Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 17 & 18

By Joel Eisner





FalseFace was a one shot villain in both the comic book (June 1958) and on the series. That is not to say he is not a worthy opponent. It was just that the character was not executed properly. He was supposed to be a master of disguise but rushed production of the first season ruined any chances of FalseFace catching on and returning again.





I think it would be more revealing if I let Falseface himself, actor Malachi Throne, retell the story. But first a little background on Malachi, he was and is a well known character actor. He was Robert Wagner's boss Noah Bain on the It Takes a Thief tv series. he appeared on numerous episodes of Irwin Allen's tv shows (He was on Voyage three times with Return of Blackbeard the most famous, He was the Thief of Outer Space on Lost in Space, He was Commodore Mendez on the Menagerie episode of Star Trek, and the original voice of the Keeper in the Star Trek pilot the Cage. The Keeper was redubbed by Vic Perrin when the show was incorporated into the Menagerie, It wouldn't do for Mendez to sound like the Keeper. He also worked on the Outer Limits with Shatner in Cold Hands Warm Heart. Plus, Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel (twice), Star Trek Next Generation as the Romulan that betrays Spock. He has been the voice of numerous commericals products. So many more shows but no room to add them here.







FalseFace was the purfect part for Malachi as his voice was a recognizable as his face. You take one look at him and while you may not remember the name, you know him. Whatever you think of the episode, Malachi's deep voice and laugh behind that cheap Halloween mask, made the episode work.





I will let Malachi continue the story, "Everybody was dying to be on that show and to play any part, in order to improve their careers. Billy Graham, the director, cast me in it, even though I wasn’t on the name level as some of the other people. That was like a coup because the part of False-Face was very opportunistic for me to break away from the heavies I had been playing and allow me to use some of the skills I had developed in the theater, like ballet, acrobatics, pantomime and things of that nature. This is what I had hoped to impress upon people and I was able to do a good deal of that, but almost inadvertently.”“Originally, it was planned that I would have different make-ups, but due to production problems or decisions, a plastic mask was put over the face of False-Face. It was a good character, but the problem was in photographing the plastic mask; it came out as a rather ugly, un-comical burn face. It looked really horrible, and it ruined the character’s chances for a return appearance as there was no response to him. Although I felt my work was good, it would have been better had they stuck to the concept the director wanted—different facial disguises.” “I did one makeup disguise in a quick take, as the armored car driver. I realigned my face to a certain extent and added a mustache and changed my voice somewhat. In a sense, I proved it to them. The reason it happened, was because I couldn’t wear the mask and say to the other actors, ‘You don’t see the mask.’ So, there was no way out, unless they hired another actor. Rather than spend the money, what they did of course was use me and my idea, which in essence, had justified what the makeup man and I had originally conceived 10 days before.”





Unlike many of Batman’s later villains, False-Face was a very agile foe who not only had the graceful movements of a dancer and an athlete but was also quite adept at riding a motorcycle. While he didn’t do the actual motorcycle stunt work, “I did start the bike and take off for a few feet.” He’s rather proud of the stunt work he did perform on the show, like “the escape from the bank vault, which was a kind of acrobatic pull around the pole, in escaping through the door, and the shot that I devised for the director, which was the Grande Jette over the camera in the escape from the alley. The jump over the camera, if you look at it, was an attempt at a ballet spot. The director, Billy Graham, and I got together on that and he said, ‘What can you do?’ I said, ‘You’re shooting so low and I don’t mean to make it a crotch shot, but how about if I just hurtle myself over your camera?’ He liked the idea, so we went with it.”







“I also added several little nuances to the character in order to make him more interesting, such as the use of the hands and the gloves, a little of which I borrowed from W.C. Fields, like the crooks and turns of the fingers.” “I was unhappy with the final result so during a contractual argument, I insisted that my name be withdrawn from the credits. I figured since there was going to be no face on it and no real acting, I was irate enough to say that anyone could have played the part behind that kind of a mask, so please withdraw my name from the credits. The producers said, ‘Well, OK, but we reserve the right to use your name.’ I said go ahead, and they chose to put the question mark in the credits where my name would have appeared, except at the second part’s end where they gave me the final credit.”





“Now, in the meantime, a huge bunch of publicity arose from that with regard to what had leaked out, not with regard to me but whether Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis or Cary Grant was playing the part, because everyone was so celebrity-conscious during Batman’s early days that everybody in town was having a good time guessing who was playing FalseFace.” “They were also going to use Angie Dickinson for the part of Blaze, because everybody was dying to be on that show and to play any part. Director Billy Graham cast me in it even though I was not on the same name level as some of the other people. That was like a coup, but they pulled the rug out from under me with that stupid mask.”





Myrna Fahey was a relative unknown when she played Blaze, she had been around for years had starred on the Father of the Bride tv series in 1962. Was Vincent Price's mad sister in the House of Usher and did numerous tv shows, mostly westerns and had a small part in the All the Glitters episode of the Adventures of Superman. Why she got the part is unknown. Angie Dickenson might have been the better choice. Fahey died at the age of 40 in 1973 of cancer.





The character of Blaze seemed to indicate that she was FalseFace's regular girl, when she appeared as the old man in Gordon's office, Batman immediately knew it was her, even though he had not seen or heard of her up until that point in the episode. There is a major problem or error in this scene. Blaze jumps out of the window down to FalseFace's mattress one story below and makes her escape. In every other episode, Gordon's office is on a much higher floor, and with the windows looking out on a different section of the building. It worked for the episode but it put the question of the location of the office out of sorts ever since.





Another Superman guest star is midget Billy Curtis, he was one of the original Mole Men in the pilot/feature film and Mr Zero, the Martian in one of the later episodes of the series. They raided the Superman show quite a lot. Curtis is involved in another odd scene. When FalseFace is dressed as the old woman and Curtis is dressed as the boy scout helping him across the alley (street) he runs out of camera and immediately pops out of the trash cans with the other henchmen dressed in henchmen costumes similar to those used by the Joker except with the vests. He could not have been in two places at once but in this shot he was!





Another interesting cast member is Joe Brooks (the fat henchman), better known as the nearly blind trooper Vanderbilt on the F Troop tv series. I suppose since they were both ABC shows, he could make a crossover (in fact he returned during the third season to play the part of Visor, Penguin's henchman in the Sport of Penguins episode).





There was also an odd scene during the cliffhanger. FalseFace ties Batman and Robin via plastic wrap and an epoxy glue gun, which seals the plastic wrap around their wrist to the train tracks. As a kid I didn't understand why and how he used the wrap to tie them up, but when you watch him you can see the glue gun in his hand. Then if you notice Batman and Robin are tied on different train tracks, one local, the other express. why not on the same track and finish them both together? It was nice to see the NY style subway station again with the old candy vending machine complete with mirror. they haven't been around for over 40 years. A piece of nostalgia preserved for posterity.




There was also an optical error in the episode, when Batman uses his Bat-Laser to free himself and Robin, the lab never overlaid the color light beam over the black lines uses to etch the laser beam path on the film.





I have always loved this episode, I love Malachi Throne's work, the voice it just overcomes the shortcomings of the mask. The henchmen's three cheers for FalseFace, to which he replies "Thanks men I know you didn't mean it.". Falseface cringing evertime he hears the word True. There was so much in the script and that we have thank writer Stephen Kandel. While he only wrote this episode, and the story for The Zodiac Crimes. he did have big career in tv action shows including producing and writing the MacGyver tv series. He also worked on the Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Man from Atlantis, Star Trek Animated series and Malachi's It Takes a Thief show as well. He also wrote a very interesting and bizzare pilot film entitled Chamber of Horrors (1966) about the three owners of a 19th Century Wax Muesum who solve crimes, the pilot featured guest star Patrick O'Neal as a 19th Century Bluebeard who murdered woman and then married the corpses. He then chops off his own hand to escape from a moving train (he had been handcuffed to the brake wheel), and later turns up with a set of interesting attachments for his missing hand (ala Wild Wild West).





Next, Julie Newmar as the Catwoman!

5 comments:

  1. I want to offer a hearty shout-out to Malachi Throne for his performance in this episode. Think of all the handicaps as an actor he had to overcome. (1) Save for the brief scene he mentions, the mask restricted him from being able to use his eyes and face. I assume-though I may be wrong, and Joel can correct me—that many if not most of his lines had to be dubbed in post-production. (2) With those terrible limitations, he did indeed use the rest of his body, very effectively, to create a character with verve and stylized menace. (3) As Mr. Throne honestly acknowledges, it was a thankless role in another respect: No star of comparable or higher stature would have accepted it, since we never see the real face behind the mask. Throne voluntarily swallowed actor's vanity and gave his all for a part that had everyone (except readers of TV Guide) expecting to see an A-list performer in a big reveal that never happened. However rushed into production it was, he and the character deserved a comeback that never happened. In fact, even if they had recycled the character for another episode, Mr. Throne was well aware that they could have done it without him. Such professional selflessness is, I suspect, the rarity, surely not the norm. For that he deserves three cheers—from those who really mean it.

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  2. A cheer for Falseface, one of Batman's most underrated (and underloved) villians. For me, Batman was all about flickering excellence -- moments where the story, characters and visuals just laid a socko-punch to my gut. The imperfections and mishaps (and burt wardisms) were always trumped by multiple pieces of tremendousness -- and this episode wraps that up completely for me.
    Hopefully, someone has got Throne (and the few others in front of and behind the cameras) on tape with a commentary, for posterity if not for that day when the dvds do see the light of day...

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  3. False face is an oddball in the Batman rogue's gallery, mainly because he seemed to be a genuine danger. Throne is fantastic in this one off role, and is particularly menacing as the railroad worker.

    In retrospect it's a real shame Throne's original intent wasn't carried out. This show would have been much more effective if, thanks to quality makeup effects, FF constantly changed, and been harder to spot.

    Then, he would have been just a face in the crowd, capable of slipping away, to pop up again later in the series.

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  4. Tying Batman & Robin to separate tracks just showed how VISCIOUS he was. He not only wanted to kill them, he wanted one of them to suffer watching the other get killed before they got killed themselves!

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  5. "There was also an optical error in the episode, when Batman uses his Bat-Laser to free himself and Robin, the lab never overlaid the color light beam over the black lines uses to etch the laser beam path on the film."

    Error, perhaps, but I always thought it looked kinda cool.

    Malachi Throne DID use make-up in one scene. The armored car, where False-Face "callously" parks in front of a fire-hydrant. Unfortunately, the mask didn't photograph well. The skin-tone looks hideous.

    I always thought False-Face was among the best of the tv villains. As the years go by, and I wish the series had been a little more serious, his performance stands out. As GlennME says, False Face seems like a genuine threat to the dynamic duo. The candy-machine sequence frightened me as a child, and I still find it pretty chilling when Batman slumps to the floor, with the reflection of False Face laughing maniacally behind him.

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