The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×31: Death In Slow Motion
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.
Batman Episode 1x31: Death In Slow Motion
Script: Dick Carr
Director: Charles. R. Rondeau
Original Air Date: April 27, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
The last time we had an adventure involving the Riddler --- "The Ring of Wax / Give 'Em The Axe" --- I mentioned that it seemed pretty weird that a guy who already has one criminal obsession was suddenly super into crimes involving candles and wax statues. To me, it felt like it was a plot made for a wax-themed villain that they just grafted onto the Riddler because it was cheaper to write new riddles than to build another set of trick umbrellas or repaint the wax statues to look like clowns.
Reader Christopher Bennett, however, pointed out in the comments that this is actually kind of the Riddler's thing on the show, and that while the riddles themselves are always present, everything around them changes to a new gimmick every time he shows up, whether it's the sewer-dwelling Molehill Mob in his first appearance, the wax-themed crimes, or this episode, where he suddenly develops an obsessive interest in silent films, which is a pretty good point.
But on the other hand, this episode is exactly the kind of story I was talking about. It's very loosely adapted from the comics, specifically Detective Comics #341's "The Joker's Comedy Capers" from 1965, by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, which, as you can tell from the title, originally featured an entirely different arch-criminal:
The version that made it to TV is so different from the comics that it almost doesn't matter --- there is, for example, no pie fight sequence, which feels like a pretty big missed opportunity for a Joker story --- but at heart, it's still a story for another villain that the Riddler was added to after the fact. So who's right, dear readers? U-DECIDE!
Like the comic, this week's adventure opens with a heist themed around Charlie Chaplin, but instead of a bank, it's a theater full of one-percenters enjoying a Silent Film Festival, which is apparently something rich folks used to do.
"Chaplin" is, of course, The Riddler, and since Frank Gorshin actually was a comedian and impressionist by trade --- one of the reasons that they might've switched up the villain --- the sequence is actually really funny. He takes a bouquet from his beautiful henchwoman Pauline (Sherry Jackson), and is then chased around the lobby by the Keystone Kops until he ducks into the box office, silently knocking out the teller and robbing the joint with a puff of gas from the bouquet while the henchmen provide a distraction.
The only person who isn't amused is Mr. Van Jones, the millionaire who loaned his priceless silent film prints to the theater and is hardly interested in the work of amateurs. He storms out, the theft is discovered, and before long, Gordon calls in the Caped Crusaders to see if they can make sense of this daring daylight robbery. Once there, and once they've been greeted with a very contemplative #OHaraFace, they're greeted with a riddle:
"Why is a musician's bandstand like an oven?"
The answer, according to Robin, "depends on digging musicians' slang," and a bandstand is like an oven because "that's how he makes his bread!" And then we get forty full seconds of Batman explaining to both the Commissioner and Chief of Police that people refer to money as "bread" or "a fat roll." Finally, we have found someone even more square than Batman, although one assumes that this is the prompting needed for Gordon and O'Hara to reinvent themselves as surfer icons Buzzy and Duke.
The target is the Mother Gotham Bakery, the largest in the city, and as Batman and Robin rush to the scene, the crime is already in progress.
It's here that we figure out exactly what's going on: Mr. Van Jones, it seems, is something of an actor himself, and rather than being unimpressed by the Riddler's antics at the screening, was actually behind it. He's the money behind the operation, having hired the Riddler to make "the greatest silent film since the days of Immortal Charlie." But as always, the Riddler's crimes involve layers upon layers, and there's a sinister second plot beneath the flash of film.
This time, the setup involves getting Pauline, in what passes for a tattered dress, distracting a baker with a sob story about her starving mother and a plea for charity. Alas, the baker's good deed goes unrewarded, save by a getting brained with a blackjack.
It's at this point that the Riddler starts wheeling a cart full of pies through the bakery, and when he's stopped by a security guard, you might be tempted to think that the game is up. I mean, he's standing there in a green suit covered with question marks, complete with a question marked bowler hat and a ruby question-mark tie-pin, which, if my scant knowledge of the baking industry is correct, is not the approved uniform for a patissier. And, you know, aside from that, the Riddler is a famous criminal that has attempted to both murder Batman and pull off massive, million-dollar heists three times in the past four months. One would think that the guard would call the police and attempt to foil the robbery.
Instead, he just informs them that the pies they're wheeling around should be taken to the shipping department, which is at the other end of the bakery.
He is not a very good security guard. And for his trouble, he gets a faceful of pie with whipped sleeping cream and nuts.
"Whipped sleeping cream and nuts?"
"Nuts to you!"
The other office workers get a similarly somnolent dessert to the face, and the Riddler blows open the vault with an explosive eclair, which, for those of you keeping track, is the third gimmick that he's used over the course of this caper. He makes off with the payroll, hiding in his disguised van to get his silent footage, and when the Dynamic Duo arrive, they're confronted with another riddle, written on the wall in icing:
Amazingly, it takes them quite a while to notice that.
The answer, of course, is that you make a dishonest shortcake out of lie-berry --- "clearly a corrupted version of the word 'library!'" --- and thus it's off to the Baker Street branch of the GCPL. Oddly enough, once they arrive, they notice the Riddler's van immediately, since it's parked in a no-parking zone. This, you would think, would be enough to warrant investigation, but alas. The van has diplomatic plates, and as the Caped Crusader says, "the horde of diplomats in our city is a small price to pay for world leadership!"
The library itself is closed today due to lack of funds --- something that I imagine Bruce Wayne will step up to remedy, considering his $5,000 donation to the prison library in last week's episode. After noticing the lock has been tampered with, however, Batman quickly opens the door with the "Batkey," a handy skeleton key shaped like his own logo, and if anyone knows where I can buy one of those for my own keys, please tell me.
But what's this?! It seems the Dynamic Duo have strolled right into a sinister trap, and once they're in the lobby, a massively oversized copy of YY flurch's A Pictoral History of Silent Films drops right on their heads.
And that's Gimmick #4.
The book, when opened, contains two more riddles: "What do you find in a kitchen cabinet that is not alive?" and "When is a new car considered to be seedy?"
While Batman and Robin are busy trying to puzzle out the clue, the Riddler is back at his hideout --- "the abandoned cutting room of a bankrupt movie studio" --- watching the rough cut of the movie he's been filming this entire time, which, of course, is composed entirely of footage that we've already seen, just without sound. One gets the impression that maybe there was a little padding out to do since they were adding entire plots onto the original "Comedy Capers," but since it gives us another look at the Riddler's amazing three-piece suit, I'm not exactly complaining.
At the Batcave, a conversation with Alfred helps to solve the first riddle --- Dead pans, of course --- and Robin's quick to provide the solution to the second: A seedy car is a lemon. From there, the apophenia kicks in: Van Jones, a collector of silent films that frequently employ deadpan expressions, is also a famous teetotaler who will be hosting a party at which the only beverage served will be lemonade. Naturally, this is the Riddler's next target.
Even more naturally, Batman is 100% correct about this mystifying leap of detective work.
It's not just a robbery that he's planning, it's spiking the non-alcoholic punch with something that's not only alcoholic, but amplifies the partygoers' aggression --- something that's especially dangerous since Gordon and O'Hara are there, embroiled in an argument over whether Maury Wills (who at the time would have been playing shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers) was better than Honus Wagner.
The entire scene is a veritable gold mine of #OHaraFace.
Soon enough, the petty arguments of the partygoers hit critical mass, and when one of the socialites throws a punch over an argument about the color of her dress...
...we get the first major sound-effect filled fight scene that doesn't involve Batman, Robin and the show's criminals:
It's nice that at this point in the show, the tropes are well defined enough that they can start being subverted with stuff like this, although it's worth noting that there's another bit of weirdness to the sound effects. As soon as that peach BIFF! rises onto the screen, it's only there for one frame before being replaced with a BOFF! But then again, I imagine there are a lot of rich people punching each other at right that moment.
While Batman attempts to quell the rioting one-percenters, Robin is distracted by the arrival of Pauline, who has now been cast in the role of Sexy Bo Peep.
Robin doesn't seem to notice anything unusual about this outfit at all, but then, it is Gotham City, so that's understandable. Pauline tells him a story about how she was accosted by a man in a green tights who kidnapped her brother before shouting "when is a bonnet not a bonnet?" --- when it becomes a young woman --- and then gasses him with her shepherd's crook.
This is, I think you'll agree, a pretty unnecessary bit of riddling.
Either way, it works, and the Boy Wonder is soon hauled off to one of the all-time classic deathtraps: The ol' Conveyor Belt and Buzzsaw. Thus, we're given our final riddle of the episode: "When does a boy wonder rhyme with 'bubble?'" When he's double!
And so, with Desmond Doomsday's grisly promise of Robin being sawed in two to keep us on the edge of our seats, we end this episode. Stay tuned, dear reader - the worst is yet to come!
Index of Episode 1x31:
- "Holy triple feature!"
- Conveyor belt and saw
Best Batman '66 Art Ever