Monday, July 16, 2012

Batman: The Movie

Directed by Leslie H. Martinson.
1966. Rated PG, 105 minutes.
Adam West
Burt Ward
Lee Merriweather
Cesar Romero
Burgess Meredith
Frank Gorshin
Alan Napier
Neil Hamilton
Stafford Repp
Madge Blake
Reginald Denny

As a youngster, I used to watch reruns of the late 60s TV series “Batman” every weekday at 4:30 on channel 11, WPIX in New York. I’d even seen this movie several times. With both, I was enthralled by all the superhero action. I was amazed by Batman’s detective abilities. I eagerly waited to hear what exclamatory word or phrase Robin would use after “Holy” after we were both stunned by one of Batman’s revelations. The various ladies who played Catwoman all made me feel a little tingly. Best of all, I loved the fights. The way “BAM!” or “POW!” would pop up on the screen whenever one of our heroes connected with a punch was exhilarating stuff. Going back to this film so many years later makes me realize how dumb I was. I had no idea what I was watching. I hadn’t the foggiest notion of the comedic brilliance on display before my very eyes. Just so there is no doubt that what we’re about to see is not to be taken seriously, a blurb at the beginning tells us this movie is dedicated to “lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre.” Of course, this meant nothing to me as a child. As an adult, it set the proper mood.

We jump into the plot with both feet. Four of Gotham’s super villains – The Joker (Romero), The Riddler (Gorshin), Catwoman (Merriweather) and The Penguin (Meredith) have joined forces. Together, they kidnap a famous inventor who’s created a thingamajig they’ll use to yada yada blah blah blah. Of course, it’s up to The Dynamic Duo, Batman (West) and Robin (Ward) to stop them. From there we get a relentless spoof of the Batman serials of the 1930s and 40s, even of comic books themselves. The unbelievable gadgets Batman whips out of his utility belt are hilarious. The sexual innuendos are nothing short of genius, including all sorts of jokes about Robin’s “inexperience.” Most of The Riddler’s riddles are wonderfully nonsensical. Finally, Batman is so smart even the most benign clues lead him to the correct answer. His pontification on each of these will make your head spin. We can’t forget those unbelievable escapes, either. This is where the skewering of the old serials is most evident. In those old shorts the heroes escaped impossible situations with flimsy explanations. Here, those explanations are remarkably thin. To make sure all these pieces congeal into a satisfying dish, a perfect tone is struck throughout. This includes almost always having the camera tilted just a bit whenever our focus is on the bad guys.

In the years since the TV series was cancelled, the Batman character has not only returned to his roots, he’s gone beyond them, becoming increasingly darker. On screen, this began in earnest with Tim Burton’s 1989 movie with Michael Keaton beneath the cowl and continues today. I, for one, am glad for it. Christopher Nolan is my hero for what he’s done with the franchise. The exceptions are the two Joel Schumacher entries into the Bat-canon, Batman Forever with Val Kilmer in the lead and Batman and Robin with George Clooney. It is these two movies that show us how great Batman: The Movie is. Schumacher’s flicks go for the same gusto that director Leslie H. Martinson goes for, but fails spectacularly. The purposely silly and slightly naughty dialogue is far more entertaining than having Arnold Schwarzenegger recite a million puns using the word ice.

With all that said, this isn’t for everyone. If you just have to have your Batman as a dark, brooding vigilante this is not for you. If you think movies such as the Austin Powers and The Naked Gun trilogies are stupid without being funny, this is not for you. If you’re not made to smile by reading the phrase “If I…could only reach…my utility belt!” This is definitely not for you. Fine, that just means more for me.


  1. Ah, such a freaking classic. It borderlines on perfection, with West just kicking ass knee deep in silliness. I love this damn movie.

    Whoa? You didn't like Mr. Freeze. Chill out, Gotham. Er, Dell.