Batman (1966)

FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THE MOTION PICTURE SCREEN IN COLOR! Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin together with all their fantastic derring-do and their dastardly villains, too!

The Caped Crusader. The Dark Knight. The Dynamic Duo whenever he's paired up with Robin. He has been given a number of titles, but everybody always refers to him by one name:

Since his debut in DC Comics in 1939, Batman has gradually worked his way into the pop culture psyche. Generations of children, comic nerds and TV and movie patrons alike have seen the many exploits of the vigilante alter ego of Gotham City's millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne in everything from comics to movies to cartoons.
Currently the Batman we know lurks in the shadows and talks like Don LaFontaine with a chest cold, but before he was all dark and moody and Christian Bale, he was lighthearted and frivolous and Adam West. This Batman could be seen every week on his self-titled TV series which debuted on ABC in 1966. This being the Caped Crusader's very first foray into television, it was a very straightlaced interpretation of the original comic book serials, including hokey dialogue, saturated colors, tilted camera angles and the trademark fight scenes with comic-style onomatopoeia splashed onto the screen. It also featured a wide variety of famous or soon-to-be-famous guest stars--Burgess Meredith, Art Carney, Liberace, Vincent Price, Roddy McDowall, Eartha Kitt, future Bond girl Jill St. John, and even Bruce Lee have all appeared on the show, and those are just some of the ones who didn't pop out of a window while the Dynamic Duo were "climbing their Bat-ropes".

The original Batman and Robin.

Many fans of the more recent moodier Batman have disowned this series for its light-hearted, campy tone without taking into account that it was a more important part of the DC Comic character's history than they realize. Sales of the comic were slumping in the mid-sixties to the point where DC was considering canceling it altogether, until the show's success temporarily made the character popular again, so suffice to say we might not have had Batman TODAY if not for this show. Other notable changes this show made to the Batman canon were: the villain Mr. Zero changing his name to Mr. Freeze, the Riddler going from a minor bad guy to a regular member of the "rogue's gallery", and Alfred the butler becoming a permanent fixture after he was killed off in the comic prior to the show's debut.

The show was quite popular back in the day--popular enough to last 120 episodes in just three years, and in fact so popular that as logic dictates, they just had to make a movie out of it. Originally, series producer William Dozier wanted to make the movie first to hype the TV show, but 20th Century Fox abstained, citing that the movie would be no guarantee that the show would be enough of a hit to cover the budget costs, so the movie wasn't greenlit until after the show's first season. The film wasn't a major box office success, but became profitable on matinee screenings, television and home video markets for decades to come.

The movie starts out with an SOS sent to Batman and Robin (played by West and Burt Ward, respectively) from a yacht in the middle of the ocean belonging to British inventor Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny in his final film role). They head out to the sea in the Batcopter, with policemen saluting and a rooftop aerobics class cheering them on as they fly by, but when Batman descends a rope ladder hanging over the yacht to rescue the Commodore, the yacht disappears and he is attacked by a shark! Robin comes down the ladder to hand Batman some "shark repellant bat-spray", even though there's no one else flying the Batcopter, which helps him to shake off the shark before it explodes.

Yes, you did read that correctly. The shark explodes.

We next see Batman and Robin at Commissioner Gordon's (Neil Hamilton's) office, where after a brief press conference, they deduce that the "ship" was a decoy to kill Batman while the real yacht and everyone on board was abducted someplace else, undoubtedly by one or more of Gotham City's four most dangerous criminals: the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether substituting for Julie Newmar from the TV show). They return to the scene of the "disappearance" where they find an illegal buoy carrying a secret projector with a high-powered lens, but before they know it, Penguin, Joker and Riddler, standing by in a war surplus penguin-patterned submarine (which the Pentagon sold to a Mr. "P. N. Gwynn"--no relation, I'm sure) activate a high-powered magnet inside the buoy, trapping the Dynamic Duo by the metallic objects in their utility belts and leaving them open to a bombardment of torpedoes! Batman is able to deter two of them by using his Bat-radio to reverse the polarity and send out energy waves, but when a third one comes--CONFOUND IT, THE BATTERIES ARE DEAD!

Luckily they manage a last-minute escape thanks to the off-screen arrival and noble sacrifice of a passing porpoise, but just then the Riddler launches a Polaris missile which leaves a pair of riddles written in the sky, which confirm Gotham City's worst fears: all four super-criminals have come together to form the United Underworld, a ghastly organization out for nothing less than global conquest.

A superstitious, cowardly lot.

Their next plan to kill Batman and Robin involves using Catwoman's incognito identity--Miss Kitka, a reporter from the Moscow Bugle who attended the press conference--to lure an unsuspecting billionaire to be used as bait in a trap which will catapult the Caped Crusader into the arms of an exploding octopus (What is it with the exploding sea creatures?). Billionaire Bruce Wayne is snared after he and Kitka enjoy a romantic rendezvous, but they're left wondering why Batman hasn't shown up yet. Luckily Bruce manages to escape, and now knowing of the criminals' hideout returns as Batman to round up the gang, but all that he finds is a comically sized cartoon bomb waiting for him. This leads to one of the funniest moments of the entire movie, as Batman runs throughout the pier trying to throw the bomb someplace safe but keeps running into things he'd rather not see blow up, like nuns, a woman with a baby carriage, an oompah band, some butane tanks, and even DUCKS off the side of a pier.

*sigh* Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb.

Poor Batman. No one will play Hot Potato with him.

He eventually does gets rid of the bomb while ducking behind some iron pipes. Just then the Penguin appears disguised as Commodore Schmidlapp in a new scheme of his: using the Commodore's latest invention, a dehydrator, he changes five guinea pig henchmen into dust and smuggles them into the Batcave to rehydrate them and kill Batman or ransack the place or something. Batman and Robin, aware of his ruse, play along and take him to the Batcave, but the Penguin's plan fails when he accidentally re-hydrates the guinea pigs using heavy water from the Batcave's water dispenser, which turns them to antimatter at the slightest touch! (Can that really happen? I'm not an expert on it or anything.) After this, the Dynamic Duo continue to pretend to be duped and allow him to steal the Batmobile so they can follow him in the Batcopter to his new hideout. Another of Riddler's skywriting missiles accidentally shoots them down onto a display at a conveniently located foam rubber wholesalers' convention, forcing them to continue the chase on foot to stop the villainous foursome from carrying out their ultimate plan: to dehydrate the nine members of the United Nations United World Organization's security council and hold them for ransom!

Gee, thanks. Never would have known they were guinea pigs.

Our heroes arrive at the UN UWO building, but they're already too late--the meeting room is empty, the entire security council has already been dehydrated, and their captors have made their escape in Penguin's submarine! Batman and Robin give chase in the Batboat, and after evading the Riddler's surface homing missile, use the Batcharge launcher to fire sonic charges at the submarine and bring it to the surface. Once it comes about, another onomatopoeia-laden fistfight ensues, during which the entire gang is rounded up and Catwoman's ruse as Miss Kitka is exposed to a heartbroken Batman/Bruce. The Dynamic Duo are just about to call it a day when Commodore Schmidlapp, who had been traveling in the sub the whole time, stumbles in, trips and accidentally shatters the glass vials holding the nine dehydrated security council members!

Batman may be in "tip-top condition", but Robin looks like he's about to pass a kidney stone.

The whole world is on pins and needles as Batman and Robin work tirelessly to filter the council members' powdered forms into individual vials. Robin comments that it might be in the world's best interests to try and alter the dust samples to make them better people once they are re-hydrated, but Batman rebukes that it wouldn't be right, using the Penguin's dehydrated guinea pigs from earlier in the film as an example of what might happen. With the President and the entire world watching, Batman and Robin successfully rehydrate the council members back in the meeting room--well, not quite successfully, as they all seem to be speaking languages completely different from their native tongues. Batman remarks that this "mixing of minds" might do the world some good, and with that he and Robin climb down their Bat-ropes out of a window as Commissioner Gordon and everyone else in the room ogles in bewilderment.

Well, any landing you can walk away from...

Right after the series was canceled, DC Comics quickly revamped Batman to distance him from the show's nature and return him to his roots as an avenger in the shadows. Circulation was down through the 70s and much of the 80s before Tim Burton's 1989 movie and Warner Bros.' 1992 animated series came along and helped shape him into the Batman we know today, despite a brief return to camp with Joel Schumacher's much-reviled Batman and Robin in 1997.

So maybe Adam West's Batman isn't as cool as Michael Keaton's or Christian Bale's or even George Clooney's--well, okay, maybe George Clooney's--but it was the sixties. Back then you had sitcoms about witches and genies and Martians and cavemen and Hollywood movie monsters living in suburban American homes and rednecks moving to Beverly Hills and millionaires, movie stars and professors stranded on deserted islands. Much of the media at the time was grounded in wild and fantastical ideas, and as a result the Batman of its time was brightly-colored and flamboyant. Naturally this exuberance is reflected in the movie, which acts as an expanded episode of the show with bigger production values.

Am I defending this movie? ...Yes. Yes I am, and also the TV show from whence it spawned. They may be ridiculously camp, the acting may be a little over the top and there might not have been very large budgets attached to them, but that's what makes them FUN. You don't need barely lit sound stages and actors who sound like they've been smoking cigarettes since grade school to make a fun movie. The performances are very enjoyable to watch, particularly Frank Gorshin's Riddler, my favorite villain from the series, and the story and art design is just so over the top that it allows you to just turn your brain off and soak in the silliness.

The opening credits include a dedication to "lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre...to fun lovers everywhere", and anyone who goes into this movie should just treat it as such and roll with it. Both the film and the series are recommended to any non-discriminating Batman fan who just likes to watch something fun.

After all, it's not who he is underneath, but what he does that defines him.

I want me one of those umbrella jets.


Silver Tomato Productions said...

Alas, poor dolphin. I hardly knew ye.

Good review. My only minor complaint is that you've got to get more mileage out of the material. When a dolphin explodes, get mad/confused for a few sentences.


Tucsoncoyote said...

If I may interject here, the real reason why the Batman (and Robin) series of the 1960's, with Adam West (and Burt Ward), was made, was really because of the "Hippie" era that was going on at the time.

Let me explain. Back in the 1940's there was indeed a darker more brooding Batman (much like today's Batman), and in fact there were a couple of "Serial" movies done about "The Dark Knight" as a brooding hero, But what changed this was the fact that some of the folks who got ahold of the "Serials" were in fact friends of Dozier (The Producer of the sixties show), who suggested that Dozier take the idea and put a lot of "Camp" into it..and thus the reason for the late 1960's TV show was evolved.. complete with "Cliffhangers".

So in a way, the real reason Batman (of the 1960's) was Camp was because a bunch of "Stoned out hippies" talked to a producer and suggested to him.."Why not make this a Campy fun romp.." Dozier agreed and the rest they say, is TV history.

As for the Movie, well it too was a campy romp.. and perhaps the funniest moment was indeed Batman trying to get rid of the "Cartoony" Bomb..

Yes somedays you can't get rid of a bomb, Batman, but then you can't get rid of the fun that was the main part of the show..

As for the porpoise.. his final words were.. "I am NOT a Tuna!"

end of story


Kitschensyngk said...

The movie and TV series were based off a comic book, a medium known for having such fantastical things as laser cannons, superpowers induced from gamma radiation, and in this case an instant dehydrator. Surely I could begrudge them something equally inexplicable like an exploding sea mammal or two.

Thanks for the feedback!