What’s The Story?

The Gotham City Stock Exchange is rocked by a series of bizarre trades, causing wild swings in stock prices — fortunes have been won and lost, in a day like no other in the history of the stock exchange.

Everyone is baffled, until a TV broadcast is interrupted by a new villain, the Minstrel, who plays a lute and threatens to continue disrupting trade unless every trader on the stock exchange gives him a thousand dollars a week each — a total of a quarter of a million dollars a week. Batman discovers that the Minstrel has added electronic devices to the transmitter at the stock exchange which sends out the prices, so buy and sell orders have been coming in at the wrong prices, thus causing the chaos. 

He removes the devices and tracks the Minstrel to his lair. The Minstrel places Batman and Robin in a death-trap and escapes, but his first plan has been ruined, although Batman has found it so difficult to thwart him that Chief O’Hara actually starts to wonder if Batman and Robin are secretly working for the Minstrel. 

With the Minstrel’s plan ruined, he goes a step further — he makes another broadcast, watched by an assembled group of police and stockbrokers, where he proves that he has isolated the resonant frequency of the stock exchange building, and threatens to destroy it unless they pay him. But Batman stops him by recognising that the Minstrel is actually in the room, disguised with a business suit (over his crime costume) and glasses — the broadcast is pre-recorded.

The Goodies

Batman
Has a warm and attractive voice, according to the Minstrel’s moll, Octavia. Believes an opportunity well taken is always a weapon of advantage. Will flirt with Octavia and let her go, but only because he has secretly placed a tracking device in her handbag. Believes that a peanut butter and watercress sandwich and a glass of milk is a more-than-sufficient dinner.

Robin
Is sexist enough to refer to good-looking women as “gorgeous creatures”. Epithets used: ”Holy transistor skill”, “Holy rainbow”, “Holy flytrap”, “Holy hotspot”, ”Holy fireworks!”,  ”Holy cosmos!”, ”Holy kilowatts!”, 

Alfred
Has a very personal interest in the stock market, as his savings are invested in stocks. Seems more than usually delighted with the Batdrone.

Commissioner Gordon
Berates O’Hara for his daring to suggest that Batman and Robin may be anything other than perfect.

The Baddies

The Minstrel
“That melodic master of crime”

A musician, who everyone thinks has a wonderful voice. He plays the lute, and sings new lyrics to public-domain pieces like “A Wand’ring Minstrel I”, “Rock-A-Bye Baby”, and “Goodnight Ladies”. Batman says of him ”He exhibits a degree of electronic sophistication far beyond that of anyone else in this world today.” (The Minstrel says the same, word-for-word, of Batman, but appends “except for me of course”). 

He displays a great deal of reticence about violence, trying not to harm anyone until Batman and Robin provoke him — at which point he burns them on a spit while singing about how their flesh will melt. Having first considered Batman merely “a second-rate genius”, he later considers him “a kindred genius”.

His bank account is number 007, at the Broccolli Bank, Geneva.

Octavia
Flirts very heavily with Batman, and genuinely thinks he’s let her go, so gets furious when she finds out she’s been bugged.

The Gadgets
The Minstrel uses heterodyne encounter oscilators “to confuse the frequency” of the transmissions from the stock exchange. He also has a device that creates “static bolts” to temporarily blind people (this looks very much like a hand-held firework.

Batman and Robin, meanwhile, have a Batdrone — a remote-controlled plane that can follow a radio signal — and also have particle bat-accelerator units which create anti-charges to deflect the static bolts.

What’s New?
There’s little new here, other than the one-shot villain.

Review
What’s striking about this episode watched in 2018 is how modern some of the ideas are. The Minstrel is essentially a hacker-culture figure, and the idea of someone hacking the stock market’s communications systems to cause a financial crisis is not something you’d expect to see in a 1966 storyline. Even some minor details like the Batdrone are more 2010s than 1960s. Watching this the day after a major stock-market upset is quite odd — the aim of this series of essays has been to track how Batman through the years reflected the surrounding culture, but in this case it seems almost to be reflecting current culture as much as that of the time when it was made. This is a story about cybercrime before the concept of cybercrime was properly invented.

The plotline for this one hangs together a lot more coherently than many of the stories, and minus the tropes of the series one could easily see the same basic plot beats being reused for one of the Christopher Nolan films — you could make a perfectly good Dark Knight style action thriller following exactly the same plot structure, almost beat for beat. Francis and Marian Cockerell had previously written a lot of episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and they take great pains to have the storyline actually make sense — there are none of the ridiculous deductive leaps here that we’ve seen so often in the series. And in the same way, there are also relatively few laugh lines here — it is, of course, played as comedy, but the end effect is far closer to something like the cartoon series The Brave and the Bold than it is to many of the other episodes of the series. We even have, for the first time, a criminal who is portrayed as a dark mirror of Batman.

Murray Golden’s direction uses far more interesting camera angles than many of the other stories in the series have, and the end result is something that is very firmly on the serious side of the serious/comedy divide we’ve talked about before. This is very close to an episode of The Avengers in look and feel, and it’s an adventure show played for mild laughs, rather than a comedy show using superhero tropes.

We’ve talked before about how the show is at its best when it can firmly straddle that line — when it can be both a tension-filled adventure story for the small children and a parody for the adults. Normally, when the series has failed, it’s been because it’s fallen too far on the side of the parody, to the point where it’s literally nothing more than people in brightly-coloured costumes pointing out how ridiculous everything they’re doing is. This story almost fails in the other direction — even though it’s got a one-shot novelty villain, usually a sign of a story where everyone involved is thinking “will this do?”,  Van Johnson underplays the Minstrel, and the script seems to be doing its best to actually work as a story. 

It’s quite fascinating in its own way — this is something that almost seems to be trying to be a taut cyberpunk thriller decades before cyberpunk was even invented, even though it’s still using all the normal Batman 66 lines and tropes. It’s not one of the more memorable episodes, and there’s not as much to say about it as some others, but it’s a fascinating example of how the series could have been had they intended to take it seriously. It’s not the most successful of the stories we’ve seen, and nor is it one that admits of as much analysis or discussion as many episodes, but on its own terms it’s oddly worthwhile.

Personnel

Cast
Adam West: Batman
Burt Ward: Robin
Van Johnson: The Minstrel
Leslie Perkins: Octavia
Alan Napier: Alfred
Neil Hamilton: Commissioner Gordon
William Dozier: Narrator

Crew
William Dozier: Executive Producer/Creator
Francis & Marian Cockrell: Writers
Murray Golden: Director

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