1966: Batman the Movie at 50

1966 Batman at 50

“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”

It was the television series that leapt to the big screen after its first season, providing the first slice of feature length Caped Crusader. And five decades on, somehow that white eyebrowed facet of Batman persists. Not only was its multi-colour legacy recently felt in the comic spin off Batman ’66 which ended earlier this year, but this October sees the release of animated sequel Return of the Caped Crusaders.

Shunning countless efforts to derail the camper side of Batman, a look at a crucial part of the Caped Crusader franchise: Batman: The Movie, released 50 years ago today.

Batman’s never been more about life…

THE SHADOW OF THOSE LEGGINGS, THAT DELIVERY, THAT BAT-PHONE, THOSE PUNS, THOSE CLIFF-HANGERS, THOSE WALL CRAWLS, THOSE FIGHT SCENES… It persists, despite the combined big screen, big budget efforts of Burton, Schumacher, Nolan and Snyder to set a different Batman over the last 30 years. Yes, even Schumacher, who aped much but somehow failed to recapture the show’s subtle breadth and laugh out loud comedy. In fact, the television series started a domino effect of reaction and negation. Nominally, Joel Schumacher’s duo of Batman films nodded furiously to the series that was then three decades removed as a response to the darkening gothic stylings Tim Burton brought to the character with 1991’s sublime Batman Returns.  But for every line of parody (“Holy rusted metal!), sharp strings or happy broadening of the Bat-family Schumacher attempted, just showed how sophisticated the source material was in comparison. That in turn triggered a realistic reboot in the mid-200s, starting a trilogy rooted in comic plotlines and characters that emerged in the 1970s as a direct response to the campness of Batman’s 1960s television incarnation (Ra’s and Talia al Ghul, Bane), just as the current cinematic Batman is strongly rooted in the Dark Knight of the mid-1980s. But through it all, the flame of the 1960s Batman has kept burning. In its way a response to the darker, more realistic Nolan films of the 21st century and the difficult legacy of the ground-breaking Burton-inspired Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011) was a confident, brash cartoon tribute to comics’ silver age which paid huge tribute to the ‘60s show.

Perhaps there’s no better indication that the not-so dark facet of Gotham’s masked guardian simply won’t disappear than Batman ’66. A web and printed comic set in the 1960’s universe that ran for 73 issues, concluding just in time for the show’s 50th anniversary. More of that later… Because 1960s’ Batman is so much more than a persistent ambassador of a lighter age.

Batman: The Television Series (1966 – 1968)

“Tune in tomorrow—same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”

Batman arrived on ABC in January 1966. A phenomenon in waiting, it carried an inevitability the show’s endless death traps could never match. Originally developed as a kids’ TV adventure romp heading to mornings on CBS, it took a brief turn towards serious drama when it turned to ABC before some arbitrary decisions set the tone it became famous for. When it fell on William Dozier’s desk, his few casual glances at a few Batman comic books convinced the producer that the series should aim for camp comedy. It may have been a broad reading of the source material, but what emerged was bottled lightning. One of that period’s highest rated series it managed to run twice a week during its first two seasons and tot up and astonishing run of 120 episodes over three series and two years. On the way, it cast an eye on mid-60s culture and counter-culture and sent its own brand of perceived campery back into the pop art zeitgeist. When it ended, the distinctive version of the Dynamic Duo portrayed by Adam West and Burt Ward broke into the short-lived animated series the New Adventures of Batman at the end of the 1970s, and aside from semi-spin-off show The Green Hornet, the camp it brought to comic book was felt for decades to come in the likes of Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey and Lois and Clark.

But Batman wasn’t just thrown together. The influence of old adventure serials was clear felt in its multi-part episodes and cliff-hangers, while its broad mix of comedy, caricature and moralising sat perfectly, and iconically, in the flowering mid-1960s. While the dodged certain harrowing parts of the Batman mythos, many well established in popular consciousness three decades after the comics arrival, the show settled on the jolly, well-heeled lives of bachelor Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson. Thanks to rapid change switches and some fireman poles, the majority of their appearances were as their alter-egos, not the vigilante night terrors well known today, but sanctioned Gotham City crime-fighters. Despite what appear to be radical changes by current standards, the show managed to incorporate swathes of well-known elements from the comic books, including villains (although sadly, neither side Two-Face never made the transition, denting his popular awareness for quite some time) but also introduced a roster of original, and not-so original, rogues who worked their way back onto the page.

And after one series Batman achieved the unthinkable. It became the first feature-length incarnation of the Caped Crusader. The franchise that’s so far captured over $4.5 billion at the worldwide box office started here.

Batman the Movie (1966)

“Bruce Wayne and Girl Companion Kidnapped!”

Yes, the movie has it all. But inevitably, Batman’s rapid ascension to the big screen wasn’t clear cut. Having set the tone of the piece, Dozier intended a theatrical release to drive up publicity for the fast developing television series. The sticking point proved to be the budget, the risk of which fell squarely on Twentieth Century Fox, who duly balked. Things changed with the phenomenal response of audiences when the show was bumped forward in ABC’s schedule to January 1966. The movie was hurriedly produced at the close of that first series, quickly flipping from promotional tool to cash-in. It opened at cinemas just two months after the final episode of the first series, just in time to beat the second series into the Bat Cave.

The rushed production cost the involvement of Lorenzo Semple Jr, and perhaps shortened the phenomenon’s life. As head writer, Semple’s immediate deft pop-stylings had been evident from the series premiere, and a defining feature of its success. But the ambitious shooting schedule pushed him and other key players back, something cast members including Adam West, suggested left the second year flagging and heaped fuel on the show’s rapid burnout. Still, while the film didn’t perform spectacularly at the box office, its influence alongside the television series that spawned it, not least in putting an Underground United of Batman’s big four villains on the screen, was immense.

The budget boost for the big screen adaptation allowed the production to buy vehicles and props that fed into the second and third years of the television series, while its higher production values brought out the best of the show’s mid-60’s pop. Take that glorious opening, following a three part tongue-in-cheek yet all too appropriate dedication…

“ACKNOWLEDGMENT We wish to express our gratitude to the enemies of crime and crusaders against crime throughout the world for their inspirational example. To them, and to lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre. To fun lovers everywhere- This picture is respectfully dedicated. If we have overlooked any sizable groups of lovers, we apologize.  – THE PRODUCERS”

Bat-opening

“Waugh waugh!”

Four colour spotlights then catch the film’s upcoming criminals straight-off; the audience knows exactly what’s in store within seconds of the opening. Although those titles end in rather pointlessly way with an unknown criminal escaping down an ally, there’s still time for the rather bedazzled Batman and Robin to comically bump into each other in the dark. All in all, the tone is set, and there’s no intention to hang about.  The plot that unravels is pure, nonsense Bond parody, and the script wastes no time propelling the Dynamic Duo into new vehicle, the Batcopter, and high seas a mystery via the instant costume change lever and sped up Batmobile …

Bat-delivery

 “As Batman and Robin, courageous warriors against crime, they are off once again to the rescue!”

The Batcave and Batmobile of the 60s series have achieved an iconic status that the late-coming Batcopter and Batboat can’t manage. Although they try. The Bat-laboratory, clearly signposted with labels that physical jokes and even plot developments rely on, seems ahead of its time; parodying not only the comic books, but 50 years on, later attempts to add reason and believability to the Bat-infrastructure. As the Penguin ostentatiously says, “I must say that your laboratory exceeds the limits of man’s wildest imaginations.”

On the road, the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept, converted to its memorable colouring, and often sped up on its forays into and around Gotham, over that collapsing warning fence, contributes much to the shows kineticism. It’s a movement that subsequent adaptations of Batman have failed to capture.

Bat-tour

“Great day in the morning!”

The importance of that first Batcopter trip, amusingly prepared by an airfield team, is less important over sea than over a sparse Gotham. As Jokerside discovered in its study of the appearance of Gotham across every Batman film, it’s an eye-opener:

“With Gotham usually placed as a North Eastern seaboard port town, the opening set-piece infamously takes us out onto the Atlantic, with a yacht related trick that casts back to Catwoman’s first comic appearance. As the film takes us back to town, helicopter shots show that despite the series’ famous wall climbs, this is not an incredibly high-rise Gotham.”

Indeed, those exterior scenes were entirely shot in the defiantly West-Coast Los Angeles. But most important is the response of its residents. This Dynamic Duo are robbed of any element of vigilantism. As Commissioner Gordon later says, they’re “fully deputised agents of the law” (Robin crucially adding, “perfectly normal Americans”); as the man on the street puts it, not least the cheerleaders or saluting officers, seeing the Batcopter flying overhead “gives a fella a good feeling knowing they’re up there doing their job”.

Immediately after their maritime misadventure, Batman gives press conferences before accessing police records in the Commissioner’s office. Later still, team Bat takes the lead in a sting operation and come the finale they’re entrusted with global peace by not only the GCPD but the United World Organization. Perhaps a position that’s difficult to rationalise five decades on, but the easy cooperation of the series premise remains deeply embedded in popular culture.

Bat-humour

“Watch out Batman, this could be tricky”

“Have no fear Robin, I’ll keep all my wits about me. So long. For a minute”

It’s this un-touchable and safe position on the right side of the law that opens the series up for its famous camp humour. Subsequent adaptations haven’t had that level of freedom; even Schumacher’s attempts to inject some of the same camp humour had to sit alongside the drama of Batman and Robin’s tragic origin, and innate rivalry. There’s no time for that side of the myth in the television show.

The series humour doesn’t take long to manifest. The mysterious yacht careering towards Gotham with its cargo of ground-breaking scientific apparatus turns out to be more than Mary Celeste when it disappears. It’s all a ruse of course… And in one of the film’s most famous scenes, it makes way for a shark clamped to Batman’s leg that’s only defeated by judicious use of the “Shark repellent Bat spray” administered from the end of the “Bat Ladder”. Yes, at its peak the first set-piece finds Batman not jumping the shark, but boxing it. An exploding shark.

The comedy is crucial, but not as easy to categorise as popular culture remembers.

“Holy sardine!”

While parody is evident, much of the series approach defies analysis after 50 more years of exploration of this city and villains. There are huge nods to the golden and silver age of course, knowingly fictional, alongside lame puns and gratuitous moralising that’s impossible to administer straight-faced, but is duly delivered deadpan. The comic palette is surprisingly nuanced, but the most important part remains constant: It’s crucial that it’s taken entirely seriously.

Bat-villains

You and your submarine! Look where it’s got us now!

Take those rogues. Here united in a way that comic books crave, this year’s Suicide Squad is probably the first time any superhero film’s attempted anything similar. Part of the film’s trick is how it treats these villains. It may stand as its most remarkable aspect after so many years of revision and reclamation. Character is king and more than anything villains are defined by their singular trait. Verbally, that’s clear enough, and probably the aspect that’s most easily carried into pop culture the most. Rivalled only by Cesar Romero’s paint-caked moustache.

But overall, it’s a simple trick of reducing each villain to their distinctive MO. Catwoman, for this film recast as Lee Merriwether, is decked in a leopard print coat when undercover, never without her black cat when in costume and constantly rolling the ‘r’s’ in purrfect in either. The Joker similarly is not a character who jokes any more than any other villain, homicidally or not: he just looks like a clown and makes great use of practical joke-themed weapons.

Helpfully, on their first appearance, just after GCPD and the Dynamic Duo have guessed that all super villains currently at large may have ganged together (with unexpected haste it must be said: “a thought strikes me, so dreadful I scarce give it utterance”), the four main criminals line up against neatly constructed and delineated set of shelves. Come their divorce at the end of their film they shouldn’t have had any issue dividing their belongings.  The Penguin, the most verbose of the criminals and de facto bank-roller, fills long sentences with alliterative twists on avian adjectives and maritime slang, while his pirate henchmen provide the Underworld United muscle (“Yo ho!” they reply to orders). His submarine their mobile lair. Yes, submarine. In a satirical nod to Batman’s place in a Gotham City overrun by over-promoted idiots, we later learn that this pre-nuclear sub was sold to P.N.GUIN just a week before. A week that presumably saw countless pirates work overtime to re-paint the sub and add the aft flippers. Waugh! Working together the four crims have the chance to blend their various skill sets. The Joker soon sets his human sized jack-in-the-box to propel a hapless crime fighter through the window of their tavern lair into the tentacles of the Penguin’s exploding octopus. It’s superb when that that joke pays off thanks to an unlucky henchman.

“It looks like we’ve got the whole ocean to ourselves”

But it’s the Joker and by consequence the Riddler who are the most interesting. All these years later, thousands of pages and hours of screen-time having explored masks on either side of the law in the sewers and skies of Gotham. But this was a simpler time and the Joker would never be so un prominent again. His chemical and homicidal predilection never makes it to the screen, any idea that he’s driven by chaos, anarchy, super-sanity or the supernatural is yet to come. In The Movie he’s a team-player happy to follow the Penguin’s instructions. It says a lot that the Penguin trusts the Joker to load the torpedo tubes… It says more that come Dynamic Duo’s final attack on the Penguin’s submarine it’s the Joker that who caves first and orders the submarine to the surface. That would normally be a sure sign that things are dire, but he was probably itching for a scrap by then.

“No whimsical embellishments please”

As is the Riddler. But conversely, the Riddler would never be as menacing again. Frank Gorshin’s performance is quiet, spiky and introverted before breaking into mania. It’s quite extraordinary and unbeaten since; although Jim Carrey’s interpretation cast a difficult question mark in 1995. His unpredictability holds the screen, whether focussed and intense, manically laughing or collapsing in quiet contemplation and frustrated consternation. The Movie would be Gorshin’s last appearance for a year as he took the second year of the series out.

Bat-serious

The trigger: one of my riddles, of course, and the bait: You! Catwoman!

True to the rest of the script, the villains take their roles very seriously. There are no winks to the camera, just flexing to fill out their ample roles. And in the uneasy mix, strangest of all, it’s the Joker who has to hold back the Riddler. Perhaps having most in common with modern developments of the character, the green clad crim defines his existence as outfoxing the Dynamic Duo. He even calls it “his paradise”. Puzzle obsessed, it’s his obsession that risks the Underworld’s cover and the Joker who takes point trying to stop him. Even in the campery of Batman: Brave and the Bold, the Joker’s grown into a far more anarchic presence.

“Loose to plague us with his criminal conundrums.”

The sub’s Polaris missiles (we’re constantly reminded that the Penguin’s sub is pre-nuclear) are used to target Batman and Robin, but also meticulousy spell out the Riddler’s riddles. Once posed in the form of a joke, they are never taken seriously. What’s the answer? “A sparrow with a machine gun.” “Yes, of course.” It’s a level of surrealism that’s again played exactly straight. The Riddler is obsessively compelled by his need to fox the Dynamic Duo, but the logic he shares with them is utter nonsense.

But Gorshin’s magnetic. When Catwoman packs her male counterparts off to literally dust the dessicated remains of world leaders into test tubes later on with the wry, “and boys, don’t anybody sneeze” he duly gangles off, posing before each action, arms out-stretched, manic grin. Only Robin comes close. He refuses to jump a shallow step without raising his arms.

Bat-dual-identities

“Alfred, do you have your driving licence?”

Unlike the tortured duel of masks that many modern day adaptations engage, Batman has a crisp and clear premise. Here the Caped Crusader is a Scarlet – or grey and blue – Pimpernel, donning his costume to enter a parallel world in the pursuit of justice. Dual identities are denied to the villains – bar Catwoman’s additional disguise – while they are crucial to the Dynamic Duo. As Robin makes clear it’s their disguises and the fact they can hide their real identities is what their crime fighting prowess depends upon. Strange, in such a stylised universe that this courtesy isn’t extended to the felons they apprehend.

In fact, there’s the suggestion that Adam West’s agreement to star in the film was based on having greater screen time as Bruce Wayne. It was a gamble that paid off fortunately, as the producers were allegedly willing to recast the character had West not agreed. And including more Bruce Wayne casts some interesting ripples. In contrast to his guardian, Dick Grayson only appears out of his mask in two brief scenes. And series regular Aunt Harriet is restricted to one brief appearance and not a single line.

And yet, both side are remarkably unintuitive when it comes to the concept of alter-egos. The Underworld easily fall into the contrived trap of choosing Bruce Wayne as a target to lure Batman, the billionaire soft touch standing out as a perfect kidnapee. And the perfect bait is the alter ego of Catwoman, but not any original personality, a Selina Kyle, but a new construct – the Russian reporter Miss Kitka so brilliantly employed early in the film to explain the concept of Batman and Robin to anyone in the audience who may not know. A complex examination of dual identity follows, if you care to follow it – it’s not a film that forces ideas.

The police operation handed to the colourful crimefighters, allows Alan Napier’s Alfred to seize the moment and accompany Robin in the Batmobile, with a grip the wheel. Of course, he’s required to wear an eye mask, lest his identity be detected. Although Robin has a camera feed, much is made of the young wards refusal to watch his guardian seduce the journalist in the carriage ahead. Meanwhile in the carriage, Bruce Wayne contends with his evident attraction to the Russian journalist, not-so-silent appreciation of Robin’s strategy and steels himself for the inevitable threat from Underworld United (as forewarned with aplomb by Riddler). And if any of them get near Miss Kitka? “I’ll bash him brutally”

Extraordinarily, until the end of the film, Batman has no clue as to Miss Kitka’s real identity and as Bruce Wayne he makes several confused attempts to rescue her only to find an empty room. Watching the film from the hindsight of 50 years adds further nuance. It now seems impossible that Batman isn’t playing a double-bluff, but he isn’t.  Again, this is an earlier time, before Catwoman fell into antiheroic tendencies. There’s even a tinge of Pink Panther in the date around time Wayne and Miss Kitkka embark on, although there are no Clouseau antics even when they take in the club lounges while Johann Martini’s “Plaisir D’Amour” is sung by a chanteuse in cabaret.

Miss Kitka’s true identity is finally revealed thanks to a convenient slip on the bridge of the Penguin’s submarine, making for another of the film’s extraordinary moments. A lengthy sequence where Adam West looks to the camera, memories flashing past as he supresses his emotions. Surreally and brilliant again. As he explains to his young ward, “It’s just one of those things in the life of every crime fighter”

Bat-kapow

“I have the strangest feeling that I am about to be utterly and madly carried away”

It’s 45 minutes before Bruce Wayne’s kidnap brings the film’s first fight sequence, another element the series became famous for. But this time, for all the extravagant swinging, there’s no room for any of the famous pop placards of “Thwunk” “Biff” et al. There is however the beauty of hearing Alfred – who’s utterly redundant throughout the entire thing, beyond his driving license – exclaim “Bless my dustpan!” before the villains return in the ascendancy, flying on broomstick-like umbrelllas courtesy of their feathered leader. It’s a gag worth repeating twice, while the major villains relish the ride, the pirate henchmen sit in either stonily seriousness or casting awkward glances at the meowing Catwoman. “Holy Halloween!” as the Boy Wonder exclaims.

Bat-Finale

“Pirates, to arms!”

The kapows arrive with a cut out cartoon balloon quality that the TV series hadn’t managed come the gigantic end brawl. Some fisticuffs certainly cheers the Joker up. This final flight gains depth from taking place at sea. Like a Super Smash Brothers melee, foes can be knocked into the water then climb back to the rumble for another go before the crimefighters enter the blue themselves to pin all aggressors to the ropes. On the way Batman fights while holding Catwoman’s black cat (“Bon voyage pussy”) and there’s even time for an umbrella/cutlass fight. The feline femme fatale herself, as usual, finds a surface to shelter behind as she hisses and scratches in sympathy with the men. Later Batman films would even up the odds considerably. By the time of Gotham, Batman’s belated second greatest live televisions series, young Selina Kyle is even pelted in the face by Alfred.

Bat-McGuffin

“What’s your game, Penguin?”

Earlier, it’s another fight scene, lacking the pop-art, that reveal the felons’ fiendish plot. It’s an astonishing 72 minutes before the United World organisation is revealed as their target. First, Wayne must escape from the villains’ lair. Out of costume it’s understandable that fight lacks the standard embellishments, even if the classic stunt doubles are present and correct. And in return, next comes the villain’s turn to visit the Batcave.

After the film’s early sea chase, Batman predicted that the real yacht had been hidden on an island along with all of its crew bar one Commodore Schmidlapp, and the film does little to disprove him. The prize the villains have their gloves, claws and talons on is Schmidlapp’s dehydrator, a method of reducing any human to coloured powder.

The first use of the Dehydrator is a dream, as five guinea pig henchmen line up in appropriate tee-shirts totally immune as each disappears. It’s an inexact super-science as Catwoman proves when dusting the henchmen from the rug with a tiny dustpan and her long nails. As a fair amount falls to the floor, Burgess Meredith improvises “Careful, careful, everyone of them has a mother”.

When the Guinea pigs are hydrated in the Batcave there’s no chance of a fight as the slightest tap makes them burst like balloons. The reason is gifted by the generous Bat-labels, the Penguin having inadvertently hydrated them with heavy water and alarmingly destabilised them to the point of antimatter. There might be no darker moment in the film than when Robin confronts the henchmen’s death with a “Holy hallucination!” They won’t be coming back? “Not in this universe” replies the darkest Knight of this period. And amid the madness, there’s even a smidge of foreshadowing for the final minutes.

Bat-moralising

“They may be drinkers, Robin, but they’re also human beings…”

Moralising was high on this Batman’s priority list. But compared to cartoons that kids of the 70s and 80s will remember, it’s hard to take it too seriously. Could it be parody of parody in the mid-1960s? These are often serious issues, passed off in the extreme style of the show, so perhaps this is the hardest and most biting parody of Golden Age comic books themselves. If so, the savage reductionism of the 1970s, when writers like Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams deliberately took to repositioning Batman as a Dark Knight appears even more savage.

But take Batman and the Boy Wonder’s arrival at the villain’s Ye Olde Benbow Tavern (a blunt reference to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure island), where they first take out their handy grapples and start one of their famous wall climbs. The first series had quickly established this as a staple. Famous cameos slotted into these sequences, heads popping up from windows on the clearly staged horizontal walk. During the run these heads included Sammy Davis Jr, Jerry Lewis and Ted Cassidy. In the film though, the Dynamic Duo ridiculously climb a shanty as if it’s a highg-rise tower while debating the effects of alcohol. “I’d rather be dead than to trust my own eyes” says the Boy Wonder.

In anything else, shoehorning that climb onto a two storey shanty might highlight a flaw in the script. Not so with Batman The Movie.

Bat-Satire and Comic Danger

“Run silent, run deep”

1960s Batman is well remembered for its comedy set-pieces – not generally thought of as the most sophisticated humour, but that’s not quite true. Certainly there’s no death-trap that can’t be mined for comedy, but the humour is far broader. There are some stand-out comedy escapes. Trapped out at sea, magnetised to a buoy, Batman manages to deflect two torpedoes by simply “reversing the polarity” of a radio detonator and sending “out waves of super energy”. The villains are convinced that a third missile hits, the audience unaware of how the crime fighters managed their inevitable escape until the great throwaway reveal that a porpoise gave its life for the dynamic duo’s.

“The nobility of the almost-human porpoise”

That’s a knowing attempt to add tension for the audience, a rather pointless trick but one repeated twice. When the Batcopter is blown of the sky, the Dynamic Duo happen to land on a foam rubber wholesalers convention. More famously, and so effective it’s not only the film’s comic highlight but one of the cinema’s all-time great stand-out jokes, there’s Batman’s extended bomb run. “Holy heart failure!” says Robin when Batman pops up, having failed to dispense of a comically sparkling cartoon bomb during a slapstick race that’s seen his attempt to dispose of the bomb foiled by nuns, marching bands and ducklings.

There’s also the effective single joke of course. Of particular note is Batman, in this incarnation very much a citizen of Gotham and not the world, tracing a finger across several languages on an elevator sign until he finds the English: “up”. There’s the tongue in cheek chance to run through Gotham rather than take the Batmobile. “Luckily, we’re in tip top condition” exclaims the Caped Crusader.

But also, the satire is surprisingly heavy, as the film takes scripted and ad-hoc pot shots at both pop culture and politics. Even before the United Nations-inspired plot is unmasked Batman’s taken point at an Admiral in a thinly disguised poke at the Pentagon and American foreign policy.

Villains are happy to riff other films. The pretence kidnap mirrors 1965’s Hogan’s Heroes, while Burgess Meredith can’t miss exclaiming “Run silent, run deep” aboard his sub – a film Riddler actor Frank Gorshin missed out on when he couldn’t attend the screen test. That feather fiend’s also keen to quote Benjamin Franklin: “We shall hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately”.

Elsewhere the series and film ape their source comics, although less a pointed parody of the 1930s and 1940s comics than what they had and were to become. It certainly works in view of the adaptations that have come since. This is not material that can be taken too seriously.

Come the end, the films moves to another level entirely. Having concluded the main story in typical fashion with a mass brawl, the Duo employ their incredible scientific abilities to save the world. After some marvellous pratfalling that is. “To think it might have been shattered before our very eyes” the wonders the Caped Crusade, just before the perfectly redundant Commodore makes his only real contribution to the film: comically smashing the tubes containing the world leaders that had balanced on a desk edge for the duration of the fight. And then he sneezes. While Batman and Robin stand helpless. “Holy jumble! Where’s the hope of the world now?” Indeed, Robin, indeed.

“There’s always hope. You should know that sir”

The science finale and statement on world politics may feel like it belongs to a different film but it’s just as poised the preceding 90 minutes. A ‘cameo’ by the president and repeated stock footage na translations from countries around the world greet the rehydration of the global leaders. “Success! Success!” echoes in every language after a far too tense, drawn out and solemn sequence. A moment of “dedication and humble supplication” as Batman puts it. And there’s nothing wrong with the concept reaching for lofty goals while it dawdles on the Big Screen.

One of the delegates even bangs the table with his shoe, aping President Khrushchev’s performance at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960. But the final joke, or should that be, great hope for the future? All their languages have been muddled up. Their job finished, the Dynamic Duo inconspicuously head for the nearest window.

Bat-summary

“Full thrust bat speed”

There’s no doubt that Batman the Movie holds up better in terms of script and cohesion than many other Batman films. But then, it’s a universe that just doesn’t make room for plot holes. How can such a thing exist when the answer to the riddle “What has yellow skin and writes?” is “A ball-point banana”? The direction is as bold as the series, fusing a confidence and sixties swagger to a show that was eager to reflect and comment on its times. The exterior and stage production quality is impressive, but particularly the staged external sequences out at sea and during the climactic scrap. There are the close-ups, jumps and wonderful Dutch angle shots of the villains in their lair, a not too subtle indication that the fearsome four are indeed crooked.  It’s fast and vibrant, and that’s something other darker, more serious and more adult adaptations have struggled to capture in the 50 years since. It’s also, utterly knowing. It’s buzzing script is loaded with euphemism as much as alliteration. When Catwoman has the temerity to utter, “Nothing can stop us now” all the Penguin can do is “Waugh!”

Such joyous fun, and laugh out loud enjoyment, you have to feel for the Spanish audience who were forced to wait 13 years for its cinematic release. And unlike so many up-scales of small screen phenomena to the big screen, it builds, embellishes and strengthens the source. It was lucky to run so close to the series’ peak, and there’s delight to be had in its minor victories. One in particular, which it takes to with relish, is to close on the Dynamic Duo rappelling a building for real. Yes. For real.

“The living end” as it says, 60s Batman was all about life.

But if one thing’s missing. It’s the series famous title sequence?

Batman ’66 (2013 – 2016)

Fortunately, there’s a neat remedy. The web comic Batman ’66, a loving step back into the world of Batman the Television Series concluded this year. And it concluded in fine style. Over a two-part finale, Main Title did just that, explaining the infamous comic-styled opening of the television series. it’s meticulous, taking every panel and fitting it into a caper, even if the resultant logic is a little bit off. And who in this universe ever cared for logic?

Main Title also provides a sequel to the film. The underworld have united again, although this time in greater numbers. Solomon Grundy, Mr Camera, Egghead and Mr Camera are all in there, while Catwoman confides to Penguin that she hopes this fiendish plot will go better than their last.

But the major criminals have made one bold omission.  The Riddler, incarcerated, has been left out after his obsession cost the criminals their payday in The Movie. It’s a treatment more expected of the Joker these days, but propels the plot as he seeks revenge by sending an irresistible riddle to the Dynamic Duo.

Sadly, the Riddler’s puzzle makes far too much sense,compared to the utter nonsense of the film. Even his switch to a far more contemporary question mark jacket in the closing moments, and subsequent beating from his former allies, can’t quite make up for that.

Yes, it’s a film studio that proves the villains’ base this time, and explains away those simple matte backgrounds. There’s even the obligatory handshake before taking on the second wave of rogues. For once, thanks to this story, we can add names to the many foes who get a Bat-fist to the face in that famous title sequences. And preposterously there’s even an explanation for the creeping Batmobile panels that closed that sequence. A brutal explanation, but one I’ll leave for the comic pages themselves.

It’s a fine send off that demonstrates how, despite considerable efforts by many talented and disgruntled creators since, 1960s Batman still retains a considerable presence in pop culture. Indeed, in late 2015 it was announced that Adam West, Burt Ward and Catwoman Julie Newmar would be returning to the 1960s once more in animated form. The feature length Return of the Caped Crusader is released in October 2016, promises to pit the Dynamic Duo against the same villains as the movie 50 years ago. Only this time on Earth and… In space.

It’s be hard to say that this is the last big goodbye for this distinctive incarnation of Gotham’s greatest heroes. But as a DC Classic Movie release from DC and Warner Bros, there’s a kapow of delight to be found that it’s flexing they are still flexing their muscles in feature-length form 50 years on. As Batman writers dispute how much of Gotham City is Chicago, how much New York, so the great Dark Knight stories yet to come will find it hard not to appreciate that the 1960s version is as valid as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Scott Snyder’s recent run on the page, or Nolan, Snyder and Affleck’s blockbuster adaptations on the big screen.

Yes, it’s worth saying…

“Holy Legacy Batman!”

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One thought on “1966: Batman the Movie at 50”

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