The 1966 Batman television show was one of the most successful and influential adaptations of comic books to mass media of all time. Over the course of three seasons and 120 episodes, the series became a cultural force with its unique combination of tongue-in-cheek humor, thrilling superhero adventure and celebrity guest stars, and shaped the way the public would view the Caped Crusader for the next five decades. Now, in the midst of a well-deserved renaissance of the show, ComicsAlliance is proud to present The Batman '66 Episode Guide, an in-depth examination of every single adventure, arch-criminal and deathtrap cliffhanger of the series.

This week, we meet the show's most terrifying arch-villain... False Face!

 

 

Episode 1x17: True Or False Face

Script: Stephen Kandel
Director: William A. Graham
Original Air Date: March 9, 1966
Special Guest Villain: ? as False Face

This won't come as a surprise, I'm sure, but when I was growing up, I watched Batman every day. I loved the show, and while I definitely had my favorites (season 3's "Londinium Larcenies"), there was only one episode that I didn't look forward to --- not because it wasn't good, but because it scared the living heck out of me. And that's the episode we're watching this week.

Our villain is False Face, who is definitely one of the more obscure villains to make the jump from comics to television. He first battled the Caped Crusader in the pages of 1958's Batman #113, in a story by Sheldon Moldoff and an uncredited writer that was definitely overshadowed by the much more well-known "The Super-Batman of Planet X," which ran in the same issue and is completely awesome.

 

 

The story isn't bad by any means --- there's a great set piece involving a gigantic barrel full of cash that Batman has to run on top of --- but it's also kind of forgettable. It's very much a typical story of the era, and False Face's "master of disguise" gimmick is just a little too normal to really stick out, especially when last week's episode of this very show referred to the Joker as a master of disguise. I mean, it has to be a much tougher job being a master of disguise when you have chalk-white skin and lime green hair, you know?

The TV version of False Face, on the other hand, was anything but forgettable. He was seared into my memory, and while a lot of it had to do with just how creepy he looks with that plastic mask --- and how that's treated as his "real" face --- but most of it had to do with how he was credited:

 

 

You'd have to ask my mom to be sure, but I don't think I ever really had that much of a hard time telling fantasy from reality, especially where Batman was concerned. I mean, they told you right up front that there was a guy named Frank Gorshin playing the Riddler. With False Face, though, even the people making the show didn't know who he was. He was the one villain who felt real, and that was super scary.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our story opens in the Gotham City Exhibit Hall, where "the infamous criminal master of trickery and disguise," who is threatening to steal a jeweled tiara belonging to the Princess of Mergenberg, leaving one of his trademark "false quotes" to taunt the police. But while Chief O'Hara and the curator of the exhibit talk about how they're going to prevent the crime --- a rare instance of the Gotham City Police Department actually attempting to do things for themselves for a change --- False Face is already there, disguised as the Princess's assistant. And when he reveals himself, he literally pulls off a piece of his face and sets it on fire.

 

 

Admittedly, it's just the fake beard that he's wearing over his regular mask, but that it's the same plastic makes it really creepy. Or maybe just me.

False Face isn't alone, though. It turns out that the alleged "princess" is really just his sidekick Blaze (Myrna Fahey), and with the distraction from the exploding beard, they're able to make off with the tiara, leaving a fake in its place. The police give chase, but after springing ballet style into a false police van...

 

 

...which itself gets disguised for a bakery delivery van. Looking back as an adult, I love how (spoiler warning) Malachi Throne plays False Face. He goes all in on making up for the fact that his face is covered, and every motion he makes is huge and theatrical.

The cops finally decide that it's time to call Batman and Robin in, and after a phone call that interrupts Dick Grayson's botany lesson - "Come come, Dick. Pine, elm, hickory, chestnut, maple... Part of our heritage is the lore of living things, the storybook of nature!" - and gets the good guys on the case. Thus, after the opening titles and the sinister credit for False Face, Batman and Robin head to Gordon's office, where an elderly messenger delivers a strange clue: "I intend to give money to a defenseless little girl."

It seems that False Face, like Bizarro, speaks in opposites, and thus intends to take money from the Ladd Armored Car company. But that's not their only clue. The old man himself turns out to be the opposite of an old man, when her mask is removed to reveal Blaze:

 

 

It's worth noting that Blaze is a lot more proactive than most of the molls and sidekicks that we see in the series, which is probably why Jeff Parker and Christopher Jones brought her back for their False Face story in the Batman '66 comic. Here, she delivers a challenge to Batman --- to prove that False Face has, in fact, committed a crime, and to catch him.

And then she just straight jumps headfirst out a window.

 

 

It's an impressive stunt, but it's also something else that made this episode feel so real to me when I was a kid. I mean, people didn't just jump out of the sets on this show, and you never saw police headquarters from the back --- although strangely, I never really noticed that it looks like a completely different building.

Blaze lands on a prepared airbag and speeds away with False Face, heading back to FF's hideout, where everyone is wearing wigs...

 

 

...one of which contains the actual Mergenberg crown.

Meanwhile, Batman checks in with the Ladd Armored Car company, and finds that a money truck is indeed missing. He calls for backup at the Gotham National Bank, and the manager tells him that "every law-abiding citizen goes with you today in spirit," prompting his secretary to follow up with "and if it were possible, in body!" I love this, because it's another great example of Batman just straight up being the Greatest Of Men. Like, people lose their minds when he's around and start saying that stuff out loud. Wouldn't you? I would.

But y'all already knew that.

Sure enough, Batman discovers False Face at the bank, disguised as an armored car driver, getting ready to heist a literal truckload of money. But what's this? The armored car was itself a false front, hiding a smaller van that he speeds off in to avoid capture. As we already know, though, there's no car on the road that can outrun the Batmobile, and when they follow False Face into a blind alley, the Dynamic Duo ends up being ambushed by FF's henchmen, giving us the shortest installment of the Bat Sound Effect Onomatopoeia Matrix there is:

 

Click for full size

 

During the fight, Blaze tries to boost the Batmobile, and False Face gets away with the help of a smoke bomb and a quick change into a picture-perfect disguise as Chief O'Hara, kidnapping the genuine article as he goes.

At the Batcave, Batman and Robin use the computerized Batanalyst to determine that False Face's notes were printed on the same kind of paper that's used for money, which means that he has the resources to print up false money in the form of counterfeit bills. This sends them to the storage warehouse for bank notes, just in time to catch Blaze pilfering a cartload of paper. This time, it's the Caped Crusaders who are on the ambush, and while Blaze tries to knock them out with a trick cigarette holder, Batman counters it pretty handily by just blowing the powder back into her face.

Throughout all this, False Face has been infiltrating the GCPD disguised as Chief O'Hara, claiming a toothache in order to mask his voice. He's there for Blaze's interrogation, helping to arrange yet another duplicitous ambush, as Blaze offers to lead Batman and Robin to False Face's hideout, with "O'Hara" arranging their backup.

Soon enough, Batman, Robin and Blaze are in a shut-down subway station --- "centrally located for False Face's nefarious plans" --- when Blaze asks for a candy bar from a nearby vending machine. Despite a stated preference for healthier fresh fruit, Batman agrees to buy her one... and then finds himself gassed by the gimmicked vending machine, a false front for False Face.

 

 

Again: terrifying.

With that, and a haunting laugh from the arch-villain, Batman and Robin are trussed up on the subway tracks with "quick setting plastic cement," with a subway car bearing down on them. Despite Blaze's protests and regrets, they're left there to be run over, a truly harrowing end for the Dynamic Duo. Will they get out of it? Stay tuned, dear reader. The worst is yet to come!

 

Index of Episode 1x17:

Bat-Gadgets:

  • Batanalyst

Exclamations:

  • "Holy Houdini!"
  • "Jiminy!" (said twice in this episode in back-to-back scenes, it's weird)

Deathtrap:

  • Quick-drying plastic cement securing the heroes to the Gotham City Subway tracks.