The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×21: The Penguin Goes Straight
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, Batman and Robin gain an ally in the never-ending fight against crime... the Penguin?!
Episode 1x21: The Penguin Goes Straight
Script: Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and John Cardwell
Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Original Air Date: March 23, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Burgess Meredith as The Penguin
One of the interesting things about the Penguin --- and for the record, I'm the kind of person who thinks there are a lot of interesting things about the Penguin --- is how well he works underneath the facade of the legitimate businessman. I mean really, most of Batman's villains are pretty up front about being really, really into committing crimes, and the Penguin certainly spent a few decades on various umbrella and bird-related heists, but recent years have seen a shift in how he's presented. The modern incarnation of the Penguin has sort of found this niche where, to the public at large, he's just a nightclub owner with a very unfortunate nickname, someone who runs his crimes behind the scenes in a way that murder clowns and people with giant day-glo question marks on their shirts don't.
I don't necessarily think that starts with Batman '66, but I do think it's worth noting that there are two separate Penguin stories on this show that are all about the Penguin seemingly reforming and becoming a law-abiding citizen --- or at least a politician. And today, we have the first of them.
We open on a theater, and according to the sign outside, it's the Booth --- presumably named after Edwin, widely considered the greatest Hamlet of the 19th century, and not his slightly more famous brother John Wilkes. It's intermission during the matinee, and in addition to the normal playgoing public of Gotham City, the audience includes the Penguin himself, who has presumably served out his nine-week prison sentence for the crimes he committed back in episodes 3 and 4, which included the kidnapping of beautiful actress Dawn Robbins and attempting to murder Bruce Wayne by burning him alive in a coffin.
This time, however, it seems that the feathered former felon is just there to enjoy the show, but as the patrons head to the lobby for an intermission, they're met by a masked robber armed with a submachine gun who demands their valuables:
One of the more widely known pieces of trivia about this show is that the mask Cesar Romero's Joker wears while performing as Pagliacci in Episode 5 is the same mask that Heath Ledger's Joker wears during the bank robbery at the opening of The Dark Knight, but I've never seen anyone mention this mask and how much it looks like the Joker, too. The long nose, the green hair, the sallow skin, the smeared red lips - this thing might as well have been the face that the Joker had cut off for the New 52. Either way, it's terrifying.
The Penguin, however, is not so easily cowed, and in an uncharacteristically heroic move, he leaps forward and defeats the crook, deflecting gunfire with the aid of a bulletproof umbrella before laying him out with a single punch.
You'd think that if anything, this would be at least a small recommendation for the progressive policies that Warden Chrichton employs over at Gotham State Penitentiary, but when Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara hear about this, they immediately flip out that a criminal is preventing crimes rather than committing them. If you ask me, it's all a little deterministic of them, and more than a little mean-spirited --- or at least it would be if they weren't, you know, 100% right about what's actually going on. Still, Gordon incredulously refers to the Penguin as "that waddling pompous master of fowl play," and that's just mean. Yes, he did try to murder a local philanthropist with a living cremation, but still. He served his two months. His debt to society has been paid.
The police make the call on the hotline, leading Alfred to interrupt a golf game by telling Bruce and Dick that they're getting a call from a "Mister K. Rime," a subtle code that even the normally oblivious Aunt Harriet catches onto. Gordon tells the Caped Crusader what's up; "a strange and troubling turn of events, Batman! You have a competitor in crime-fighting: The Penguin!" --- and one credit sequence later, the Dynamic Duo is on the case.
Even Batman, who is usually pretty charitable towards the idea of criminals reforming, seems doubtful that the Penguin is sincere, and immediately leaps to the conclusion that the robber at the theater was an accomplice. The main bone of contention here seems to be that the Penguin's decisive action has gotten him in good with Sophia Starr, "beauteous queen of Gotham City society," which may be a prelude to fleecing her for all she's worth. So for answers, the cops pick up the robber and interrogate him, with O'Hara --- the chief of police, who is interrogating a suspect alongside the commissioner --- almost backhanding him for his sass.
Semple's stories always seem to have a harder edge of cynicism than what you see from other writers - I've mentioned before that he spoke in interviews about how the entire joke of the show was the very idea that anyone would take any of this stuff seriously - but O'Hara's transition from affably inept to just straight up beating confessions out of suspects with a phone book seems a bit dark even for him. Fortunately, Gordon's there to do things by the book.
If, you know, "the book" allows for turning out the lights and letting a local billionaire put on a shadow puppet play where he pretends to be a bat.
It's worth noting that the criminal, who responded to allegations that he's colluding with the penguin with a smirking "you guys must read too many comic books," mistakes Batman's shadow for the shadow of an actual bat, and that he is terrified to the point of fainting. I'd think that Batman, the tireless scourge of the underworld who frequently punches criminals in the face, would be a little scarier than the genuine article, but it seems that's just me. Either way, it's another scene where it's easy to draw a parallel to The Dark Knight.
If the stalwart defenders of law and order are ever going to get any answers, it looks like they're going to have to go straight to the Penguin himself, which is exactly what they do. It seems that the Penguin has been spotted at the local Millionaire's Club --- "that bird of prey among the golden geese!" Specifically, he's in the steam room with one of Gotham's one-percenters, foiling a kidnapping from a pair of goons --- or G.O.O.N.s, if you want to jump ahead a few episodes --- who have been conveniently labeled as Dove and Eagle Eye.
When Batman and Robin arrive, their suspicions only increase because of how the Penguin has been prepared for each specific instance with one of his signature trick umbrellas --- the bulletproof parasol at the theater and here, one that was loaded up with dry ice to disperse the steam that was covering up the attempted kidnapping. The Penguin, however, insists that it was just a lucky coincidence.
And what's more, he has decided to go into business as the founder of the Penguin Protective Agency, offering his services as a bodyguard to Gotham's wealthy elite --- although he initially turns down a check for $10,000 from his new buddy, Reggie Rich, tearing it up in front of his eyes.
Batman is incensed by this move, and embarks on a plan to set a trap for the Penguin by swapping out Sophia Starr's jewels with a set of very convincing fakes. This is, by the standards of Batman '66, a fairly reasonable plan. The part where they're going to throw their fakes into their nuclear reactor so that they're easy to trace, though? That part's a bit weird.
In order to get a clear look at the jewels so that they can make their fakes, Batman and Robin send Alfred undercover as a photographer for the famous insurance agency, Floyd's of Dublin:
But what's this?! It turns out that the Penguin knows Batman and Robin better than they think --- he knows that they're going to set up a trap for him, and turns it to his own advantage in an effort to wipe them out once and for all, and has come prepared. When Alfred attempts to swap out the Penguin's cigarette holder with a bugged one, the Penguin detects it with yet another trick umbrella. Alfred makes a daring escape, but the plan has failed, leaving it all up to the ersatz jewelry to bait the hook. All that remains is to switch it out with the real jewels --- which means that at this point, Batman and Robin are straight up committing a classic B&E.
The two heroes Bat-Climb up the building --- still no Window Cameo this early in the series --- entering Sophia Starr's apartment through the window, disabling the alarm and cracking her safe. This is, I think we can agree, pretty dubious behavior for the good guys, especially good guys who just talked about how respect for private property is the cornerstone of law. And it's playing right into the Penguin's hand.
Under the guise of his Protective Agency, the Penguin springs his trap, ambushing the Caped Crusaders and launching us into a fight scene that I believe is the first appearance of the word "ZGRUPPP" anywhere in the known universe:
The crooks are no match for Batman physically, but when Sophia shows up herself, all she sees is the Penguin defending her safe from being robbed by masked intruders carrying radioactive forgeries. Since the Penguin has, in fact, done absolutely nothing illegal, she calls the police while the Penguin calls the newspapers, and sure enough, the headline the next morning is about how the Penguin heroically foiled Batman's attempted heist.
With Batman labeled (not inaccurately) as a criminal, the Penguin calls up and demands an arrest while shoveling the contents of a massive jar of sardines into his face in what is definitely the grossest thing that ever happens on the series. He wants something done before his charitable party tonight at "the Gotham Amusement Pier," a piece of information that Commissioner Gordon immediately passes onto the outlaw vigilantes, along with a warning that he'll have to arrest them if he sees them.
But unable to resist pursuing justice, Batman and Robin show up anyway, and are promptly knocked out by a stiff "cement-filled umbrella" to the head. The Penguin and his men string them up behind the shooting gallery, replacing the pellets with live rifle ammunition and challenging Gordon and O'Hara to a friendly wager. All they have to do is shoot a pair of balloons mounted on targets, and the Penguin will donate $1,000 to the police benevolence fund. The trick? Batman and Robin are directly behind the targets, and if the bullets burst the balloons, they'll also burst the hearts of our heroes!
Horror of horrors! Be here next week, readers - the worst is yet to come!