain the correct tartan pattern for a character named Ferguson. Daniel was very restless and couldn’t sit still. The grisly cliffhanger, in which the Joker has obtained a Human Key Duplicator – it has a “patent pending” notation, which is lovely – did send him behind the couch. Carving the notches of a key into a human body really is pretty sick. You have to wonder what in the world the US Patent Office was thinking.

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Batman (1966)

The Batman film has been written about and dissected far more than the episodes of the TV series has been, since, for many years, only it and not the show was available on home video. It’s still the most entertaining Batman movie that Hollywood’s ever made. Sure, the one with Heath Ledger is certainly an objectively better film in every regard, but entertaining it’s not. And, to be honest, as much as I’d love to champion this from the rafters… it has a lot of problems.

They’ve been discussed by many, and so I won’t belabor them, but it is unfortunate that it leads with ten completely awful minutes – all the over-narrated stuff, the Bat-shark repellent, the press conference, the “it happened at sea… C! C for Catwoman!” line – which is more than enough evidence for anybody skeptical about the Adam West series that the party line is actually true. The movie’s not so much campy as it is smug, the work of people who can get away with lousy, hasty work just because they can.

And plotwise, much of the movie’s like that. It’s all first-draft stuff, with things just falling into place out of sheer laziness and conviction that the audience will be perfectly willing to accept anything given. It’s not a story that works; it’s a story that happens.

And yet it’s entertaining because some of the performances are completely terrific. Some. The director seems to have told West and Ward that they’re on the big screen now and so they should play to the back of the theater, leading in the awkward feeling that the two leads are trying a lot harder than the screenwriter did.

But the bad guys… they’re all having a blast. Gorshin, Romero, and Meredith were all old hands at their parts, having done three or four stories apiece. Julie Newmar was unavailable, and filming actually began on the movie without a Catwoman, with Lee Meriwether joining them during the second or third week. She’d been in a couple of dozen small guest star parts for TV, and this was her first really big role.

A word of revisionist thought about Lee Meriwether: she’s fantastic. Conventional wisdom holds that she’s a poor second to Newmar, but at this point, we can compare just a single performance each. I had the feeling, watching “The Purr-fect Crime”, that a lot of what we remember Newmar for came from the show’s second season, but what I think now is that Newmar kept the character evolving in response to Meriwether’s portrayal here. As Catwoman, Meriwether is all tight curls and loud meows, while in Newmar’s first story, she is more languid and purring. There’s an astonishing bit where she’s at the periscope in the Penguin’s submarine, her hips gyrating as she lets out a loud “reeee-OWWWW!” and the henchman standing next to her gives her an eye that clearly says “this woman is insane.”

Her comrades in Underworld United all tackle their parts with relish, and they each playfully work to steal the scenes from each other. Gorshin gets a great one about sixty seconds before the image above. Lying on the floor with Meredith, he repeats the instructions for phase whatever of their latest plan, wide-eyed and crazy. But Meredith is the real star. It’s a little unfair to the others that he has the most to do, and doesn’t have to work the hardest, but when he growls “Run silent, run deep” in that submarine, you can turn off all the other Bat-movies, starring Keaton or Bale or whoever, because there’s not a more perfect moment in any of them.

Daniel ran hot and cold on this movie. As I feared, it was a little long for him, and the bits where Bruce Wayne is on a date with Miss Kitka sent him to the floor to roll around with toys, although I’m sure that Adam West appreciated the opportunity to do something different. Incidentally, since Meriwether didn’t join the production for at least a week, that blows a hole in a silly hypothesis of mine. When the couple goes dancing, you can spot Julie Gregg, from the last TV story, as the torch singer who’s performing “Plaisir d’amour.” She’s even wearing the same dress that she wore in the final scene of that episode! I sort of envisioned that after the director called a wrap on that episode on Friday, the producer said, “Julie, you were wonderful, can you come back Monday?” I guess there must have been more than just two days between them!

My son’s favorite scenes in any Batman story are the climbs. Good for him, because season two is full of them. This time, when they’re climbing the outside of the baddies’ lair, he was sitting on the couch between us imitating the climb, one hand in the air after another. Of course, he also loves the fights, and the movie got the biggest laugh from him during the big fight on the submarine, when Joker accidentally socks Riddler into the water.

And all the big new Bat-gadgets got the seal of approval: he loved the helicopter, speedboat, and motorcycle. We’d actually seen a different Bat-cycle in the second Penguin story. This new one Batman keeps hidden by the side of a coastal road covered in greenery camouflaging it. I can understand wanting to have various equipment stored in an assortment of hidey-holes around town in case of emergencies, particularly as the Batmobile gets pilfered for the fifth time in eight stories, but surely some shed, with a lock on it, would be more sensible?!

Finally, the ending is really, really fun, but it’s silly even by this show’s standards. It involves a cameo by an impersonator of President Johnson, stock footage of crowds cheering around the world, the most delicate operation in the history of medicine being performed in a very unsterile meeting room, and, wanting to make a discreet exit, our heroes climb out a ninth story window. Insanely, the villains don’t get a scene of final comeuppance, one last chance to jeer at our heroes and snap at each other before being marched off to prison, and the movie really misses that beat, that punctuation, needed before the long and silly epilogue.

So in conclusion, I’m of the opinion that almost all Batman movies are terrible. I’ll give you The Dark Knight, because Ledger was so, so good in that, and this is certainly the second best of them, but man, you watch this film and know that, as entertaining as it is on its own modest merits, if only the script worked a little harder and didn’t rely so much on coincidence and chance, it could have been great.

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Batman 1.26 – Batman Sets the Pace

One slight downside to the really sharp and colorful transfers on these DVDs is that some of the minor things we’d have overlooked on faded old film prints are crystal-clear. It’s not just the regular use of stuntmen in the fight scenes; we expected to notice those all the time now, and do. But suddenly lots of other things are painfully obvious that I’d always missed. For example, in the cliffhanger of the previous story, “The Ring of Wax” / “Give ’em the Axe,” modern viewers won’t be able to take their eyes off all the unsightly underarm sweat discoloring Adam West’s costume.

Then there’s this one, as Batman and Robin put their backs together and, using the pressure of their bodies against the walls, “walk” up the sides of the chimney as it fills with gas. Well, pressure and a tell-tale wire just visible between West and Ward’s bodies helping with that Hollywood magic! Oh, wait. That’s not West or Ward, either.

I really enjoyed this episode. It’s got a downright terrific twist, and a great scheme from the Joker. It’s not only a $500,000 ransom he wants for the safe return of the maharaja; he demands Batman participate in the money exchange. In other words, it’s not just the cash, he also wants to ruin his arch-enemy’s pride. Nobody’s yet pulled such a stunt, and I really liked the way Adam West played the scene. It’s not like this show was regularly presenting the leads or the guests with any real challenges, so the scene where Batman, on the phone, has to agree to something he finds completely immoral is interesting. For just a couple of seconds, we see the character respond with selfishness and pride before agreeing to do the right thing.

Oh, I almost forgot! There’s a deeply silly tag scene in which, just an hour after they solved the crime, Bruce and Dick are summoned back to the Batphone. Commissioner Gordon has called the Dynamic Duo because he’s heard a troubling rumor that Batman’s running for governor of California. Actually, Pat Brown had made so much of the electorate so darn angry that by early ’66, some people were saying that only Batman could save the state. In the end, it took Ronald Reagan to turn things around, whipping Brown in a landslide. I imagine the Caped Crusader got a write-in vote or ten as well.

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Batman 1.25 – The Joker Trumps an Ace

The Joker has an amazingly funny member of his gang in this episode. He keeps his blue cap down over his eyes, and as they debate whether they’re going to kill the Dynamic Duo (naturally, the bad girl of the week, this time played by Jane Wald, doesn’t want him to die), he delivers this amazing line: “That’s right! We gotta get rid of ’em! We owe it to the criminal woild!”

Front and center in the image above, though, is Henchman # 1, wearing the blue shirt and white cap, played by Norman Alden. He’d go on to star as Frank, the inventor of Crimescope and valued assistant to Electra Woman and Dyna Girl a decade later.

This episode is a really good one, since we spend the whole thing completely baffled as to what the Joker is up to. Cesar Romero’s actually only in three scenes, and one of them’s just a tiny establishing shot to confirm that Romero did accompany the rest of the cast to the golf course, where his men abduct a visiting maharajah.

Daniel wasn’t very interested in this episode, though. Earlier today, he got the gift of a Doc McStuffins tent in which he may do his thinking. It lured him off the couch a time or twenty. He’s a great kid, but doesn’t have the longest attention span in the world.

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