Thursday, September 8, 2011

1 & 2: Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle

Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2
Original Air Dates: 1/12/66, 1/13/66
Special Guest Villain: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
Guest stars: Jill St. John, Allen Jaffe
Written by: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Directed by: Robert Butler

Synopsis: The Riddler (Gorshin) tricks Batman and Robin into wrongfully assaulting him so he can file a million dollar lawsuit against him, and reveal his secret identity in court. A series of riddles lead the dynamic duo to a Go-Go bar, where Batman's orange juice is drugged and Robin, too young to get into the club, is kidnapped by the Riddler. The cliff-hanger has Robin trapped on the Riddler's operating table. In part 2, the Riddler's moll (St.John) disguises herself as Robin, and you pretty much know her fate is sealed when she's able to stay conscious on the trip to the secret location of the Batcave. Batman saves the boy wonder from the Riddler's clutches, and they break up his plot. The Riddler explodes before they are able to take him into custody. Or does he? 

JS: I think what I love most about this premiere episode is that you're launched right into an established continuity. They don't waste time building things up with a grandiose origin story. The Riddler is an arch-nemesis the dynamic duo has clearly encountered before; this is not the first time the Commissioner has called on Batman & Robin; and Dick Grayson clearly did not just arrive at stately Wayne Manor. In fact, the only nod to the origin comes by way of a few side remarks about the murder of Bruce's parents.

PE: I remember seeing these episodes when they were first broadcast and being blown away by them. The danger to Robin seemed very real to this five year-old and even at that young age I had a bit of a crush on Jill St. John (which would grow deeper after seeing her in Diamonds are Forever!). This two-parter has a multitude of iconic moments: the Batusi scene, the first glimpse of the Batmobile, the Dynamic Duo's eruption from the elephant, and let's not forget, a legitimate death on what was thought to be a kids' show. Though there would be high points in the future, it never got better than this.

JS: And right off the bat we get to see the first instance of the horizontal wall-climb! What I want to know is will they ever go to the Batcave in their street clothes? There are a lot of great bits throughout these first two episodes: the cloud of dust that appears when Bruce closes his father's law book; the line about the Go-Go bar being a favorite haunt of high society in Gotham; and the comment about the Mammoth being safe after they had just burst out of it!

PE: But you gotta ask: how is it that when Molly disguises herself as Robin, Batman doesn't notice her rack? I'll suspend my disbelief for the Robin mask and chalk up the lack of a "package" to disinterest on The Caped Crusader's part, but there's no way to hide that trademarked St. John chest.

JS: Kudos to Burt Ward, who did a great job selling that he was actually a woman disguised as Robin in those scenes, despite the lack of padding you mention. And Adam West sets the perfect tone for the Caped Crusader. While I think he goes a little overboard when playing the drugged Batman, he otherwise provides a consistent straight-man in the zaniest of situations.

PE: That final sequence with the Trojan elephant still blows me away. It's the perfect action scene. It must have taken weeks to balance the colors (or did they throw it all together quickly and it just seems organized?). There's just as much glee and wonder, watching that scene, in these 50 year-old eyes as there was in 1966.

JS: Granted, the show's first big fight scene was more convincing than the low budget car crash where the car passes off-screen, only to have the camera stay stationary and shake to the sound of an explosion.

PE: Extra points to those in charge for having the balls to let Molly die. In a kid's show.

JS: Quite the Bat-Babe, that Jill St. John. Her demise seemed a bit forced (let me climb up and stand over the radioactive pit!), but clearly her fate was sealed the minute she was allowed to stay conscious on the ride to the Batcave's top secret location (that's Bronson Canyon to you and me). 

PE: Save Heath Ledger, no one has given a better performance as a Batman villain than Frank Gorshin. Though Ledger's Joker is amped up to eleven, the two performances do have similarities. Gorshin makes you believe that The Riddler may just be insane. What a concept for a General Audience. Sure, he's out for a good time but he may actually be out to harm the Duo unlike his partners in crime who seem to exist only to pester Batman and Robin every couple months with outlandish bank robbery schemes. Gorshin's laugh is a thing of beauty. His agility and nimbleness perfectly embody the highly caffeinated villain, never standing still.  Amazingly, Gorshin was nominated for an Emmy for his role as The Riddler in 1966 (as was the show--it was up for Best Comedy (!) and lost to The Dick Van Dyke Show), a well-deserved accolade and a rare one for an actor involved in a show like this. He lost out to Don Knotts in The Andy Griffith Show in 1966. He was later nominated again for his role as Bele, the half-black, half-white alien in the classic Star Trek episode, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." Jim Carrey would do a creditable job of aping Gorshin for his turn as The Riddler in Batman Forever.

JS: I think I'll hold off on crowning the king of the super-villains so soon, but I do agree that Gorshin was an amazing talent. I like how when in his costume (and you know it's his costume because only then does he wear his pink mask!), his stance is always incredibly dynamic. I don't know that he held the same pose twice! I also want to mention some of the fine supporting performances that provided the cornerstone to the series: veteran actors Alan Napier (Alfred) and Neil Hamilton (Police Commissioner Gordon), executive producer William Dozier's pitch-perfect narration, and the musical stylings of Nelson Riddle and theme song composer Neal Hefti!

PE: Aside from the (unjustly) much-maligned 1976 remake of King Kong, this was Lorenzo Semple, Jr.'s finest genre hour. You may consider that veiled sarcasm but it's not. Semple worked on some fine TV shows (R.A.T. Patrol and Burke's Law) and wrote some genuine classic films (Papillon, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, The Drowning Pool) and cult favorites (Flash Gordon, Pretty Poison, Fathom). Guy's paid his dues.

JS: Wow. I would have assumed that you hated the '76 Kong. I loved it at 6, and still enjoy it today. 

PE Rating: 

JS Rating: 

Next up... The Penguin! Same Bat Time, Same Bat URL!


  1. Greetings, John and Peter! Having followed your splendid commentaries on Thriller and The Outer Limits, I decided finally to throw my cowl into the conversation. To date myself: I was four months away from eleven when I saw this premiere two-parter. What (I think) no one has yet mentioned is that ABC spent serious money, in print and on the air, touting this show as the keystone of its "Second Season" (beginning in January). These were the days of only three networks, excepting the snow on UHF (if your set was modern enough to have that weird round button). If my memory betrays me not, ABC was a very distant third in the 1965 ratings; the reason for a second season—innovative in a day when EVERY series began in September—was to administer CPR to a dying patient. The network's campaign for Batman in the weeks ramping up to premiere was relentless, intense, and mysterious. Intercut with vivid clips from the pilot was special footage of AW's profile, an extreme close-up of a masked mouth (!) intoning some suitably somber nonsense. Those of us around at the time remember that the Wednesday night show was an overnight sensation, but without all the hype the weeks before it could died as fast as an air-puff.

    I'll lay my cards on the table and declare that this series was never better than with its premiere two-parter. It's a testament to Dozier's genius that the show immediately hit its stride out of the starting gate, with all of the signature elements whirling in place. Semple's script fixed the template that was followed to the (increasingly monotonous) letter. The casting was letter-perfect. No villain was more energetically unhinged than Gorshin's Riddler, no moll more beauteous than Jill. Unsung journeyman director Robert Butler did a brilliant job of staging, coaching his crew to hit the sweet spot between melodrama and farce. Though ABC hurried this show into production, you'd never know it from the values onscreen: the Batcave, the Batmobile, the Trojan mammoth, not one but two costumes for the special guest villain, those opticals splashed over the fight scenes (so costly that they were retired after the first season). This was a better movie than the movie Dozier produced that summer to capitalize on the craze. No zanier, higher concept had ever been aired on American television; suddenly, everywhere, people who didn't know from Susan Sontag were talking about "camp." What an entertainment—and a defining moment of '60s pop culture.

    Carry on, citizens!

  2. really enjoying these commentaries. thanks for doing them.

    being one of the few people who doesn't care for the Nolan Batman (dark and dreary) I'll say Gorshin is the best Riddler ever. he always sounds dangerous.

    I don't think the rest of the villains- especially in this first season, were out to pester Batman every month or so. that happened later, when the producers had a hit.

    and the 1976 needles remake of King Kong is rightfully maligned as a lame movie. it's very boring.


  3. Howdy Bat Fans! For any of you arriving late, be sure to read all three of today's posts, including our original review, Joel Eisner's thoughts,and Gary Gerani's spotlight article!

    Enfantino & Scoleri:



  4. Poor deluded girl. If only she'd have *let* Batman save her. Ha!

    Inquiring minds want to know: Did Adam West really invent the popular dance craze known as the Batusi as he claims?

    Gorshin's Riddler is unequaled. I could not accept John Astin as Riddler when he took over the role. Who could live up to that kind of performance?

    Another great bit was Batman's rope climb to save Molly with his legs flailing. Hi-larious!

    Great episode. i am in agreement with the 4 Bat Signal rating.

  5. Wow, what an introduction! I can't believe that as a just-turned 4-year-old I wasn't pestering my parents to get me a cowl (and a molly) of my own... I lurved every minute of it, even West's stroll down Shatner lane as the drugged superhero. Zowie! Someone please get Jill St. John to tape a commentary (even just for prosterity) and fast...

  6. I want to find a copy of the first draft of the script. Allegedly, it has a scene that shows us how Bruce and Dick get into their costumes while sliding down the bat-poles, and has Batman "allowing" Molly to fall to her death, instead of unsuccesfully trying to save her.

    Does anyone have any info on the first draft of the pilot script?

  7. You fellows are off to a fine start. These are terrific episodes - and unlike so many shows - there's almost nothing that is later countermanded (Data cannot use contractions, except in the first episodes of season one; The Bundys have food in the house in their first season). Nobody was recast from the pilot to the series; they didn't shoot the pilot in some location, then build sets for the series. This one landed on all four tires right from the opening frames.

  8. "Batman 'allowing' Molly to fall to her death."

    Do you mean literally? Because that seems unlikely for a MOVIE, let alone a TV show, let alone THIS one.

    I don't know how many episodes I saw very, very early, but I'm glad to say this in one of them.

  9. I just came across this site, and must say how cool it is! Very interesting comments and info. Does anyone know where I can get story outlines or 1st draft scripts of the following episodes:

    #1/2: "Hi Diddle Riddle" / PILOT
    #15/16: "Joker goes to School"
    #21/22: "Penguin goes Straight"
    #29/30: "The Bookworm Turns"
    #47/48: "An Egg Grows in Gotham"
    #49/50: "The Devil's Fingers"
    #61/62: "The Penquin's Nest"
    #108: "Catwoman's Dressed to Kill"
    #118: "The Joker's Flying Saucer"
    #120: "Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires"
    ... I'd even pay or trade for them, since I have most of the outlines, 1st draft scripts of episodes containing villains never used, and unproduced outlines & stories for the show.

    So please contact me asap at: for any info about thiem - THANKS SO MUCH!!!

  10. And to add to the conversation, I just got the original script for the "Marsha, Queen of Diamonds" story, and can tell you how vastly different it is from what was filmed.

    In it, the story is far better: Marsha tries to get Batman to partner with her and when he refuses, she uses a mind control device on him instead and plans to use her diamond ray to destroy Gotham. When the mind control wears off, Batman is again captured, and the radio puts out an APB on him with the cops over the radio.

    There is no wedding, no witchy aunt Hilda, no magic, no huge Batcave diamond, no mind control over others, and Marsha plays a physicist... it's more or less a completely different story. It seems as if the idea for the character was liked (ie. love of diamonds and her seductive / mind control nature over Batman), so most of this original story was scrapped, and the audience got the horrific ones that were filmed instead.

  11. In the cartoon teaser the cartoon villians there are three that are recognizabele-
    Joker; Penguin and Catwoman. Of the Big Four of Batman Villians the only one left out is Riddler--in this episode this was the closet Riddler ever got to the Batcave. {All the other villians saw it at least once-Joker and Penguin twice}. However in the Movie the MisAdventures of Adam and Burt Riddler and Catwoman doo team up and try to blow up the dynamic duo and the Bat Cave

  12. I'll start by saying I'm a much belated visitor. I've been a fan of the show since I was six or seven when Channel 4 here in the UK showed it in the 90s. When it came out on DVD a few months ago someone got it for me, kindly, and I've spent till now going through. I found this blog mid-way and read each review/Batscholar per episode.
    So, I revisited the first ep after a while and agree with all above with an observation that this episode does feel different to the rest. Maybe it's the death of Molly or the fact it feels fresh. But I notice, or maybe it's me, but O'Hara seems subdued compared to the rest of the series (like when in the commissioner's office he simply says "Riddler" whereas later he probably say: "Begorrah! It's the Riddler!"). Even the Irish accent was toned down compared to later.
    And listening to the commentary on the movie confirmed my view that West enjoyed doing the fight scenes. The close-ups when it was West -well, he did look like he was having fun.
    Thumbs up for the blog. Sound work.