Monday, September 12, 2011

5 & 6: The Joker is Wild/Batman is Riled

Season 1 Episodes 5 & 6
Original Air Dates: 1/26/66, 1/27/66
Special Guest Villain: Cesar Romero as The Joker
Guest stars: Nancy Kovack, Jonathan Hole
Written by: Robert Dozier
Directed by: Don Weis

Synopsis: Having escaped from prison, and tired of being bested by Batman's utility belt, the Joker decides to make one of his own. After he manages to swap utility belts with Batman, he goes on a crime spree that has everyone wondering if the dynamic duo finally met their match.

PE: The Joker playing softball? We're definitely in 1966. As I've noted before, I'm partial to Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker. At one point, I thought Jack Nicholson's take on the villain bested Romero's. My thoughts have changed after a recent viewing of the Tim Burton film. Nicholson has a couple classic scenes but overall chews the scenery in what is supposed to be a serious Gothic version of the comic book. Cesar Romero hams it up at every turn, but that's the idea, right? I like the look in the character's eyes when he's not laughing. I get the feeling the gears are working overtime.

JS: Right out of the gate we've been introduced to the best of the best of Batman and Robin's rogue's gallery, and after watching this episode, I'm reminded why The Joker was always my favorite. Romero's laugh even puts the Riddler's giggle to shame! (you're out of your mind! -PE) And though I can't help but spot it now, at the time I first saw these shows, I never noticed that he had a mustache under his whiteface make-up. My question—since he's in a Comedians Hall of Fame, did the Joker have a legitimate stand-up career before turning to a life of crime?

PE: I thought it a nice touch to have statues of actual comedians like W. C. Fields, Stan and Ollie, and Ernie Kovacs, rather than fabricated names. Adds a dose of realism even though the rest of the show is obviously in Fantasyland.

JS: You must be an active supporter of police charities to be handed crime scene evidence so cavalierly by the police commissioner himself - and right under the nose of the chief!

PE: Well, it was for The Wayne Manor souvenir case, after all. I'm sure this wasn't the first time Bruce had asked. Where do you think Catwoman's garter came from? 

JS: Was no one suspicious when the famous opera singer wore a rubber mask during his performance? 

PE: You mean all the businessmen in their three piece suits who gathered in the bar to watch an exciting evening of opera singing? Must have been off-season for football. When The Joker is unmasked on TV, a drunk delivers the best line in the episode with perfect comedic timing: "It's my mother-in-law!" 

JS: Did the dynamic duo get cheek to cheek to make it easier for the Joker to remove both masks in a single swipe?

PE: I think they look cute together. Maybe the rumors were true. 

JS: For those keeping score, Batman has switched over to calling Robin 'chum' instead of 'old man.

PE: Does the act of climbing on the rope attached to his "Batarang" look less clumsy as we get farther into the run?

JS: Where the heck was Burt Ward the day they shot the christening of the ship? The stand-in they used hardly moves, and pays no attention to what's going on around him.

PE: I have to believe that the scene involving The Joker's hijacking of the news station had to have influenced Sam Hamm when he was writing what would eventually become Tim Burton's Batman. There's even a shocking hand-buzzer in the scene. 

JS: In this episode, we begin to see that Alfred is much more than just the hired help. He may be the brightest bulb in the Batcave.

PE: Once again our Bat Babe of the week (Kovack) is a bad girl caught up with the wrong crowd. Only too late they realize that the Batman is immune to their seductive charms.

JS: I don't know if I was more surprised that I  noticed the tongue in big fight onscreen exclamation EEE-YOW, or the fact that the tongue moved!

PE Review:

JS Review:

Next up... Mister Freeze! Same Bat Time, Same Bat URL!


  1. First we should mention that this was NOT the episode TV Guide announced as the third BATMAN to be broadcast. That was "Zelda the Great..." with Anne Baxter, the only performer to play two different Bat-villains (I think!). If memory serves, all of us kids were stunned to see the Joker for the first time that night, since TV Guide never screwed up before with a totally wrong entry. As a matter of fact, for the next couple of weeks, the venerable TV listings mag offered no episode listings for BATMAN, unheard of for a new, super-hot network series. When episode info did finally return about a month later, the word "Scheduled" appeared before the weekly synopsis. Apparently the crushing production schedule caused all kinds of irksome problems and delays, with Dozier and company unsure of what episode might be finished first. I can certainly see why they wanted to air the Joker show ASAP, given the villain's superstar status. They might've also wanted to hold off on Zelda because of Catwoman being around the corner -- shouldn't B's most important female opponent be presented first?

    As for the episode itself, it's probably the best and most intense Joker adventure, although I have a soft spot for "The Joker Goes to School..." The comedian's hall of fame stuff is interesting. And hey, I'm with Adam West in his admiration/amazement of Romero's fearless, over-the-top performance and freewheeling laugh. Maybe John Carradine would have been more sinister, but Romero summons up a rollicking, unabashed ludicrousness that makes this role uniquely his -- for 1966. Nicholson and Ledger would brings their own, more malevolent pleasures to this juicy part years later.

    I can remember as a kid HATING the mother-in-law line! I watched this episode with my cousin, Joe, someone I was trying to hook on the series, and I recall sinking in my chair as I endured those guys in the bar with their arch comments. But that was the problem we kids had with this newfangled concept called camp -- it seemed to needlessly skewer what we fans desperately wanted to take seriously.

    Tidbit, but what the hell: Notice how the positioning of the Bat-emblem changes on the Caped Crusader's costume. It the majority of episodes it's way down in the middle of West's chest; but in this show, for the most part, it's higher up, closer to the positioning in the comics version. When B & R check out the museum, you'll notice the emblem changing positions from shot-to-shot, indicating that certain pick-up images were done on different days, with different costume fittings. I imagine Dozier and his team decided the lower-placed emblem on Batman's chest was preferable because a) it drew less attention to West's healthy but not-exactly-muscular physique, and b) it was funnier, earning Adam the nickname of "human pillow."

    This week's Bat-babe? Mmm boy, Nancy Kovack -- formerly a dubbed Medea from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and a disembodied head covered with Vincent Price's clay in DIARY OF A MADMAN. Unlike Molly, there is no dumb girl sympathy on display here; she's just an amoral, sassy bitch who rolls her nasty eyes at the super-square Caped Crusaders at every turn (Diane McBain would be the best at doing this in an upcoming Mad Hatter episode).

    Finally: Are you sure Batman didn't call Robin "old chum" in the pilot? If not, why does Riddler mock Batman's use of the "chum" word when he speaks to his adversary on the phone in "Smack in the Middle"?

    Man, I'm way too into this stuff!

  2. >>Man, I'm way too into this stuff!

    That's why we keep begging you to come back, Gary!!

  3. With Gary around it certainly does feel like home.

    But now where's Clifton, our inaugural poster???

  4. Here I am, during a very long day not yet over.

    Other tidbits to add to Gary's: (1) I don't normally comment on green wig styles, but I think this first was the best of the Joker's coiffures—more like the comic book's image. (2) Desmond Doomsday has now landed on his "Bat-Time" and "Bat-Channel," though not until after the optical titles were overlaid. (3) This is the first Part Two whose catch-up teaser runs the clips before freezing frames. Mr. Riddle (Nelson, that is) hasn't yet applied the aural stingers to the Freezes. Confused? So am I.

    Though far from the worst that's yet to come, this two-parter's quality seems to me to dip. Dozier's script is not as clever as Semple's first two, in which the villains dupe Our Heroes into carrying out their capers. "This week" there's a lot more yakety-yak; though by nature not a violent person, after his third repetition I was ready to punch out Little Harold's lights. Though it has been decades since I read the comic-book story on which these episodes are based, I do remember that it had a lot more invention. Some, like the last threat against B & R, would have cost too many bucks to film; others—like the specific tools in the Joker's belt—could have been propped quickly and been more entertaining.

  5. More Bat-wisdom: "All music is important, Dick. It's the universal language. One of our best hopes for the eventual realization of the brotherhood of man." How can Bruce Wayne be such a square and yet sound like a total hippie? (Incidentally, the popular British group, "The Brotherhood of Man," was realized in 1969. Bruce was right.

    Romero is another perfectly cast frenetic villain. You gotta love his derogatory "Fatman" and "Boy Blunder." He was always one of my favorites, and I'm not sure I could give any episode with him less than 4 Bat Signals, though we shall see. I thought this was a fun episode to watch. The operatic clown whose mouth didn't move was pretty creepy. The drunks at the bar may not have noticed, but the rest of us kids are just waiting for the Joker to be unmasked.

    I wouldn't say his laugh is better than Riddler's, but that each one conveys the kind of villains they are. Riddler's giggle is maniacal, while the Joker's cackle is malevolent. They're both pretty awesome.

  6. Since Clifton Black made a passing reference above to "little Harold", the son of the maudlin newscaster, I thought I'd throw this in:

    That newscaster was Jerry Dunphy, who at the time was the most popular local newscaster in Los Angeles, a position he held for decades.
    When he appeared on BATMAN, his hair had not yet turned completely white, which ultimately became his trademark (reportedly, he was at least the physical prototype for Ted Baxter on MARY TYLER MOORE).
    Before going to LA, Dunphy had been the sports guy at the CBS station here in Chicago, so seeing him turn up on BATMAN raised a few eyebrows here.
    My major interest in BATMAN these days is seeing who turns up in some of the smaller roles, those whom I can recognize from other things they did over the years.
    Example: the newscaster from the premiere episode was Jack Barry, best remembered even today as the MC of the rigged quiz show TWENTY-ONE. Stuff like that.
    I ask your indulgence when I come up with more of these in the coming days.

  7. BATSCHOLAR JOEL EISNERSeptember 13, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    To add to the above comment about the game show hosts. Jack Barry was also the host and producer of The Joker's Wild, Break the Bank and was part of the game show scandals of the 1950s. Other game show host that also appeared on Batman are Allan Ludden of Password and Dennis James from PDQ and the primetime Price is Right. Both appeared in Hizzoner the Penguin. Jerry Dunphy also turned up in the giant rabbit horror film Night of the Lepus.
    As for Cesar's laugh, unlike Gorshin's which was forced, he created it for the role. That was Cesars natural laugh, he exeagerated it for the part, but that was his laugh.

  8. I never knew Nancy Kovack was dubbed in Jason and the Argonauts (it took me forever to learn that about Todd Armstrong). Not to be too touchy about it, but I usually hate to hear that an ENGLISH-SPEAKING actor is dubbed in an ENGLISH-SPEAKING story (regardless of the reasons for it that you sometimes hear), so I can stand to go forever without finding it out.