The Batman ’66 Episode Guide 1×03: Fine Feathered Finks
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 Penguin embarks on a daring criminal plot... and not even he knows what it is!
Episode 1x03: Fine Feathered Finks
Script: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Director: Robert Butler
Original Air Date: January 19, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Burgess Meredith as The Penguin
Much like they did with their first episode, the producers of Batman looked to the comics for inspiration when it came time for the Caped Crusader to embark on his second two-part television adventure. What they found was Eddie "France" Herron and Sheldon Moldoff's "Partners In Plunder" from 1965's Batman #169, a comic featuring the Penguin where the cover includes the truly amazing line "I'm off on a joy-ride to feather my crime-nest with this jeweled meteorite," and if any of us are ever in a position to actually say that, I think we can consider our lives more or less complete. Unlike the Riddler story they used for "Hi Diddle Riddle," however, which only provided a loose foundation, "Fine Feathered Finks" is actually a pretty strict adaptation of the source material. They definitely added a bunch of scenes to it to get an hour of television out of 12 pages, but a lot it comes direct from the issue, right down to some of the more bizarre set pieces.
To start off, the show opens, as we hear from Desmond Doomsday, "just before nine o'clock on a bright, sunny morning in Gotham City," with a trio of goons handing out free umbrellas outside of a new jewelry store, the House of Ali Baba:
Again, I don't want to get too victim-blamey here, but at the time of this story, the Penguin has already served a sentence in prison for what I can only assume was probably an umbrella-related crime. If you're in Gotham City and you see three dudes in black bowlers roll out of an unmarked van and start handing out umbrellas outside of a jewelry store and you think "oh this is a normal thing that should be happening," then really, you deserve whatever robbery heist you're about to find yourself caught up in.
To be fair, though, the same thing happened in the comics...
...and those people had a whole lot more experience dealing with Gotham's particular flavor of grand larceny.
Sure enough, once everyone's inside the jewelry store -- and the goons have departed in the same van -- the whole place is thrown into chaos when their umbrellas snap open in clouds of confetti and a shower of sparks. It's the perfect cover for a heist, but here's the twist: There isn't one. It's just a harmless prank, albeit an extremely disruptive one. Or is it?!
At GCPD headquarters, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara declare that a trick umbrella is the trademark of this week's villain, the Penguin, who just so happens to have been released from the Gotham State Penitentiary three days prior, and since he's officially at Arch-Criminal status, this is going to present a problem. I mentioned in episode 1 that there's this weird period at the start of the series where the cops actually discuss the possibility of fighting crime themselves before turning things over to Batman, and in this one, it takes the form of a pretty confrontational exchange from a Gordon who sounds like he's verging on pure disgust for his men:
GORDON: Any volunteers, men? Any of you think you're smart enough to net the Penguin?
O'HARA: Ah, the devil with pride, Commissioner! I speak for us all: There's but one man livin' that can throw the net over that cagey bird!
GORDON: Thank you, Chief O'Hara. I admire your honesty.
With that, the call is placed, interrupting a lesson in French being taught to a frustrated Dick Grayson by a calm and optimistic Bruce Wayne, who naturally believes that mastery of foreign languages is "the key to world peace -- perhaps if we spoke each other's tongues, the scourge of war would be ended forever." Incidentally, legendary Batman writer Mike W. Barr mentioned in an email to me that the French lesson might be a reference to France Herron, the writer of the original comic. Sadly, Français will have to wait, and after offering up their go-to cover story of "going fishing" to Aunt Harriet, they're off for a spot of crime-fighting.
Incidentally, that's the entirety of the show's cold open, going almost five full minutes before we get to the opening credits. When we return (and after we get the stock footage of Batman and Robin's 13-mile drive ot Gotham City), we're introduced to one of my absolute favorite recurring characters on the show:
This is Warden Crichton (David Lewis), who may actually be the most cynical part of the show, unless you're prepared to take him entirely at face value. I wrote about him a little before, but the gist of it, something that starts here in this scene, is that he's a firm believer in the rehabilitative power of prison, and employs "progressive policies" in order to reform his charges rather than punishing them. The trick, of course, is that Batman's arch-enemies never even get close to being reformed, meaning that Crichton's softer, humanitarian approach is at best pointless and at worst legitimately dangerous to the extremely gullible people of Gotham City and their assorted Egyptian cat statues. Still, I am pretty fond of that surface idea that Batman is actually in favor of this, assuming that eventually the system's going to work and one of these days, an arch-criminal will pay his debt to society and come back as a model citizen. He even refers to Crichton's policies as "sound penology," which is as ringing an endorsement as I can imagine.
Anyway, Crichton has been rushed in via helicopter (which Gordon pronounces as "heela-copter"), in order to give insight on the Penguin's motivation, and fortunately enough, he has a surveillance tape from the Penguin's cell from just before he was released:
In case you were wondering, it's one of Crichton's "progressive policies" to allow felons to wear their own clothes for the week before their release.
This is our first glimpse of Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, and as will be the case for all of his appearances on the show (he was the second-most frequent villain after Cesar Romero's Joker), it is great. Not to be overly critical of Crichton (his heart's in the right place, at least), but if he'd watched this tape before the Penguin was released, he probably could've saved us a lot of trouble, what with the fact that the Penguin is loudly plotting a crime spree and referring to himself as "an aristocrat of crookery!" Unfortunately, the Penguin is at a loss to actually think up a crime, until his cellmate makes an offhand remark about how much different the world would be if the Batman was a crook rather than a crimefighter, just before Penguin notices the camera and destroys it.
Since their only clues thus far are the umbrellas, Batman and Robin decide that the best course of action will be to check the public record to see if there are any new umbrella factories that have opened up in the past three days. Two things about this: 1) They're only looking up new umbrella factories, which means that Batman presumably keeps tabs on all the existing umbrella factories, which, really, is one of the smartest things he can do, and 2) they find that there are three new umbrella factories that have opened up this week. How many umbrella factories can one town, even a metropolis the size of Gotham, possibly support to the point where they've got at least three opening up in a week?
Either way, if you ever want to know why the GCPD needs to rely on Batman solve their problems, consider that Gordon looks through the files for the three new umbrella factories and then promptly gives up because none of them are registered under the name "Penguin." It takes Robin to suggest that maybe he's using an alias, and sure enough...
...they find the K.G. Bird umbrella company, which is owned and operated by the Penguin himself, currently working on what he calls "the most fantastical gimmick in my whole criminal career!" But when his henchmen ask what he's planning, he answers by telling them... "Nothing." In a devious criminal scheme, he's going to get Batman to do the planning for him, tempting him with a "clue" in the form of an umbrella that could mean anything, and then seeing what crime Batman thinks it points to. Personally, I'd question the logic of letting Batman figure out your plan for you, since he's also going to be coming up with a plan for stopping you, but that, I believe, is beside the point.
What's interesting here is that this is the third episode of the show (and only the second story), and once again, we're getting a story that twists the expected formula -- a formula that we actually haven't seen yet. It's something that you'd expect from comics, since the Penguin was 25 years into his criminal career at this point, but in the TV show, this is the first that we've seen from him. It makes me wonder if Dozier, Semple and Butler thought that the regular structure of a Batman story was so commonly known to the television-watching public that they wanted to skip ahead to subverting it, or if these were just the stories that they thought were more interesting. Or, since both adventures so far were based on comics, maybe that's just what they figured superhero stories were like, which isn't actually that far off the truth.
While they're on their way to the K.G. Bird, though, they're diverted by another call about a man handing out mysterious umbrellas, outside a bank. They hit the Emergency Bat-Turn and race to the scene, and sure enough, it's another bunch of trick umbrellas that bursts into smoke after they arrive:
But again, there's no actual crime, outside of explosive umbrellas that are chucked into a trash can anyway, and no sketchy looking thugs in domino masks making a break for it. The whole thing seems like a perplexing diversion -- which, of course, is exactly what it is, giving the Penguin time to finish his final trick umbrella.
Batman and Robin finally arrive at the umbrella factory, and Batman just straight walks in and asks "What's the plot, Penguin?" which is a pretty baller move by any standard. The Penguin plays innocent -- smarmy, but innocent -- claiming that he makes the umbrellas, but "what they do after they leave here is hardly my affair." Batman and Robin can't argue with that, so they bail, only to find themselves in one of the most memorable shots of the entire series, when a massive umbrella comes down in the middle of a Gotham City street:
Again, this is lifted directly from the comics, which is pretty awesome since it's not the kind of thing you'd really expect to see on a live-action TV show:
Sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed the second, regular-sized umbrella attached to the larger one's handle, which is the real object of the game, and which Batman promptly recovers with the aid of a Batarang and the Bat-Rope, walking straight up the handle. Even more intriguing, there's a plaque on the smaller umbrella's handle identifying it as a "Special Batbrella, Compliments of K.G. Bird."
Obviously, it requires analysis at the Batcave, and when they head back, there's a neat little bit of continuity. You will doubtless remember that in the last episode, Molly the Moll fell to her death inside the Batcave's Atomic Pile, which is probably why Robin flips right the heck out when he and Batman get home and see Alfred up there with a vacuum cleaner, presumably cleaning up Molly's ashes:
Don't worry, though -- as Alfred points out, he has engaged the Safety Lock, which I have to imagine was something he and Batman put on that thing sometime in the past week to prevent any further disintegrations.
As for the Batbrella, the Dynamic Duo subject it to a battery of tests from the Hyper-Spectrographic Analyzer and the Chemo-Electric Secret Writing Detector, but it comes back negative on both counts -- and oddly enough, neither test reveals the bugging device hidden in the handle. The good guys prove to be as devious as the crooks, though, when Batman decides that they should just flat-out quit trying to figure out the clue and take the easy way out by bugging the Penguin's hideout themselves. and to do that, Batman decides to pay his foe a visit as Bruce Wayne.
It does not go so well.
Bruce arrives at the Umbrella factory with an antique umbrella that he claims "belonged to my late father," but as soon as he plants the bug, an alarm goes off and a net drops to trap Wayne, the result of the Penguin equipping his shop "with an automatic anti-bugging machine!" Oddly enough, the Penguin doesn't recognize Gotham City's most famous philanthropic millionaire, instead believing him to be "some rival umbrella king, perhaps" and sends his henchmen, handily identified by their shirts as Hawkeye and Sparrow, to do away with him down in the basement. They obey, strapping him down to a conveyor belt that will feed him into a furnace, closing out this episode on a surprisingly mundane (but pretty terrifying) cliffhanger.
Stick around for next week's column, dear reader -- the worst is yet to come!
Episode 1x02 Index:
Emergency Bat-Turn Lever
Chemo-Electric Secret Writing Detector
Electronic Bugging Device
Conveyor belt-fed umbrella-forging furnace