The Batman ’66 Episode Guide 1×04: The Penguin’s A Jinx
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's inaugural adventure continues with the perfect crime... planned by the Batman himself!
Episode 1x04: The Penguin's A Jinx
Script: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Director: Robert Butler
Original Air Date: January 20, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Burgess Meredith as The Penguin
When we last left our hero, Batman -- in his guise as Bruce Wayne, who is in turn suspected by the Penguin of being a rival umbrella manufacturer -- was in the clutches of a deathtrap that was... well, actually pretty disappointing, really. I think most people who have fond memories of the show tend to remember the elaborate and increasingly ludicrous machines for killing Batman, like having him boiled alive by a giant coffee pot mounted on a billboard or being flattened into two dimensions, but these early episodes weren't quite there yet. Instead, we've got something that was both oddly mundane and undoubtedly cliché, even in 1966: A conveyor belt that's feeding him into the flames of a furnace that's used for metalworking.
Admittedly, it is a little closer to the eventual formula than that first episode, where the Riddler essentially got Batman drunk and had Robin strapped to an operating table, leering over him with a tray of scalpels, looking like he was going to go full-on Cage/Travolta and cut his face/off. If nothing else, there's a handy sign letting us know that this particular furnace is burning at 10,000 degrees, which, for those of you keeping score at home, is roughly the surface temperature of the sun.
So maybe it's not so mundane after all.
Bruce's method of escape sure is, though. As the Penguin watches on a closed-circuit television, unable to place Bruce's strangely familiar face, Bruce whips out a cigarette lighter containing "a lifetime supply of butane gas" and wings it into the furnace, using the resulting explosion to knock himself off the conveyor belt and cover his escape.
Penguin, still believing Bruce to be a criminal himself who was trying to find the secrets of his umbrella manufacturing -- which, and I cannot stress this enough, is not the Penguin's actual business or source of income -- stops his two goons from picking up a pair of submachine guns and shooting him down because he doesn't think a crook can go to the police. At this point, I'm starting to wonder how committed any of these arch-criminals really are to actually committing crimes.
Back at the Batcave, Batman rejoins Robin and Alfred, who I'm just now noticing is like a foot taller than the Caped Crusader himself.
Since their plan to bug the Penguin's hideout has been stymied, the Dynamic Duo are back to trying to figure out the multicolored Batbrella, the mysterious "clue" to the Penguin's next crime. The twist, of course, is that there is no next crime, at least not yet. The Batbrella itself is meaningless, but it hides a bugging device of its own that allows Penguin to listen in on Batman and Robin, allowing them to plan his crime for him when they "solve" the clue.
On paper, this is a pretty great scheme, but again, I can't help but think that allowing Batman to plan both your crime and how he's going to stop your crime kind of defeats the purpose of getting him to do the legwork in the first place. But what do I know? I don't even own a purple top hat.
As Batman and Robin settle in to suss out the clue, they start to focus on the colors of the umbrella, which at first makes them think that the Penguin's going to heist a meteorite encrusted with rubies, diamonds and emeralds -- "the Penguin's favorite birdseed!" -- from one of Gotham City's many uninsurable museums. A quick check of the floorplan shoots down that theory, though, and it's back to the drawing board, complete with a shrug from the Penguin on the other line.
Just watching the show, that whole thing with the meteorite might seem like a pointless little diversion that only serves to pad out the scene for a few minutes, but it's actually a reference to Batman #169's "Partners in Plunder," by France Herron and Sheldon Moldoff, the story that inspired this episode. In the comic, the meteorite actually is the target of the crime:
Here, though, things play out a little differently when Robin mentions that the colors of the umbrella remind him of "a beautiful dawn." In a bit of apophenia that goes even further than the Riddler's clues in the last adventure, this reminds Batman that beautiful actress Dawn Robbins is in Gotham filming a new movie, The Mockingbird, produced by Ward Eagle, and she's staying at the Pelican Arms. With all those bird names lined up in a row, it's sure to be the target of the Penguin's "fiendish, well-laid plan."
Also: The Pelican Arms? Honestly, if I'm a businessman in Gotham City, I'm just going to start naming my establishments exactly what they are, like HOTEL or RESTAURANT, and rake in the money from being the only place in town completely free of super-crime. Well, until Dr. Generic shows up to steal my priceless collection of clipart and free fonts, I guess.
Batman explains how the crime's going to go down to Robin (and the Penguin), pointing out that he has all the necessary equipment for a daring high-rise kidnapping readily available in his criminals' storeroom. Which, of course, he does:
Meanwhile, at the Pelican Arms, the beautiful actress Dawn Robbins (played by the beautiful actress Leslie Parrish, in the first of her three appearances on the show), is lounging in what a ten year-old Chris Sims just assumed his living room would look like when he was an adult:
She's actually having her photo taken for a pictorial in "Funboy Magazine" -- a take on Playboy that actually sounds way more pornographic than the original -- and despite her smiling façade, she's completely over this whole thing, even going as far as saying "What a drag it is being so famous and rich."
When Batman and Robin arrive, they do so via the Bat-Climb (aided by their high-powered grappling hook launcher, the Batzooka), and in another example of the show not quite having the formula down, they just walk up the building with no interruptions, with the footage weirdly sped up. A similar thing happened in the last episode, when Batman climbed up the giant umbrella to retrieve the Batbrella at the top -- it's just him walking up the handle sideways, which apparently they thought was a good enough gag all on its own. It's not 'til a few episodes in (when the show becomes a bona fide hit, I'm guessing) that we'll start to see the cameos.
As the Dynamic Duo enters through the window, Dawn lets out a shrill "eek!" -- no, really, she very clearly pronounces the word "eek" just as it's spelled -- because, in one of the more surprising bits of information that we get in this show, she doesn't recognize the world's most famous crimefighters. According to her manager, it's because she's not from Gotham City, but I would've assumed that Batman and Robin were at least famous enough to be known outside of one city. Apparently, this early in their career, they're just a regional concern.
As Batman explains the incoming criminal plot to Dawn, the plot itself is, well, incoming, as the Penguin ziplines across the Gotham City skyline on an oversized umbrella:
He and his goons knock Dawn and her manager out with gas, only to find that Batman and Robin were hiding in another room in gas masks, which have to be the single handiest gadget in the entirety of the show. But what's this? It seems while the Penguin sarcastically remarks that it's the end of his "fiendish, well-laid plan," he was prepared for just such an eventuality and has used his "Penguin Magnet" to pin the crimefighters to the wall by the metal objects in their utility belts:
Which, incidentally, is another bit lifted directly from the comics:
With Batman and Robin held fast to the wall, the Penguin handily escapes, leaving us to rejoin the story the next day at the police station, where everyone is pretty bummed out by how spectacularly Batman and Robin managed to screw this one up. The good news is that the Penguin is willing to ransom Dawn back to the production for the pretty hefty sum of $200,000 in unmarked bills. The trick? The exchange has to go down on neutral ground, and the Penguin has chosen Wayne Manor, presumably because he got a look at the location budget and decided he'd better stick to someplace we've already seen.
As it turns out, Chief O'Hara has already arranged with Bruce Wayne's faithful butler, whose voice he did not recognize as the same snappy British tone that answers the Hotline, to clear out the mansion so that they can make the handoff, but Batman has one last trick up his sleeve. With the Batbrella resting on the Commissioner's desk and transmitting every word, he lays out a plan to hide himself and his sidekick in a pair of suits of ancient armor so that they can ambush and capture the Penguin. Unfortunately for him, it's hard to lay an ambush when your target knows you're there.
At the appointed hour, the Penguin arrives at Wayne Manor and promptly gasses the armored heroes, checking to see them under the visors before leaving with the money and dropping Dawn off with an unconscious Alfred, with plans to relocate to a hideout in Alaska -- an offhand mention that ignores the simple fact that penguins are Antarctic birds rather than Arctic, old chum.
In other words, it's a complete and total victory for the bad guys. Or is it?! When the Penguin returns to his hideout, who should pop up but the Dynamic Duo themselves, informing the Penguin that he wasted his knockout gas on a pair of dummies! It seems that they were fully aware that he'd be listening in on their scheme, because he used the exact same phrase to describe his crime at the hotel that they used when discussing it in the Batcave. Since there's no such thing as a coincidence in the world of Batman '66, the only answer was a bugged umbrella.
Thus, Fight Scene Time, bringing us back to the Bat-Sound Effect Onomatopoeia Matrix!
As you can see, it's a significantly shorter fight this time, although it does end with Burt Ward doing this bizarre little laugh that is just straight up creepy.
The Penguin is apprehended, the money is recovered, and the good guys win, with Batman returning triumphant, but we're not quite done yet. There's an epilogue set during a dinner party at Wayne Manor, where we get two interesting additions to the show. The first is that Dawn Robbins is now in the throes of depression, pining for Batman, who is of course the most attractive and coolest guy ever (this has been confirmed by multiple sources). The second is that Commissioner Gordon actually takes a moment to explain why Batman dresses like a bat:
"It's simple: As Batman realized when he set out in this crusade, nothing so strikes terror into the criminal mind as the shape and shadow of a huge bat."
That... might be a little more up for debate.
All in all, a solid second outing that does a lot to refine that initial formula. Meredith is easily one of the best arch-villains, and his performance is full of great little quirks that'll be expanded on over the next three years -- it's pretty delightful just to watch him move around in his distinctive penguin waddle. So far, the show's two for two when it comes to arch-criminals. Now let's see what happens in the next episode, when some clown shows up calling himself the Joker.
Episode 1x04 Index:
Butane gas cigarette lighter