This is a phenomenally dopey episode, but at least it’s a fun one. This time, the Penguin contaminates some of the newly-printed money at the Gotham Mint with a sleeping sickness. It’s immediately collected for distribution, and one bank circulates $13,000 in the space of a couple of hours. A panicked populace dumps all their currency in the streets for Penguin, his moll, and two goons to sweep up. But he can’t spend any of it because Bruce Wayne warns all the world’s financiers that Gotham’s money is no good. Somehow they don’t find time in 25 minutes to address the economic upheaval that this might cause and still have time for a fight scene.
Daniel enjoyed this episode, which was the final outing for Burgess Meredith and the Penguin, in part because the heroes are almost not put in any real danger. Batgirl is almost entirely superfluous to the plot this week, but she does get a face full of knockout gas to lead into the commercial break, and that caused him to growl a little. I thought it was all kinds of fun because unlike some of the recent villains – Rudy Vallée, Barbara Rush, and Milton Berle in particular – Meredith was always having a ball on this show, yelling and making threats and running rings around everybody. No, the plot’s just plain dumb, but anybody bored of watching Burgess Meredith as the Penguin is bored of life itself, I say.
Last night, we were talking about bad movies with our friend David and I mentioned my belief that the very worst films are the ones that are just plain boring. Then tonight we watched this episode of Batman which, by that definition, must be the worst so far, because it’s so amazingly dull.
In other episodes, we might have seen other guest stars seem unhappy that they chose to do this show, and that tends to result in rushed, sloppy performances that come across as abrupt and grouchy. See Rudy Vallee in the Londinium episodes for a fine example. But here, Milton Berle acts like he just does not care at all. He put in his eight or ten hours on the set, perhaps learning his lines immediately before delivering them, and never again thought about this show. In his previous appearance, he at least had a twinkle in his eye even if Louie the Lilac is played oddly straight, but in this, there is nothing.
Perhaps with an interesting plot this might have worked, but no, we saw Charles Hoffman’s name in the credits and knew it wasn’t to be. This should have been a Batgirl solo mission, rescuing Bruce and Dick from Louie the Lilac, but once she finally arrives, she’s immediately captured and Batman and Robin have to save the day, thanks to a pair of – oh, come on – instant unfolding Bat-costume capsules, just add water.
There’s so little to the plot that even having just twenty-five minutes to fill, Hoffman has to add a highlight reel of exciting moments from season two and a subplot of a maintenance man almost finding Barbara’s Batgirl room. Of course we have to keep Batgirl and the cops away from the warehouse as long as possible, because once they do arrive, there’s no doubt Louie is holed up inside. He has his name painted on the side of the building! Next!
Well, just when you thought this story could not get any dumber, Batman and Batgirl escape from Lord Ffogg’s dungeon by way of the Indian rope trick. The less said about that, the better.
Daniel identified his first special effect tonight. He saw right through that African killer death bee, or whatever they called it, and said that it was fake. But he wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be a toy bee with a killer sting that could still hurt Robin, or whether it was a fumble of the production. Eventually, he erred on the side of caution and ran to hide, just in case.
Anyway, this is the end for Rudy Vallée and Glynis Johns’ characters. This story really works for child audiences, but for adults, it’s a mammoth missed opportunity. Compared to the rollercoaster feel of the three-parters in season two, this really was tedious, dull, and really lacked focus. I didn’t enjoy it at all, apart from some playful innuendo that Adam West and Yvonne Craig brought to the scene where Batman uses a file to cut Batgirl free from her chains. Have a look at it sometime, and watch their faces. It’s not even remotely subtle.
There’s kind of an amusing scene in the middle of this episode. Richard Bakalyan, back for his third appearance in the show and playing one of Louie the Lilac’s gangster cronies, has tailed Barbara Gordon back to her apartment and locked her in her bedroom to keep her from notifying her dad, the commish. Barbara, of course, changes into Batgirl and re-enters her main room from the terrace, and Bakalyan acts all innocent, like he’s just had a quarrel with his sweetie, who won’t come out to talk.
Otherwise, this is like watching paint dry. Milton Berle isn’t actually bad in his role, it’s just that he plays it so straight that his character is simply boring. The plot is some bafflegam about making all of Gotham City’s twenty flower children love him so much that when they become successful grown-ups, they’ll become his ticket to political and financial power, I guess. I was left wondering, after director george waGGner’s unhappy experience working with noted control freak Otto Preminger in the previous season, whether the similarly difficult and controlling Berle made his life similarly awful.
Daniel confounded us again by saying that he really liked this dull story, but apparently his favorite part was seeing Egghead show up in the teaser for next week’s episode. Who knows?
For what it’s worth, Yvonne Craig really did seem like she was having a ball as Batgirl. If she didn’t enjoy this job, then she was a far, far better actress than anybody credited her. Above, she’s just about to smash one of the Penguin’s goons in the face with the door of a locker.
Ethel Merman wins the unfortunate award as the villain with the least interaction with the heroes. Honestly, apart from telling Batgirl that she can’t go into the men’s locker room, and opening her umbrella in Chief O’Hara’s face, she doesn’t have any lines with any of them. Her principal shtick seems to be, whenever anybody calls her by her name, Lulu Schultz, yelling “I am Senora Lola Lasagne!”
I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for the writer, Charles Hoffman, especially after yet more weary, wacky Batcomputer gags in part one, but this story clearly did not require a female villain at the first draft, and Lola Lasagne’s presence is pretty clearly bolted on. It resulted in some funny exchanges between Meredith and Merman, but she really is completely superfluous to what plot there is, and Hoffman probably had the sense to know not to even bother giving Lola Lasagne a character, since that would require some subtlety and of course Merman was just going to bellow all her lines at the cheap seats.
For what it’s worth, even though the outcome of the horse race is never in doubt at all, our son really got into it and found it tremendously exciting.
The breath of fresh air that Batman badly needed, the incredibly gorgeous and sexy Yvonne Craig comes high-kicking her way into the show in the first of the self-contained episodes. Daniel was thrilled, figuring out that a new superhero had joined the show, and loved her motorcycle. “She is so cool!” he shouted as she drove after the bad guys.
This is actually much better than I remembered it. It’s incredibly zippy, doing the job of introducing Barbara and Batgirl really well and still having a bit of room to breathe. Some of it doesn’t make sense – who the heck built the secret Batgirl base on the eighth floor of a midtown apartment building, and why doesn’t Penguin recognize Alfred, despite having interacted with him at least three times previously – but it doesn’t matter much. It’s just plain fun and it’s always a treat to watch Burgess Meredith yelling at everybody.
What does look troubling is the immediately obvious slashing of the budget. In order to get renewed, ABC and the producers worked out an awkward compromise, cutting the numbers from what they’d pay for a one-hour drama to the cost of a half-hour sitcom. So apart from the new Batgirl theme, the music is all repurposed from earlier episodes (and, apparently, from The Green Hornet), Madge Blake was let go to pay for Yvonne Craig, other speaking parts get dropped except where absolutely necessary, and the set designers were thanked for their trouble. The Penguin’s lair is the first of many stark, minimalist sets, with a black curtain for a background, stairs to nowhere except a solitary door, and random colorful walls. It looks like a blown-up game of Mouse Trap done on a high school stage. Sadly, we’ll see lots more like it before we finish.
I’m very sad to read that Yvonne Craig passed away on Monday. She made crimefighting fun and inspired millions of children to want to be superheroes. I’m looking forward to seeing her episodes of Batman again in a few months.
Filed under batman, goodbye