Tuesday, September 13, 2011

7 & 8: Instant Freeze/Rats Like Cheese

Season 1 Episodes 7 & 8
Original Air Dates: 2/2/66, 2/3/66
Special Guest Villain: George Sanders as Mister Freeze
Guest stars: Shelby Grant, Robert Hogan
Written by: Max Hodge
Directed by: Robert Butler

Synopsis: Vandalism at a Gotham ice skating rink? Sounds like the work of the devilish Mr. Freeze. Seeking revenge on Batman for transforming him into a human popsicle, Freeze launches an icy crime wave throughout Gotham, stealing diamonds and baseball pitchers on a whim. Only Batman and his thermal longjohns stand in the way of Mr. Freeze and Gotham on ice!

PE: Joel Eisner informs us that Teri Garr has a small part in this one. That's her coming out of the ice rink in the intro. Quite a step up from her earlier role as a T.A.M.I. dancer. Also from the intro, we find out that Bruce Wayne (dressed in his snazziest Harry Potter blazer) actually has guys over to the Manor every now and then. Of course, they're famous ball players, including ace pitcher Paul Diamante (veteran TV actor Robert Hogan), but just to see Bruce and Dick doing goofy guy (albeit goofy millionaire guy) things is startling. I mean, doesn't Dick have piano lessons or something? Incidentally, Burt Ward looks and acts like a total dweeb in this scene. His faux, hiccuped laugh and Tex Avery eyes don't fool me: eight episodes in and the kid is already talking contract renegotiation.

JS: Amalgamated Ice Cream—a favorite on back lots everywhere...

PE: I'm sure I've asked this before but I'll ask it again of our learned readers. When Bruce and Dick slide down the pole, do they stop in-between on some dressing room floor or do their suits slide on them magically before hitting the Batcave?

JS: Interesting to find out that Mister Freeze is a villain of Batman's own creation. While I do generally like how we're dropped into the middle of these much bigger stories, I wish we got a little more of this backstory. If Batman was involved with him, I assume he wasn't a garden variety criminal... was he a criminal at all? Or was he thrust into a life of crime to support the high cost of living as a human popsicle?

PE: Gotta agree with you on this one, Scooter. We learn that Batman spilled a beaker of instant freeze solution on Dr. Shivel in a previous battle, but where did he spill it exactly? And was he known as Dr. Shivel, bank robber or was he already Mr. Freeze, who used cold weapons as his hook?

JS: I recall even as a kid being impressed by the optical effect of the warm/cold sectors of the room with Mister Freeze. Clearly in addition to the visual effect there was the tight blocking that was necessary to sell that, and as silly an idea as it is, it works.

PE: I've got a nagging feeling this was Joel Schumacher's favorite Batman episode and when it came time to cast his crowning glory, Batman and Robin (1997), all he could remember was "Nein, Nein, Nein" and that inane George Sanders accent. After pondering, for about eight seconds, who in Hollywood could pull off an accent and look good in an ice suit, he hired Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest is history. I think the special effects in this episode are much better than the $100m worth of CGI blown on B&R.

JS: When Batman refers to his magic pill, "taken internally..." I have to wonder what the alternative was?

PE: When Batman and Robin pull up in front of Gotham City Hall in the Batmobile, I was astonished to see the same group of women that approached them in the same scene last episode. These rich women in Gotham have nothing better to do!

JS: I think my favorite bit from this storyline was the fight of the Batmen & Freezes. Notice the one on the left. I don't know if he's actually the chubbiest Batman, or if it's just that he chose to wear the belt too high...

PE: You mean you can tell the difference between the chubby one and West?

JS: Say it with me now: "Super hypo-therm de-icifier chamber mark seven."

PE: Say it with me now: George Sanders is no Frank Gorshin. Unlike the previous three well-respected thespians, Sanders looks like he's phoning this one in. It doesn't help that he's in the weakest plotted, scripted and choreographed episodes thus far. We don't want to see a villain who won't (or can't) lay hands on the dynamic duo. And we don't want to see our bad guys in suit and tie (unless it's purple). One final nitpick: the guy needs to be kept at a constant room temperature of -50 degrees and yet it looks like he's got quite a nice tan. Yeah, I know. It's about a guy who dresses like a bat. I get it.

JS: Unfortunately, George Sanders falls short of the standard set by the preceding Special Guest Villains. I don't know if he was saddled with the dialect, or if it was his idea, but it didn't work for me, even in a campy vein. At this point, if you asked me if I were interested in seeing more Mister Freeze episodes, my answer would be,  "NEIN! NEIN! NEIN!"

"Throw the ball that way..."
JS: God bless our Bat Babe of the week, Princess Sandra (Grant), who, as she says, brings a few curves of her own!

PE: And she's got quite an arm, throwing in the first pitch from her box seat. The Giants could use a good pitcher like Princess Sandra, couldn't they John? (Actually, what they could user are some Bat-Men. -JS)

JS: Chief O'Hara hands over an icicle to Batman, in case he forgot who they were dealing with. And how is it those calling cards manage to stay frozen indefinitely at room temperature? 

PE: Sanders was the first actor to play Mr. Freeze. Director Otto Preminger and veteran bad guy Eli Wallach would later play him. Preminger wins "Best Actor to Play Mr. Freeze" by default. 

JS: When Batman decides he has to go off alone, he leaves Robin in the Commissioner's office. Do they provide Day Care? They clearly didn't give him a lift back to the Batcave, but after the commercial break that's right where he was (just in time for Alfred to serve him his afternoon snack).

PE: Though, for me, the episode is a drag I do have to point out a couple nice touches. Joel Eisner notes the "Dr. Vince" segment is obviously a parody of Vince Edwards, who was at the tail end of a very successful five year run as Ben Casey. The scene is a hoot and actor Dan Terranova nails Edwards with his unbuttoned hospital whites and his Brando looks.

JS: O'Hara confirms that he really is a bumbling idiot. Is Gotham such a big place that the Chief of Police gets lost so easily?

PE: The character of Mr. Freeze is an interesting one in that he began life in Batman #121 (February 1959) as Mr. Zero. This was his only appearance under that name and after the show's popularity, DC Comics brought him back as Mr. Freeze.

PE Rating: 

JS Rating: 

Next up... Zelda The Great! Same Bat Time, Same Bat URL!


  1. Gotta say, John and Pete, we '66 kids were pretty impressed with Mr. Freeze's first appearance -- this is something of a sci-fi BATMAN episode, loaded with optical effects and one hoot of a cliffhanger. Moreover, Mr. Freeze commits a ghastly murder just for the sick fun of it (thankfully the frozen victim smashes to death off-camera), making B & R's sub-zero predicament all the more precarious. Always dug the rejuvenation chamber set-piece -- fairly big and audacious for BATMAN -- even if it took syndicated reruns for me to finally get that Ben Casey joke (which actually works quite well and doesn't skewer the narrative). The idea of a guilt-ridden Batman's back story regarding this tragic villain was cool (!), not to mention a little different, and seeing the Caped Crusader groveling at his enemy's feet in icy temperatures had us youthful Batfans on edge (okay, so our hero was wearing thermal underwear and faking all that neat suffering; but it was a powerful moment anyway).

    You guys didn't care for George Sanders, huh. I certainly did. He's the first and best of the Freezes, as far as I'm concerned. I wasn't familiar with the actor's screen work in '66, but I found his intense, weathered face interesting; this villain was suffering even as he was pillaging, and that gave him more depth (and perhaps the right to commit nonchalant murder). Granted, the thick German accent's hard to take, but that was true of all the Freezes. As for which among the three is the best actor, that's way tougher than you might imagine: consider ALL ABOUT EVE (an Oscar for George), STALAG 17 and just about anything Wallach has done.

    Which brings me to an amusing point. While the Bat-villain actors came from all parts of the entertainment world, an inordinate number of them were former 20th Century Fox contract players and superstars... which made perfect sense, since Fox was producing this campy prime-time extravaganza. Aboard for the ongoing Bat "reunion" were Ceasar Romero, George Sanders, David Wayne, Jill St. John, Roddy McDowall, Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, Michael Rennie, and Lord knows how many others. Somehow, they missed good old John Carradine (would have made a fiendish Joker), Gary Merrill (playing a flamboyant mad scientist, perhaps a take-off on his OUTER LIMITS "Human Factor" role), and -- best of all -- a still hunky Victor Mature as Solomon Grundy. And if the brilliant Laird Cregar hadn't died prematurely, he'd most assuredly give Victor Buono a run for his scarabs as a somewhat older, but equally jolly, King Tut.

  2. Gary-

    I actually mentioned that I thought it was very cool that Freeze murdered that guy (with that crazy sound of icecubes rolling like dice), but Joel tipped me off that towards the end of the episode Batman remarks that the guy is fine.
    In my twisted Bat-brain however, he's like a panel out of EC Comics - an eyeballcube in the corner, a fingercube under the coffee table...

  3. Really? That smashed guy survived? Holy impossibility... even on BATMAN!

  4. I like how the henchmen laugh when the frozen manservant falls and shatters into what sounds like many tiny pieces, while Princess Sandra, "formerly Sandra Carlson of Brooklyn (glad that was clarified)," looks horrified. It does serve to make it a little more terrifying when B & R get made into Bat-sicles. Could someone point out where Batman says that guy is fine. I missed that. He probably said Dr. Shivel was fine, too, after dumping the freeze solution on him.

    I liked George Sanders as Mr. Freeze, but it didn't seem like he owned the part the way the past 3 villains did. He just didn't express the sort of rage and desire for revenge I would expect. I thought he played it too cool. He wasn't bad, he just could have been better.

    I have to wonder why Mr. Freeze keeps forgetting to turn on the hot path for his butler and henchmen. Also, who is doing the sky writing and why?

    This episode loses a Bat Signal for overdoing the ice/diamonds/baseball theme.

  5. The frosty episodes were never a favorite of mine. Mr. F. always seemed to me a rather dull villain by comparison with the manic energy of The Big Three. Partly that's due to the concept of the character itself, partly because I never thought any of the actors cast for the role were right. I guess I dislike Sanders least, because he's old Hollywood and played the part suave: a nice contrast. That said, this is my favorite Freeze episode because of the production values (the opticals at the villain's hideout).

    This episode carries a personal memory for me: My mother switched it off mid-teaser, decreeing that the series was inappropriate for me to watch! This is the only time as a kid I can remember either Mom or Dad's doing that, and I have no idea what prompted it. I doubt she had been reading The Seduction of the Innocent, but who knows what was going down? Anyway, I was not a happy camper and made it so known, to no avail for several weeks. The embargo was lifted—as inexplicably as it had been imposed—with "The Joker Goes to School." By that time time the series had become such a phenomenon that Mom probably figured she had to relent. In that era being deprived of watching Batman was of the same order of magnitude as being forbidden to listen to the Beatles.

  6. Wow! I'm so glad she finally relented... "Joker Goes to School" wasn't a bad place to re-acquaint yourself with the Caped Crusader, and I'm sure you caught those missed shows in reruns. Switched-off during mid-teaser? OUCH!, with a tongue waggling out!

  7. I always thought Mr. Freeze-- as in, George Sanders-- was the scariest of the Bat-villains. He seems to have walked in from some other TV series-- one NOT played for comedy-- he's taking this much more serious than anybody else. And for this cliffhanger, it seems like the heroes are ALREADY dead!!!

    Part of my nostalgia for the Sanders 2-parter is no doubt that it was one of the 4 stories with clips included on the soundtrack LP.

    Apart from the entire series having changed its tone (and lost the very delicate balance between drama and comedy), Otto Preminger was a severe disappointment for me when I saw him. And COME ON-- if anybody was the "inspiration" for Arnold's version, it was Preminger.

    Like countless other actors, BATMAN was my introduction to Sanders. In the decades since, he slowly became one of my favorite actors, especially from seeing him in so many different things on TCM. He's one of the few actors that comes to mind who is very entertaining to watch, even when he's playing a complete bastard.