The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×19: The Purr-Fect Crime
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 finally meet that felonious feline... Catwoman!
Episode 1x19: The Purr-Fect Crime
Script: Stanley Ralph Ross and Lee Orgel
Director: James Sheldon
Original Air Date: March 16, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Julie Newmar as Catwoman
You might've already guessed this from these little chats we've had over the past few weeks, but I have a real hard time figuring out who my favorite Batman '66 villain is. The one that I always go to is Victor Buono as King Tut. He's fantastic, and he's the one that I brought up when I actually interviewed Adam West a few years back, but I'll admit that's as much because he's so overlooked when people talk about the Special Guest Villains as it is because of how great he is. Gorshin's Riddler is definitely the most influential, and I've read that Burgess Meredith's Penguin was the favorite of the show's writers, who always had a script ready to go for whenever he was in town. That's just scratching the surface, and, as is the case with so many things, the one I like the most tends to just be the one that's in the episode I'm watching at any given time.
So rather than saying she's my favorite, I'll just say that Julie Newmar is absolutely incredible as Catwoman.
Given how important Catwoman is in the history of the Batman mythos --- the only character who's arguably more important, aside from the Caped Crusader himself, is the Joker, and Catwoman's certainly had more success as a solo act --- it's always surprising to me that they waited as long as they did to introduce her to the show. I mean, you'd think she'd be right there in with the rest of them, but we get two Joker and Riddler adventures before Catwoman shows up, and we even get the semi-original Zelda the Great stealing her spot as the show's first Special Guest Villainess. In fact, she's the only major Batman villain to get only one episode in the first season. Riddler gets four.
When she does show up, however, it's easily one of the best episodes of the show so far.
We open, per Desmond Doomsday, at midnight in the Gotham City art museum, where a guard is distracted by what is very clearly a human being making kitty cat noises, only to have his pistol whipped out of his hand by what will be erroneously referred to as a "cat o' nine tails" for the duration of the series. The object of these criminal acts: A golden cat statue, one of a set of two, purr-loined by a mysterious figure who carves through the glass of the display case with her gloved hand.
The music here is especially worth mentioning. Each of the arch-villains has their own little theme song that's used as a leitmotif through the course of the episode --- they do the same thing on Batman: The Animated Series too. Here, though, they give Catwoman this bizarre little theremin piece that seems like it's more at home in a sci-fi movie than a campy superhero show.
At police headquarters, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara are discussing the crime when Gordon's secretary, Bonnie, brings in a box that was dropped off by a very jumpy man. A box containing... an adorable kitten:
One of my favorite pieces of obscure Batman trivia is that in a few early Golden Age stories, he would send criminals a "calling card" in the form of a live bat in a box through the mail, and then when they opened it and the bat started flying around, he'd throw a dart through their window and kill it. This, I think we can all agree, would be a pretty terrifying experience that would probably cause you to rethink your life of crime, but it didn't last long, for obvious reasons. Catwoman's calling card, on the other hand, is significantly more adorable, and thankfully doesn't involve anyone murdering it with a dart.
It does, however, involve a truly amazing shot of Gordon solemnly handing O'Hara a mewling kitten when he realizes that it's time to call Batman:
Meanwhile, at Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward Dick Grayson (secretly Batman and Robin) are engaging in a bit of mental training through the medium of quadruple-decker chess.
"It's actually quite rudimentary, Dick. You just have to think fourteen moves ahead, that's all."
"Holy Reshevsky! Gosh, Bruce, I think I'll just stick to Latin crossword puzzles!"
For those of you who may be wondering, Dick is referencing Samuel Reshevsky (1911 - 1992), who was at the time a six-time U.S. Chess Champion, who would capture his seventh and final national championship in 1969. During a 1953 tournament in Zurich, it was rumored, and later confirmed, that the KGB had ordered Soviet players to not let Reshevsky advance to the world championships, to the point of allegedly rigging the games among themselves to keep him from scoring the overall victory. Now that sounds like something Batman shoiuld've gotten involved in.
The Caped Crusaders head to Police Headquarters, where Batman refers to Catwoman's robbery of the museum as "merely the first stitch in a large tapestry of crime!" To that end, they meet with Mark Andrews, the owner of the cat statue --- the set of cat statues, in fact, as there are two. One was on loan to the museum, but the other is on display at the Gotham City Exposition, and since Catwoman was kind enough to send a newspaper clipping along with her adorable calling card, it stands to reason that it's going to be her next target.
As they hop into the Batmobile, Robin initially neglects to put on his "safety Bat-belt," since their drive to the Expo will be a short one. It's one of my favorite moments on the show, because West goes into full-on dad mode with an "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed" speech about how Robin needs to learn about driver safety. It's one of the best examples of the show going over the top with a heavy handed moral lesson from Square Batman, but darn it, he's right. Safe driving practices are important, old chum.
Meanwhile, we're transported to the warehouse of the Gato and Chat Fur Company, which the linguists among you will probably recognize as Catwoman's hideout, where we finally see our arch-criminal. It's a neat reveal, too, with Newmar appearing in the shadows and then quite literally stepping into the light to get a status report from her henchmen, Leo and Felix:
It's worth noting that while it certainly appears in later episodes, the romantic aspect of Batman and Catwoman's relationship is initially completely absent. She's here to kill 'im, succeeding where so many others (well, seven others at this point) have tried and failed.
Her main plan, though, goes a bit further, as revealed when she starts reading through volumes of The History of Gotham City, checked out (legally, it seems!) from the Gotham City Public Library. The cats have something to do with the Lost Treasure of Captain Manx, a notorious pirate who terrorized the seas, but eventually willed his fortune to Gotham's many orphans --- a fortune that was never found. But that little tidbit won't be revealed until later.
For now, Batman and Robin adjourn to the Batcave, where they charge up the Batmobile with the Atomic Pile while also engaging in a bit of radioactive trickery. Trickery... that involves Batman putting rubber gloves on over his usual gloves.
Just when you think this episode has run out of delights to show you, it just keeps going.
The end result of all this science is a harmless but incredibly radioactive spray that they'll be able to detect anywhere within fifty miles using the sophisticated equipment in the Batmobile. Seems pretty safe. Safe enough to go spray it on something that's on display for the public, at least. Which is exactly what they do.
Unfortunately for the forces of good, however, the attendant selling tickets at the Expo is none other than Leo the Henchman, who finks on Batman's whereabouts to Catwoman so that she can set up an ambush. She strikes at midnight, waiting until Batman goes to patrol the exposition before setting a cat with poisoned claws on Robin, taking him out of the equation and luring Batman into a battle against her henchmen, seen here with the Bat-Sound Effect Onomatopoeia Matrix:
Ten full adventures into the show, and we're still getting new sound effect cards. Pretty neat, all things considered.
The fight finally ends --- after a not insignificant portion of the Expo's exhibits get thoroughly trashed --- when Robin tumbles out of the sarcophagus that Catwoman was hiding him in, giving her the distraction that she needs to beat feet with the second cat statue, or "catue." Robin is revived with a Universal Drug Antidote Pill to counteract the deadly "catacol" he was dosed with, and all things considered, it's a victory for the good guys: The radioactive catue will lead them right to her.
It's at this point that we get an exchange that I honestly can't believe made it onto television fifty years ago:
FELIX: Yes, Catwoman?
CATWOMAN: You can brush my pussywillows before you leave. And don't go against the fur.
I feel nervous just typing that. And if you liked that gag, don't worry: Ross and Orgel will be bringing it back next time, too.
The radioactive catue leads the Caped Crusaders to Gato & Chat, where they employ the Batmobile's Bat-Beam to blow the door open, narrowly avoiding an explosive trap. It's far from the only one, though --- once they're inside, it's one trap after another, as Catwoman, true to her name, toys with her prey before finally doing them in, as her minions watch on closed-circuit television.
First, it's the classic closing walls lined with spikes...
...but those turn out to be rubber. A bomb dropped in the room by Felix is a similar toy, "exploding" with a flag that reads "Meow!"
Eventually, though, we get to the genuine article: Robin is sucked away with a giant vacuum tube, leaving Batman with a classic dilemma: Two doors, one leading to Catwoman and the other leading to a deadly Panthera tigris --- quite literally forcing him to choose between the lady and the tiger!
But what's this?! The game was rigged all along, and when the Caped Crusader makes his choice, he's set upon by the largest of the jungle cats, forced into hand-to-hand combat with one of nature's deadliest predators. Be here next week, readers - the worst is yet to come!
Index of Episode 1x19:
- "Holy Reshevsky!"
- Safety Bat-Belt
- Radioactive Mist and Bat-o-Meter
- Universal Drug Antidote Pils