Friday, September 23, 2011

23 & 24: The Ring of Wax/Give 'em the Axe

Season 1 Episodes 23 & 24
Original Air Dates: 3/30/66 & 3/31/66
Special Guest Villain: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
Guest stars: Joey Tata, Michael Greene
Written by: Jack Paritz & Bob Rodgers
Directed by: James B. Clark

The Riddler has smuggled in a highly corrosive wax from Paris, hidden in a statue of Batman set to be unveiled at Madame Soleil's Wax Museum. The Prince of Puzzles intends to use the wax to break into Gotham City Library's Old Book Vault. Inside lies a rare volume the Riddler is convinced will lead him to the fabled Lost Treasure of the Incas.

PE: This is one of the rare episodes where Point A seems to lead to Point B. Rather than starting off with a crime that has no bearing on the rest of the episode, The Riddler steals the statue of wax so that he can get into that vault to steal that book so that he can find that treasure. I find I enjoy these shows much more when I'm not struggling to figure out why The Penguin would drop a giant umbrella in the middle of the street. I know it's supposed to be camp but episodes like this Riddler arc (and, not coincidentally, the first Riddler arc) can be camp but well-written as well.

JS: In his third trip around the block, I honestly think Gorshin is at his insanely giddy best.

PE: Having said that... Does every villain in Gotham use that same purple knockout powder?  Shouldn't Batman have melted the wax around his feet as well before he walked out of that vault? Would a little plush pillow really be effective as a Bat-Ram?

JS: I'm convinced that there's an Acme Supply Store in Gotham City where all the criminals shop. Fortunately they've got a fine selection of skintight outfits for the ladies. Catwoman, Moth and (as we'll see soon enough) Batgirl all shop there.

PE:  The Riddler is emphatic about sparing the Dynamic Duo's lives because "watching them die slowly is so much more entertaining" and yet, when given the chance, he leaves the room just before the moment of truth. 

JS: The question nagging at me is where do you get a vat that can withstand those pesky substances that eat through anything. And shouldn't that waxy residue eat through the caped crusader's glove and hand?

PE: Best dialog in this episode:
Riddler: For two people about to become human candles, you have a lot of questions.
JS: Once again, when surrounded by precious rarities, the dynamic duo go about knocking henchmen into them, and yet no one seems to mind... even when the bad guys end up getting away. I did like the return of the bat silhouette, and this time, they went to the trouble to make Batman pose almost like his shadow.

PE: It would be novel for a Bat-villain not to steal the Batmobile lately.

JS: I know! Maybe it's time to upgrade the once foolproof anti-theft system. 

PE: The super-secretive Batman opens his big mouth again and drops Aunt Harriet's name right in front of The Riddler and his gang.

JS: Not to worry, with Moth (Linda Scott) around, I think they're probably not focused on the dynamic duo.

PE Rating: 

JS Rating: 

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


  1. Your choice of best dialogue is worthy, but I will still go with "You can't buy friends with money."

    Excellent point about camp and story structure, and these episodes are among the best examples. It's genuiely funny throughout and the logic of the story only serves as a strong scaffolding to make it more so. Occasionally, some story illogic specifically adds to the humor (such as Egghead stealing all the eggs as a point of honor), but more often the plotting lapses are just shortcuts. Here, though, the plotting is tight and the laughs are no less plentiful for it. Get Smart skirted the same line in the same years; the spoof seemed funnier when the plot made more sense.

    I think this is the best Riddler story, but I can see why people who balk at labeling the series a comedy prefer the pilot. The camp is more overt here and Gorshin is just as wild and fun to watch, but a trifle less...homicidal. He fits in more with his arch-villain colleagues at this point. Not to suggest we have arrived at Surf's Up, Joker's Under yet, but with the last story and this one, I think there is a slightly different sensibility underlying the series' approach. For me, this late-first through middle-second season approach is generally the most successful balance of camp and comedy, but I admit it is distinct from the original perspective.

  2. While the pilot may have been the series' finest hour, this may have been Gorshin's. How the production crew managed not to ruin the take when he dances his little jig is beyond me.

    Whatever happened to Linda Scott? Did she marry another millionaire and spend her golden years in plastic surgery?

    John: "… where do you get a vat that can withstand those pesky substances that eat through anything"? At the same Acme Supply House. Look for their Saturday Cliffhanger Specials.

    Even when I was almost 11, I loved seeing the Riddler threaten Our Heroes with a can of Glad air freshener. (See yesterday's preview screen-cap.) It emits Super Glue with a delightful Forest Green fragrance.

    One the Bat-aficionados on this site must still own The Saturday Evening Post's coverage of the show in '66. I don't, but I remember the reporter's covering the show while this episode was filmed, with a description of the crouch-harness West and Ward wore while suspended onstage over the vat. West was reported begging the director to wrap for the day so he could wrap himself around a bloody Mary. I guess that's how an actor portraying a muscular crimefighter stays in fighting trim.

  3. It's hard to go wrong with Gorshin's Riddler (although they manage to find a way in Season Three, with that ultra-ridiculous boxing episode). As everyone here has mentioned, there's an agreeable logic to the plotting in this story, always a plus. But personally, I miss that vibe of dark strangeness on rampant display in Riddler's first two appearances. "Ring of Wax" is very brightly lit; the candy-coated cartoon look had settled in completely, and everyone on board seemed quite happy with it (the upcoming Bookworm episode would make a valiant attempt to inject a little dark-of-night style, but this was increasingly rare).

    Overpowering the hapless Caped Crusaders and loading their unconscious bodies into a van seemed to be a motif on BATMAN, along with the triumphant villain appropriating the Batmobile. I enjoyed this show's iconic suspended-over-a-boiling-vat cliffhanger; it's almost like something out of the old Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons. Nowhere near as exciting or well-directed, of course, but at least in the right ball park.

    We '66 kids found Moth (Linda Scott) extremely sexy in that form-fitting plastic outfit, or whatever the hell it was. Guess what? This 2011 kid still does! I believe the Moth costume was re-fitted for the equally fetching Kathy Kersh (Mrs. Burt Ward, formerly Mrs. Vince Edwards) during Season Two, but we'll need Joel to confirm that. In any event, Scott was hot.

    As was the BATMAN series at this juncture, still riding high in the ratings and in our hearts. Sure, some of the show's inherent negatives were beginning to poke holes in Dozier's precarious formula, but there was still a sense of oddball freshness about the series. It would remain this way for the rest of (half) Season One, then devolve rapidly after the release of the theatrical movie and the beginning of Season Two. But for now, that initial magic was still intact... mutating into something redundant and far less interesting perhaps, but nevertheless bringing joy to us fantasy-starved fanatics of the day.

  4. A big weakness in this episode is that essentially, everything is done by the end of part 1. In part 2, almost nothing happens. Lots of "stalling for time" with the illogical splitting up of the Dynamic Duo to enter the museum, and Riddler's long monologue explaining all the torture apparati in the museum basement, etc. PS: I doubt Linda Scott's costume would fit Kathy Kersh as Kathy seems a smaller build.