Before resuming Season Two of “Batman”, we’ll cave into the crave of batmania with one of the biggest chunks of studio-backed cinematic cheese ever conceived: 1966’s Batman, the Movie. For years, this was the onlyBatman vehicle available on home video. Batmaniacs have reason to rejoice, because this gloriously dated, souped-up big screen treatment of the series is an “it has to be seen to believed” extravaganza. The hopelessly dippy plot and dialogue may throw off angsty fanboys, but it’s all about our merry villains: Lee Meriwether in her sole performance as Catwoman, as the Riddler, as the Penguin, Cesar Romero as the Joker, and the most color-saturated array of (inflatable) henchmen in cinema. After the sexiest psychedelic credits you’ll probably ever see comes Batman infamously fending off a rubber shark with his “Bat-repellent Shark Spray.” That gag’s almost topped later with the “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb” routine. It only gets loopier from there.
Among the toys on display is the Batcopter, Batboat, and Penguin submarine (with flippers!). Even cooler are the fight scenes. Here’s where the multi-hued henchman get to show their mettle, withstanding the dynamic duo while an arsenal of “Kapow, Zlopp, and Touche!”s fills the screen. Each of the four primary villains is at their maniacal best, and all take turns stealing their scenes. Watching Romero’s Joker today, his influence onis blatantly obvious. Of course, Gorshin (a tad underused) twitches with caffeine; there’s a reason he was the sole actor from the series nominated for an Emmy. Meredith’s Penguin is delightfully obnoxious, and Meriwether’s Catwoman is a walking pheromone . Meriwether is criminally underrated, but they’re all so damned animated that you don’t care one bit that their goal is to turn the United Nations into colored sand.
If we weren’t so close to completing the List, I’d plead with the admin here to at least include Batman as a List Candidate. It’s a rarity in being both weird and absurdly entertaining. Like the series, it’s bound to be considered as blasphemy to modern-day Bat toddlers, who erroneously believe the darker version of the Caped Crusader is truer to the comics. Yes, it is: to the later comics from the likes of Neal Adams, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore. But Batman didn’t start that way. The comics of the 40s and 50s were pure camp. Originally, “Batman” series producer William Dozier planned to create something more serious, akin to “The Adventures of Superman,” but after reading the comics he went high camp instead. That is what the series, and movie bring to life in a way that has never been replicated with such energy and dated style (the Blu-ray edition is a must, with Robin’s hot colors popping against Joker’s cool pinks and greens and Batman’s blue and grey).
Back to Season Two. In “The Impractical Joker/Joker’s Provokers” (directed by James Clark, written by Jay Thompson and Charles Hoffman, airing 16 and 17 November, 1966) the Joker is obsessed with keys; so obsessed that he rips up a copy of the novel “Keys of the Kingdom” and smashes an LP of “You’re the Key to My Heart.” The Joker’s henchbabe is Cornelia, clad in skintight purple. She’s pure decor, and she knows it. There’s a big skeleton key, and we learn that Joker was a hypnotist in his youth when he attempts to revive his old talent on the Caped Crusaders. Robin throws a bat-wrench into Joker’s plans with counter-hypnosis bat-pellets! Cue the “Kapow!” Howard Duff does the bat climb cameo, and there’s a quick plug for us to watch “The Green Hornet.” Apart from the purple decoration, this episode only kicks in near the finale of Part One, when Batman (about to get his goose cooked) has to get in the last word: “Evil only triumphs temporarily, but never conquers!” It turns out Batman has a key too and uses it to get out of his predicament in Part Two. There’s also a magic box that stops time, and Alfred gets a piece of the action in two roles.
“Come Back Shame/It’s How You Play The Game” (directed by Oliver Rudolph, written by Stanley Ross, airing 30-31 of November 1966) is one of the most off-kilter episodes, which is quite an accomplishment. Old West shootist Shame (Cliff Robertson) is back, and he’s stealing parts from hot rods! “Why wouldn’t he steal the entire auto?’ Robin asks. “That,” Batman waxes, with pointed finger, “…is the question!” Shame has a duo of dunderhead henchmen in Messy James (Timothy Scott) and Rip Snorting (John Mitchum) along with gal pal Okie Annie (“Playboy” model Joan Staley). An ordinary lead bullet …with platinum paint is no help at all for the world’s greatest detective. Nor is the lame Shane ripoff tyke Andy (Eric Shea) who screams “Shame, come back” again and again and again and again. Like the kid in the overrated George Stevens “classic,” Andy’s a good argument for birth control; but don’t give up yet, because there is a cow, by golly. “What’s a nice cow like you doing in a place like this?” youthful ward Dick Grayson asks. To the batcycles, but lo and behold there’s a stampede a-comin’, pardner, and I’m gonna turn you boys into some good ol’ hamburger helper. “Will Batman and Robin bite the dust? Is this the Last Roundup? Find out tomorrow, Shame time, shame Channel!” Part Two gets the batprize for most preposterous escape from a cliffhanger. “Holy Guacamole!” Then it’s Col. Klink (Werner Klemperer) from “Hogan’s Heroes” (the comedy about Nazi concentration camps!) for the bat climb cameo! Andy gets a moral lesson, Shame runs outta ammo and, sigh, the kid lives. Not all endings can be happy.
“That Darn Catwoman/Scat Darn Catwoman” was directed by Oscar Rudolph and written by Stanley Ross and aired on the 25th and 26th of January, 1967. Pop singer Lesley (“It’s My Party”) Gore shows up as a pussycat, belts out a couple of tunes, and not only bewitches Catwoman’s pussypatters, but the Boy Wonder himself. Batman falls prey to the pussy succubus too (“Yeah, Cat-Baby, we’re gonna wail, doll”); but it’s a trick! With a sip of Bat-sleep, the cat is conked and carried to the cave. “I’ll do everything I can to rehabilitate you.” “Marry me.” Everything, but that.” Well, there goes life number two when the cat falls to her death and the tears of a Batman get shed. Luckily, he has his bat-kerchief handy.
“Batman’s Anniversary/A Riddling Controversy”(directed by James Clark and written by William D’Angelo) aired February 8-9, 1967. It features John Astin (better known as Gomez in “The Addams Family”) as the subtsitute Riddler. Smartly, Astin doesn’t mimic Gorshin, instead making the part his own with subdued menace and a question mark cane, but the episode itself lacks the lunacy of those with his predecessor (who will return in season 3).
“A Piece of the Action/ Batman’s Satisfaction” (directed by Oscar Rudolph, written by Charles Hoffman, first aired March 1st and 2nd, 1967) is the crossover episode with “Green Hornet” which, like Batman, was struggling in the ratings. “Hornet,” which was darker in tone, only lasted one season. Batman was a pop phenomenon for a year, but was so original that its novelty was quickly fading by the second season. Luckily, this twofer is a stylish change of pace, and a hoot to boot, with the Green Hornet (Van Williams) and his trusty kung fu sidekick Kato (the legendary Bruce Lee) arriving at the Pink Chip Stamp Factory in search of a counterfeit stamp ring. Owner Pinky Pinkston (Diane McBain—she has pink hair and a pink puppy) mistakes Green Hornet and Kato for villains and soon the Dynamic Duo are summoned. You guessed it, it’s the Batmobile vs. the Black Beauty. There’s a real villain afoot by the name of Col. Glumm (Roger C. Carmel, best knowns as Harry Mudd in “Star Trek”) who, with the focus on guest heroes, gets short-shrifted. That’s unfortunate, as he has personality aplenty. Glumm is a stamp-themed menace who perforates the Green Hornet and Kato, turning them into wallpaper: “Holy human collector’s item!” Batman and Robin aren’t ignored, of course, threatened with an undetachable “Holy flypaper, Batman!” glue pad. Solving an alphabet soup puzzle and feeding noodles to the bat-computer (!) will set things straight in Gotham for sure. Character actor Alex Rocco proves a colorful henchman. Angelique Pettyjohn (who will soon appear in “Star Trek” and get mauled by alien-loving Captain Kirk) is the lingerie-modeling babe, but our chaste hero isn’t moved. “I smell pink,” he intones (don’t go there). In the hippest bat cameo since Ted Cassidy (Lurch from Addams Family), Little Cesar legend Edward G. Robinson shows up for the bat climb to bitch about! Yeah, if you can’t see the coolness of Batman, you just need to go away.
Michael Rennie as Sandman, Walter Sleazy as the Clock King, and Maurice Evans as the Puzzler are a few of the lesser-known, underrated villains of Season Two.
However, the Batbank was quickly drying up. For Season Three, producers dispensed of the two-episode format (holy no-more-cliffhangers!) but brought in a potential ratings booster with Batgirl (Yvonne Craig). “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin” (directed by Oscar Rudolph, written by Stanford Sherman) aired on 14 September, 1967, with Commission Gordon’s daughter Barbara (Craig) kidnapped by the Penguin because he wants a bride. Alfred gets kidnapped, too, finds out Barbara is Batgirl and, trusty guy that he is, keeps her identity secret, even from his masters Bruce and Dick. With her Batgirl cycle, batkicks (she doesn’t punch) and batpartment, Batgirl is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Batman and Robin are barely present and get their batasses saved by BOTH Alfred and Batgirl (what a series that would have made).
Joan Collins made a wonderfully hammy villainess in “Wail of the Siren” (she has henchmen named Allegro and Andante). Both King Tut and Shame surpass their previous appearances in this season., Anne Baxter, Rudy Valle, Milton Berle, and Zsa Zsa Gabor were colorful fillers in lesser entries. In addition to Batgirl, we are introduced to Eartha Kitt’s delightfully idiosyncratic take on Catwoman in the episodes “Catwoman’s Dressed to Kill” and The Joke’s on Catwoman (teaming her with Romero’s Joker). She was set to make additional appearances, but publicly criticized the Vietnam War and was sacked (!) “Batman” was fortunate in having three exceptional actresses essaying the role of Catwoman. Through no fault of her own (Kitt commands the scene for every second she is present–she truly is EEEEEEVIL), neither of the actress’ episodes quite match the scenes with Newmar, or Meriweather in the movie.
I want to end this survey by discussing one of the most bizarre episodes of the entire series. Joker made three appearances in the final season of “Batman.” In his second (“Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under”), both Joker and the caped crusader go a-surfin’, but the sheer insanity of that cheesy green screen gets blown to smithereens by “The Joker’s Flying Saucer.” Allegedly, it was directed by Sam Strings and written by Charles Hoffman (airing on leap year 1968), but I swear those are pseudonyms for. This literally feels like it’s written and directed by our favorite cross-dressing freak. For most fans, it’s the nadir of the series, but for a weird movie site, it may be the crowning achievement of “Batman.”
Surrounded by henchmen (Shamrock, Chartreuse, and Green) wearing various shades of green, a Martian, and a babe (Emerald) adorned in a green mini, the Joker is going to be doing something with a flying saucer. I think he’s planning on an invasion of some sort. He kidnaps Alfred, believing the butler to be a mad scientist, and he kidnaps Batgirl too. “I’ve thrilled many a woman, Batgirl, but I’ve never sent one completely into orbit before,” the Joker says as he ties her to a rocket. There’s a professor Greenleaf, too (he’s a Joker plant), and a Mrs. Green who swears she saw a little green man. The Batcave is bombed and there’s a fight, and that’s about as a good a synopsis as any, because this is a mess, which doesn’t stop Romero from overdosing with glee. Take his cue.
Next week: a different (and provocative ) sort of flying rodent.
- Played by Kathy Kersh, who briefly became Mrs. Burt Ward. It should have been a match made in bad bat-acting heaven. [↩]