The Batman ’66 Episode Guide 1×01: Hi Diddle Riddle
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, the guide begins with the pilot episode, "Hi Diddle Riddle," in which the Prince of Puzzles has given up his life of crime... or has he?
Episode 1x01: Hi Diddle Riddle
Script: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Director: Robert Butler
Original Airdate: January 12, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
Let's start off with something that you probably already know: For a certain segment of Batman fans, Batman '66 has something of a checkered reputation. While it's pretty impossible to deny its success in bringing the Caped Crusader into a huge number of homes twice a week, there were, and still are, a lot of readers who blame the series for emphasizing the campy, silly aspects of Batman at the expense of the darker and more serious themes. There's definitely some truth to that -- the show was at its heart a comedy pretending to be an adventure show where the joke was that everything was played straight no matter how goofy it really was -- but to say that Batman traded the grim, driven crimefighter of the comics for a deputized square and a bunch of BIFF!s and POW!s isn't quite right. If you go back and actually read Silver Age Batman comics, it turns out that Batman was a pretty faithful adaptation.
And nowhere is that more evident than in "Hi Diddle Riddle," one of the few episodes of the series that was actually lifted directly from the comics. Specifically, Batman #171's "Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler."
There are a few changes to the details, but the overall structure and even a few of the actual riddles are taken straight from what Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff did in the comics. Either way, it is a weird way to start a series.
The plot of both the comic and the show involves the Riddler pretending to reform and Batman getting in trouble for harassing an (ex-)criminal who hasn't actually done anything wrong. In other words, in our first episode -- in the Riddler's first appearance -- the audience is already expected to be familiar with Batman and how his world works. Not only do we need to know that Batman himself exists, but we need to know that arch-criminals exist and that Batman has already fought them and put them in jail at least once, before we even get the first scene. '66 just didn't have time for origin stories, folks. They were too busy building deathtraps and piping in poison gas.
We open on the Gotham City World's Fair, where the Republic of Moldavia is holding their Prime Minister's Friendship Luncheon, capped off by the serving of the traditional Moldavian Friendship Cake. Unfortunately, when the Prime Minister goes to cut the cake, it explodes, which I don't think cakes were supposed to do even back in the '60s.
Along with the explosion is a note tied to a parachute that drifts down into the hands of a the policemen in attendance.
At the headquarters of the Gotham City Police Department, as Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) opens the note to reveal a sinister riddle: "Why is an orange like a bell?"
Along with the far more obscure Inspector Bash, Chief O'Hara (Stafford Repp) solemnly admits that it's the work of the Riddler, who Gordon calls "That Prince of Puzzlers that's outwitted us a dozen times." And then something happens on the show that you only really see in the first few episodes: They actually debate over whether they should call Batman.
I love the way this plays out. There's a palpable feeling of shame among the cops at being outclassed and helpless, and they sell it with this incredibly grim seriousness -- never forget that while they were definitely having a lot of fun on this show, these people were all pretty great actors. Gordon asks if anyone thinks they can handle the Riddler, and they all raise their heads to look at a bright red telephone sitting in the office.
"I don't know who he is behind that mask of his, but I know when we need him, and we need him now."
Gordon solemnly makes the call, and on the other end of the line, the red phone's twin glows and beeps in a lavishly appointed study, next to a bust of Shakespeare, where it's answered by one Alfred J. Pennyworth (Alan Napier), Gentleman's Personal Gentleman to the millionaire philanthropist, Bruce Wayne. And this is something that I have never understood about this show: Why is the Bat-Phone just sitting there on the desk?
I mean, I get that if it was down in the Batcave they probably wouldn't hear it ringing, but you'd think that just keeping your glowing red superhero phone in a drawer or something would be easier than forbidding Aunt Harriet from going into the study, or running the risk that someone could see it when they came over. It's also worth noting that the Bat-Phone was wholly an invention of the show; in the comics, Gordon and the police had traditionally summoned Batman with the far more theatrical Bat-Signal, and while it shows up in the closing credits, it appeared very rarely in the '66 era, notably in this episode and the movie.
Anyway, Alfred answers the phone with a brusque "I'll call him, sir," and we cut to our first glimpse at Bruce Wayne himself (Adam West), speaking to members of the Gotham City Council.
Wayne has just approved putting the funding of the Wayne Foundation behind their proposal, saying "Perhaps if there had been anti-crime centers of the type you now propose when my parents were murdered by dastardly criminals..." before being cut off by Alfred's entrance. This is, to my knowledge, one of only two times that Batman's origin is ever mentioned on the show, with the other being later in this episode, and that's all he ever says. No bat crashing through the window, no traveling around the world to hone his crime-fighting skills, just dead parents and a whole bunch of money.
Wayne excuses himself by saying that he promised to take his young ward fishing, and meets up with Dick Grayson (Burt Ward), who doesn't even get half a sentence's worth of an origin story. He does, however, have a pretty sweet cardigan and a meddlesome aunt (Madge Blake).
The two disappear into the study, and when they're informed that the Riddler is on the loose, Bruce pulls back Shakespeare's head to reveal a set of fire poles (handily labeled DICK and BRUCE) down to the Batcave.
That's a heck of a lot of story for a cold open.
When we return from the animated opening credits, Batman and Robin hop into the Batmobile -- a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car modified by customizer George Barris, which has since become synonymous both with Batman in general and the show in particular -- and head out through a hidden entrance in a cliffside for the 14-mile drive to Gotham City.
Once at Police Headquarters, Robin quickly solves the riddle (they both have appeal), which was lifted straight from the comic:
Like the comic, the clue leads the police to the Peale Art Gallery, and after a discussion of the Riddler's twisted criminal mind and his compulsion to leave clues, the Dynamic Duo roar off to check it out. Once they're there, however, the mobile Bat-Phone (which, unlike its stationary counterpart, is actually shaped like a bat) rings. Batman answers, and finds himself listening to a recording of the Riddler.
It's never actually explained how the Riddler got Batman's car-phone when they seem to only be connected to one line that goes direct to GCPD HQ, but some mysteries shall never be solved. Instead, we get a very solvable riddle, also lifted from the comics.
Rather than taking the time to solve it, Batman and Robin continue on their investigation, opting to avoid the front door and instead climb the wall with a Batarang and Bat-Rope, giving us the show's first-ever wall climb sequence.
This early in the show's run, there's no celebrity guest appearance, but we do get Batman claiming that Robin can't solve the riddle bceause "your mind's on that cute little teenager who waved at us across town," which is actually really creepy if you're the kind of person watching this scene over and over trying to get a proper screen shot. Also, anyone who thinks that they weren't actually cimbing a sheer wall and were just standing on a flat horizontal surface with the camera turned to the side, please note that their capes are hanging straight down. How do you explain that? Checkmate, bat-haters.
Once they're at the top of their climb, they look in and see the Riddler, apparently menacing art dealer Gideon Peale with a handgun. At nine minutes into the show , this is our first look at an arch-criminal, and is it ever a good one.
It's really hard for me to pin down who my favorite villain is -- as soon as I think I have it pinned down to being Gorshin's Riddler, I think about how great Burgess Meredith was in the episode where the Penguin ran for Mayor, and then I'm onto Victor Buono as King Tut, and we all know it's really Julie Newmar as Catwoman -- but if you want to talk about who was the most influential, it's Gorshin in a walk. The way he'd snap back and forth between manic glee and sheer homicidal rage was incredible and genuinely sinister, and informed a lot of what we recognize today as the core of the Joker's character. There's a shot here where he's so overtaken with glee at having roped Batman into his plan that he's stumbling down the hallway with laughter, knocking over priceless art as he slams himself into the wall that's beautiful, and likely exactly what Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson were trying to capture with the Joker in Batman '89.
So just what is that plan? Well, after hanging the bars on the windows up with a Bat-Hook in the name of pedestrian safety (complete with a bit of jaunty xylophone), the Dynamic Duo crash through the window and tackle the Riddler, placing him under arrest just in time for a photographer to show up and catch the event on film. The problem? The Riddler hasn't done anything wrong. The jeweled cross he was taking from Peale (another McGuffin lifted from the comic) belonged to him, and the gun was, as the riddle indicated, actually a cigarette lighter. Batman and Robin have, therefore, assaulted an innocent man, and as a result, the Riddler has slapped them with what "no man wants to have, but no man wants to lose": A lawsuit, to the tune of a million dollars and the reveal of Batman's identity.
Back at stately Wayne Manor, Bruce has been poring over his father's law books -- snapping them shut with a cloud of dust that's visible on the new DVD/Blu-Ray releases that I've never noticed before -- and we get our second (and I believe final) mention of his parents' murder, along with a lamentation that having his identity revealed would end his effectiveness as a secret crime-fighter.
Robin, however, suspects that there might be secret writing hidden on the subpoena, and so they head down to the Batcave to check it out. Sure enough, he's right. There are two more riddles written in invisible ink: "When is the time of a clock like the whistle of a train?" (When it's two to two), and "What has neither flesh, bone, nor nail, yet has four fingers and a thumb?" (A glove). The clues point to 222 Glover Avenue, of course, and so the pair of crimefighters head off to investigate.
Meanwhile, Jill St. John is dancing in "an abandoned subway tool room deep under Gotham City."
You may remember St. John from her role as Tiffany Case opposite Sean Connery in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, but here, she's Molly, a moll (geddit) for the Molehill Mob, another holdover from the comic. There, they were a gang that eluded Batman by escaping through manholes, and in order to prove that he'd reformed, the Riddler helped Batman bring them down in the first act of the story. Here, they're the first in a long line of generic goons (or G.O.O.N.s, which we'll get to) that work for the arch-villains.
At 222 Glover Ave., Batman and Robin arrive at the What A Way To Go-Go club -- remember that, because it'll be slightly important next week.
Since this is an establishment serving alcoholic beverages, Robin is forbidden from entering, meaning that Batman has to go solo when he investigates the discotheque. What follows is a pretty amazing scene for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the crowd's over-the-top reaction to seeing Batman, which falls somewhere between adulation and ecstacy, both of which would be understandable.
Batman encounters Molly at the bar, and when she taunts him with a riddle -- "why is a quarrel like a bargain" -- he's distracted from the bartender slipping a mickey into his orange juice. He drinks, and they hit the dance floor, and we get... The Batusi.
Robin, watching from the Batmobile, is momentariily distracted by the Caped Crusader's chemically-enhanced busting of moves, and while Batman realizes that he's been drugged -- "my drink... Dooooped!" -- Robin is tranquilized and kidnapped by the Riddler. He attempts to steal the Batmobile too, but the clearly labeled "Start Button" actually causes fireworks to shoot from a trio of exhaust pipes, alerting the cops. Thus, the Molehill Mob takes Robin down through the sewers, and when Batman tries to rescue him, he's stopped by the police for being clearly in no shape to drive.
With Batman drugged and humiliated in front of the police and unable to effect a rescue -- which is actually pretty gosh-darn dark for '66, to an extreme that I don't think they ever go to again -- Robin is in the clutches of the criminals, strapped down to an operating table with a genuinely frightening Frank Gorshin looming over him with a tray of scalpels.
And that, my friends, is probably the most terrifying cliffhanger we're likely to see, but it sets the pattern that the show is going to continue with for the next three years. The heroes are in dire peril, and the booming voice of Desmond Doomsday, our narrator (who was in reality William Dozier, the show's executive producer), finally makes its presence felt, asking Is this the ghastly end of our Dynamic Duo???
Find out next week, same time, same site!
Episode 1x01 Index
Batmobile False "Start Button" and Automatic Fire Extinguisher
Operating table in mob hideout, drugs.