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Batman 2.60 – The Duo Defy

Did you know that Batman keeps live fish in his utility belt? Now you do.

This is dire. It’s the end of the season and there’s no money left. There’s stock footage with voiceovers and old film clips of icebergs. The most entertaining thing that happened tonight was that Daniel repeated his “iceburglars” pun, which really wasn’t funny last night.

It is kind of unfortunate that each Mr. Freeze was less entertaining than the previous one, but Eli Wallach’s “daffy old scientist” take got really old really quickly. Elisha Cook spent all of this part recovering from having dry ice injected into his veins (!) and frozen at 200 below zero (!!), because this show doesn’t make any sense, and fumbled around with a goofball expression and his mouth hanging open and his eyes all bugged out like the producers actually wanted Don Knotts for the part. It’s pretty awful.

We did learn that Bruce Wayne has a municipal ice rink named after himself, which is kind of surprising. We were also reminded that Commissioner Gordon has a daughter at college. Her name is Barbara. Are you listening, audience? This might turn out to be important one day.


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Batman 2.59 – Ice Spy

My wife and her father share this disquieting, horrible habit of making terrible, terrible puns. Every so often, I get a little evidence that genetics are passing this down to my son. Tonight, summoning his troops for the fight, Mr. Freeze calls them “icemen.” Daniel replied, “He means ICEBURGLARS!” He then repeated this about ten times during the brawl, because four year-olds do that when they come up with something that they think is clever.

Mr. Freeze is played by Eli Wallach for this installment, making him the third actor to play this villain. Allied with him is a besotted ice skater, Glacia Glaze, played by Leslie Parrish. We saw her back in season one as Dawn Robbins in the very first Penguin story. Rounding out the notable guest stars, none other than Elisha Cook Jr., who had played Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon 25 years previously, and had been doing a heck of a lot of television in the mid-sixties.

This episode features one of the all-time goofy phone gags, in which Commissioner Gordon rings Batman at the same time that Chief O’Hara rings Bruce Wayne, and the cops listen in while Adam West talks to himself in slightly different voices into each receiver, and the police are clueless, as usual. When I do go bad and turn into a criminal, I’m moving to Gotham City.

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Batman 2.20 – Deep Freeze

There must be a particularly remarkable reason for me to pass up on posting a picture of the gorgeous Dee Hartford in a bathing suit in favor of West, Ward, and guest star Otto Preminger on the floor. That’s because Preminger turned out to be the first of two guest villains – the other will come in season three – to really get on the leads’ bad side.

In his Back to the Batcave memoir, Adam West spared no love for Preminger, who just didn’t gel with the cast, made a nuisance of himself, and argued with the director. And then there’s this little bit pictured above, which West remembered with particular animosity. West was expecting Preminger to “help” West pull him up from the floor, by bending the right way, distributing his weight, or whatever, but instead found Preminger a solid two hundred pounds of dead weight. He “stiffened like a sandbag and literally dug his nails into the floor,” and West nearly threw his back out lifting him. West then stepped on Preminger’s hand, “accidentally,” on the second take, and whatever take that is above that made it into the show still doesn’t look like anybody’s being nice to anybody else. When Mr. Freeze returned at the end of the season, Preminger was not asked back.

And yet, with all respect to the cast and crew who were terrorized by him, you can’t help but like Preminger a little. He might have been an heel, but he looks like he is having an absolute blast as the bad guy. He said that he took the role to impress his kids, and it appears to have been his first acting job in quite a few years. He was usually happier behind the camera – and if you’ve never seen Anatomy of a Murder, you definitely should – but he really seemed to have a great time, even if at the expense of the stars, and it might, just might, have been his experience on Batman that led him to make Skidoo.

I’d never heard of Skidoo until about 2006, when Mark Evanier started mentioning it at his blog. A good buddy soon rustled up a bootleg copy of it – I’m not sure whether he wants to be identified with such nefarious no-goodery as bootlegging, so I won’t name him – and a gang of us watched it at his place with our eyes wide open and jaws on the floor. I figure that Preminger’s experiences on Batman left him wanting to connect with “the kids” a lot more. You can see it in the way his Mr. Freeze is constantly – constantly – saying “Wild!” That’s not the catchphrase you’d expect from Mr. Freeze, really.

So Preminger made this absolute trainwreck of a movie about… heck, I don’t know. Hippies, the generation gap, prison reform, gangsters, yachts, LSD, pretty much everything. One of this show’s regular writers, Stanley Ralph Ross, was one of many who contributed to the script, and three of this show’s regular villains, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin, play supporting roles. It’s also got Groucho Marx, Carol Channing, Jackie Gleason, Austin Pendleton, Frankie Avalon, George Raft, and Mickey Rooney, because nothing says “appealing to teenagers” like Mickey Rooney.

Skidoo was released at the end of 1968, about four months after the last network repeat of the canceled Batman, baffled everybody who saw it, not that many did, and entered obscurity, withheld from release for decades and left to bootleggers to circulate. Eventually, TCM or somebody convinced Preminger’s estate to let them show a nice clean copy of it. Everybody’s relaxed now and can admit that the otherwise brilliant Preminger made just the one stinker, but at least it’s a completely fascinating spectacle of a stinker and you can get it all pretty and restored on Blu-Ray. I highly recommend it, with friends and two bottles of wine.

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Batman 2.19 – Green Ice

Strangely, I was all set to talk about Skidoo tonight, but then Daniel and I actually watched the episode and so much more came up. Perhaps next time.

Of principal importance, this was the first episode in ages to have Daniel grumbling and mumbling at the villain. Mr. Freeze is doing two things at once: he’s kidnapped Miss Iceland from the Miss Galaxy competition, and, in a strange case of very peculiar science, intends to turn her into another freak like him, able only to live at 50 degrees below zero, by… um, slowly turning down the thermostat in her cell. I’m almost positive that won’t work. But Daniel thought the scheme was the most evil thing he’d ever heard of. He growled and hissed at the villain, and, toward the end, muttered “I HATE Mr. Freeze!”

The other thing Mr. Freeze is doing is manipulating the absurdly fickle Gotham public by hinting that Batman is taking bribes, and then staging a Batfight against two phonies in front of a crowd of millionaires at the Wayne Manor. The phonies put up a pathetic show and run away. Could the Dynamic Duo really be on the take?

It’s kind of surprising that an episode that really plays it straight ends with one of the all-time goofiest of the cliffhangers. Our heroes have tracked Mr. Freeze to the abandoned Frostie Freezie factory and end up stuck in… well, this thing:

Tonally, everything’s a complete mess when it ends on this kind of note. The story isn’t like the campy self-aware Liberace story, or the hilarious election satire, but a simple criminal caper that would have slotted easily into early season one. It even begins with something completely unexpected: Freeze attacks Gordon and O’Hara in the commissioner’s office, nearly killing them both. It’s all played straight, without a single joke or quip, and then it’s like somebody in the production team said “Hey! We forgot to do something ridiculous and silly this week,” and suddenly our heroes are being threatened to be turned into pineapple and lime Frostie Freezies.

This is the first of a few instances of new actors stepping in to play existing villains. I am not certain why George Sanders was not available, but – totally guessing – he might have been filming the Sonny and Cher movie Good Times and so the role went to the very famous film director Otto Preminger. The producers and the episode’s director, george waGGner (again with the awesome capitalization), elected to change Mr. Freeze’s appearance quite radically. When we first met Mr. Freeze (in episodes 7 and 8 of season one), he dressed in normal clothing at his temperature-controlled home, and in a helmeted “space suit” while outside. The effect was not unlike that of watching a Bond villain, and it made for one of my favorite episodes. Here, Mr. Freeze has blue skin and bushy orange eyebrows, and wears a spacesuit without the helmet everywhere. He’s constantly fiddling with his eyebrows, too.

Preminger’s performance became the standard for the character hereafter. The comic books and the 1970s Filmation TV cartoon based their Mr. Freeze on these episodes, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Batman & Robin. Except for the bushy orange eyebrows, anyway.

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Batman 1.8 – Rats Like Cheese

I want to come back to this idea a few stories down the line, when something specific angered me as a middle schooler – there is nobody easier to anger than a middle schooler – but I’ve long believed that most people go “off” Batman between about the ages of 10 and 16, when it doesn’t make sense to them. After all, nobody takes themselves as seriously as a kid between the ages of 10 and 16.

But the Batman that I watched before I hit that serious, stupid age did stick with me, in the bizarre images that we used to get in the late afternoons on WGNX-46 in Atlanta. There’s a thunderous one in the next episode, but Mr. Freeze’s “hot path” is a real corker. Dr. Schimmel is forced to live in temperatures of fifty degrees below zero, but he’s rigged his house with a path controlled by a series of buttons that create areas of 76 degrees so that other people can interact with him.

The special effects are primitive, but they’re also incredibly effective. By mixing action in a mostly blue-lit set with “icy smoke” overlays, and shooting parts of the same set with red lights, and using clunky animation to change the size and shape of the path, it works tremendously well. I remember playing superheroes with my kid brother in villainous lairs just like this for years, with parts of various rooms that nobody could enter because the air was freezing, or acidic, or the floor was turning to lava, or whatever kids want to come up with. The show absolutely fired up our imaginations, and there’s nothing better for children.

And from the cold – sorry – the cold light of adulthood, this is still a fantastic episode. Sanders doesn’t go over the top with mania and self-awareness, as many – way too many – of the later bad guys would, taking their cues from Gorshin, Meredith, and Romero. While they were making the episodes but before any of them actually aired, there was a tiny window where the guest villains had the chance to play their roles in a wider variety of styles, as I believe we’ll also see next time. Sanders is sympathetic, ruthless, and intelligent in a style that is totally at odds with the stereotype of the show. The character doesn’t even leave his hideout in this episode, and the spacesuit seen in part one isn’t used. Sure, Sanders is playing in a kiddie show and he knows it, but he plays it straight, and the result is really fantastic.

Watching this story and knowing how much repetition would later set in, it really kind of breaks your heart. Batman is great, but if it could have been this unique every week, it could have been much, much greater.

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Batman 1.7 – Instant Freeze

A four year-old’s natural curiosity and confusion about what he’s watching was compounded by Robert Butler, the director of this story, making the same weird decision as he did with the very first story. He introduces the episode’s villain, Mr. Freeze, just absurdly casually. There’s just a guy in a white spacesuit rushing past the camera, and the police later inform us that was Mr. Freeze. When we next meet him, he’s wearing civilian clothes in his temperature-controlled home. Daniel asked me, partway through that scene, “But who is Mr. Freeze?” I told him that he’s that man right there. “But what does he look like?” He needed a more identifiable baddie costume to attach to the name.

George Sanders, who uses a German accent in his role as “Dr. Schimmel,” alias Mr. Freeze, has some absurd puns about “cool” and “ice” that would later inform Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of the character, but he does not cackle and giggle like the previous three Bat-villains. Nevertheless, he still alarmed Daniel with his freeze gun. It’s an odd device, which can alternately fire a laser beam or a blast of super-cold air, like a fire extinguisher. When it’s spraying the blast, Sanders seems to have trouble controlling it. When he froze a security guard, that really alarmed Daniel. A second guard, in a later scene, seems to meet a grisly fate. It’s heavily implied, through a sound effect, that he toppled over and shattered into fragments. Thank heaven they didn’t show that.

This story must have been filmed around December 1965 and marked the first time the character of Mr. Freeze got that name. He had previously made a single appearance in the comics, in 1959’s Batman # 121, where he was called Mr. Zero, and this story was actually reprinted in the December ’65 giant-sized issue of the comic, # 176. Bearing in mind that the issue date is actually a month or two ahead and is intended as the “off-sale” date, this issue could have been the one on newsstands when ABC gave the producers the order to make the show.

(And that answers my question about the previous adventure. Batman # 176 also contains a reprint of “The Joker’s Utility Belt,” the 1952 story that formed the basis of “The Joker is Wild”/”Batman is Riled,” and so that’s where the producers got the idea for that episode.)

The TV producers gave this villain the new name of Mr. Freeze, and when the character next appeared in the funnybooks, in 1968, DC Comics kept his new name. From what I can tell from Wikipedia and comics.org, it looks like these two comic stories were Mr. Freeze’s only comic appearances until the late 1970s. He was seen in this show, and in the Filmation Batman Saturday morning cartoons, much more than in comics.

Daniel didn’t like the freeze gun, and he didn’t like it when Mr. Freeze zapped the front of the Batmobile either. We explained that the show has bad guys in it, and Batman has to fight them, and asked what sort of Batman story he’d like to see. He hopes the next story is “Batman Fights Bad Octopus.”


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