Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Batscholar on Episodes 35 & 36

By Joel Eisner

After a mere two weeks since the national release of the Batman movie, the series resumes its network broadcasts. Promos for the show included scenes from The Penguin's Nest, where the dynamic duo are behind the batshield being shot at by Penguin's men. While Penguin's Nest was the first episode filmed for the second season, it would not air for four months. Why? no one knows for sure. I always thought it was because they started the series with the Penguin (I don't count the pilot) and ended it with Penguin, they didn't want to do it here, (they did it again with the beginning of the third season). Anyway, the next Penguin was the election episode, so they bumped it to December. The Catwoman episode which follows this one was next in production order. The Archer was third to be filmed, but the first to be aired. You would think they would want to start of the season with a strong episode, but it wasn't. Usually Stanley Ralph Ross was on the mark with his scripts, but this one lost it somewhere. Archer was neither strong or weak, he wasn't even funny, and not for lack of trying on Carney's part. He just sort of just lied there.

This was Art Carney's first acting job prior to his return to the Jackie Gleason Show a few weeks later to revive Ed Norton in the new Honeymooners. He had just left Broadway where he originated the role of Felix Unger opposite Walter Matthau in the play the Odd Couple. Why he was chosen for the role of the Archer is unknown. He was totally miscast as Stanley Ralph Ross recalled “I thought Art Carney was completely miscast in the part, I would have preferred someone along the lines of Fernando Lamas as the Archer. I thought he was too stiff in the part, as you had to tell Carney who you want him to imitate. You say, ‘I want you to imitate Cary Grant.’ He will do what he thinks is Cary Grant, but no one else will know its Cary Grant.” Carney might have been better popping out of the window as Ed Norton, than playing a villain. He might have been a decent Louie the Lilac, but Archer needed someone better.

For the record, Carney was going through a bad time in his life. He was going through a divorce from his second wife and it was taking a toll on him as Dialogue Coach Milton Stark remembered “Art Carney was very sad; something was happening in his personal life then. I went to a dressing room to help him. He said, ‘Gee, kid, I hope you don’t mind, but I just don’t feel up to it at the moment. I’m comfortable, I know my lines. I’ll call you when I’m ready.’ But the minute he got in front of that camera, he turned it on. That’s like a racehorse when they hear the bell, off they go. It’s amazing.” But it still wasn't enough. At times he seemed lost, and at those moments he reverted to his old ways and changed into Ed Norton playing the Archer. The overplayed mannerisms, the voice and the dumbfounded look on his face. It may have made him more comfortable but it only showed that he was uneasy with this type of comedic acting, at least at this point in his career.

Stanley Ralph Ross tried to create a character that was supposed to have come from a tough Brooklyn like part of Gotham City, as Barbara Nichols pointed out in the episode, they came from the same neighborhood. Archer could have been Ed Norton playing Robin Hood, if he keep the goofy in the character. A common neighborhood kid, dressing up and playing Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. Nichol's Maid Marilyn perpetuated this with her Brooklyn accent and common manners. Nichols a former Burlesque dancer turned actress made a career out of playing the brash ex-stripper/dancer types on sitcoms. She died of liver disease in 1976 at the age of 46. She knew how the part should be played but she couldn't pull off the episode by herself.

Crier Tuck aka Doodles Weaver was a radio and tv comedian, who used to work with Spike Jones and his orchestra. He was the uncle to Sigourney Weaver. He was known for playing wacky, goofy characters, but here is completely wasted. He is given almost nothing to do, but stand around in monk's robes and utter a few lines. A very underdeveloped character which could have been better.

Loren Ewing as Big John was chosen for his size not his acting ability. He had a few roles throughout the 60's and 70's and disappeared.

The only member of the gang that had any fun with the job was Robert Cornthwaite as Alan A Dale. His best known role was that of Dr Carrington in the Original version of the The Thing (From Another World) who tries to befriend the Thing played by James Arness. Here he does his best version imiatating Mr. Howell from Gilligan's Island. But again the script doesn't give him much to work with. Outside of Egghead and Shame, Stan Ross was better writing for established villains like King Tut and Catwoman, and that is why he was given total control over those characters.

Among the bit players are Heidi Jenson aka Heidi Winston, seen here atop the Batmobile in Sherry Jackson's costume from last season, as one of the poor people of Gotham. She later became a producer.

Also Kitty Kelly a former Ziefield Follies girl was the older poor person.

Sam Jaffe, played a character name Zoltan Zorba, after his Dr Zorba role on tv's Ben Casey tv series. Jaffe like Cornthwaite was one of the stars of a classic sci fi film. He was Prof Barnhard in the original Day the Earth Stood Still.

Archie Moore the former light heavyweight boxing champion turned actor played Everett Bannister of the Armored car company.

Actor James O'Hara who portrayed several policemen on the show (he was the one shocked by the pie in the Penguin's Nest) was the brother of actress Maureen O'Hara and series producer Charles Fitzsimons.

Alan Napier was finally given more to do in this episode and featured the first of two appearances of Bat-Alfred. His comic abilities were put to go use throughout the remainder of the series, playing several different characters including his look alike cousin Egbert. Here his skills as a bowman are put to the test, as we learn he was known as the William Tell of Liverpool, but quick thinking kept him from shooting Master Dick right between the eyes, when he offered to shoot an apple off the boy's head.

Next Episode: Catwoman returns from the grave to bother Batman and Robin.

1 comment:

  1. I recall Barbara Nichols from the pilot for THE UNTOUCHABLES. I think her boyfriend in the story gets killed or something.

    My God, "Alan A. Dale" was an exceedingly annoying s.o.b.!! He works for bruce Wayne, yet holds his boss in utter contempt, while EMBEZZLING fnuds behind the guy's back. When i finally began to connect the dots of some of these actors, it hit me that there was definitely a "THING FRM ANOTHER WORLD" connection, as Robert Cornthwaite was "Dr. Carrington", and William Self was the guy who melted the block of ice. Self of course was the one who set BATMAN into motion-- he was Dozier's boss! The show might have been MUCH better in the long run if someone, ANYONE else, had been given the assignment.