Wednesday, September 28, 2011

29 & 30: The Bookworm Turns/While Gotham City Burns

Season 1 Episodes 29 & 30
Original Air Dates: 4/20/66 & 4/21/66
Special Guest Villain: Roddy McDowall as The Bookworm
Guest stars: Francine York, John Crawford
Written by: Rik Vollaerts
Directed by: Larry Peerce

Commissioner Gordon is assassinated while at a public celebration. Or is he? Turns out the cop killing was a ruse perpetrated by the fiendish Bookworm, whose every crime is influenced by a literary event.

JS: Things start off with a bang, although I suspected something strange was afoot when Gordon was fraternizing with a swimsuit clad model at the bridge grand opening.

PE: Once again we're back into the arc that has no traceable storyline. Commissioner Gordon is shot and falls from a bridge, very dead. We then find out that it was actually a stuntman hired by Bookworm who takes the dive. Why? Well, you won't find out in this episode because it has no bearing on the rest of the story. And explain to me how Gordon walks in off the street into Police Headquarters without having heard of his own death.

JS: I was hoping we might get a glimpse of his daughter Barbara in the Commissioner's office, mourning the death of her father. Gotta give the old boy credit—Hamilton really tries to sell his death. What surprised me is they have a shot of, in a kids show, fer chrissakes, a body falling from the bridge into the water! 

PE: It's mentioned that Bookworm's costume is made of old book bindings. That looks nothing like book binding to me. Speaking of costumes, that's quite a pair of funnels Ms. York is wearing beneath her sweater and I give the ensemble a big... thumb up.

JS: The bombshell plants a bomb. Francine York is certainly a sight to see. Unfortunately, as molls go, she's got a relatively restrained role. Batman doesn't even elicit an eye roll in the course of their encounter.

PE: Robin is tied to the bell of a giant clock (Big Ben) in a memorable scene. Batman is given just a couple minutes to rescue Robin but he seems to stop and ponder the situation several times, wasting valuable time. And I'd say it's a bit of a stretch Batman adding 2 + 2 + 3 + 6 and dividing 3 to find out where Robin was being held.

JS: He might have been thinking with Robin out of the picture, he could pair up with Alfred.

PE: We learn this episode that Batman has a truck on call to pick up his used parachutes. It even reads "Batmobile Parachute Pickup Service" on the side of the van!

JS: Clearly in response to public outrage over the blatant parachute littering we've seen in other episodes (if you've forgotten, just imagine the shots in this episode without the blue tint to make them look like night).
PE: We get our first "window celebrity" and it's none other than Jerry Lewis, who was still a big thing at the time. He's in full "wacky Jerry" mode. During that climb, it appears that Batman may be playing quarterback to Robin's center.

JS: One of the hallmarks of Batman that I recall from growing up. I was actually surprised it took us 30 episodes to get our first window celeb. 

PE: Wouldn't Alfred know all of Batman's foes on sight? Yet he invites Bookworm right into Wayne Manor where the devilish bibliophile makes quick work of both Alfred and Aunt Harriet.  LOL-moment: Batman and Robin. downstairs in the Batcave while the action rolls on above them, find out from the Commissioner that bad deeds have been done in Wayne Manor. Did Alfred call the police rather than bother Master Bruce?

JS: After the last episode, I think Batman realized he needed to get a little distance between Bruce Wayne and his butler Alfred and Batman and his red-phone answering service. 

PE: How did Bookworm get that massive cookbook out into the middle of the street? I'm glad he did because it's a great gag.

JS: Acme delivers.

PE: Alfred comes off a bit more than athletic when he vaults over the rail in the Batcave. Put a Batsuit on him (I think pretty soon they will!).

JS: That was an awesome scene, and a great reminder what a firecracker Alan Napier was.

PE: Bookworm steals the Batmobile (a novel idea) and heads to the Gotham library where he uses the Bat-ray to blow up the back entrance. Through the hole in the wall come the Dynamic Duo to save the day. Well, yeah, they saved the day but they could have saved the library thousands of dollars if they'd simply waited outside in the alley for the villain. I'm sure Bruce Wayne will donate the dough for fix-up.

JS:I think someone needs to explain to Batman that walking right into the villains trap is NOT the only way...

PE: While the story teeters and falls into the abyss, I'll still be giving it three bat-signals and you know why. It's all Roddy. Sadly underused (this would be his only appearance) and not given much to work with, the genre fave steals every scene he's in. He's creepy, oily, kooky, eccentric, and cowardly. Aside from Frank Gorshin, my favorite performance so far in the series. As for why Bookworm never had a return appearance, in Joel Eisner's Offical Batman Batbook, McDowell is quoted as saying "I think there was talk about doing three episodes, but I don't know what happened, because there was only one segment. I don't know whether they changed their minds about the Bookworm or whether I was doing other things." I'd assume the latter. Roddy would, years later, voice The Mad Hatter character on The New Batman Adventures  and Superman TV cartoons.

JS: When McDowell goes full Bat-crazy, I realized we were dealing with another villain on par with the top tier rogue's gallery. 

PE Rating: 

JS Rating: 

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


  1. A welcome return to some visual creativity; that "superimposed clock" gimmick was cool, the cliffhanger itself pretty dramatic, and West's frantic, more-bizarre-than-usual histrionics worth noting. Roddy is quite good as the Bookworm, providing a nice balance of eccentricity and menace. Bad girl Francine York also has her moments... love that sly, smug look on her face as she explains how she sleep-gassed the gullible Boy Wonder. All in all, a better-than-usual episode with a neat and neatly-played villain.

    Guys, I'm off to Florida tomorrow to visit my mom for a week. There's no computer in her house, but I'll be bringing my laptop along and hopefully I'll be able to get onto the web without difficulty (it's always 50-50 out there). So, if you don't hear from me in the next seven days, it's not because I've lost interest in BATMAN. Take care, everyone!

    Request for tomorrow's episode from Dirty Old Man Gerani: Gotta post a screen cap of adorable Sherry Jackson sitting in the cab of Riddler's van, her amazing legs on full display. Always loved that shot!

  2. Have a great time, Gary. I'll see what I can do about convincing John to grab that screenshot but you know John. He's his own boss.

  3. Peter: "Bookworm steals the Batmobile (a novel idea)…." No pun intended, to be sure.

    When I can divert my eyes from the curvaceous Ms. York—which is impossible—the things about this episode that I appreciate are three:

    1. Roddy McDowell, whom we only wish could have returned to the series in this role. The aspect of this character that sets him apart from the series' other villains (at least to this point) is that he is properly quirky but not so over the top. Except for his one outburst before regaining self-control, this is, by this series' standards, a restrained performance. It works well for the character and episode. You can be insane and menacing without a falsetto chortle. That can be even more unnerving.

    I never thought of his costume's having the faintest resemblance to old book covers. I thought they were reaching for a worm's look: thin, slick, and oily. The gooseneck lamp on his hatband is an inspired touch.

    2. Nelson Riddle's signature music for the character, nicely tinkled on harpsichord. May we please have a spotlight on Nelson's contribution to the series? It should not pass without notice and applause.

    3. My favorite ridiculous moment: the sixty-second countdown to Boy Wonder's doom, which lasts at least five minutes. How I love this. Tell us he has 60 seconds before the villain rings his neck. Show the clapper getting ready to strike. Then show—and tell—us Batman's speeding miles away in the opposite direction. Then pick up the Irish dolt. Let's talk for a while, shall we? No, even better: Let's have Batman steep himself into a deep trance. With interruptions. Back into the trance, for an amazing deduction that dawns with growing, urgent certainty. Then back into the car. Miles later we arrive. Now we unload and position the paraphernalia for rescue—but, wait: the Caper Crusader will patiently lecture the Village Idiot on the finer points of electromagnetic polar repulsion. Fire the implements. In the spirit of the proceedings, the grappling hooks should have missed at least twice before they grasp the clock's hands. We pause for a moment of prayer. Except for the salvation provided by the world's slowest stopwatch, by now nothing of Robin should be left except a wispy sliver of his bat-boot. An inspired rescue, executed in the time it takes to play eighteen holes and stop over for G & T in the clubhouse.

    Did I mention how much I enjoy the two and only Ms. York?

    I second Dirty Gary's motion for that one choice screen cap of Ms. Jackson's gams tomorrow. If John expects us to keep returning to this site, he must make it worth our while.

  4. When I first saw Batman as a youngster, I did not pay as much attention to episodes that did not involve the Big 4, so it was quite a treat to meet the Bookworm. I'm in complete agreement with Peter that this episode gets high marks due to Roddy, and is also my favorite performance so far. I love the Bookworm! He's brilliant! I think he may be my new favorite super villain. It's disappointing to find out we won't be seeing him again. His tantrums were quite amazing to watch. I also liked his signature music.

    Over the top performance to note: Batman going into Bat-trance to determine the whereabouts of Robin and giving his finest Shatneresque performance while erupting at O'Hara, "Don't interrupt! I'm trying to fathom the subconscious of a deadly criminal!"

    BTW, is anyone keeping count of how many times O'Hara says, "Saints Alive!" "Saints Be Praised!" or "Why didn't we think of that?"

    Why in the world would Batman waste time calling the Gotham City Police while trapped in the cookbook? Aren't they always ringing the Batphone off the hook for help from him? Then the Commish comes up with the bright idea to go get the Riddler to help them break him out. Wow. Too bad we didn't get to see that attempt.

    I'm surprised Bruce Wayne would say, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." I wonder if Dick will remember this next time he gets a pompous lecture on the importance of his studies.

    A note to you dirty old men: has John ever let you down? I would think you'd know him well enough by now to realize this request is not even necessary. O ye of little faith.

  5. Christine: "O ye of little faith." I am chastised and properly ashamed.

  6. Sorry, Clifton, for the chastising. I'm just teasing you guys, so I hope you're not really ashamed. John knows his lovely ladies, as you may have noticed from following the Thriller and WACT blogs, but if he misses any, you should probably make him aware of his oversight. ;)

    I'm still waiting for the Bat-beefcake to show up in this series. Is Adam West all I'm gonna get? Will I have to wait until Van Williams makes an appearance? I guess I'm just talking to myself now. Perhaps I will get my token Bat-dude page by series end.

  7. >>I'm still waiting for the Bat-beefcake to show up in this series. Is Adam West all I'm gonna get?

    What, Alan Napier and Neil Hamilton...nothing happening there, Christine? You are a demanding woman. Remember when I had to accept Jeanette Nolan as Babe of the Week on Thriller?

  8. Alan Napier can have a spot on the Bat-dude page. He's quite a stud the way he hops those railings, and I seem to remember being very impressed with him when he donned the cape and cowl. Neil doesn't quite have it, though.

    I am not feeling sorry for you about having to accept Jeanette Nolan as Babe of the Week when you had a plethora of babes in every other episode. She did earn a spot on the Lovely Ladies of Thriller Part 5 page, after all. Plus, she had some serious acting chops that could put stars in an old man's eyes.

  9. Can someone describe that "get the Riddler to help them" scene? Is that the only Batman scene where one villain is offered a pardon to help them against another, or where that's even brought up as an idea? (Assuming that's what they do, offer him one.) It's a famous suspense story idea, of course, but I didn't know it ever came up on Batman.