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Batman 2.44 – Penguin’s Disastrous End

This deeply odd story finally comes to a ridiculous end in the third part, when we finally learn the Penguin’s billion-dollar plan. Everything has been arranged to get him into a subterranean treasury where $10,000,000 in gold bars await him. There, he, Marsha, and Aunt Hilda all kick back locked in the vault for three days while his finks, using the WW2-era plans that he stole from the military last time, fashion the bars into a solid gold tank.

This is a really amusing visual, and of course, for a kid under the age of ten watching in the 1960s or 1970s who has a small collection of military toys and a stack of back issues of G.I. Combat, tanks are completely unstoppable and the most amazingly awesome things in the universe. So, if you’re under ten, there’s probably some undeniable eye-popping wowness to come from the Penguin’s new toy, which the police instantly label as completely impregnable.

So you’d think it would be a bit of an anti-climax when Robin takes out the tank with a single shot from the Batzooka to its treads, but Daniel was paying complete and total attention and said that was the best part of the whole story. Well, just as long as he’s happy, that’s what matters!


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Batman 2.43 – Penguin Sets a Trend

You know, I found out about the existence of this three-part story about twenty-five, twenty-six years ago. The least it could do is not be so absolutely brainless. It’s occasionally really funny, but it sure is dumb.

I am actually very curious about its production. Batman and Robin spend almost the entire episode trapped by the Penguin, and Marsha and Hilda get just a single short scene. (They’re looking for old toads for one of Hilda’s dopey spells.) Obviously production of this series was a brutal and busy one – thirty hours in about eight months – and any chance to give the stars a day off from shooting one story so they could get ahead somewhere else was one they couldn’t afford to miss.

So Burgess Meredith gets to walk away with everything in this half hour. He’s having a ball, of course, but I couldn’t help but wish the two officers at the “Hexagon” gave him a little more of an acting challenge. It’s a treat watching Meredith do his thing, but he’s more fun to watch when his opponents are not simpletons.

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Batman 2.42 – Penguin is a Girl’s Best Friend

Marsha, Queen of Diamonds is just the oddest character. For the most part, all the Batvillains are cut from pretty similar cloth, but Marsha and her Aunt Hilda honestly seem to have wandered in from some entirely different TV show. I wonder whether this is because, as I mentioned last time she appeared, I somehow managed to completely and entirely miss this character’s appearances when I was a kid.

Anyway, there’s a bit this time where Marsha goes back to Aunt Hilda’s cave to complain, again, that her spells did not work, and the two of them interact with this oddball puppet that Hilda has conjured up, a silly monster that lives in her cauldron. Every other villain gets their gadgets from something that at least sounds like technology, even if these things have no basis in real science whatever. Only Marsha and Aunt Hilda practice magic, albeit incompetently. They’re really the biggest surprise that the program offers.

So anyway, this is the start of the show’s second three-part adventure, and the tone, throughout, is quite interesting since it completely dispenses with the Bat-formula. Our heroes are actually on their way to give a lecture in the pre-credits sequence when they stumble upon an apparent robbery. The Penguin has actually got clearance to shoot a film, and only agrees not to sue Batman and Robin for assault, as well as the city for not providing adequate protection, if Batman and Robin agree to act in his picture. So what is he up to?

Needing capital, because running a movie studio is expensive, Penguin invites the wealthy Marsha to become an investor. She agrees on the condition that she be cast as the leading lady, and Penguin forces Batman to kiss her in a love scene so many times that Batman goes home with his lips chapped! That’s after Batman “arranges” for the cancellation of Marsha’s nude milk bath scene by making sure that the Gotham City Film Decency League gets a copy of the script.

This is a deeply silly, strange episode. I laughed out loud several times and really want to know what the heck is going to happen next.

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Batman 2.24 – Marsha’s Scheme of Diamonds

…oh yeah, and Marsha’s aunt, who lives in the basement, is a witch. Seriously. She used to be a chemistry teacher at Vassar, but now she’s a witch.

This episode is bugnuts. The climax is the silliest thing in the universe. Aunt Hilda has shelves of chemicals which are meant to turn men into various animals. It turns out that while she can brew up love potions, this alchemy is a little above her station, and during the Batfight, she unsuccessfully splashes various beakers of colored chemicals on our heroes, the last one, after they’ve been felled by gas, meant to turn them into toads.

In the next scene, Marsha and her right-hand man march into Gordon’s office with a small cage containing two toads in superhero costumes. There was a moment of absolute astonishment in our house. No way. No way this show’s gone this silly, has it? Really? Mercifully, no. Marsha, absent any better idea – you’d think that’s what screenwriters are for – has decided to try and bluff the location of the Batcave out of Gordon, threatening that she’ll feed them to her cat if he doesn’t spill.

You wouldn’t imagine I’d ever forget something so amazingly silly. This story, however, is one that I had never seen. I remember reading The Official Batman Batbook in the late 1980s and being utterly amazed by two things: an episode where Batman almost gets married, and the existence of a three-part adventure that I did not recall. I remembered “The Zodiac Crimes” (and I seriously, desperately, hope that it’s as fun as I recall) and the Lord Ffogg one, but in between there is another three-parter, also with the Queen of Diamonds. Despite watching this show as often as I could as a child, between errands or vacations or occasional agonizing long waits at the Atlanta Allergy Clinic for shots, we would often miss episodes, but we’d get another chance the next time WGNX-46 (or perhaps still WANX) broadcast the series. Somehow, circumstances just worked against me, and I managed to see 115 of the 120 episodes of Batman at least once, but never before saw the five with the Queen of Diamonds in them. I’m not going to hold my hand to my heart and say this was worth the wait, but it was amusing.

Daniel, meanwhile, man, for a minute there, they totally had him convinced our heroes were toads. He just about got upset over that!

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Batman 2.23 – Marsha, Queen of Diamonds

First things first: Daniel hated this episode. Wow, we haven’t seen him react like this in a few months. He’s never liked Robin being in trouble. This time out, the villainous Queen of Diamonds has shot O’Hara and Gordon, along with some other hapless suitors, with love darts, which instantly bend them to her will and leave them desperate to prove their devotion. Batman also gets one in the shoulder, but, while it’s touch and go for a few minutes, his iron will allows him to shrug off the drug. Robin is not so tough, and when Marsha zaps him, Batman has no choice to obey Marsha’s commands in order to get the antidote. Meanwhile, Daniel hid behind the sofa.

And so we come to a very labored, but nevertheless hilarious, set of obstacles in order to get us to the cliffhanger of Batman led down the altar, forced to marry his foe. In the previous installment, I mentioned that classic kids’ TV trope of the coincidence where the thing that the villain wants is suddenly depicted for the very first time as something the hero has. Queen Faroh wanted a magician who looks like an ape in the same episode that Tracy the gorilla starts to learn stage magic. In this episode, the Queen of Diamonds comes to Gotham looking for diamonds, and Batman is revealed to have a diamond about the size of an armoire powering the Batcomputer.

Marsha suggests trading Robin, Gordon, and O’Hara for access to the Batcave. The problem, which you wouldn’t think would be quite this insurmountable, is that Batman swore a sacred vow never to bring a stranger into the Batcave. Except for Jill St. John. And Francine York. And Sherry Jackson on Commissioner Gordon’s lap. And “Commodore Schmidlapp” with five dehydrated henchmen, although, in fairness, the Caped Crusader didn’t actually know those five were there.

So Batman mentions a vow, and the Queen of Diamonds pounces on it. He couldn’t possibly refuse her access to the Batcave if she isn’t a stranger, and who could be less of a stranger than Batman’s bride? And so Batman accepts in order to save Robin. The episode ends just as our hero is about to sadly say “I do.” I think they got the idea for the cliffhanger first and worked backward.

The Queen of Diamonds is played by Carolyn Jones, the first of a trio of Addams Family actors to appear in this series. According to The Official Batman Batbook – and more on it in the next entry – Zsa Zsa Gabor was originally announced in the role, but for some reason that actress couldn’t make the filming dates. The diamond-obsessed character of Marsha seems an obvious fit for Gabor, but she’d make her way to the show as a Batvillain in the next season.

But speaking of The Addams Family, isn’t it strange the way that child-friendly dramas and action shows from the 1960s and 1970s used to depict marriage as a terrible trap? I never watched the police series CHiPs, but I remember two family friends, about when I was nine years old, coming over with their parents one evening for the grownups to play pinochle or whatever, and the kids absolutely desperate to see the second episode of a two-part episode of that show. Apparently Ponch and Jon were going to get married – not to each other, but I imagine that there’s fanfic for that – and they were horrified that the show was going to end. Being good hosts, my parents let them watch that on the color TV in the den, while my brother and I watched our show (probably Wonder Woman) on the portable black and white set.

Another example: you remember why all the fun in The Avengers ended. It’s because Mrs. Peel’s husband finally showed up. But it was just the dramas and adventure shows that portrayed marriage as a dead end, destroying all the good times. Comedies like The Addams Family, The Munsters, and before them, The Dick Van Dyke Show, made marriage seem completely awesome. And they were right. What’s up with that?

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