Tuesday, October 4, 2011

BATMAN: The Movie!

Batman: The Movie!
Original Release Date: 7/30/66
Rogues Gallery of Villains: Lee Meriwether as The Catwoman, Cesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
Written by: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Directed by: Leslie H. Martinson

Synopsis: Four of the dynamic duo's greatest foes have banded together with a diabolical plan to dehydrate world leaders in an effort to collect billions of dollars in ransom. It's up to the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder to thwart those plans, and rehydrate the pillars of government before it's too late!

PE: Vanishing yachts! Exploding sharks! Helicopters that fly themselves! Noble dolphins! Stuntmen that look nothing like Burt Ward!

JS: Holy exteriors Batman! It doesn't take long to realize we're not just watching another episode of the TV show!

PE: Gotham suddenly looks like downtown Los Angeles. And what's with the missing theme music? I thought the credits sequence was just about the only misfire to this pretty package.

JS: Watching the movie on Blu Ray has me longing to see a legitimate release of the TV show on disc. Man do those colors pop!

PE: Thanks to the glory of HD, I now know that Adam West wore no t-shirts under his costume. Thanks also to the hi-def, you can very clearly see where the water ends and the painting begins (in fact, during the climactic fight scene, you can see the folds of the wallpaper and the "waves" hit the end of the tank).

JS: It looks like the Jaws tank on the Universal Studios tour. Fortunately, between the stellar cast and amazing production values, such limitations can easily be overlooked. Each of our favorite villains is given an opportunity to shine, and none disappoint!

PE: Putting them all together in one place seems to have motivated Lorenzo Semple Jr to deliver his finest story since "Hi Diddle Riddle" (although I'm still trying to figure out why we needed Commodore Schmidlapp). This remains one heck of a lot of fun and doesn't seem to drag much despite its longer running time. Lee Meriwether does a nice job as Catwoman (and she's easy on the eyes) but I'd have loved to seen Julie Newmar round out the perfect cast of bat-villains (well,  missing only Roddy McDowell's Bookworm, that is). Newmar had done only one episode arc before the movie came out so perhaps the impact wasn't felt so greatly back in 1966.

JS: We finally get clued in as to how Batman and Robin change between jumping on the Batpoles and arriving in the Batcave fully decked out. They flip a switch. Wait a minute. Maybe we still don't know how that works.

PE: It's odd that, during the first season of the show, we never saw that switch yet here in the movie we see it constantly.

JS: So once again, we get to see the James Bond side of Bruce Wayne (you know, sipping milk from a brandy snifter), as he woos the lovely Miss Kitka. A potent argument in favor of international relations, indeed. Notice that Peter didn't complain about the mystery voyeur-cam set up in Kitka's apartment. I felt it was interesting that Bruce finally gets his chance to consummate his relationship with Kitka when, with the help of the villains toss, he does a face plant into her cleavage (with a nice smile when he notices what she's got there!-PE).

PE: Almost didn't recognize Alfred in the Batmobile with that crafty disguise.

JS: Clearly Batman was more concerned that he have his driver's license than a disguise. Of course, we've learned that in this Bat-universe, folks are not as observant as we are. So how does that explain the dynamic duo's recognizing The Penguin in his convincing Schmidlapp disguise?

PE: We get a genuine fatality when one of the henchmen is catapulted into the waiting arms of the exploding octopus.

JS: What's interesting is that whether it's a shark, a henchman, or a Polaris missile, the explosions are all the same. But the real fatalities (5!) occur right in the Batcave! How do you explain that to the local authorities (hard water?-PE)?

"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." 
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!" 
"We're gonna need a bigger boat." 
"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"
JS: Ah, the bomb scene. Perhaps the most memorable sequence from the film. What I want to know is why Batman was hesitant to drop the bomb on the duck decoys?

PE: Are you telling me that Burt Ward's stuntman had to step in for running scenes as well? The guy looks to be twenty years older than Ward.

JS: Speaking of running scenes, who thought it would be a good idea to do the process shots of them running in traffic? But more importantly, why does Gotham City have a Benedict Arnold monument?

PE: How many times do you think Batman will need to use the "Super Molecular Dust  Separator"? Shouldn't that be one of Alfred's duties?

JS: Okay, down to brass tacks. Normally, these super villains surround themselves by beautiful molls. Are we to understand that was all just for show? Because not a one seems to notice the feminine charms of Catwoman when she lounges about.

JS: The lovely Lee Meriwether, while no Julie Newmar, works that catnip. I don't think anyone can argue that she does a fine job filling the catsuit.

PE: I have a technical question about the end. I know that de-hydration and re-hydration has been worked on secretly by the American government and there might be some of those scientists reading our blog right now. When the nine leaders are rehydrated, does the beaker and hose become part of their bodies. I only ask because they seem to disappear. 

JS: I was curious if the colors were designed to communicate some sort of racial statement. Most importantly, who's the short blue guy?

PE: The Dynamic Duo don't seem to be bothered much by the fact that they've left the world on the brink of war. Good news (for them) is that four of their most frequent foes will be behind bars for at least three weeks. That will give Bruce enough time to go fly fishing in Gotham Creek and Dick can practice his Calculus. Bad news is the villains will all be paroled at the same time!

P.S. Christine was kind enough to forward this link featuring 1966 interviews with the cast of the movie!

Pete's Rating:

John's Rating:

Next Up... Joel Eisner fills us in on what to expect from Season 2, and return Thursday for The Archer! Same Bat time, Same Bat URL!


  1. Saw the feature when it first came out, surrounded by countess screaming Batfans. The audience laughed at that "dedicated to lovers" intro, but went absolutely nuts when the BATMAN logo and its two-note theme blasted on screen. Question: Why is one of the images of Robin in this title sequence flopped (note the reverse "R")? Thought Lee Meriwether was a fine Catwoman, adding something agreeably fresh to the proceedings. For the record, I also saw MacKENNA'S GOLD at my local theater (the huge but crappy Fox flick that prevented Julie Newmar from appearing in BATMAN "THE MOVIE").

    Singing the praises of Benedict Arnold? That's in keeping with the Bat-universe's topsy-turvy sensibilities. If memory serves, there's talk of an "Aaron Burr" high school in "The Joker Goes to School...", and I seem to recall another well-known traitor being celebrated as a hero in that episode. Is this suggesting that comic books in general were so badly-written that ANY historical name was acceptable when required?

    All this said, it was cool seeing Bats on the big screen, and quite exciting in color (my folks didn't get our first color Zenith TV until late '67). As mentioned, the Blu-ray edition is truly dazzling. But for me, this feature, while relatively ambitious and sorta fun, didn't measure up to the ticklish excitement of "Hi Diddle Riddle" and some of the other first season shows. It was really preparing us for Season Two, which would pretty much drive the Bat-joke into the ground and earn ABC's bizarre experiment in camp the very real threat of cancellation. Holy Instant Fall from Grace!

  2. "Synopsis: Four of the dynamic duo's greatest foes have banded together with a diabolical plan to dehydrate world leaders in an effort to collect billions of dollars in ransom." The way the world is nowadays, many people in most countries act as though they'd pay the ransom if only their leaders were dehydrated and kept that way forever.

    In conscience I find myself drizzling on the parade our hosts have whistled into action. Never thought I'd see myself scoring something a lot lower than Our Fearless Webmasters, but here I am.

    I have a lot of problems with the movie, for which I'll probably incur the wrath of Batfans everywhere. For one thing, I find too much muchness in it. I don't blame Dozier and the other backers for spending their wads on Bat-Copters and Bat-Boats and Bat-Bikes since they couldn't afford it for the regular series; but finally, in my book, they're all set-pieces that don't add a lot of movie value. Even as a kid I knew I'd be seeing that footage recylced in S2, even though I couldn't have spelled amortization, even less told you what it meant.

    Am I the only poster on this site who thinks that four villains—even the four most famous villains—sprung simultaneously in one plot does not necessarily make the show four times better? The key here, for me, is that Semple really didn't have much for the Joker and the Riddler to do except outlaugh each other in their submarine. Burgess Meredith ended up with a meatier part, and, in a fine twist of casting, Lee Meredith may have been most central of all. It's odd how flabby Semple's script is. It's as though he wrote better under the constraints of less time and less money.

    The thing in the movie I dislike most of all is that the fine line the series tried to ride (at first) between straight adventure for kids and goofball sexiness for their parents is mostly erased here. The movie's too cute for my taste: too much winking at the camera, from beginning titles to "The (Living?) End." When filmmakers feel the need to tell the audience how much it should have loved this wild and crazy movie they've just seen, they're trying way to hard. When pushed, I didn't laugh then and don't now.

    In fairness, some moments in the movie are worthy of the series. "Dump the Bomb" is staged and played very well. (John: Duck decoys are expensive. Batman respects good sportsmanship.) The sight (and thought) of Adam West thumping the head of a big rubber shark strapped to his leg is almost worth the price of admission. While yielding to no one in my admiration of Julie Newmar's performances, I think Lee Meredith was just fine in the role. She comes across a bit too nice, lacking Ms. Newmar's listless evil, but she's terrifically sexy, which is what the part demands.

    Finally, for me, the stand-out moments do not overcome the heaviness of the movie. The analogy I'm going to make is not quite fair, but for me it's the difference between "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball." The first has a lightness of touch that balances comedy and melodrama; the second is a more expensive copy that tries to overdo within a set template.

  3. As to the male villains giving little notice to the Catwoman, the same cannot be said of their henchmen. I spotted two instances where the Penguin's thugs were doing "takes" to the camera when Lee Meriweather was in full Catwoman mode. The first occurs during the jet umbrella escape. The thug is driving in front, while Meriweather, holding on tight, is howling behind him. He gives the camera a wonderful WTF look. The second incident occurs when the Catwoman is watching the Dynamic Duo's plight through the submarine periscope. She starts meowing wildly and the henchman again stares at the camera in disbelief. While we think she's incredibly sexy, the Penguin's mob seem to view her as a bit of a freak.

  4. "I think Lee Meredith was just fine in the role." Make that Lee Meriwether (sister of Burgess Meriwether).

  5. I have fond memories of seeing this for the first time in the world renowned, Slaughtered Lamb Cinema. Right off the bat, the audience was howling over that shark scene. It was a lot of fun to watch then, and I still enjoy it now. For the lovers of pure escapism, indeed. It's over the top, for sure, which can be too much for more discriminating palates, though I do believe we were given fair warning at the start of the movie.

    The movie sets out to entertain, and in that regard, I found it successful. I enjoyed the interaction and in-fighting between the villains. The romance scenes between Bruce and Kitka were precious, and the Bat toys were fun to see introduced.

    I don't think any of the villains dare to notice the way Catwoman fills her catsuit. She's the only one of them actually equipped with real weapons. She could either whip them into shape or claw their eyes out for directing any untoward glances at her feminine charms. We all know Catwoman is the baddest villain on Batman. Notice how she's the only one to remain on the sub and not get knocked into the water.

    I enjoyed the Adam West/Burt Ward commentary. They had some fun tidbits to share. For instance, I never noticed that Batman had a larger pole than Robin until Adam West pointed that out. Wonder why that is. John and Peter, how did you decide who got the bigger pole off to the right up there? Arm wrestling? Default by age?

  6. >>John and Peter, how did you decide who got the bigger pole off to the right up there?

    You don't really want to know but... hey, didn't you grow up with John? You do know! :>

  7. >>You don't really want to know but... hey, didn't you grow up with John? You do know! :>

    Oh no you didn't, Peter! I should have known better than to tempt you with an irresistible double entendre. You've been remarkably restrained throughout the series with regard to the delicate subject of the Bat-poles. I was rather surprised the pole size difference had not been pointed out already, and that I had to find this out from Adam West. I am, of course, referring to the ones pictured above used to access the Batcave.

  8. There's another reason for the "Lee Meredith" mistake besides Burgess. Lee Meredith of course is the actress who played the hot girl in The Sunshine Boys and the original The Producers and many other things.
    Not to get too dark, but is this the only story where Batman threatens to kill a FEMALE villain? Because in one scene he tells all four of them what he'll do to them if Kitka is harmed. Of course, the idea must have been irresistible to the writers - threatening CATWOMAN over KITKA.

  9. Clifton Black says it for me. I watched the show from the very 1st episode, loved the 1st season, and saw the movie at my favorite drive-in. But even at 7 years old, I KNEW something was wrong with this thing. I was just too young to figure out exactly what, and out it into words.

    This scheme is clearly The Penguin's baby, and it's obvious he appreciates Miss Kitka for her criminal MIND. The other 2 guys are just alnog for the ride. "You're planning to do WHAT???? Okay-- we're in." Decades later, film-makers have not figured out that multi-villain movies do not make for better stories.

    The level of quality dropped drastically between season 1 and the movie (it actually started on the way down with the previous penguin story). It took another massive drop between the movie and season 2. Things only began to turn around near the end of season 2, where we had some of the best stories with Joker and Catwoman. But then it fell right off a cliff for season 3. You know how bad it got when there's only 5 episodes in the entire season I can actually stand to watch (1 because it's mostly-straight, the other 4 because they're so damned funny).

  10. I just saw it again yesterday. I couldn't help noticing that the singer in that one scene looks a lot of Jill St. John, and of course it's during the "Bruce / Batman falling for Catwoman / Kitka" sub-plot. It's probably a real stretch, but did they actually look for a singer who resembled St. John, as an inside joke? (After all, Kitka and Molly were both femme fatale characters who managed to turn his head.)

    1. Actually that was Julie Gregg, who appeared in the Batseason-1 finale, "Fine Finny Fiends/Batman Makes The Scenes."

    2. Actually that was Julie Gregg, who appeared in the Batseason-1 finale, "Fine Finny Fiends/Batman Makes The Scenes."