Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 9 & 10

By Joel Eisner

Zelda the Great did not exist in the comic books. Eivol Ekdal however did. Based on a Detective Comics December 1965 comic. The strange Albanian genius Eivol Ekdal was partnered not with Zelda but a male magician named Caranado. The change was based on a conversation between Lorenzo Semple Jr and William Dozier.

Among William Dozier's production papers was this memo from Semple to Dozier. "Triggered by your correct remark that we should work in dames where possible; To wit, am changing The Great Carnado into Zelda the Great, a super sexy femme escape artiste and illusionist It’s working fine, and should be a lot more colorful. If Zsa Zsa‘s still alive and not too cronish looking I’m sure she ‘d love to do it.”.

Zsa Zsa Gabor (a long time friend of William Dozier) figures prominently in the Batman show. Almost from the beginning she was considered for this part. but losing out to Anne Baxter. Gabor was later considered for the part of Marsha Queen of Diamonds, but that went to Carolyn Jones. She finally was given the part of Minerva for the final episode of the series, a role originally meant for Mae West.

Anne Baxter a long time Fox contract player during the 1940's portrayed Zelda, a magician and escape artist. Not to take away from abilities, but she wasn't the villain in this episode, she was more the innocent dupe that becomes the villain's moll. Character actor Jack Kruschen as Eivol Ekdal is the real villain here. He runs the show, he hires the gangsters to kill Batman and Robin and it is he who forces Zelda to steal for his inventions. Krauschen who had a long history of portraying comical villains (Abbott and Costello Go To Mars) and comical Brooklyn-type comic relief characters (Angry Red Planet) although he is from Canada. Despite his best efforts, the script gives him little to work with. The magic is uninteresting, and Zelda is not a strong character, Ekdal can't carry the episode by himself. Kruschen last recurring role was on the Webster show as the grandfather.

Parts of the episode make little sense, Aunt Harriet falls for the phone call from some fake playground matron, claiming Dick was hit with a pitched ball. Dick is High School, what would he be doing in a playground? Then the obvious stuntwoman suspended over the the boiling oil is far too vigorous to be Madge Blake. The episode was lacking suspense, perhaps it was director Norman Foster's slow moving direction. Foster who had a long history as an actor, director and screenwriter, who biggest claim to fame was he directed and wrote the Peter Lorre Mr Moto films for Fox (also a couple of the Charlie Chan films) He also wrote and directed several episodes of Disney's Zorro tv series. He was married to Claudette Colbert and later actrees Sally Blaine. He later directed the first Mad Hatter episode and the Preying Mantis Kills episode of the Green Hornet (that is the episode where actor Mako, beats up Bruce Lee and dumps him in a garbage can). Whether it was the direction or the script. Zelda just sits there. As much as I detest the Olga Egghead teamup of the third season at least Anne Baxter appeared to be having a lot more fun with the part. (She told me shortly before her untimely death, that she loved doing the magic but Olga was a more fun character to play.)

The only actors of note in this episode were Frankie Darro (who appeared in many a movie serial as was inside Robby the Robot for Forbidden Planet), former movie villain Douglas Dumbrille as the doctor and Victor French, a recurring agent on Get Smart and later Mr Edwards on Little House on the Prairie and Michael Landon's sidekick on Hightway to Heaven as one of the two gangsters who kill each other while trapped inside the mummy cases. Take a close look at the cases after they kill each other, you can see the wires used to pull the backwards.

One point of trivia. This episode was renamed prior to broadcast. It was originally known as Inescapable Doom Trap / Zelda Takes the Rap.

Next The Riddler returns from the dead!


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  2. Anne Baxter was indeed a looker, though her costuming for this episode was too conservatively cut to accentuate that. She was a fine actress, whose breakthrough role was probably Bette Davis's predator in "All About Eve" (1950). Kruschen played mostly sympathetic and comic parts, notably Jack Lemmon's neighbor, the doctor who pumps Shirley McClaine's stomach after her drug overdose in Billy Wider's "The Apartment" (1960). Neither is a strong villain here, nor do they combine to make much menace; but, as I suggested in the companion blog, I'm prepared to cut the producers some slack for trying something different here—especially in early days when a series has to find its footing.

  3. There seemed to be no kind of background Jack Kruschen COULDN'T play convincingly - Greeks, Russians, Hispanics, Southerners. Until reading this, I kind of assumed he WAS from New York, judging by things like The Apartment and Angry Red Planet. But that just shows that it was one more kind of background that he slipped into without much trouble.

  4. Kruschen was also a frequent member of Jack Webb's stock company on "Dragnet" in the 1950s. I've heard him play all kinds of different roles and ethnicities on the radio version.

  5. BEST line in the story:
    "Now remember-- contract calls for bumping Batman-- ONLY AFTER he escapes from the Inescapable Doom Trap-- is IN WRITING!"
    "Okay, if it's in writing."

    WHO has a MURDER "contract"-- IN WRITING??? Hilarious!!!

  6. I noted several years ago, with some humor, that in "ALL ABOUT EVE", Anne Baxter turned out to be so ROTTEN-- and was then coerced into a marriage by George Sanders-- who felt they were a perfect match. So "Zelda" married "Mr. Freeze"! (And their 2 BATMAN stories aired back-to-back. Coincidence?)

    You know what? MORE stories should have been adapted from the comics. They probably would have resulted in more VARIETY and less tight adherence to a "format".

  7. Of course-- and I am CONVINCED of this-- what really would have helped, would be having someone in charge who was familiar with the source material before-the-fact, and WASN'T embarrassed by it. There are so MANY things on this show where I can see loads of potential, that could have been SO MUCH better-- if only the guy calling the shots had wanted it to be good-- instead of "played as dumb as possible".