The Batman ’66 Episode Guide 1×33: Fine Finny Fiends
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 first season finale begins... and the Penguin targets Alfred!
Batman 1x33: Fine Finny Fiends
Script: Sheldon Stark
Director: Tom Gries
Original Air Date: May 4, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Burgess Meredith as The Penguin
With this episode, we start in on the final adventure of Batman's first season, and while it could've had a little more symmetry if it had ended last week with the Riddler, there's a nice bit of bookending here, too, and not just because it's one of the better episodes in the series. The Penguin's first appearance was, after all, in Episode 3, "Fine Feathered Finks," so opening the finale with a title so similar is a nice way of bringing some closure.
Or maybe they just literally forgot they had already used the "Fine F____ F____" joke four months before. Can't really discount that possibility either.
Either way, it's interesting to see how well-defined the show has become over the course of its first season. I think it's fair to say that it really hit its stride in Season 2, which is twice as long as the first and includes memorable elements like Bruce Lee showing up to fight Robin and the only episode written by Batman's co-creator, Bill Finger, but still. At this point in the show's history --- and with the arrival of Jerry Lewis in the window cameo a few weeks back --- everything's finally in place, to the point where you can start working to subvert the established formula.
Which is exactly what happens in this episode, when Alfred steps into the spotlight for a truly strange plot.
We open on a side street in Gotham City, at a fish store that's offering a special on cut-rate caviar, an announcement that has attracted the attention of Bruce Wayne's faithfully frugal butler. Personally, that seems a little odd to me, as I have a hard time believing that Alfred would serve anything listed as "cut rate," but I suppose one doesn't keep Gotham City's greatest fortune through reckless spending. And in either case, he does specify that he intends to sample it and check the quality before making a purchase of twenty pounds of the stuff.
Unfortunately, he never gets the deal. As it turns out, this particular fishmonger is, in fact, a front! No sooner has Alfred sampled the wares than he finds himself trapped and gassed with a trick umbrella.
Later, at the police station, Chief O'Hara informs Commissioner Gordon that a few passers-by reported that "Alfred, the Wayne butler" was seen being bundled into a getaway car by umbrella-wielding hoodlums, which means that there are people just casually walking around Gotham City who recognize Alfred the Butler on sight, while he is unconscious. That... that's a little weird, right? Even by this show's standards?
Regardless, the umbrellas point to the Penguin, which means that, as O'Hara says, "there's only one being on Earth" who can handle this particular crime. And look, I consider myself a pretty big fan of Batman, but that might be overselling things just a little bit. Regardless, the call is made, and when Bruce Wayne answers the phone to find that his own butler has been kidnapped by an arch-criminal, the Dynamic Duo are quick to leap into action.
Even though there's been no ransom demand, it's not difficult for our heroes to suss out the Penguin's target: The Multimillionaires' Award Dinner, "the one at which a dozen multimillionaires each donate a million dollars cash to a chosen charity." And folks, when we get to next week's episode, you will not believe the form that this donation takes. It's amazing.
The dinner is, of course, hosted by noted philanthropist Bruce Wayne, and while the location is kept secret to prevent any robberies of the $12,000,000 in cash being bandied about by Gotham's more generous one-percenters, Alfred's in charge of the food and therefore knows where it's being held. Except, of course, that Alfred doesn't know --- the location hasn't been chosen yet. But the Penguin has a plan for that, too.
From there, we cut to the Penguin's dockside hideout, where, in addition to the usual goons with their personalized black shirts (in this case, we're dealing with Octopus and Shark), we also meet the beautiful young Finella. The show would, of course, go out of its way to get beautiful women into swimsuits and go-go boots over the course of its three-year run, and in this one, they just take the easiest possible route to getting there. Finella has fallen into crime out of her desire to cheat her way to the top of the local beauty pageant circuit, which means that she's introduced to us just walking through the dutch-angled hideout, posing and smiling to an imaginary audience.
More pressing than Finella's aspirations for a sash and tiara, of course, is the fate of Alfred, who's locked up in a cage being pestered by Shark until the Penguin reveals that he knew all along that the location hadn't been chosen, and threatens Alfred with... "The Penguin Box... and I'll teach you how to waddle like the penguin do." And that, my friends, is one of the most genuinely sinister moments on the show.
In practice, though, it's slightly goofier than it may sound.
"The Penguin Box" is essentially one of those old-timey steam baths hooked up to a halo of Christmas lights. But despite its festive appearance, it's actually an effective brainwashing device that, within mere moments, gives the Penguin complete and total control over Alfred's normally steely resolve. With the help of a mechanical quacking penguin as a trigger sound, he hypnotizes Alfred to forget he was kidnapped and to report the location of the Multimillionaires' dinner once it's been chosen.
And once the brainwashing has taken hold, Alfred is released, with no memory of having been kidnapped --- or even the sale on caviar.
But while Alfred is being conditioned, Batman and Robin are investigating. They head to the Fish Store, and while the building itself has been stripped clean, there is one clue remaining: The handbill that alerted Alfred to the sale.
Please note that the Penguin has opened this business under the name "Knott A. Fish," which, considering that he will later purchase a surplus nuclear submarine as "P.N. Gwynn," is actually one of his better pseudonyms. Also please note that Robin refers to this subtle name as "almost subliminal," once again proving this show's commitment to overstatement.
But the investigation is interrupted with the news that Alfred has been returned to Wayne Manor, safe and sound, accompanied by an amazing shot of Chief O'Hara shaking hands with a trio of smiling captains, having actually solved a crime for once. At the Batcave, in one of the show's most bizarre references that may have made much more sense to viewing audiences fifty years ago, Alfred informs that he never even went to the fish store, and instead "did as I always do: Purchased it direct through the Iranian embassy."
There is, however, one change: When the subjects of caviar, fish, and the Penguin are brought up, Alfred displays a slightly alarming twitch:
Now this is where the episode gets weird.
First of all, when Gotham's richest dozen multimillionaires show up at Wayne Manor for a rehearsal of their annual awards dinner, we see a portrait of Bruce Wayne's great-grandfather, in an old-style Yale football jersey, and Aunt Harriet informs a guest that "sir, he FOUNDED Skull and Bones!", a bit of knowledge that certainly sheds a whole new light on the origins of the Wayne fortune.
The other, weirder, and far more relevant bit of strangeness is how the actual Multimillionaires' Award works. They don't just sit around debating the merits of various charitable causes. Instead, they just get a bunch of beautiful women to walk around in swimsuits representing abstract (but lofty) ideals, and decide who to throw money at that way. This, for instance, is Miss Civil Rights:
When a sea captain discovers a fish hook in his canapé, though, the Dynamic Duo see it as a clue, and quickly move to check out Gotham City's waterfront, which, according to the Boy Wonder, "runs for 146 miles!" Gotham City is a lot bigger than it looks. They're able to narrow it down, though, since it just so happens that the South Dock has been recently purchased by a Mr. Fish --- Knott A. Fish!
But at the waterfront, all is not as it seems. The Penguin planted that fish hook on Alfred --- which sure does make it seem like he knew Alfred would be preparing canapés for Batman and Robin, but I suppose that in this world, not assuming that Batman would know about it would be equal folly --- in order to lure the Dynamic Duo into a trap: A room full of umbrellas that hide an ambush:
There are some great things about this fight scene, including the arrival of Sword Fish, a third henchman without a speaking part, but the best by far is everyone trying to punch each other while Finella stands in the background practicing her smile in a full-length mirror.
Eventually, the Dynamic Duo are subdued and you'd think that if the Penguin had a brainwashing machine capable of turning Alfred against his masters, he'd probably be able to hypnotize Batman and give the forces of crime an unstoppable ally, but that's not what he does. Instead, he takes him to the Vacuum Room, employing a Giant Reversing Bellows to suck all the air out, suffocating Batman and Robin to death!
Have the Dynamic Duo breathed their last?! Be here next week for the finale of the Batman '66 Episode Guide, dear reader --- the worst is yet to come!
Index of Episode 1x33
- "Holy Wayne Manor!"
- "Holy fog!"
- Memory Batbank