Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Batman and Robin (1949)

I hope you paid attention to that year in the title, because we're not quite at that other Batman & Robin film just yet!  This is the second serial created, and fortunately being made in 1949 means we're past WWII and can just focus on telling a hero story.

This serial does share some things in common with its predecessor however.  The budgets are low, which means that the costumes look fairly cheap.  Batman fairs even worse in this one, as his bat ears are a little too pointy and off center.  His cape seems to be made out of some kind of material that almost always seems to get in the way during the fight scenes. For the time period however, those fight scenes are usually pretty good.  Lots of different things going on at once with lots of back and forth action.

There's also a nice heavy dose of pseudo-science that has to make you laugh.  The villain here, called The Wizard, has stolen a machine which was designed to remote control vehicles from a distance.  It's powered through diamonds.  Let's stop and think about that for just a moment.  I suppose a remote control vehicle is supposed to be useful because you wouldn't need a driver, but you'd need someone to control it remotely, so you're really not saving man power.  Then you power it with one of the most expensive and rare substances on earth - how is this going to be helpful to anyone but a villain?  Really they were not thinking about this one at all.

The Wizard also has some kind of blinky eyes in his mask that allow him to hypnotize people for some reason.  It's hysterical.  Apparently mind control was a really big plot device in the 1940s, because Dr. Daka in the previous serial put special headpieces on people to control them from a distance too. Eventually he also gains the ability to turn invisible.

We have a few more familiar pieces of Batman history being incorporated here.  The batcave is back, and is now full of lots of high tech gear.  Commissioner Gordon heads the police force, and Vicky Vale is Bruce Wayne's love interest.  Batman is once again a vigilante and not secretly working for the army.  We even see the batsignal for the first time, though how that tiny little light manages to be visible in the sky, I have no idea.

This serial includes a few mystery elements, as we have multiple possible identities for The Wizard, from the old man who invented the machine and also apparently has a device which charges him up and allows him to get out of his wheelchair and walk again, as well as a radio newscaster who always knows what The Wizard's crimes are going to be before they happen.  That last one is rather ridiculous - Gordon has his men speak to him, but when the newscaster says "trade secrets!" they let him get away with it rather than taking him into custody.  However the question of whodunnit keeps your interest and makes you want to come back for more far better than those overly silly cliffhanger endings do.

You might think that a serial would be fast paced and nonstop action, but you'd be wrong.  The episodes are generally about half slow plot development and half fight scenes leading to a cliffhanger, and I found it pretty hard to watch too many in one sitting.  But this one is definitely much more worth watching than the previous serial.  If you have an appreciation for a more classical style of film making, I recommend it.

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