What’s The Story?

The nefarious Catwoman is up to her old tricks — she steals two cat statues, belonging to millionaire Mark Andrews. It seems at first like she’s planning to steal Andrews’ entire collection, but in fact she has something else in mind. The two cat statues, supposedly identical, have different markings on them, which when placed together form a map leading to the treasure of legendary pirate Captain Manx.

Catwoman double-crosses her goon (her other goon having been defeated by Batman and Robin) and takes the loot for herself. But when pursued by the Dynamic Duo, she falls down a bottomless pit, and is seemingly dead for good…but as Batman says, cats have nine lives.

The Goodies

Batman

Teaches Robin 3D chess (on a Raumschach board, rather than the type later used in Star Trek), saying “It’s actually quite rudimentary, Dick, you just have to think fourteen moves ahead, that’s all.”

Considers motorist safety important enough to lecture Robin on using his safety belt, even when the Batmobile is only going a couple of blocks.

Batman would rather pay to enter the Gotham City Exposition, like any other citizen, than use his status to gain free entry. He doesn’t, however, have a problem with people in the queue letting him go ahead of them.

He never gambles, and he believes that “evil is as evil does”. He has a vast storehouse of audio engineering knowledge.

Robin

Seems notably brighter than in previous episodes. While normally he finds his schoolwork difficult, here his response to finding 3D chess difficult is to say “Gosh Bruce, I think I’ll just stick to Latin crossword puzzles”.

When tied up in a death trap by Catwoman, about to be fed to a tiger, he tells her “Catwoman, you are not a nice person!”. We also know, because the deathtrap involves Robin being balanced by a counterweight, that he weighs 132lb 7oz.

Epithets used: “Holy Reshevsky!” (a reference to Samuel Reshevsky, an American chess player best known for his rivalry with the more famous Bobby Fischer), “Holy trickery!”, “Holy cats! A cat!”, “Holy icepicks!”, “Holy felony!”, “Holy geography!”

The Baddies

Catwoman

“You feline devil!”

Catwoman is here played by Julie Newmar, the first female villain in the series to make the same kind of mark as Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero, or Burgess Meredith. Newmar was a Tony Award-winning actor in the theatre before making the transition into TV, where she had much the same career as most of the female guest-stars in the series, appearing like many of them in both The Monkees and Star Trek (two programmes which had considerable overlap in audience and style with Batman). However, Newmar’s appearance as Catwoman was considerably more memorable than most of the other guest stars, to the point that some thirty years later, Newmar’s name was recognisable enough that she was named in the title of the film To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar

The character of Catwoman originated in Batman #1, the same comic that introduced the character of the Joker and told Batman’s origin story. Originally called The Cat, Catwoman was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane as a beautiful, seductive, cat burglar who worked on both sides of the law — starting off as a burglar, she became an ally of Batman and Robin, before going back to her criminal ways. The character hadn’t been used in the comics since 1954, however, as the Comics Code Authority, which came into being following a moral panic about the content of comics, had strict rules about how women must be portrayed. The character returned to the comics as a result of this story, and has been a regular ever since.

The CCA would not have liked Newmar’s Catwoman. While the Catwoman of the comics had been dressed in a relatively demure calf-length purple dress, this Catwoman is dressed in a leather catsuit resembling the costumes worn by Cathy Gale in The Avengers, uses a cat-of-nine-tails on her enemies and henchmen alike, and has claws on her gloves sharp enough to cut through glass.

Catwoman is obsessed with cats — not only does she have several pet cats, commit cat-themed crimes, have her headquarters in the Gato & Chat Fur Company, and use a cat-of-nine-tails, but she also seems to theme things around the syllable “cat”, trapping our heroes in catacombs, and drugging Robin with catechol. She also bases one of her traps for Batman around the famous short story The Lady, or the Tiger?, with herself behind one door and a tiger behind another. She likes to toy with her victims, and puts them in fake traps before the real one.

Catwoman’s Goons

Two rather camp, and self-interested, characters, more fully fleshed out than the standard Batman goon. Leo, the taller, is played by Jock Mahoney, who had previously starred as Tarzan in two of the later films in the series, while Felix, the nebbishy Italian-American short one, is played by Ralph Manza, a respected comic character actor who you will recognise from pretty much every single American film and TV series made between 1954 and 2000 (everything from I Married A Monster From Outer Space! to Friends, via The Twilight Zone and Blazing Saddles).

The Gadgets

The Batometer can trace radiation within a radius of fifty miles. Batman and Robin have Bat-communicators which look like walkie-talkies, but if the polarity is reversed, they can give out a piercing shriek at 20,000 decibels, which the narrator says is enough to split a tiger’s skull. This may be true — decibels are on a logarithmic scale, and so this would be 10^19880 (that’s a one with 19880 zeroes after it) times as loud as the loudest sound the human ear can hear without permanent damage (the loudest sound in known history is believed to have been a volcanic eruption in 1815 which was as loud as 14,000 one-megaton nuclear explosions — that was about 320 decibels). Luckily, Batman has Bat-earplugs, which allow him to escape unharmed.

Batman also has knuckledusters with claw-like protruberances, which he can use to climb walls.

The Batmobile

By sticking a giant hose (the “auxiliary power channel”) into the Batmobile’s exhaust, it’s possible to collect a traceable radioactive gas, but the Batmobile has to be generating 17,000kw of power at the time. It has a Batbeam laser that can be used to blow locks, a lead-shielded compartment in which radioactive material can be safely stored, and an automatic tyre repair device.

What’s New?

This is the first story to feature Catwoman on screen, and the first anywhere to have her newer, and rather more sexual, look.

Review

A genuinely excellent, funny, well-directed story, this has some wonderful lines — “You’re right again, Batman, we might have been killed.” “Or worse.”, “I’ve heard that song before, Catwoman, the last few bars are always the same, and the criminal is always behind them.”

While it’s better acted and directed than several previous stories, though, what’s interesting about this story is the sheer level of sexual tension between Batman and Catwoman — at least in the script; Batman is, of course, played as entirely oblivious. Catwoman gets lines that are barely single entendres, like “All good things must come to an end, and the goodest end I can think of is yours”, and is dressed in what amounts to fetish wear (one thing it’s sadly almost impossible not to discover when reading anything at all about this series is how many American men now in their sixties had their first sexual awakening while watching this story, to the extent that this overshadows everything else).

We’ve seen before how, despite being a light children’s show, Batman dealt almost in passing with the ideas and events of its time. It’s often probably not even conscious, but any kind of narrative has to take on a shape that reflects the concerns of the people creating it.

In this case, though, it is definitely deliberate — a woman dressed in skintight leather, carrying a cat of nine tails, and telling a cringing man to brush her pussy willow, is about as far from subtle as one can get. And so here we must touch, briefly (though it’s a subject to which we will of course return) on the subject of the so-called Sexual Revolution.

Contra Larkin, sexual intercourse did not begin in 1963, but while every generation likes to think it invented sex (if nothing else so they can avoid thinking about what their parents got up to), there really was a fairly massive change in societal attitudes towards sex in the US (and to a slightly lesser extent elsewhere) in the 1960s. The combination of the discovery of penicillin (allowing most STDs to be cured quickly and easily), the invention of the contraceptive pill (removing fears of pregnancy), and most importantly the growth of car culture to the extent that many teenagers had their own cars (giving them a private space, however cramped, away from their parents), caused a change in attitudes that means that the 1960s was almost a tenth of a percent as revolutionary as Baby Boomer nostalgists insist it was.

That change was the driving force behind almost all the other changes of that decade; changes whose repercussions we are still feeling. And it was far from an unalloyed good — while the greater sexual freedom we have now is definitely a good thing, much of the sexual experimentation of the 60s and 70s involved, in one way or another, exploiting women, objectifying them, or putting intolerable pressure on them. “Free love” was a lot freer for the men than for the women who had to bear its costs.

In this context, the fetishising of Catwoman can now look more than a little dodgy — the character is clearly created for the male gaze, and bears all the marks of a Strong Female Character. The problematic aspects of the 1960s attitudes towards both sex and women are all too apparent. But in the context of her time, Catwoman was a fantastically freeing character, compared to the standard portrayals of women on TV. This is a woman who is clearly in control of her own sexuality, and able to take pleasure in it, and to do so with a sense of humour. She’s in control of all the men in the story all the way through (until the very last scene, of course, but even there her destruction doesn’t come from her sexuality but from her avarice).

With the benefit of hindsight we can know that the bad points of this characterisation would become a constant in geek “culture” up to the present day (and if you ever look at the Catwoman page on the Batman wiki you’ll want to scrub yourself for a week afterwards), but this story can’t be blamed for that.

What we have here is a light, funny, clever story that is fundamentally on the right side, and it’s simply impossible not to like it.

Personnel

Cast

Adam West: Batman

Burt Ward: Robin

Julie Newmar: Catwoman

Alan Napier: Alfred

Neil Hamilton: Commissioner Gordon

William Dozier: Narrator

Crew

William Dozier: Executive Producer/Creator

Stanley Ralph Ross and Lee Orgel: Writers

James Sheldon: Director

This post originally appeared on my Patreon, as all these posts do. Thanks to my patrons’ generosity, you can also hear it as a podcast — all my posts will be podcasted, as long as my Patreon donations remain over $100 per month.

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