Batman: The Movie (1966, Leslie H Martinson)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Four of Gotham City’s most notorious criminal masterminds team up to take over the world – only caped crusader Batman and trusty sidekick Robin stand in their way…

Good guys: Adam West and Burt Ward star as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin respectively. When this movie was made, the pair had already been in the roles for months – the film was produced as a tool to promote Batman the TV series overseas. The first time we see the superhero alter egos is after just three minutes when Bruce and Dick slide down the Batpoles to the Batcave and Bruce flicks the ‘Instant costume change lever’ on the way down. We then get a James Bond-style opening action scene, which shows off the Dynamic Duo, their outlandish vehicles and ingenious gadgets. It’s 33 minutes into the movie before they return to their everyday personas. Both characters are illogically intelligent, astonishingly naive, hilariously sincere and incorruptibly noble.

Bad guys: Four of the most popular villains from the TV show have joined forces to form the United Underworld criminal organisation. ‘Today Gotham City, tomorrow the world,’ reads their logo. Seemingly in charge is the Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, who took over the role when the TV show’s Julie Newmar was busy on another project). Posing as Russian journalist Kitka – aka Comrade Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karensha Alisoff from the Moscow Bugle – she seduces Bruce Wayne, who falls for her big time. As did the actor: in an interview featured on the DVD, Adam West tells us: “Favourite villain? I would have to say Catwoman. And you guys know what I mean.” Right there with you, pal… The Joker (Cesar Romero) gets lots of laughing to do and his face, including his moustache, is covered in white make-up. The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) runs things when the gang are aboard their submarine. “On land you command, on the sea it’s me,” he quips. He bought the sub from the US Navy by using a fake name: P.N. Gwynne. And finally, the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) fires a Polaris missile into the air, which writes two riddles totaling 22 words in the sky with its trail smoke.

Other guys: Batman has a few allies: stoic Commissioner Gordon, Irish police chief O’Hara and loyal butler Alfred, the last of which is the only person in on Bruce’s secret. We see the US President at one point, but his face is hidden from us; he has a dog by his side. Commodore Schmidlapp is taken hostage by United Underworld, but doesn’t seem to notice: he thinks he’s still aboard his yacht because goons are faking the view out of his landlocked cell’s window.

Best bits:

* The title sequence – our two leads and the four bad guys picked out by colour-tinted spotlights.

* Robin accidentally lowers Batman into the sea – when he pulls him out, Batman has a shark clamped round his leg. “Hand me down the shark-repellent Batspray!” he says.

* Batman, Robin, Gordon and O’Hara watch a video report of which ‘super criminals’ are currently at large in Gotham and give pithy summaries as each face appears on screen.

* “How did it go, Catwoman?” “Purr-fectly…”

* We cut to dopey navy bigwig Admiral Fangschliester and he’s playing tiddlywinks with his *very* cute female subordinate.

* Due to the convention of no one recognising superheroes or master criminals when they’re not in costume, the bad guys hold Bruce Wayne hostage in the hope that Batman will come to rescue him… and Bruce pleads with Catwoman to let him talk to Kitka, who he thinks they’re also holding.

* The Riddler asks for the ‘five guinea pigs’ – five lackeys walk in, each wearing ‘GP#1’, ‘GP#2’, etc, on their sweaters.

* The old walking-up-the-side-of-a-building/camera-at-90-degrees trick.

* Batman running around a dock trying desperately to dispose of a bomb with its fuse lit. He encounters a pub full of people, nuns, a woman with a pram, a kissing couple, a marching band and a flock of ducks before he finds somewhere safe to throw it. (The fuse burns for two minutes and 26 seconds!)

* The Riddler shoots down the Batcopter… which spins out of control… and lands on a huge pile of foam rubber… placed near a sign reading ‘Foam Rubber Wholesalers Convention’.

* The climactic fight on top of the surfaced submarine, which is the only time in the movie we get the famous single-word captions accompanying punches and leaps – Pow! Whap! Thwack! Biff! Bap! Bap! Zwapp! Splosh! Klonk! Urkk! Swoosh! Swa-a-p! Eee-yow! Ouch! Kapow! Ker-sploosh! Spla-a-t! Plop! Urkkk! Blurp!

Review: Just like the parent TV show, this is a cartoon come to life. It’s incredibly silly and deliciously surreal. It’s also pure pop art, with bold colours, Dutched camera angles and deliberately arch props (Batman’s ladder has ‘Bat ladder’ written on it). The joy comes from how seemingly earnest the whole thing is. There’s some terrifically awful dialogue – “The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate!” – but it’s delivered with tongues places charmingly in cheeks. It’s all good fun, even if the film is essentially one gag stretched out over 100 minutes. The fact that none of the actors nor the director ever break the illusion and wink to the audience makes it even funnier. You’ve really got to admire everyone’s total commitment.

Seven days when you just can’t get rid of a bomb out of 10.

Next time: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

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