Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Batman (1966)

My first encounter with the Batman television show was after having already seen both the Burton Batman films and falling in love with Batman The Animated Series.  As such, I was pretty confused about why this Batman was so overly silly, and figured it was related to people not taking comic books seriously back then.  However, it was still characters I was very familiar with and I was able to enjoy it for what it was.  I don't think I saw this film, which was made at the end of the first season, until some time later.

If anyone had any idea that this was meant to be a serious action movie rather than a comedy with action elements, I'm sure those thoughts were quickly dispelled the moment Batman gets a giant rubber shark attached to his leg that can only be removed with shark repellant. You have to love how gleefully aware of itself this film, and the show itself, really was.  Of course it's silly and goofy and stupid, that's the whole point.

The main difference between this film and the TV Show is that they clearly had a bigger budget, and they took full advantage of that.  We see the batcopter, batboat, and batcycle alongside the batmobile, and the Penguin has a "pre-atomic" submarine that he paints to look like a penguin.  I put pre-atomic in quotes because in one scene the characters tell us several times that's exactly what it is.  We also find out in that scene that the military in this universe isn't too bright, because when a Mr. P. N. Guinn came to purchase a submarine, they let him have it without even getting a physical address from him.  It's an interesting jab at the military's expense considering that this Batman is a deputized agent of law enforcement rather than a vigilante.

The other advantage of the larger budget is that we get four villains all paired up together, and they're all the biggest villains of the time - Cesar Romero as Joker, Burgess Meredith as Penguin, Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, and Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.  Lee Meriwether was replacing Julie Newmar here, but honestly I didn't even realize she was a different actress until I went to look up the cast.  Granted, it has been a while since I watched the show.  Anyway, I think Penguin and Catwoman end up getting a bit more screen time over all, but Joker and Riddler are still used well, and it's great to hear their laughs if nothing else.

The plot is fairly simple - they're joining together to take over the world, and they figure kidnapping a millionaire will get the Batman to come after them, and once they've killed him they can take over.  The only trouble is they decide to kidnap Bruce Wayne, and they use Catwoman, pretending to be a Russian reporter, as bait to trap him.  This ends up in a classic storyline by now, where Batman and Catwoman are romantically involved while neither has any idea of the other's true identity.  Though in this case, I don't think Catwoman has any true interest in Bruce Wayne.

But of course this movie isn't so much about the plot as it is about the gags, and there are plenty.  For what is essentially a superlong episode of the TV show, it doesn't feel too slow or full of filler.  Basically they just took everything fun and included it.  We see Batman and Robin "climb" a wall, run through the streets (actually running in place with the projection screen behind them), we see the sound effects when they fight in the final scene, and there are so many great bits and sight gags I can't list them all.  "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!" is probably the most well known by now, and it deserves it, as it reminds me of something on par with a Looney Tunes sketch.  I was also particularly tickled by the Riddler's riddles and the answers Batman and Robin come up with.

"What has yellow skin and writes?" Batman asks.
"A ballpoint banana!" Robin answers, while actually holding a No. 2 pencil in his hand.
"The only obvious answer, Robin." Batman agrees.

The only bit that doesn't really age well are the moments where we see the "United World Security Council."   They are seen constantly arguing, which is a nice parody, but it's the ridiculous accents and mannerisms which are a little too stereotypical.  Though it is funny that when Batman puts them together again (they were dehydrated by a gun the villains had) and they are all speaking the wrong language, Batman claims this will lead to them understanding each other better and declares his job finished.  Of course this is all pretty mild compared to that 1943 serial, but it still felt a little wrong by modern standards.

Since it doesn't look like we're going to get an official home release of the television series any time soon, this film is your best bet if you want to own a piece of the show.  I highly recommend it as a silly and wonderful good time.

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