Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Batman (1966)

As much as I consider myself a Superman nut, as much as I dig the Green Lantern Corps and Wonder Woman... my love of superheroes, and, in fact, my life is indelibly linked with Batman. In fact, it all started with the 1960's TV show featuring Adam West and Burt Ward.

As a very young kid, I was Bat-crazy. There are stories that suggest that "Batman" was my first word. Apparently, when I was very tiny, they re-ran the old Batman episodes on a local affiliate every day at the time my Mom would start on dinner. And for whatever reason, as a VERY tiny kid, putting me in front of Batman would keep me from freaking out and doing the things kids of that age can do to distract nice Moms who are making dinner.

Its also Steans family lore that as soon as I could put words together, I was tying my blanket around my neck and singing the Batman theme song. This was followed by collecting what must have been Mego Batman dolls, Batmobiles, etc... And, in all honesty, it never really stopped.

And I've never quit digging the old Batman show. Sure, when I was little, I had no idea it was being played for laughs. Adam West seemed not unlike my Dad in unflattering tights, and it seemed reasonable that The Admiral was off fighting crime in much the same way. Moreover, it seemed reasonable that crooks and criminals were brightly dressed weirdos with themed criminal plots, who really weren't going to hurt anyone.

Today Jamie and I went to see the 1966 movie of "Batman" at the Alamo, which was playing a free kid's matinee.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the theater was very full, and full of kids. Prior to the show, they played an episode of the most recent animated Batman series. Then, just before the lights went down, an Alamo employee addressed the audience from behind a convincing Batman mask, and informed the kids that only bad guys talk during movies. Heck, I was convinced.

The movie was released theatrically between the first and and second seasons of the TV show. I'd always thought it to be created prior to the series, so it goes to show you: You learn a new Bat-Fact every day. And, apparently, had its world premier here in sunny Austin because, it seems, the boat was manufactured in Austin. Possibly at the Paramount (I'm looking for photos to confirm)!

Jason and Reed: ready for a night on the town

The movie and series hold up pretty well, all things considered. There's something off-kilter about the show that I've always liked, as if every was hanging out and smoking a Kool about ten seconds before the cameras rolled, and then threw themselves headfirst into the insanity.

West's Batman has become iconic since the show first aired. Utterly serious, while delivering the awesomest dialog ever.

Batman: We've been given the plainest warning. They're working together to take over...
Chief O'Hara: Take over *what*, Batman? Gotham City?
Batman: Any *two* of them would try that!
Commissioner Gordon: The whole country?
Batman: If it were three of them, I would say yes, but *four*? Their minimum objective must be... the *entire* world.

Really, I hesitate to seriously ponder how much of my personality is imprinted from Mr. West.

Burt Ward's Boy Wonder is great, as is Alan Napier's Alfred. But what really sells the film is the cast of villains.

My favorite of the Bat-villains from the TV show was always Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. I particularly like Dini's take on Edward Nigma in recent issues of Detective, but its hard to beat Gorshin's sheer joy at befuddling the Caped Crusader. Plus, those costumes are iconic.

Villainy abounds!

Burgess Meredith and Caesar Romero are good as The Penguin and Joker are pretty good, too.

Topping the list, however, is Lee Meriwether as Catwoman/ Kitka. Apparently Julie Newmar had a prior commitment during filming, but I think Ms. Meriwether more than fills the catsuit. Yowza.


Apparently I'm not the only one who appreciates Ms. Meriwether as Catwoman. Mr. Romero is very "hands on" with Catwoman in several scenes, particularly in the Penguin submarine. Seriously. With that make-up, its a little creepy.

The movie also features one of my favorite aspects of Batman in all his incarnations: the vehicles! Batcopter. Batcycle. Batmobile. Awesome.

The Batman TV series left an amazingly deep impression upon the public's concept of the superhero. I still remember going to see Burton's "Batman" on opening weekend and the theater had decorated the lobby with all of these hand-made "Bam! Wap! Pow!" signs all over the place.

To say that the show wasn't a fairly accurate representation of the comics of the time is a bit of a stretch. The comic was very light kid's fair at the time, and was mostly Batman and his pal Robin in light scrapes. And while not exactly Tolstoy, it wasn't necessarily set up for laughs the way the TV series was.

It seems the post Spider-Man movie world has finally shaken off the Batman TV series impression of how superheroes should be viewed. And, in fact, it's sort of a game in the comics' blogosphere to highlight articles where the writer uses phrases like "Bam! Pow!", or comments that comics aren't as silly or childish as they'd assumed. (That's been a staple of mainstream journalism since Burton's Batman bowed in 1989, yet writers in search of a fluff article keep re-discovering this same topic.)

From anecdotal evidence, I think most parents today grew up with Burton's Batman, Donner's Superman and had the whole experience capped with Raimi's Spider-Man. So the legacy of the 60's Batman isn't the pervasive thing it was. And I think that's actually, as it should be.

The 1960's Batman is very good at what it does. The cast is terrific. Its a fun show (especially the movie). And I think there's room for all sorts of interpretations of Batman, from Bale's grim Dark Knight to West's philosophizing playboy on the town. And I think it's a fantastic part of the legacy of Batman.

Mostly, I was pleased with how the kids seemed to like it, if their silence throughout the film was any indication.

I did mention to Jamie, as we were leaving and I was processing the film in my mind "You know, about two-thirds of the way through, I felt like I had been taking crazy pills." The kaleidoscope colors, rapid pacing, nonsensical plot and, really, haphazard pacing of the thing just sort of adds up to a unique and strange whole. As pointed out by a kid leaving the theater...

Mom: Did you like it?
Kid: Yeah! (pause) It was weird...
Mom: Well, it was supposed to be.

That is one hip, hip mom.


Simon MacDonald said...

Yeah, that 60's series was a hoot. It is campy but that is the way they played it. It was hugely successful during it's initial run and it has a certain all ages appeal.

I have to agree that Frank Gorshin's Riddler was just perfect. There was a certain amount of maniacal malice that comes through in his portrayal of the character. It is no surprise that he won and Emmy for that role.

The League said...

See, BatFAct of the Day: I did not know Gorshin won the Emmy for playing the Riddler. Or, at least, I'd forgotten that he won the Emmy.

Simon MacDonald said...

Doh! My bad, Gorshin was only nominated for the Emmy for his role as the Riddler. He was also nominated for an Emmy for his guest appearance on Star Trek when he played the half black, half white alien.

Frank Gorshin Wikipedia

The League said...

That WAS Gorshin, wasn't it? I am just not up enough on my mid-60's pop culture.

Anyhoo... I just hope that when Nolan and Co. decide to introduce the Riddler to the movies, they can find someone of Gorshin's caliber. Something about Jim Carrey just didn't work for me (plus that horrendous storyline and art direction).

Anonymous said...

I *so* wanted to be Catwoman after watching this show semi-religiously (read - non-orthodox) as a kid. Just looking at these pictures makes me laugh.