Batman: The Movie

January 8th, 2018

(I stopped posting these a year and a bit ago, due to health stuff. I’m doing better now, so I’m going to post the ones that I only posted to Patreon here, then continue with the rest of the series as I intended to).

What’s The Story?

Batman and Robin are called out to investigate a distress call involving an ocean-going yacht on which is a new invention, only to find when they get there that the boat disappears – and Batman is attacked by an exploding shark!

In Gotham, the Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman have teamed up as the United Underworld, and have kidnapped the Commodore of the yacht, convincing him that he’s still at sea. They’ve kidnapped him because he’s the inventor of a miracle dehydrator. which he intends to use for dehydrating whisky, but for which they have more sinister plans.

To get Batman out of the way, they have Bruce Wayne seduced by the Russian journalist Miss Kitka – secretly Catwoman – and kidnapped, to lure Batman to rescue him. He escapes, and so the villains try another tack.

They dehydrate several goons, and the Penguin uses a disguise to gain entry to the Batcave with the powdered goons about his person, but accidentally rehydrates them using heavy water, which causes them to turn into antimatter and explode.

The villains go ahead with their plan anyway – to dehydrate the nine members of the United World Security Council and hold their dehydrated remains to ransom. Batman and Robin rescue the powdered politicians, but the Commodore trips, shattering their test tubes and mixing them up. The Security Council are reconstituted, but all have elements of each other’s minds. Batman believes this may be a good thing for world peace.

The Goodies
Batman
Believes that selling military submarines to people who don’t even leave an address is foolish. Seems, as Bruce Wayne, genuinely smitten with “Kitka”, and says of her “I’ve rarely met a girl who’s such a potent argument for international relations”.

Batman is notably more morally ambiguous in this film than in series one of the TV series, threatening to kill the villains if they’ve harmed Kitka, and lying to the press when necessary. Some days he just can’t get rid of a bomb.

Batman and Robin are also duly deputised by the police, and react angrily to the suggestion that they are masked vigilantes.

Robin
Tries to respect Bruce and Kitka’s privacy when they’re on their date, even though he has to monitor them. Is impressed by the nobility of the almost-human porpoise. Epithets used: “Holy sardine!”, “Holy nightmare!”, Holy Merlin magician!”, “Holy long John Silver!”, “Holy glue pot!”, “Holy Polaris!”, “Holy demolition!”, “Holy Hallowe’en!”, “Holy heart failure!”, “Holy marathon!”, “Holy Captain Nemo!”, “Holy Bikini!”, “Holy heartbreak!”, “Holy almost!”, “Holy jumble!”

The Baddies
Catwoman

For the first time, but not the last, in the 60s Batman a villain is recast. This time, we have our second Catwoman, Lee Merriwether. Merriwether, who appeared in dozens of TV series around this time, is generally regarded as the least impressive of the three Catwomen of the 60s, and this is her only appearance in the role (though she would appear in another role in series two). In truth, though, there’s little to choose between her performance and Julie Newmar’s, and she does a very good job in the role.

Catwoman has, as her secret identity, a Russian journalist named Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karenska Alisoff, who uses the acronym “Kitka” for short and works for the Moscow Bugle. There is, in fact, nothing in the 60s TV series to say for sure that this is not her real identity. She is either actually attracted to Bruce Wayne or puts on a reasonably good show of pretending she is. She has a pet cat called Hecate.

The Penguin

“That pompous waddling master of foul play, maestro of a million criminal umbrellas!”

The Penguin seems to be in charge of the group of villains, captaining the submarine and making most of the plans, most of which seem to revolve around nautical themes. He also proves himself to be a master of disguise.

The Riddler

“Loose to plague us with his criminal conundrums”

The Riddler has little to do in this story, other than coming up with the increasingly strained riddles used by Batman and Robin to track down the villains.

The Joker
“Devilish clown prince of crime!”

The Joker has even less to do than the Riddler, in what is essentially a Catwoman and Penguin story. The Joker’s main role is to express irritation at the Riddler’s insistence on giving the dynamic duo clues, although he is at times almost as irritated by the Penguin (and at one point uses his electrical hand buzzers to give both other male villains a simultaneous shock).

The Gadgets

Other than those already mentioned, we see that the Batpole has an “instant costume change lever”, which is what allows Batman and Robin to change costumes while sliding down to the Batcave, and a Compressed Steam Batpole Lift to get them back up. Batman and Robin have a Batcopter, from which dangles a Batladder. There’s also a Batcycle (with Robin sidecar) and Batboat. They have batsprays to repel sharks, whales, barracudas, and manta-rays.

The Penguin, meanwhile, has jetpack umbrellas, a Penguin-shaped submarine, a remote-controlled penguin magnet hidden in a buoy, and a supply of missiles and torpedos.

At one point the villains’ plan is to use the Joker’s giant jack-in-the-box to eject Batman and Robin from a building and onto an exploding octopus belonging to the Penguin.

Gotham City
Two major landmarks are mentioned in the film – the Benedict Arnold Monument and United World HQ on Gotham East River (a building that looks identical to the United Nations building in New York).

What’s New?

Very little, although this is the first time we see multiple Batvillains team up on screen.

Review
William Dozier had originally wanted to make a Batman film before starting work on the TV series, so it could be on general release when the series was airing. Twentieth Century Fox, on the other hand, had not wanted to commit to the expense of a film when the cost of a TV series would be shared by the network. The result was that the film was produced after series one of the TV series, and what we have here is very much the series as it is remembered in the public imagination (helped by the fact that for decades this was the only 1960s Batman to have a home video release, and so was by some way the most-viewed example of the show).

And in many ways, if one had to choose a single example of the 1966 Batman to be its sole representative, this would be a good one. Semple understood the series in a way few of the other writers did, and giving him 105 minutes to play with allows him to pile on the ludicrous plot contrivances in a way that the confines of the TV series didn’t.

What we’re left with is something with very little in the way of theme (the closest one can come is to say that the story is about unity, with the villains united to destroy the United World, and with Bruce Wayne’s comments to Kitka about wanting closer relations between their two countries).

Rather than a theme, we get a series of action setpieces, a seduction by someone who turns out to be working for the villains, and a plot involving using a new gadget to hold the world to ransom…what we have, in short, is a parody of the Bond films, a full year before Casino Royale. Not, note, a parody of individual Bond clichés – there’s no “shaken, not stirred” or Q scene, and this isn’t Austin Powers – but rather a comedy that uses the same type of structures and setpieces to tell a similar story to the standard Bond one, but with a knowing absurdity.

It remains, fifty years on, the best Batman film to have hit the big screen, and the fact that it doesn’t admit of much analysis shouldn’t be held against it. It’s funny, charming, and good-hearted.

This is the high-point of the 60s Batman series. The next season would not be nearly so good…

Personnel
Cast

Adam West: Batman
Burt Ward: Robin
Lee Merriwether: Catwoman
Burgess Meredith: The Penguin
Frank Gorshin: The Riddler
Cesar Romero: The Joker
Alan Napier: Alfred
Neil Hamilton: Commissioner Gordon
William Dozier: Narrator

Crew
William Dozier: Producer
Lorenzo Semple, Jr.: Writer
Leslie H. Martinson: Director

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2 Responses to “Batman: The Movie”

  1. Kit Says:

    It remains, fifty years on, the best Batman film to have hit the big screen

    This is fair, but The Lego Batman Movie is very good indeed.

  2. Andrew Hickey Says:

    See, this is the problem with me having written those posts ages ago — Lego Batman *is* better, but it hadn’t come out when I wrote this ;)

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