The Batman ’66 Episode Guide 1×30: While Gotham City Burns
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, Bookworm strikes with THE SINGLE GREATEST DEATHTRAP OF THE ENTIRE SHOW.
Episode 1x30: While Gotham City Burns
Script: Rik Vollaerts
Director: Larry Peerce
Original Air Date: April 21, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Roddy McDowall as the Bookworm
One of the things you notice when you're watching each episode of Batman as its own piece, rather than looking at the series as a whole or even doing two at a time to get the full adventure, is how weird a lot of these titles were. A lot of it's just as a function of the rhyming convention that they came up with to identify them as two-parters, but for most of my life, I watched the show in re-runs in hour-long blocks where you always got one title right after the next, and that sort of lulls you into the rhythm of forgetting how strange they really are. When you're only seeing one a week and kind of staring at it multiple times, though, it starts to get to you.
Point being, "While Gotham City Burns" is an extremely dramatic title for what we're about to see. Not that the events of the show aren't dramatic in their own right, you understand, but, well, Gotham City is never really in danger of burning, even if Batman and Robin themselves are almost cooked alive in a giant oven.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. When we last left our heroes, there was an entirely different deathtrap in play: The chimes of Big Benjamin, threatening to batter Robin into paste when the clock strikes midnight!
Even though the cliffhanger in the last episode specified that it was less than a minute to midnight, the show cheats a bit here by cutting back to what Desmond Doomsday tells us is "a few minutes earlier, even as Bookworm binds Robin to the clapper of a giant bell." While Robin was being KOed by Lydia Limpet and trussed up for his chronological doom, Batman himself was on the way to knowingly spring the trap laid by the false clue about Bookworm's plot to steal the Declaration of Independence.
Sidenote: Considering that Bookworm steals all his plots from novels, would it not be amazing if it turned out he'd been reading the novelization of the major motion picture National Treasure?
When he arrives at the replica of Independence Hall, however, he's confronted not with Bookworm, but with Chief O'Hara, informing him that their search didn't turn up anything. It's a scene, too --- West keeps talking over Stafford Repp's lines during the first bit and there's an awkward pause at one point that makes it feel strangely improvised. The next bit, though, involves Batman going into a sort of trance where he attempts to "fathom the subconscious of a deadly criminal" by repeating clues from the first episode in a hypnotic monotone, and there's no way that wasn't part of a beautiful, beautiful script.
Also, speaking of beauty, we learn here that #OHaraFace shines brightly even in the darkness.
Whatever the source of Batman's mental conditioning, it works, and he realizes that "he strikes at midnight" could only refer to a clock, and, of course, "there's only one clock in Gotham City that is called he" --- the Wayne Memorial Tower's own Big Benjamin.
Now that Batman's caught up with the same knowledge as the audience, he's quick to put a rescue plan into action, speeding to Big Benjamin with O'Hara in tow as the seconds count down to Robin's doom. In what has to be a pretty weird moment for Batman, O'Hara pulls out his gun and starts shooting at the building named for Batman's dead parents. This, of course, passes without comment, and without actually changing the situation at all. Unlike its namesake, the tower seems to be bulletproof.
Eventually, Batman decides to take things a step further and gets out the Batzooka, shooting a pair of grappling hooks onto the hands of the clock and charging them with the nuclear power source of the Batmobile in order to magnetize the bell and the clapper to make them repel each other. To be To be honest, I'm not entirely sure the science there is sound, but who am I to argue with the Caped Crusader? It works, Robin is saved, and upon not hearing the tolling of the hour, Bookworm promptly flips the flip out.
I mentioned it last time, but it's worth noting again that McDowall is amazing at going from zero to a hundred and back again in roughly one second --- he does the same thing in his episode of Columbo, go check out the end of it where they're all on the cable car. Here, he just starts screaming and the rest of the gang runs in sheer terror until he immediately calms down and starts quoting Tobias Smollett's translation of Gil Blas, correctly attributing a quote that's often given to Thomas Jefferson: "Facts are stubborn things."
With at least half of his plan for murder foiled, Bookworm embarks on a new --- but equally sinister --- plan, and the next day, he's at Wayne Manor, stately home of millionaire Bruce Wayne (secretly the Batman, for those of you just joining us).
The plot point here is that Bookworm steals a "priceless first edition cookbook" from Aunt Harriet's collection, but there are two far more important things to note. One, that both Alfred and Mrs. Cooper completely fail to recognize Bookworm, a famous arch-criminal, even though they were both watching the television broadcast where he "assassinated" the fake Commissioner Gordon. Second, Bookworm's leather suit is audibly creaking throughout the entire scene. That thing had to be amazingly uncomfortable. Roddy McDowall was a heck of a trooper.
Even though they're only a few floors below in the underground Batcave, Batman and Robin are surprisingly unaware of the events transpiring above until they're called by the police, presumably after Aunt Harriet woke up and reported the theft. But rather than going upstairs to check it out, there's a more pressing problem. And this, my friends, is where things get amazing.
Because that "more pressing problem" is a giant cookbook that appears without warning in the middle of a busy intersection.
This entire sequence is amazing. The dialogue alone!
"Take cover in the side streets! The recipes in this book could be explosive!"
"That fine pair of crime-fighters, boiled in the entrails of a monster cookbook! Who could imagine a more tragic end?!"
It's so great. And it's equally great when Batman and Robin attempt to open the book by busting out the Super-Powered Bat-Magnet that they have laying around:
Where's that action figure?
The book opens, but unbeknownst to the Dynamic Duo, it's not the magnet that's pulling open the high-tensile steel cover, it's Bookworm luring them into a trap. Sure enough, when they're greeted with a "title page," they cut their way in, only to find themselves confronted with... well, with what you'd probably expect to find inside a cookbook big enough to block traffic: A kitchen, complete with an inspirational needlepoint on the wall.
Within seconds, however, the paper door is revealed to be a trap, and Bookworm informs our heroes via radio that they're the ones being cooked, roasted alive by an over-powered double boiler.
With the police outside the book helpless to break through --- the only thing powerful enough to crack open the book is the Bat-Ray on the Batmobile, and Bookworm's already made off with it for the last part of his plot --- there's only one chance: Hoping that they can get a radio message to the Batcave so that Alfred can lend them a hand. They do, and he does, and in the process, the surprisingly nimble sixty-three year-old Alan Napier hops the Atomic Pile's railing like a boss.
But even Alfred can't break them out. All he can do is follow Batman's curious request to look up files from the City Planner's office.
Back at the book, Commissioner Gordon asks O'Hara who the best safecracker on file is, and when O'Hara responds by telling him it's the Riddler, Gordon demands that a helicopter --- which he pronounces "heela-copter," Téodor style --- be sent to bring him to the site so that he can have a try at opening the book. Given that the Riddler has already tried to murder Batman on three occasions and will be trying again next week, this seems like a pretty unlikely plan for help. Fortunately, it's not necessary: The cops have finally realized that there are very few problems that can't be solved with dynamite.
Alas, when the book is opened, Batman and Robin are nowhere to be seen --- vaporized, no doubt, by the intense heat of "this diabolical Hell's kitchen!"
But it was not simply the death of Batman and Robin that Bookworm was after. He wanted the Batmobile, and now, we find out why: His target is Gotham's famous Morganbilt Library, containing "seven Gutenberg Bibles, eleven First Folios by William Shakespeare," and more literary treasures besides. Such valuable books are, of course, protected by a serious vault --- one that can only be cracked by blowing it open with the Bat-Beam.
There's another moment here of Bookworm pretentiously correcting a quote, too. When Lydia Limpet worries that their "best laid plans" might go awry, Bookworm exasperatedly corrects with the original line, "best laid schemes."
"YOU are graded C MINUS."
Sure enough, the Bat-Beam is unstoppable, but what's this?! It's not the sight of rare books that greets Bookworm and his henchmen, but Batman and Robin, who escaped the calamitous cookbook through the steam pipe that was being used to power the boiler!
In a pretty great moment, Bookworm hides himself in a nearby oil drum, collecting his henchmen's glasses so that they can fight unhindered, and orders them to the attack.
With the goons disposed of, Bookworm and Ms. Limpet are taken into custody without much trouble, and the next day, Bruce Wayne cuts a check for $5,000 to the prison library to improve the quality of uplifting literature available to the convicted felons of Gotham City, encouraging their reformation.
But just in case you think he's all heart, consider this: At the episode's final moments, Bruce Wayne takes a moment to out-quote Bookworm, shutting him down by identifying a misattributed Shakespeare quote as the product of Cervantes. BOOM.
Index of Episode 1x30:
- "Holy tome!"
- "Holy stewpot!"
- High-Energy Ray
- Super-Powered Bat Magnet