Thursday, September 22, 2011

21 & 22: The Penguin Goes Straight/ Not Yet, He Ain't

Season 1 Episodes 21 & 22
Original Air Dates: 3/23/66 & 3/24/66
Special Guest Villain: Burgess Meredith as The Penguin
Guest stars: Kathleen Crowley, Harvey Lembeck
Written by: Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and John Cardwell
Directed by: Leslie H. Martinson

It seems as though the inconceivable has happened: the Penguin has relinquished his life of crime and is fighting the evil forces of Gotham. But Batman and Robin know better and try to get to the bottom of this sudden change of heart. In the process, ironically, they become the criminals and are hunted by the very police force they've helped all these years. Loyalty's nowhere to be found on the streets of Gotham.

PE: I could be wrong but Alfred seems a bit flustered when he answers the batphone in our intro. Could be he's tired of summoning the heroes while dust builds up all around the Manor. It's a big place and he's the only one cleaning it.

JS: They must have cut the scene when he arranges a sit down with Bruce to discuss having a more active role in the plot.

PE: Some hardened criminal. Scared of Batman's shadow. 

JS: Well, he did appear to be doing the Batusi... Frankly, I was more frightened by Gordon and O'Hara. Do you get the sense that they don't do a lot of interrogations?

PE: When we see Penguin with his hat on in the sauna, I wondered if we'd ever see him topless but later on in the episode we get what I assume is a rare look at the villain's full head of hair.

JS: I like how he butts right in to Batman and Robin's private interlude in the sauna.

PE: If the powers-that-be ever stop fighting over the rights and release this series on DVD or blu-ray, that nose of Penguin's is going to look really bad. As it is, the make-up looks nothing like his skin-tone.

JS: That would be a small price to pay to see how these colorful episodes might look on Blu Ray.

PE: Add "ZGRUPPP" to the list of nonsensical "sound effects."

JS: I'll take ZGRUPPP over PAM any day.

PE: As silly as the show is, I do have to admit that it's an eerie shot of Batman and Robin hanging behind the shooting gallery at the climax of Part 1. That evoked a real sense of danger missing in many of the cliffhangers. Lucky for the Dynamic Duo Commisioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara are holding those rifles. There's more of a chance of them hitting Penguin than the red balloons.

JS: Is there a big calling for shoes with bulletproof soles? Or are those off the shelf inserts like odor-eaters?

PE: For a guy who plays strictly by the book, it's out of character for Batman to run from the law rather than  surrender.

JS: Not only that, he's usually more supportive of criminals who have paid their debt to society. As far as he was concerned, the Penguin was guilty until proven innocent (and not even then!). I kept waiting to find out if he was a doppelganger. 

PE: I'm amazed that Batman didn't let Alfred in on the big secret. What if the butler had gotten sentimental and confessed all to Aunt Harriet?

JS: Is it really a surprise after Alfred screwed up the job of planting a bug on The Penguin? Of course, Batman might have been setting him up so he'd go back to dusting the Batcave. Either that or he forgot that he almost got incinerated the last time he tried planting a bug in The Penguin's lair. It was a shame Alfred's ruse didn't work, as that spin-off show, Alfred Pennyworth—Undercover, would have been a big hit. You knew he was in trouble when Dozier had to step in and tell him what to do next...

PE: We get another one of those impossible camera angles when Batman is spying on Penguin and Ms. Starr in the Batmobile. The shot is from outside the vehicle.

JS: Batman clearly has eyes everywhere.

PE: Classic Penguin dialog just before the feathered fink and Sophia Starr are to be married:
Sophia (starry-eyed): Is there anything you're not prepared for
Penguin (quacking): I hope not! I hope not!
which brings to mind visions of their wedding night.

JS: I was impressed by the gunning down of Batman and Robin in the streets of Gotham. To think the first time we see O'Hara draw his gun and shoot, it's at the dynamic duo.

PE: During our first look at the Bat-cycle, Mr. "Safety Belts save lives" is manipulating a remote control that steers the Batmobile while he's flying down the road on the bike!

JS: We weren't always a hands-free society.

PE: And how far behind the Batmobile were the Dynamic Duo when Batman ejected the two goons?

JS: I don't know, but those goons were clearly a couple of dummies. I mean, maybe I could understand having a moll sit on your lap in the Batmobile...

PE: Harvey Lembeck (Eagle-Eye) is remembered best for the role of Corporal Rocco Barbella on The Phil Silvers Show (1955-59). Lembeck was typecast as the military man from day one, playing sergeants in Stalag 17 and Mission Over Korea (both 1953), but busted down to private for The Command (1954).

PE Rating: 

JS Rating: 

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


  1. I see these episodes as the prototypical Penguin story, establishing the character far more effectively than the earlier Penguin programs. Here we have Penguin "going straight" on parole, the Penguin as irresistible ladies' man, and the innate snobbery of the character. His sense of humor (both the character's and the actor's) is more vividly on display here. And the tag tells it all, doesn't it? There are funnier Penguin stories to come, but they all spring from the character as formed in this one.

    Incidentally, I just found this blog yesterday, and I think you're doing a marvelous job!

  2. Lots of goofy fun to savor in this episode. As LJS just mentioned, Penguin seems to come into his own here; his scheme to discredit the Dynamic Duo is classic, and he appears to be having the time of his life exercising it. The cliffhanger is cool -- although a bound, helpless and unmasked Batman waking up to the startled faces of Gordon and O'Hara (who would be forced to arrest him) would have been an even juicier revenge. BTW, I'm convinced this episode's creators saw SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SPIDER WOMAN at some point in their youth; that's the one where a captured Holmes is bound, gagged, and placed in a carnival shooting gallery directly behind targets designed to look like Axis bad guys; I believe it's allies Lastrade and Watson who almost shoot the great detective without realizing it.

    I always found Kathleen Crowley to be a curious bit of casting as socialite Sophia Starr. Her rather forlorn, dragged-out-of-bed voice seems way too serious for a campy adventure-comedy, and Sophia Starr's infatuation with Penguin is downright creepy; there's something almost tragic about this lonely woman as her great love (now revealed as a scheming crook) jilts her in the show's final moments. I mean, someone get this unbalanced lady to a shrink, and pronto! Her total disregard for Batman and Robin actually becomes grisly as she and Penguin giddily enjoy the benefits of an appropriated Batmobile after the two crusaders have been savagely gunned down.

  3. ...I mean, the seats are still warm, for gosh sakes! Final thought about this episode: To us '60s kids, Harvey Lembeck will always be remembered as nebbish Wild One Erik Von Zipper from the BEACH PARTY movies. Say what you will, Mr. L always gave 100%. I enjoy his sly, knowing expression at the shooting gallery as Gordon and O'Hara prepare to fire...

  4. "You knew he was in trouble when Dozier had to step in and tell him what to do next..."

    Wasn't that weird? It's as though they didn't film, or left on the cutting room floor, an explanation of what Agent Alfred was supposed to do, and we get the exposition by voiceover. Pretty sloppy if you ask me. Pretty soon Desmond Dozier is simply going to tell us all the stories, without any acting. That is, if you call those stories—or, for that matter, acting.

    I rewatched this one and left it dissatisfied. Strip away all the subplots—Batman at large (no offense intended, Mr. West)—and the whole premise rests on the flimsy notion that rich Sophia would have Starrs in her eyes for a weird dude who slurps sardines from a Wal-Mart jug. This woman needed help, as Gary notes, and I hope she got it quickly from the Wayne Foundation Hospital for Psychosocial Trauma.

  5. You guys hit on everything I was thinking about this episode. It's funny that Sophia Starr wants to make the Penguin legit (I think she said it was a challenge to quicken any woman's heart), and he is right to demand to be sent back to prison to escape the love nest she intends to build for him. At least in Gotham City, he'll be released in a few weeks to torment Batman again.

    Gary, thanks for inspiring me to revisit that awesome Sherlock Holmes film. I think that scene with O'Hara and Gordon at the shooting gallery is a carbon copy of Lestrade and Watson. I wonder if there may be other Bat-cliffhangers influenced by SH.

  6. I'm glad someone mentioned Harvey Lembeck's Von Zipper role. To me, a summer isn't quite a summer without the Beach Movies (I really hated hearing about William Asher two weeks ago).

    People wonder what Sophia Starr saw in The Penguin romantically. But speaking of the honeymoon, maybe she believed in a certain true-ism, and one look at that nose of his made her imagine a pretty WILD honeymoon.

  7. Despite the addition of Batgirl the shows 3rd season shows the series on the Way down..the cheap sets such as when Alfred captures the trio of women crooks in the Nora Clavacal or the Lord Fogg epidodes

  8. I'm amazed that Batman didn't let Alfred in on the big secret. What if the butler had gotten sentimental and confessed all to Aunt Harriet?

    In fcat, Alfred almost did just that later in the series.

  9. Not only did Harvey Lembeck appear in the two episodes fellow "Bilko" cast member Hope Sansberry (Mrs Hall) appeared in the first episode.

  10. Chief O'Hara's best line comes at the expense of Batman's corpse: "there's nothing so tragic as a good crime fighter turned bad." Batman gets 2 priceless lines, the first in response to the Penguin Protective Agency: "hiring him to guard jewels is like trusting a leaf of lettuce to a rabbit!" Then, after the crooks are all trussed up on the hood of the reconfigured Birdmobile, the Caped Crusader has one final, ominous task: "the Batmobile, we'll have to have it fumigated!"