What’s The Story?

Commissioner Gordon is attending the opening of the new Americo-Columbus bridge, when he’s shot by a sniper and falls off the bridge to his death. The shooting is captured by TV cameras, and there in the crowd is the Bookworm!

But wait! It turns out that Commissioner Gordon is alive and well – Bookworm had hired a stunt diver who looked like Gordon to fall off the bridge and convince people Gordon was dead!

Bookworm then steals a priceless cookbook from Wayne Manor, says he’ll blow up the bridge but in fact blows up – by enlarging – a photo of it, ties Robin to the clapper of a large bell, traps Batman and Robin inside a giant cookbook containing an oven that will boil them to death, and steals the Batmobile in order to use the Batbeam to try to break into the Morganbilt Library and steal books from it.

The Goodies

Batman
Solemnly swears on his oath as a crimefighter that Gordon’s death will not go unavenged, but still presumes innocence – just because Bookworm was at the scene doesn’t make him guilty.

Insists Bookworm’s goons all take their glasses off before the fight, telling Robin “remember, never hit a man with glasses”.

Has very few compunctions about using knockout gas and truth serum on Lydia Limpet, an apparent victim of Bookworm’s, who of course turns out to be an accomplice.

In general, with his illegal methods and oaths of vengeance, this is a much darker Batman than previously seen in this series.

Batman is also capable of using meditation techniques to get into the mind of criminals with startling accuracy.

Robin
Gives the game away by using Lydia’s name, obtained under hypnosis, after she’s been woken up. Epithets used – “Holy homicide!”, “Holy reincarnation!”, “Holy explosion!”, “Holy detonator!”, “Holy magic lantern!”, “Holy headache!”,”Holy tome!”, “Holy pressure cooker!”

The Baddies
The Bookworm
A frustrated novelist who has turned to crime because he can’t come up with original plots himself, acting out crimes inspired by the plots of famous novels. He wears thick glasses, a hat with a built-in reading lamp, and a brown pleather suit meant to look like book-bindings. Batman thinks he overplots. He’s also British, something that isn’t commented on, surprisingly. He believes he has “every plot ever devised” in his head, and he can read a phone-book-sized book in seconds. In this case, he is theming his crimes around For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Bookworm is played by Roddy McDowall, a former child star turned ubiquitous supporting player, who would later become known for playing apes in the Planet of the Apes series. McDowall’s performance is the most interesting thing about the story by far, playing a repressed, pedantic, tightly-wound character who is keeping all his emotions under check most of the time, but every now and then explodes in either glee or petulant fury. In an otherwise-dull story, McDowall shines.

The Bookworm’s Fine Twisty Worms
The most generic goons we’ve seen in some time. The two named gangsters are Printer’s Devil and Pressman.

Lydia Limpet
Lydia, the Bookworm’s moll, is played by Francine York, a former beauty queen from Minnesota who had appeared in several films with Jerry Lewis, and whose career otherwise followed the pattern of most of the molls in Batman, with appearances in pretty much every US sitcom, cop show, or family adventure show of the mid-60s (though oddly not The Monkees or Star Trek, the two shows which had the closest aesthetic to Batman and whose similar need for beautiful women as one-time guest stars meant they largely drew from the same pool.

The Gadgets
Bookworm’s glasses have “secret radio stuff built in”, according to Robin. Batman and Robin have an “ultrasonic batray”, capable of 12,000 decibels. The Batcave master crime computer has a “voice-actuated circuit”. Batman’s knockout gas is, of course, called Batgas.

Gotham City
As well as the bridge and library, Gotham also has a perfect replica of Independence Hall, built for an exposition, which contains the original Declaration of Independence. Wayne Memorial clock-tower, “presented to Gotham City in memory of Bruce Wayne’s father”, looks exactly like the Elizabeth Tower (the tower with Big Ben in) with a blue day-for-night filter applied, and also contains a large bell called Big Benjamin (to which Robin, of course, ends up tied).

The Batmobile
We don’t learn much new about the Batmobile itself, but we do discover that Batman has a Batmobile Parachute Pickup Service, which has its own vans with logos, to pick up the discarded parachutes it uses for its emergency stops and turns.

What’s New?
The Bookworm himself is new (and not seen again for decades) but here for the first time we have what would become a regular feature of the series – a celebrity sticking their head out of the window for a cameo as Batman and Robin climbed. In this case it’s Jerry Lewis, presumably brought in due to his regular collaborations with York.

Review
“But why? What on earth was the point of that charade?”

The reason the summary at the top of this essay is a series of unconnected statements is that so is the story as filmed. Apparently some scenes making more sense of the plot weren’t filmed, but as it is this is a story with almost no cause and effect.

Batman describes the plot as “Typical of the frustrated author Bookworm is. Overplotting”, and that does seem accurate, to the point that one wonders how much of this story is about Rik Vollaerts’ own frustrations as a writer.

Vollaerts worked on pretty much every US TV show from the late 50s through the late 60s, but almost never on more than one or two episodes, and his own episodes were never the ones that viewers remember with any great fondness. From Rawhide to Star Trek he churned out competent but uninspired work – almost the only evidence his life has left online is an IMDB entry, articles about this story, and mentions of his one Star Trek story on Trek fan sites. The one exception is Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, for which he wrote six stories – a Voyage fan site uses phrases such as “another Rik Vollaerts penned third-season stinker”, “terribly written”, “really terrible dialogue”, and “an incredibly dreary and boring episode” to describe Vollaerts’ work.

So can we possibly see the Bookworm as being Vollaerts himself? A writer with no imagination, reduced to plundering other writers’ work for plots and motifs? Bookworm himself states that the reason he uses themes from better writers’ work is that he can’t think of anything original – is that the cry of the uninspired hack, writing the same plot in his script that Bookworm and Batman both deride?

If so, that makes this episode a remarkably self-referential, postmodern, narrative. It’s just a shame it doesn’t make it a very good one.

Personnel
Cast

Adam West: Batman
Burt Ward: Robin
Roddy McDowall: The Bookworm
Alan Napier: Alfred
Neil Hamilton: Commissioner Gordon
William Dozier: Narrator

Crew

William Dozier: Executive Producer/Creator
Rik Vollaerts: Writer
Larry Peerce: Director

As I’m now a full-time writer, these should be happening again. However regular or irregular they are, though, the people who back my Patreon will always get them three posts ahead. Why not be one of them?

One Response to “Batman ’66: The Bookworm Turns/While Gotham City Burns”

  1. Logan Says:

    Love the summary! I’m currently co-hosting a Batman ’66 podcast over on Filmdispenser.com called Shakespeare’s Head. I love coming across reviews/write-ups/opinions about the individual episodes, and I really dig yours, especially because it offers some insight into the actors as well, something most ignore. I’ll be shouting you out on the podcast, keep up the great work!

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