Batman 3.22 – The Great Train Robbery

Daniel pretended to sour on this episode despite hooting and laughing all the way through the two fight scenes, both of which are pretty awesome. Interestingly, the second one, deliberately echoing such one-on-one showdowns as High Noon, is just a two-hander, with Adam West and Cliff Robertson, and their stuntmen, going at each other in a deserted street. But the earlier one is the usual big mob of people, and it includes a great big urn that Barry Dennen gets dunked in, which was probably the funniest thing my son’s seen in days.

Shame’s egomania and rank stupidity make him one of the show’s most entertaining villains, but you can see why they never used him, or anybody like him, in the comics, despite the rights issues. The comic book Batman is far too competent and intelligent to face any kind of challenge from this guy, which makes all the build-up about what an unbelievably dangerous arch-foe he is even more hilarious. And Robertson is so incredibly funny, with his double-takes, slow burns, and body language. I don’t think that he had very many comedic roles in his long career, but he certainly should have.

That said, Adam West gets the brilliant payoff line with one gag. Shame’s gang is waiting to open fire on Batman when they get within twenty feet of each other, but Batgirl and Robin spoil that plan behind Shame’s back. When Shame realizes they’ve crossed that twenty feet frontier, he starts twitching and looking over his shoulder, just brilliant physical comedy, because somebody needs to start shooting before Batman beats him senseless. He almost sheepishly asks Batman, “Say, uhhhh, about how far apart are we?”

“Eighteen feet and six inches,” Batman deadpans. Daniel didn’t quite get the joke, but his parents roared with laughter.

Also this week, Arnold Stang gets a small role. Hooray for Arnold Stang! He wasn’t actually in everything in the sixties, but he certainly should have been.

Batman 3.21 – The Great Escape

I love the way Daniel reacts when Shame shows up. He’ll occasionally have his little growls or kid-melodramatic cries of “Oh, no! Catwoman!” or so, but he found this completely hilarious low grumble for this villain, and every time he or his henchmen do anything mean, he’ll go “Shaaaaaaaame!”

Speaking of henchmen, Cliff Robertson has a pair of hilarious ones in this story. Barry Dennen, who has had small roles in just about everything, plays Fred, an upper-class British man who wears a Mexican bandit disguise in order to fit into Shame’s gang, and Victor Lundin, who we saw back in season one as a scene-stealing member of one of Penguin’s gangs, is Chief Standing Pat, who communicates only with cigar smoke signals that only Shame’s girlfriend, Calamity Jan, can translate.

The quality certainly plunged in season three, but this story is just really funny. Robertson and his then-wife Dina Merrill, as Jan, are having so much fun and it really comes across well. Hermione Baddeley plays Jan’s mother, who doesn’t want any smooching until the wedding’s arranged, and Robertson has a blast with the underplayed mother-in-law jokes that Jan never notices.

Oh, I suppose there are superheroes in this one as well, but with baddies this entertaining, who noticed?

Batman 1.34 – Batman Makes the Scenes

Well, there’s an image that’s got just about all you want from Batman, yeah? A bad guy in a silly costume, a babe-of-the-week, great big props and labels on everything.

Daniel was alternately bored and thrilled by this episode. It is a little talkier than many, with some more Bruce Wayne scenes than many episodes. And the big set piece at the millionaires’ dinner is… well, these one-percenters are happy to let go of some of their cash if they get a floor show first. They literally throw money – one million dollars a head – at the bathing suit beauty posing as “Miss Natural Resources.” Good grief. I think half the room then went to some masked naughty party in the Hamptons that Tom Cruise wandered around.

But as much as he enjoyed the fights and the nonsense, there is surprisingly little of it in this episode. Victor Lundin continued to overact and try to steal every scene as the henchman Octopus. He just moves really weirdly, with bizarre body language, waving his hands behind Penguin as they’re looking over the loot. Then he loudly announces that he’s going to use his cut to go to the South Seas and open a school for pirates. What an incredibly odd character! Daniel got downright bored, however, and a lengthy epilogue, that sees the millionaires back at Wayne Manor along with more babes in bathing suits, was dull enough to send him out of the room. Commissioner Gordon escorted Julie Gregg’s character to the party on a day off from prison. She’s not the first young lady led astray by crime to get a brief look at Wayne Manor before paying her debt to society, and she probably won’t be the last.

This story was the final one in the first production block for the series, made in April 1966 and broadcast in May. The first season has an incredibly high episode count for a midseason replacement, but that’s because it was budgeted as seventeen one-hour episodes. That was a standard midseason order for ABC in the mid-1960s. At the time, it was less common for shows to be canceled midway through the year than it would later become; networks then stuck with their shows for much, much longer, and usually didn’t axe anything that launched in September until Christmas.

After the first story, “Hi Diddle Riddle,” was finished in the fall of 1965, the plan had been to shoot a feature film, launch with that in movie theaters in the summer of 1966, and then start a series that September. But ABC’s 1965 lineup was a complete disaster, and the network was deep in third place in the ratings. Before October was finished, ABC had decided that they wanted to cancel their weakest program, the variety show Shindig!, after Christmas and start Batman a full nine months early.

So the film was postponed until production of season one finished. In his memoir, Back to the Batcave, Adam West recalled that they literally began filming the movie after only one weekend’s break in mid-April.

One interesting thing about the film, by the way, is that ABC suddenly had a massive hit on its hands and the producers were about to make a movie. Watching this from across the street, somebody at Universal looked at the CBS sitcom The Munsters, dying in the ratings and about to be axed, and said “Make a movie of that, quick!” And somebody else at David Susskind’s Talent Associates looked at the sitcom Get Smart, which had just debuted, and said “Make a movie of that, too!”

Munster Go Home! was released first, and it bombed. The Batman movie came out a month later, and did sort of okay. The Get Smart people, seeing that neither had set the world on fire, put the brakes on their idea, and rejigged the in-progress script into a really terrific three-part story called “A Man Called Smart” that finished season two of that show. It might be my favorite episode of that series; I’m glad that they saved it for television.

I’m looking forward to watching the movie with Daniel this weekend. I haven’t seen it in a long time.

Batman 1.33 – Fine Finny Fiends

Normally, I have to brace myself a little bit when we get to the end of part one of a Batman story. Daniel just plain does not like the cliffhanger deathtraps. He’ll either hiss or grumble or hide his face or, once in a sad blue moon, cry a little. But this story, the third to feature Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, confounded my expectations completely.

In the story, the Penguin’s goons abduct Alfred, who has, bizarrely, been sidetracked on his shopping by a handbill advertising cut-price caviar. I can see how he might want to watch his pennies because he needs twenty pounds of the stuff for a multi-millionaire’s dinner, but really. Penguin brainwashes Alfred so that he’ll forward him the address of this dinner once the location is decided. Caged in the Penguin’s waterfront headquarters, Alfred is stiff-upper-lip defiant, but Daniel was nevertheless very worried about him, and hid his head under his blanket (which is called “Bict,” by the way).

So Alfred’s brainwashed and then released, but Batman knows something is up, because Alfred has (a) developed a bizarre twitch, and (b) he does not recognize a photograph of the Penguin. Actually, the show doesn’t draw attention to that, because American teevee programs in the sixties cared very little for episode-to-episode continuity, but Alfred met the Penguin on both of his previous appearances. But there’s no time for that, because there’s a rehearsal dinner for the multi-millionaires, during which time Aunt Harriet boasts that Bruce Wayne’s great grandfather founded Skull & Bones at Yale. Well, there’s something you didn’t know.

Anyway, since Alfred’s imprisonment bothered Daniel a lot, I was worried about the cliffhanger, but I needn’t have been. Our heroes are locked in a vacuum chamber and the baddies are pumping out the air. The room is full of balloons that pop as the air grows thinner. It’s actually a really grisly way to go – man, the Penguin’s traps don’t mess around, they’re all sick in the head – but it was, mercifully, a little above my son’s head, and he was bemused by the odd room of popping balloons. It didn’t bother him at all!

As for the other guest stars, Julie Gregg, who later played Sonny Corleone’s unfortunate wife Sandra in The Godfather, is the dame-of-the-week, and the most blatant one to date. She spends her time in the Penguin’s hideout wearing a one-piece swimsuit, practicing to be a “bathing beauty.” Victor Lundin was a regular face in ’60s television, and would be back in a different role in season three. This time, he’s the Penguin’s goon “Octopus,” and he does a remarkably silly little dance when Batman catches him in the back with a fishing pole in the fight scene.