ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Batman’ (1966), Part 1
Each week, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri take a look back at one of the most successful and influential comic book movie franchises of all time, in ComicsAlliance’s in-depth retrospective on the Batman films.
Chris: Welcome back to Cinematic Batmanology everyone! Last week, we finally made it through the modern era of Batman films with our 19-part review of The Dark Knight, but that left one crucial piece of the story untouched.
David: There was something older out there, more powerful, more primitive. One domino left untoppled. One case yet unresolved. A hole in things.
Chris: That’s right, y’all: It’s time for Batman ’66: The single greatest depiction of the Caped Crusader in movie history.Chris: Yeah, but who wants to have fun?
David: I think we all realize Batman isn’t supposed to be fun.
Chris: Batman ’66 was the brainchild of Batman showrunner William Dozier, who originally wanted to use it to launch the series. His plan was to film it along with the first season of the show in late 1965 and have it hit theaters before the TV show’s January 1966 debut, which, when you think about it, is a pretty comic booky idea on how to get something over with the fans.
David: Transmedia ’66, everybody.
Chris: The studios didn’t want to take the risk of making a TV show and a movie that could both flop, though, so the movie was pushed back to after the first season, after the show had proven to be an unqualified success. And as you might expect, the movie was meant to be the biggest Batman adventure of all time. Four Arch-Villains! A scheme involving the fate of the world! The heartbreak of Bruce Wayne!
David: This movie is what Hush wishes it could ge.
Chris: It seriously pulls it off better than almost any other attempt at a similar story. Say what you want about the show’s campy depiction of Batman — although if you say anything other than “it’s awesome,” you’re wrong — but this movie has an internal consistency that even Christopher Nolan misses. Though to be fair, this Batman would totally reconstruct bullets with his bat-computer to get fingerprints.
David: This is really a different character, almost, than the one portrayed in the Burton and Nolan films. He’s maybe somewhat close to the Schumacher conception, in that he isn’t driven by darkness at all. More than anything else, Adam West’s Batman is just a big kid.
Chris: As far as I know, the Wayne murder is only mentioned once in the entire 120-episode run of series, right in the first episode.
David: This is a Batman who is Batman because he thinks it’s the right thing to do and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s funny, because while the comics were never much like this show, this incarnation of Batman and Robin has really become the iconic interpretation of Bruce and Dick’s time together. The Years Where Batman Had Fun. The fact is, I think most modern Batman writers love this movie as much as we do. Grant Morrison certainly does, and this movie (and its accompanying TV show) is incredibly influential on his run.
Chris: I’d debate you on the comics never being like the show. If you go back and read the Batman stories of the early ’60s, the show is a pretty accurate reflection, but with a little more self-awareness in that the creators were shooting for a wider audience, and tried to hook adults with the campy comedy aspect. Heck, the two-part pilot of the show with the Riddler was heavily based on “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler” from Batman #171. It’s not a strict adaptation, but the feeling is there.
David: The thing is, when I was a kid, nothing about these stories seemed campy.
Chris: Same here. That’s really the brilliance of the 66 era: It works on completely different levels for kids and adults, and manages to be tongue-in-cheek without talking down to its audience. If you’re a kid, it just feels like this grand adventure with this brilliant hero. Then you grow up and catch all the stuff you missed when you were six.
David: Robin is such a horndog, man.
Chris: Julie Newmar casually suggesting to Batman that they kill Robin so that they can run off and have sex a romance is one of the single best shots on television. It’s obvious that without this Batman, we wouldn’t have stuff like Batman: The Brave and the Bold (which is really just an animated sequel, right down to featuring cameos by the villains created for TV), but I also think it’s pretty clear that we wouldn’t have the Dark Knight Returns, either. That book only really works when you read it as a reaction to the prominence of this Batman. There’s a reason it’s a dramatic change when Batman gets more brutal, and there’s a reason he wears this costume when he comes back, working backwards to the darker, oval-less Golden Age style suit.
David: It’s an incredibly common mistake made by many Batman scholars to discard this entire TV show/movie project altogether, coupling it with the weirdo Bat-comics of the late ’50s as something best “stricken from the record” so to speak. A curiosity, but in no way relevant to “their” Batman.
Chris: But that’s not a mistake we’re making.
Chris: Before we see Batman, Robin, Gotham City or a single arch-criminal, we are treated to what is probably the best opening sequence in a movie ever, and I am not exaggerating. I love this thing so much.
David: It’s a dedication from the producers to “funlovers everywhere,” and it’s hilariously tongue-in-cheek. It sets the mood perfectly.
Chris: It’s basically this movie’s thesis statement, laid out right here at the start in plain text. “Unadulterated entertainment,” “the ridiculous and the bizarre.” That’s what they’re going for here.
David: And by God, they’re going to give it to us. It makes it very clear that the writers and director knew exactly what movie they were making here.
Chris: It’s the perfect rebuttal to everyone who would later develop that intense hatred for this movie for not being the dark Batman they wanted it to be. It’s like they were reaching through time to tell Frank Miller fans to chill out. And it’s funny! The shift from “lovers of adventure” to the apology to other lovers while two people have a furious makeout in the shadows is genuinely hilarious.
David: And the conversational style draws you in, too. It immediately invites you to start laughing. It ensures you’re in on the joke.
Chris: And again, that dedication to the enemies of crime that it starts with? When I saw this movie when I was five, it hit me as genuinely stirring. Admittedly, I was pretty easy to stir at the time, but still. It’s another one of those things where it manages to come off as utterly sincere to a kid and utterly, hilariously tongue-in-cheek to an adult in the same breath. I have no doubt that the middle section of this is completely genuine — they did make this movie for people who love fun, adventure and escapism, and they want you to have fun with it.
David: And we haven’t even hit the credits! Adam West’s casual strut here is hilarious. “What’s up, everybody? It’s me, Batman. Hey.”
Chris: Yeah, the rest of the opening sequence is great, too. All of the players are introduced with these colored spotlights on them, so it’s this great monochromatic moment. It’s legitimately iconic, right down to Batman and Robin backing into each other and being startled like Scooby and Shaggy.
David: I’m really kind of surprised they didn’t call the movie Batman and Robin, since Burt Ward really is heavily, heavily featured.
Chris: It’s that way in the whole show, though. It really is Batman & Robin.
David: It’s the only live-action interpretation to give the partnership a real try.
Chris: Despite this being the era of Robin as “The Boy Hostage,” it really is one of the first times where he’s actually really valuable. There’s this father/son aspect to them, but they’re kind of on equal footing most of the time.
David: Robin actually seems kind of like a teenager, too.
Chris: Another great Catwoman moment is when she schemes to hook up with Batman and considers setting Robin up with one of her henchwomen, and then decides that “at that age, all they care about is baseball.” Also, the episode where you see Robin at high school with all his friends who, of course, look like they’re in their mid-30s.
David: It’s pretty hilarious.
Chris: One more thing to note about the opening sequence, and something that’ll be notable throughout the movie: The soundtrack is fantastic.
David: The Blu-Ray actually has a score only track.
Chris: Oh, that’s awesome. I recently bought the special edition soundtrack CD, which included a version of the submarine fight music that had to be pieced together from the footage and remastered because the original was lost. The score for the film was composed by Nelson Riddle (not to be confused with Neil Hefti, who did the well-known theme for the show), and it’s just absolutely perfect.
David: It really is an astonishingly memorable soundtrack, and it does a lot to sell the tension when the visuals are dealing with foam sharks.
Chris: It’s got those great basslines and those horn stings, and one of the best things about it is that all the villains get their own signature melodies that carry over from the show. The bad guys have their own themes, which is something Batman: The Animated Series would do 25 years later for the Joker.
David: Only the Joker got one on TAS? I seem to remember more for some reason.
Chris: It could be. I only really remember the Joker’s, probably because those are the episodes I’ve watched the most. And now, finally, we’re ready to start in with the film itself!
David: Let’s go!
Chris: After those amazing credits, we open on a shot of a yacht, with the robust narration of William Dozier himself — credited as narrator Desmond Doomsday — informing us that there’s an invention on this yacht that’s in danger! As a result, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson return home from a drive in their sweet convertible, and rush inside to get suited up for crime-fighting.
Chris: This, by the way, is one of my favorite things about this era: Batman has a hidden panel in his house, he hides the switch to open it, he says all the time that if his identity were revealed, it would compromise his effectiveness as a crimefighter… but he keeps the Bat-Phone just straight up sitting on his desk.
David: Well, it’s plausible that he just likes red phones! In serving trays!
Chris: But this is actually addressed in the show. They make Aunt Harriet promise not to ever go into the study, because if she sees it she’ll know what’s up. So Bruce and Dick drop down the Bat-Poles, hit the Instant Change lever, and wind up in the Batcave in their costumes. Incidentally, someone once asked Adam West in an interview how this worked, and his answer was “We help each other.” In a related story, Adam West is hilarious.
David: I thought the Instant Change Lever was the greatest thing ever as a kid. I repeatedly asked my parents how it worked, and they repeatedly attempted to tell me the answer was “film editing,” but I never believed them.
Chris: The whole thing with the poles and the instant change lever — that totally backs you up on Batman being a big kid, because those are things a kid wants in his house. Who wants stairs when you could have a fireman’s pole? Who wants to actually get dressed and wait for the school bus when you could flip a lever and tear ass down the highway in your rocket-powered convertible?!
David: If I had to be an incarnation of Batman, I’d want to be this one. Batman also has an insatiable drive to self-brand in this flick, something we’ll see as this first scene continues.
Chris: I would be a terrible version of this Batman. There is no way I wouldn’t kill Robin in order to get with Julie Newmar.
Chris: Although, it’s worth noting that the Catwoman of this movie, Lee Meriwether, would return in the second season of the TV show as Bruce Wayne’s socialite girlfriend, Lisa Carson, who was also played by Kimberly Kane in Batman XXX. Bruce tries to tell her he’s no good for her, but she ends up luring him into her apartment for “milk and cookies” in the most risque moment of the series. Basically what I’m getting at is that pretty much every woman on Batman ’66 was just ridiculously gorgeous. But I digress.
David: You are a remarkable font of information about this flick, dude. I seriously had no idea.
Chris: That’s why one of us is the Senior Batmanologist, and the other is not. Anyway, we get the familiar sequence of the Batmobile leaving the Batcave, but with some added footage of it actually driving down the highway. Instead of heading to the police station to talk with Commissioner Gordon, however, we start in on one of the most ridiculous, hilarious sequences of the entire era.
David: Everything about this is hilarious. They arrive at the airfields in the Batmobile to pick up the Batcopter, which is actually stored offsite and basically kept by the government?!
Chris: It has a dedicated hangar and flight crew!
David: Like, dudes get paid salaries where their sole responsibility is to take care of Batman’s helicopter. You know, just in case.
Chris: And it’s even more hilarious because after this movie, the Batcopter is NEVER SEEN AGAIN. Actually, I think they use it one episode, but it’s just footage from the movie cut into the TV show. And keep in mind: This is an actual helicopter. They actually built this thing for five minutes of use!
David: Well, it doesn’t look THAT customized. It’s just a helicopter with some bat crap on it. It’s not the Tumbler.
Chris: You cannot tell me that they did not buy an actual helicopter, and that Adam West did not fly around in it to pick up ladies. I don’t care if it’s not true, it’s what I believe.
David: They bought a helicopter, I just don’t think it was custom-built for the movie!
Chris: Regardless, the air traffic control tower calls off all other planes so that Batman and Robin have a clear shot for takeoff, and they begin flying over Gotham City, which mysteriously looks an awful lot like Los Angeles.
David: Robin takes the time to thumbs-up a bunch of hot ladies in swimsuits, while Batman takes the time to thumbs-up cops who are hilariously taking their hats off in respect for, and admiration of, The Batman.
Chris: The bikini girls — I believe the collective noun is “bevy” — are being exercised by fitness icon Jack Lalane, but yeah, the best bit here is the cops. I love that this Batman is presented as such an uncompromising icon of justice. The contrast with sexy ladies and wholesome cops is just great. Batman and Robin are law and order rock stars.
David: They’re utterly open in this incarnation, there’s no secrecy or urban legend stuff or anything along those lines. They’re Batman and Robin and they patrol Gotham City in their Bat-copter in broad daylight.
Chris: They’re actual cops, too. They’ve been deputized — again, a holdover from the comics of the ’50s and ’60s that I think Denny O’Neil did away with — so they’re basically just super awesome masked police. And right now, they’re getting ready to drop some justice on that renegade yacht we heard about earlier. They drop the Bat Ladder from the Batcopter, and we know it’s the Bat Ladder because it comes complete with a label.
David: It’s AMAZING. It’s just a regular old rope letter, but Batman took the time to make/hae made a sign for the very end to make it clear that that rope ladder is courtesy of Batman.
Chris: The constant labeling of every item and button that Batman owns is one of the show’s signatures, and seriously, it never stops being funny to me.
David: Batman lowers himself down to the ship, but then… it disappears!
Chris: Instead of making contact with the deck of the yacht, Batman finds himself waist deep in the ocean, and as Robin raises the Batcopter back up, a shark has botten down Batman’s leg. This would be a problem… for a lesser man. Batman, on the other hand, just starts beating the living hell out of it with one hand.
David: The Bat-Shark Repellent is nowhere near as ridiculous in context, since it’s kept with other marine animal repellents on the helicopter.
Chris: C’mon, Uzi: What’s the one thing we know for a fact about Batman?
David: The victory is in the prepartion, Chris. Always.
Chris: Exactly. Robin hands down the shark repellant by doing this crazy upside-down dangling move that is the only indication in the entirety of Batman ’66 that he used to be a circus acrobat — it is seriously never discussed — and Batman sends the shark plummeting back to the water just as it explodes. Because this is Batman we’re talking about, and if you want to present a threat to that dude, you actually need to add dynamite to a shark.
David: And this shark, in the first place, is a pretty damn lousy shark. West keeps hitting it repeatedly like it poses some sort of actual immediate danger, but it’s very clearly just a foam shark they got down at the party store and taped to his leg. But still, the acrobatics and the music prevent it from being totally ridiculous. And the Bat-shark-repellent isn’t really bad at all context.
Chris: This actually reminds me of pro wrestling. And not just because everything reminds me of Batman or Pro Wrestling.
David: In what way?
Chris: There’s this wrestler called the Sandman, and he has this reputation for calling his spots — talking to the other wrestler about what they’re about to do in the match — really loudly. And in one of his matches, his opponent told him he wasw loud enough that the crowd could hear, and he goes “Who cares? They know it’s fake!” That’s basically this scene of Batman: The shark itself is completely incidental — your attention is on the helicopter, the Shark Repellant Spray, Robin dangling upside down for no reason, the fact that the shark explodes. Any realism is completely irrelevant to what’s actually going on. If you’re a kid, you’ll believe it enough, if you’re not, who cares? You know it’s fake.
David: That sounds like a perfectly good encapsulation to me. The teleporting/mirroring/whatever boat effect is really unnerving, too.
Chris: After the shark explodes, we cut immediately to a press conference being held in Commissioner Gordon’s office — and again, this is a Batman that holds press conferences — and we’re introduced to the absolutely gorgeous Miss Kitka, played by the absolutely gorgeous Lee Meriwether.
David: I love how the Soviet chick in full-out leopardprint gear doesn’t arouse ANY suspicion whatsoever.
Chris: She arouses something. Hot-cha!
David: Wah waaaaaaah.
Chris: Merriweather, who had been crowned Miss America in 1955, was brought in as a last minute replacement for Julie Newmar, and… I’m just saying, she is probably solely responsible for why I think egregiously fake Russian accents are hot like fire to this day.
David: I actually can’t get into the accent at all, but I can certainly see how you’d come to that conclusion. She innocently asks Batman and Robin to take off their masks for her photo, and basically everyone in the room freaks out.
Chris: Batman patiently explains that he and Robin wear masks to protect their identies — and, according to Commissioner Gordon, their status as “Ace Crimefighters” — as though it’s the most logical thing in the world. She then asks if they’re vigilantes like the Lone Ranger or, say, Zorro, and Gordon and O’Hara freak out even more.
Chris: This entire scene is amazing just for Gordon and O’Hara’s increasing level of scandalized reactions.
David: O’Hara especially is just HORRIFIED by these egregious insults being made to Gotham’s finest citizens.
Chris: Gordon is seriously angry that one would assume these masked men who operate outside the law and beat up crooks all day could possibly be referred to as “vigilantes.” I love that Dozier and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. are just blasting holes in that idea as hard as they can. Everyone writes Kitka’s comments off as a product of her Commie upbringing — Ward emphatically delivers the line “Support your police! That’s our message!” — and Batman ends the press conference with a seductive pause at Miss Kitka. We discover that the whole thing with the disappearing yacht was a trap meant to lure Batman away while the real yacht — and its commander, Commodore Schmidlapp — was hijacked elsewhere.
David: This leads to the greatest piece of deduction in Batman history. Everybody in this room has apophenia.
Chris: First, Batman asks “what known super-criminals are at large right now,” which you’d think would be something he’d keep on top of.
David: Using high-tech 1966 technology, a wall panel retracts to show a space-age closed-circuit television.
Chris: With crime files that are also narrated by William Dozier! I swear, they could have made so much money getting him to do a GPS recording. The TV screen reveals that there are four criminals currently art large, which, in a city of 10,000,000, speaks pretty highly of Batman’s abilities: The Penguin, the Joker, the Riddler, and of course, Catwoman. Who was just in the room. And whose picture they are looking at right now. And who WAS JUST IN THE ROOM. Also, their official file pictures seem to have been taken in the living room of Wayne Manor.
David: Well, to be fair, Catwoman’s wearing a mask in her police picture, because she was apparently incarcerated and nobody thought it might be a good idea, to, I dunno, take a picture of her unmasked face, or find out her real name.
Chris: The justice system must respect the privacy even of its worst offenders, old chum.
David: Catwoman’s picture also of her insanely Hal Jordanning it for the camera like it’s Green Lantern #49.
Chris: Now that we’ve established who’s on the loose, it’s time for the most amazing deduction/leaps of “logic” ever committed to film:
COMMISSIONER GORDON: It could be any one of them. But which one? Which ones?
BATMAN: Pretty… fishy… what happened to me on that ladder…
COMMISSIONER GORDON: You mean where there’s a fish there could be a Penguin?
ROBIN: But wait! It happened at sea! See? C for Catwoman!
BATMAN: Yet, an exploding shark was pulling my leg.
COMMISSIONER GORDON: The Joker!
CHIEF O’HARA: All adds up to a sinister riddle… Riddle-R. Riddler?!
COMMISSIONER GORDON: A thought strikes me — So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance!
BATMAN: The four of them. Their forces combined…
ROBIN: Holy nightmare!
Chris: This. Is. Fantastic. This is another one of those scenes where, when I was a kid, I bought it hook, line and sinker. I seriously believed that these villains were so psychotically devious that they would hide clues to their identities in the most complicated, ridiculous way possible — and that Batman and Robin were so brilliant that they could solve it in seconds. I never doubted it for a second.
David: As I said earlier, it’s extreme apophenia. It’s the kind of crazy deduction those two perform on a daily basis in the comics, but taken to its obscene extreme.
Chris: Say what you want about how this is campy nonsense — and it is — but I would give anything for something as mind-boggling as “Sea! See? C for Catwoman!” to show up more often in today’s comics.
David: And the melodramatic dialogue employed by, well, pretty much everybody in that scene, is brilliant. “So dreadful I can scarcely utter the reference!”
Chris: Once it’s been established that we’re dealing with a super-villain team-up of Kirbian proportions, we cut to the Gotham City Waterfront, where fetching reporter Miss Kitka is revealed to be none other than the diabolical Catwoman! And we get another great piece of this movie — one that I really don’t think it gets enough credit for — when she tells a goon who calls her “Catwoman” not to use her “real name” in public.
David: I was about to point that out! She also just switches to a sinister American accent immediately. This entire supervillain scene is fantastic, because everyone’s hamming it up and succeeding in a way that, say, Tommy Lee Jones never could. I mean, Catwoman is the LAID-BACK member of this quartet, and she tries to set loose a goddamn attack cat.
Chris: It’s revealed that the four crooks are part of an organization called the United Underworld, a criminal parody of the United World (which is itself a parody of the United Nations). They even have an awesome logo of an octopus squeezing a globe into a painfully misshapen mess. I never put it together before, and it really seems like a long shot, but do you think that might be a reference to The Spirit?
David: Let’s not forget how blatantly Catwoman points out the similarity to, and existence of, the United World Headquarters, too. It’s an astonishingly obvious piece of exposition that nevertheless goes under the radar simply because it’s said no more bombastically than the rest of the ridiculous dialogue.
Chris: It’s also worth noting that the first piece of dialogue that we get from the United Underworld is the Riddler saying “YOU AND YOUR TRAINED EXPLODING SHARK!” in just the most disgusted tone possible. Frank Gorshin is legitimately amazing as the Riddler, both here and in the rest of the series. I’ve said it before, but if you want to see the genesis of the modern Joker, look no further than Gorshin and the way that he goes from manic laughter to wide-eyed homicidal fury from word to word.
David: And — man, we’re going to spend as long talking about this movie as we did about Dark Knight, because the set design is just as amazing in a totally different way. I cannot go on enough about the Riddler’s PRIVATE BOOKCASE, which is adorned with a gigantic sign that blocks access to the books which just asks
Chris: And a Gold Buddha on the table. You know, just ’cause.
David: Or Catwoman’s cat food/kitty litter cabinet. Or the Joker’s PRIVATE jokes shelf, or the Penguin, who has… penguin food.
Chris: These are also some well-dressed crooks. Jackets and ties on all three dudes, and Catwoman in a fur overcoat, black dress and knee-high patent leather boots. The 66 era had this incredible stylishness to it that was a huge part of why it was so successful in a time of mod fashions and pop art.
David: This entire show IS incredibly stylish. It’s remembered far more for its garishness, but… well, garishness was in back then.
Chris: As the first step in their plan, it’s revealed that the the villains have — wait for it — kidnapped Schmidlapp. You can really see ‘em coming up with that one in the writers’ room.
David: Who has absolutely no idea he’s kidnapped, and acts like the most charmingly over-the-top sea captain possible.
David: They’re telling him he’s stuck somewhere due to a fog incident, and since he’s apparently too lazy to ever leave his chamber anyways, he just hasn’t noticed that he’s already in Gotham. Nor has he noticed that the cool ocean breeze and fog he’s seeing outside are being artifically generated by a goon in a pirate outfit with a single flipper, a small smoke machine and a picture of the ocean that bobs up and down. Holy shit, you guys.
Chris: He also completely swallows the Joker’s explanation for why he looks like the Joker: He doesn’t get much sun. We’ve talked before about how in more serious takes, Gotham City has to be this nightmarish hellhole of corruption and criminal control in order for Batman to be necessary, but in Gotham ’66, it’s just that every single person in the world is either a crook or the most gullible mark alive.
David: Which leads to a number of questions — for instance, how the Hell did they convince him to stay in a room with a porthole that points INSIDE?
Chris: And shows no evidence of fog. The bad guys are planning to use Commodore Schmidlapp’s invention — whatever it may be — to take over the world, but first they have to deal with the pressing problem of Batman and Robin and Lee Meriwether just put on her Catwoman costume.
David: Seriously, those three villains are paragons of self-control. That, or they already got their faces bitten off by her attack cat when they attempted to peek.
Chris: You know the joke about how Cheetara walking around naked in the Thundercats pilot was the genesis of Furries 15 years later? I’m pretty sure you can trace society’s acceptance of dominatrices directly to Batman ’66.
David: Penguin tells his pirate goons to go ready their submarine, and Riddler is just SO ANGRY about Batman and Robin’s continued existence. Joker, Catwoman and Penguin don’t seem to care that much, but this is just pure hell for Riddler.
Chris: Probably because he’s the only one to realize that there is no way they can accomplish anything without dealing with those guys first. Back in the Batcave, Robin is using a clearly labeled Film Developing Tank (Super Fine Batgrain) to develop a picture of the yacht, revealing that it was a mere illusion! Akin to the common desert mirage!
David: Blocked by the Bat-camera’s polarized Bat-filter! It turns out they left an illegal buoy out there to project the yacht, which means that these four villains and/or the Commodore discovered large-scale holograhic projection in 1966.
Chris: Why that’s fifteen years before Jem! So once again, they hop in the Batmobile and drive to yet anotherBat-themed vehicle constructed just for this movie: The Batboat!
David: For the express purpose of collecting fingerprints. Off of a buoy.
Chris: The most amazing thing about this: They have a Batpole on the dock. The Batboat, by the way, is f***ing awesome. Unlike the car and the helicopter, which are both done in black and red, it’s done in blue and white with red trim, with flames and a siren. It is seriously cool.
David: As they strategize, we cut to the Penguin’s submarine, which moving flippers on the stern.
Chris: Penguin’s submarine will only get more awesome as this movie goes on.
David: Also, this movie moves fast. We’re 20 minutes in, and already four of Batman’s biggest villains have joined forces for a sinister caper in a Penguin-themed submarine, and Batman’s on his third self-branded vehicle so far in this movie.
Chris: I imagine that since they were used to producing 44-minute teleplays, a 104-minute movie gave them a lot of extra room to work with, especially since they didn’t have to bother with anything even remotely resembling an origin story. With Batman and Robin on the buoy trying in vain to get fingerprints — “Salt and corrosion, the age-old enemies of the crimefighter!” — Batman and Robin find themselves squarely in the sights of the Penguin’s torpedos. Doubly so once the Penguin magnetizes them to the buoy.
David: You left out like half the best parts. I can’t describe the gloriousness of the submarine’s periscope enough. Or the fact that the buoy has a “remote-controlled Penguin magnet” to make Batman and Robin stay there while their torpedoes “auto-home.” Batman, of course, stops the torpedo by “reversing the polarity” with his Bat-transmitter and forcing it to explode early, which… man, seriously, the jokes here write themselves.
Chris: We also get one of the best line deliveries of West’s career: “Confound it! The batteries are dead!”
David: I think you mean the Bat-terries.
Chris: This is followed by the truly astonishing revelation that the last torpedo was stopped when “the nobility of the almost-human porpoise” drove a sea creature to sacrifice its life for Batman. So basically, Batman is better than Aquaman and I can prove this with a film. After they get back to shore and the Batmobile, Robin phones up the Pentagon — he seriously just picks up the phone and tells the operator “Give me the Pentagon, in Washington” — and we see the admiral in charge of the navy playing Tiddlywinks with his lovely young secretary. Batman asks if they’ve sold any surplus submarines lately, and if the apophenia deduction scene wasn’t the single greatest thing in this movie, this part is.
David: He just looks it up in his Rolodex and answers that, yeah, they totally sold this P. N. Gwinn guy a submarine last Friday. Pre-war, though, so it’s not atomic!
Chris: Batman asks if P.N. Gwinn left an address, and when the admiral tells him he just left a PO Box number, West does the best “I am trying not to flip out on this guy” reaction in film history.
ADMIRAL: Avast and belay, Batman, your tone sounds rather grim! We haven’t done anything foolish, have we?
BATMAN: Disposing of pre-atomic submarines to persons who don’t even leave their full addresses? Good day, Admiral.
David: Bruce seriously just owns this dude. And the admiral just hangs up and goes “Gosh!” in wonderment at his own stupidity.
Chris: Before Batman can do anything else, though, the submarine launches a Polaris missile. Now, for those of you who don’t know, a Polaris missile is a submarine launched nuclear weapon. For most super-criminals, getting hold of one of those would be the endgame, but with these arch-villains, that’s just where they start.
David: It’s also mystifying since they called this submarine pre-Atomic like forty times in the last ten minutes.
Chris: Well, the submarine itself is pre-atomic, as in it’s not a nuclear -powered sub. Of course, it turns out that the missile isn’t either. Rather than just nuking the hell out of Gotham City, the Riddler has retrofitted his Polaris to write a pair of riddles in the sky:
David: “A riddle! In the FORM of a JOKE!!”
Chris: Of everything we’ve seen and will see in this movie, that was the one line that bugged me when I was a kid. I mean, really, when do these guys ever get a riddle that’s not in that form? Sure, the nobility of the almost-human porpoise makes sense, but this is stretching credibility, guys. Back at headquarters, Robin handily solves the riddles: A) He gobbles up, and B) a sparrow with a machine gun. Put them together and you have a creature that gobbles up a bird in a tree — A cat! So, thanks a lot for confirming what you already told us fifteen minutes ago, Batman ’66. I’m pretty sure that this bit of retreading was left over from an earlier draft of the script — the reason you don’t see Lee Meriwether on the submarine is that she hadn’t signed on for the role when they filmed it, so it’s possible that they went back and re-wrote the opening with Miss Kitka to include her and just didn’t clean it up.
David: The conversation between Batman and Gordon as they attempt to figure out what the villains want is fantastic. Any TWO of them, Gotham City. Any THREE, the country. But any FOUR?… it must be the world. And the SUM OF THE ANGLES OF THAT SINISTER RECTANGLE IS JUST TOO MONSTROUS, Chris.
Chris: That’s their minimum objective, Uzi. Which means that Batman suspects that they could be after something more than taking over the entire world. Back at the United Underworld, Catwoman explains that their plan is to go after the United World security council, and lays into the other arch-villains pretty heavily for screwing things up.
David: But how can they do that? Why, they need to get rid of Batman once and for all first, and that requires setting a trap.
Chris: Gorshin launches into another one of his brilliant performances — complete with his swank-as-hell three-piece suit — and lays out a plan so ludicrously complex that everyone is involved, ending with the Joker’s jack in the box launching Batman “into the arms of the Penguin’s exploding octopus.”
Chris: For bait, they intend to have Catwoman, as Kitka, lure one of Gotham City’s most valued citizens into a trap: Millionaire Philanthropist Bruce Wayne!
David: I really do like the way they cut this, as Catwoman practices her deception right there in the room with the villains and it cuts seamlessly to Bruce’s face.
Chris: This is also one of the few times that Bruce Wayne as a character is really featured prominently in the ’66 era, which apparently came down from West wanting to spend more time as Wayne, rather than just Batman. It probably goes without saying, but there’s almost no division at all between the Batman and Bruce Wayne characters — Wayne ’66 is exactly the sort of guy you’d expect to be Batman, but since we’ve already established that the average Gotham Citizen is about as perceptive as a brick, it doesn’t really matter.
Chris: Kitka and her hilariously awful Russian accent head out to Wayne Manor for a seduction that’s pretty easy even if you consider that Catwoman is ludicrously attractive. For all his characterization as a square who’s devoted solely to the law, Bruce is awful quick turn “should we turn these potential death threats over to your Americanski police” into “why don’t we get dinner?” Of course, it’ll all be revealed to be a part of his plan, but you sort of get the impression that the part where he’s trying to trap her would-be killers was an afterthought to wanting to go on a date with a sexy reporter.
David: I love how much she ramps up the Soviet references, too, but still calls her paper the “Moscow Bugle.” Batman is “masked Cossack,” and the Riddler is “bourgeois” and preys on the working class.
Chris: After making his date with Kitka, Batman heads down to the Batcave and presents Robin with the riddles: “What has yellow skin and writes” (which sounds like it’s going to be super-racist but isn’t) and “what kind of people are always in a hurry?”
David: Passing the Lunar Scanning Screen, at that! Batman asks Robin to back up his insane theories on what the insane riddles Kitka gave him mean, and then Alfred comes down in the “service elevator” to hatch a plot with Bruce regarding his date with Kitka, who he describes as “a potent argument in favor of international relations.”
Chris: Answers: A ballpoint banana, and Russians. Conclusion: Someone Russian is going to slip on a banana peel and break her neck. “THE ONLY POSSIBLE MEANING.” Thus, while Bruce Wayne is out on a date, Robin will be shadowing him in the Batmobile — and since Robin’s too young to drive, Alfred will put on a domino mask and handle that part himself. When the Riddler makes his move, Batman will “Bash. Him. Brutally.” Batman then makes a super-excited exit by getting back on the pole and hitting a switch which makes it explode in steam and jet him back up to Wayne Manor. No subtext there, no sir.
David: Was that the first time the batpole steam lift had been seen?
Chris: I believe so. I don’t think it’s used much on the show, if at all. Only once or twice.
David: Bruce and Kitka grab dinner at some fancy restaurant where two dudes in pirate do-rags serenade them with violin music.
Chris: Also, Bruce Wayne has a brandy snifter full of milk, because he is a boss.
David: Maybe he’s figured out she’s Catwoman, and is attempting to perfume himself appropriately.
Chris: He and Kitka take off in a horse-drawn carriage while the least subtle car ever ever built follows them from about 10 yards away, and while they’re riding around, we also get what I believe is the era’s only use of the Bat-Signal. It’s in the closing credits for the show, but they always use the hotline.
David: But that’s not before Robin starts to feel guilty for watching in on Kitka and Bruce, so he turns off the viewscreen. When he calls Gordon to report in, Gordon asks what the Hell is taking so long that they’ve spent an hour in the park, and Robin comments that there are “no signs of criminal activity.” I’m impressed Dick didn’t use this as an amazing excuse to completely c*ckblock his guardian.
Chris: Robin ’66 is a down bro. Which is both good and unfortunate, as Bruce and Kitka end back up at her place for “hot cocoa,” after Catwoman alerts the rest of the gang that they’re in position — with a cat-shaped telegram transmitter.
David: The cat-shaped telegram transmitter is amazing; she clicks the tail and the eyes light up for each transmission. As the rogues receive her message, Penguin advises his goons to get the jetpack umbrellas. Yes. The jetpack umbrellas.
Chris: Catwoman also lays some serious makeouts on Bruce, to which he’s about as responsive as a board. Perfectly in character for him, but I have to wonder how that affected Adam West’s chances with the ladies.
David: And man, if you thought we didn’t have enough phallic imagery in this joint, that’s certainly fixed by the jetpack umbrellas.
Chris: Burgess Merideth even bounces on his his like he’s riding a horse, with one hand on his hip. It’s hilarious. Back at the penthouse, Kitka emerges in a robe, and Bruce Wayne reacts by quoting Edgar Allen Poe to her, which is more romantic than you might expect.
David: She asks him about his dream, and he asks “Dare we? But what use are dreams… if not blueprints for courageous action?” I am TOTALLY using that one. Thanks, Batman ’66.
Chris: For most of the show, West played stoic and stentorian as Batman so that the villains would have to focus, but here, his overdramatic professions of love have him chewing scenery with the best of them. It’s easy to see why he wanted to do more Bruce Wayne stuff in the movie — he’s clearly having a ton of fun with it. This is also is another point for Batman as a big kid — or at least a kid’s idea of what an adult should be — almost as much as him having a steam-jet reverse fireman’s pole two feet away from an elevator. He woos a girl by quoting poetry and making these elaborate confessions that never actually involve the word “I” or “you,” and when he’s kissed he has no idea how to react. It’s all on purpose, too, and it’s seriously brilliant craftsmanship.
David: Before they can kiss, though, the villains show up. Including the Joker, inexplicably in a domino mask.
Chris: And just like in a kid’s fantasy, the second he’s about to start kissing a girl, a bunch of evil crooks show up that he can punch out in order to prove his love without actually, you know, touching her.
David: It all sounds so dirty when it’s perfectly chaste. Which is exactly what this show was like.
Chris: Bruce doesn’t hold back, either. He goes into full-on Batman mode and just beats the hell out of a gang of criminals. Also, I love how Kitka reacts by making “scratch out their eyes!” motions, then realizes she’s supposed to be in disguise and affects this scared lady pose. It’s great.
David: It’s not as great as when Bruce wakes up in their headquarters and straight up threatens to kill everybody if they’ve harmed Kitka, even though Kitka is right in front of him. Domino masks, man. They fool everybody.
Chris: For now, though, what matters is that Robin dropped the ball on watching, so Batman is eventually overpowered by sheer numbers, and hauled off on a rocket-powered umbrella. Ain’t it always the way with girls, fellas?
David: This movie rules.
Chris: And that brings us to the end of the first half of the movie! HOW will Bruce Wayne escape the clutches of the United Underworld without revealing his secret identity? WILL he fall victim to the false charms of the divine Miss Kitka? Stay tuned, Cinematic Batmanologists — the worst is yet to come!