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!)