Monday, October 10, 2011

39 & 40: The Minstrel's Shakedown/Barbecued Batman

Season 2 Episodes 39 & 40
Original Air Dates: 9/21/66, 9/22/66
Special Guest Villain: Van Johnson as The Minstrel
Guest stars: Leslie Perkins, Norman Grabowski
Written by: Francis & Marian Cockrell
Directed by: Murray Golden

Synopsis: The Minstrel arrives on the scene and threatens the Gotham City Stock Exchange. If they don't pay his ransom demands, he'll use the power of music to bring the building down. It's up to Batman and Robin to get him to change his tune.

JS: Who would have thought James Bond would be orchestrating the crime throughout Gotham City! The Minstrel requests payments be made to account '007'...

PE: Was there a sale on medieval costumes in Hollywood in 1966? Leftovers from Adventures of Robin Hood? Looks like the shirt Jerry Seinfeld made famous. One more question: wouldn't a team-up of The Archer and The Minstrel seem a natural?
JS: Batman gives the TV station the same thorough investigation he does the equipment in the Batcave. He runs his hands over all the surfaces, and pokes a few random buttons.

PE: I assumed The Minstrel had somehow stolen the equipment from either the Bat-Cave or the Seaview.

JS: The dynamic duo let viewers in on the fact that the second season episodes aren't being shown in their production order, rattling off several super villains they've recently tussled with that we'll be seeing in the weeks ahead.

PE: I thought it was a refreshing change that we're introduced to a villain at the same time as (actually, before) the Caped Crusader. There's no history between these two. Batman has absolutely no idea what this guy is up to.

JS: We also find out that Alfred is a closet day trader, which results in his having an abnormal interest in this case.

PE: If I'd been Bruce, I'd have been pissed. Did you see how much dust there was on the International Frequency Computer?

JS: In case anyone thinks the budgets were getting lower, Golden goes to great lengths to show off Batman's new soldering iron.

PE: Maybe Bruce took a lickin' at the Stock Exchange as well. There's no label on that solder. They don't even have a proper work station.

JS: It took Batman more time to direct Alfred to throw the Batdrone return switch than it would have taken just to do it himself.

PE: I've got a feeling that Bats knows that Alfred needs something to get him up for his work now and then. Gotta throw the help a bone occasionally.

JS: I wasn't expecting much from The Minstrel, and I actually found the character much more interesting than I had anticipated. Lest anyone think he'd be a soft super villain, he's the first to roast the dynamic duo on a spit! Kudos to Van Johnson for exceeding my expectations.

PE: I'd agree. Johnson plays it right down the middle. Not too camp, not too method-acting-serious.  If you'd put me in front of a camera in an outfit like that, I'm not sure you'd get 100% from me. Johnson should have held out for a better get-up.

JS: While I disagree with his assessment of the belle de jour, Robin's got the best line this time out:
"What does she have that all the other gorgeous creatures don't?"
PE: LOL dialogue:
Octavia: That's nice, you're nice. I think I might like it better being on your side.
Batman: It's always a satisfactory feeling knowing you're on the side of right, Octavia.
Octavia: I wasn't talking about right.
Batman: I know.

JS: After making a point to have the Commissioner explain his behavior to pessimistic Chief O'Hara, one wonders if Batman has police headquarters bugged.

PE: First thing that came to my mind was "Uh oh, False Face is back in town," then I realized that O'Hara's clearly overworked. He's sick and tired of solving all the crimes in Gotham and getting no credit.

JS: A general rule of thumb. When a terrorist threatens to take out a building, best to evacuate it rather than have additional bystanders congregate there. 

PE: It's not a good idea to call a meeting in the building 15 minutes before it's to be destroyed? Of course, Batman had no worries as he knew The Minstrel was in the room the whole time. I'm still trying to figure out how Bats knew that the guy in the unflashy suit was The Minstrel. When you think about it, our hero is lucky no one else in Gotham has such sophisticated powers of deduction or his own secret identity would be blown.  And as a side guffaw: what's with Burt Ward's goofy march behind Batman in the Stock Exchange scene? Reminded me of The March of the Wooden Soldiers.

JS: The Minstrel might have gotten away with it, if he hadn't made the rookie mistake of wearing his super villain costume under his stock broker disguise. Of course since the police were kind enough to escort him to the TV station for a pre-incarceration interview, I think his chances of escape are pretty good.

PE: Think again, Scooter! We're told in our climax that bail has been denied. In Gotham, you can kidnap old ladies and hang them over boiling oil but don't screw with the Stock Market! Obviously, The Minstrel didn't get the same public defender as Catwoman, Penguin, or Riddler as we'll never see this guy again. He's going to rot in the bowels of Arkham forever.

PE Rating: 

JS Rating: 

Next up... King Tut! Same Bat Time, Same Bat URL!


  1. In discussing the villains outside of Penguin, Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, and King Tut, I find it worth noting that they really only have either one or two appearances. (Mr. Freeze is the only one with three, but he is never played by the same actor twice. Egghead really had two, but the second one was divided for scheduling reasons.) We all have our favorites, and the question frequently arises as to why this or that villain didn't appear more, but there seems to have been real resistance to repeat appearances by most guest villains. Maybe Mr. Eisner can discuss any relevant interviews he has on the subject.

    For the most part, I think it was probably a good policy. We have all addressed the risk of monotony and different guest stars with different villainy "themes" was one way to tell the same joke a little differently. I agree, for example, that Van Johnson did a good job and that it was inherently funny to have musical star Van Johnson as a musical arch criminal, but it would have been far less funny a second time. I would suggest Egghead as the one exception. I don't think the joke would have suffered with more appearances and Vincent Price was awfully good.

  2. This, for me, is one of the better S2 episodes, because in mood it leans toward S1, which I favor. Say what we will of his faults: Dozier had a knack for surprising casting choices. In all his years at MGM, did Van Johnson ever play a heavy? I remember him as the chipper redhead next door, Gene Kelly's sidekick or June Allyson's boyfriend. Down to the last lyrics of his swan-song, Johnson brings real menace to this show, which is the better for it. There's also some underlying sophistication: Growing up in a small town, G & S were not part of my everyday culture. How could I have known that I was being introduced to "The Mikado"?

    An interesting and enjoyable one-off.

  3. Awkward seque time: just caught Thriller's Worse than Murder episode on MEtv and had to scamper to ATAD thread where I spotted this teaser to the end of the review:
    "Picture the two of us in an inflatable raft, no water, with a slow leak. But look on the bright side: only 64 days until Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season 1 Episode 1"

    So will that brief reference be the follow-up to Batman, or will John and Pete take us on a tribute to sherwood schwartz for the next blog? Enquiring minds, etc.

  4. Rock-

    Next blog is set but its identity is top secret at the moment. It's not Alfred Hitchcock but it's a fan favorite, I'll say that much. Jack Seabrook will be tackling Robert Bloch on Alfred Hitchcock in the near future over on the Bare Bones blog and Jack and I may just tackle the entire series sometime.

  5. Peter: "… and I may just tackle the entire series sometime." Holy Cardiac Arrest! There's a gazillion episodes of that thing. How many healthy years do you have left?

  6. The secret's out. We've made our deals with the devil. As long as we keep blogging about TV shows, we'll live forever. Of course by the time we get around to Sherwood Schwartz, we can debate whether that's living...

  7. Sherwood Schwartz...William Dozier...I can't tell the difference anyway.

  8. I was not able to appreciate the Minstrel. For a minstrel, he did not seem to know many tunes, the only two in his repertoire being the Minstrel's Theme and Rock-a-Bye Baby, both of which were lulling me to sleep. Van Johnson does have a smooth and pleasant voice to listen to.

    Perhaps that sweet music caused me to nod off, because I'm not getting why Chief O'Hara suddenly suspects that B & R are teaming up with the Minstrel, and questions what they really know about those 2 voices on the telephone (which would actually be Alfred and Bruce Wayne), who have saved him from having to do any actual work on numerous occasions. Notice Chief O'Hara kicking back on the floor in the last fight scene, letting B & R do all the punching.

    I've got to wonder how the Minstrel traps the Dynamic Duo before trussing them up on a spit. All we see is our plucky heroes diving through the door while Robin exclaims, "Holy Flytrap!" That seemed pretty lazy on the writer's part.

    Favorite bat-dialogue: "He's so suave!" as delivered by Commissioner Gordon in a way that made it sound derogatory.

  9. Some of you might not be able to tell the difference between William Dozier and Sherwood Schwartz, but having known both of them I can tell you there is a big difference. While both were nice men, Dozier was pretty much straight laced executive type who came from Nebraska. He was the head of the writer's dept for Universal, He was a network exeecutive at CBS, the head of Screeen Gems aka Columbia Pictures tv. While Schwartz was pretty much a transplanted New Yorker who worked his way up as a comedy writer for radio and people like Bob Hope and Burns and Allen. Schwartz was no network suit. Dozier was married to actresses Joan Fontaine and Ann Rutherford. He hung out in upper class circles. Schwartz was strictly Friars Club and Catskills crowd. To Dozier it was all business and Schwartz was funny business. By total contrast was Paul Hennning the producer of Beverly Hillbillies, whom I knew as well. He was as down home as you could get get. He also wrote for Burns and Allen but he was the completely different from Schwartz and Dozier. Lovely man.

    As for Dozier's thoughts on Batman “Well, we had a good three-year run. That’s not bad for what was essentially a novelty show. You’ve got to be realistic about such series. They can’t last too long. In fact, I was surprised that it went a third season.” Although the show still led its time slot in the ratings, adults had tired of it, and the audience had become kids who are just as happy watching the old shows; they don’t care if it’s a repeat. So why go on spending $487,000 for new ones? “
    As you can see, it was a business for him. nothing more. He gave the audience what it wanted but as we all know audiences are fickle. The series lost momentum when it started in jan 66 instead of sept. 66. In my opinion they never should have bothered with the movie, at this point. It slowed things down and prevented more development with the 2nd season. But by this time everyone thought it was a sitcom or on the way to being a sitcom. Also there is another factor here we are all missing. Lost in Space. Batman directly caused the change in the direction of Space, it gave Jonathan Harris the opportunity to alter Dr Smith enough to turn the series into the fun show it became. There are a lot more factors to Space that added to it, but Harris was the major influence, but in changing Space for the better. Batman (since it was its direct competition in both time slot, and filmed at the same studio. now had to fight the audience Dr Smith and the Robot were attracting and in doing so had to up the comedy at the expense of the tension. The only difference was, Harris and the Robot had a cast of two dimensional stiff actors to play off of, add a monster or two and guest ham actor (most of Harris's friends from the NY stage) and you had a camp comedy with the right balance. Batman had a cast of good character people and guest stars but main characters that were too stiff and at times two dimensional. So when they upped the comedy, they made the already absurd situations into parodies of themselves. Space was not a comedy but became one, Batman was a comedy but became a parody when it had to competite against itself. Batman was a good show for its time and it is still a symbol of the campy 60's tv era.

  10. Amazing that the Minstrel's repertoire is entirely comprised of public domain music...

  11. I don't know this one well, but to me Van Johnson has always practically "epitomized" the idea of the actor you like immediately in any given role. Someone asked whether he ever played the "heavy" before this, and I can't think of any time, though he might have been very convincing if he did.

    I don't know if it's been mentioned yet, but Van Johnson was also in that famous TV version of The Pied Piper, so he already knew how to play musicians with a sinister side.

  12. I've noticed this more than once on this blog, this expression of liking LOST IN SPACE more than BATMAN, and feeling LIS was "better" when it became SILLIER. As someone who watched LIS almost from the beginnning, I have to disagree with you most vehemently. Trying to imitate BATMAN ruined LOST IN SPACE. The show desperately tried to recover in its 3rd season, while at the same time (and freed from competition) BATMAN continued to slide downward into further and greater realms of STUPIDITY.

    I wish both shows had never been on against each other-- I'd have preferred to be able to watch both all the way thru. And I wish each had stuck to its original style. The 1st season of LOST IN SPACE remains a classic, while the 2nd season has some fun moments mixed with the worst dreck they ever did.