Holy Rewatch Batman!

Holy Rewatch, Batman! “Hi Diddle Riddle” / “Smack in the Middle”

“Hi Diddle Riddle”/ “Smack in the Middle”
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Directed by Robert Butler
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
Production code 6028
Original air dates: January 12 & 13, 1966

The Bat-signal: We open at the Gotham City World’s Fair, specifically at the exhibit for the Republic of Moldavia, where the prime minister is holding a “friendship luncheon.” A cake is brought out, which is adorned with two figurines, one of a guy in a silly hat and overalls that is, I guess, supposed to symbolize Moldavia, shaking hands with Uncle Sam.

However, as the PM cuts into the cake, it explodes. It’s a small explosion, enough to ruin the cake (too bad, it looked yummy) and also shoot a message into the air, which then parachutes down. It’s a piece of paper with a riddle on it: “Why is an orange like a bell?”

The cops on the scene bring the riddle back to police headquarters, where Commissioner Gordon, Chief O’Hara, and a ton of other cops are all standing around with their thumbs in their ears. The prank indicates that the Riddler is back in town, and none of the gathered police think they can handle him. So Gordon goes to the red phone that will call Batman.

At Wayne Manor, Alfred gets the phone and says he’ll fetch Batman. In the sitting room, Bruce Wayne is speaking to a bunch of folks on the subject of helping fund anti-crime centers. He briefly laments that such places didn’t exist when his parents were killed by a criminal, but he’s interrupted by Alfred. After making excuses, he meets up with his ward, Dick Grayson, and they go to answer the phone. Upon being informed that the Riddler is at it again, he assures Gordon that he’ll meet him at police headquarters. He hangs up, pulls back Shakespeare’s head to reveal a dial that slides a bookcase aside to reveal a very clearly labelled pair of poles—one says “BRUCE,” the other says, “DICK,” and the wall behind says “ACCESS TO BAT-CAVE VIA BAT-POLES.” You gotta love the thoroughness.

By the time they’ve slid down to the Batcave, they’re in costume as Batman and Robin. They hop into the Batmobile and zoom off to Gotham City. They park in front of police headquarters and run inside.

Robin solves the riddle: they both must be peeled/pealed. (“What idiots we are!” says Chief O’Hara, and truer words…) Batman thinks Riddler’s target might be the Peale Art Gallery. And given that the cops couldn’t even figure out a stupid riddle, Batman advises that they sit this one out and let him and Robin handle it.

They drive to the gallery, parking at the back. Then a recording of the Riddler calls the Bat-phone in the Batmobile and asks Batman to riddle him this: there are three men in a boat with four cigarettes and no matches. How do they manage to smoke? (How Riddler got that number is left as a mystery.)

Unable to solve the riddle, they climb up the back wall to find the Riddler holding a gun to the head of Gideon Peale, the owner of the gallery, who’s handing him a cross. They burst through the window and put the Bat-cuffs on him for stealing the cross at gunpoint—at which point, two photographers show up, and Peale explains that the Riddler loaned the cross to the gallery for an exhibit, and the “gun” was a lighter. (Robin then figures out the riddle: throw one cigarette overboard, and it made the boat a cigarette lighter.)

The Riddler asks what it is that no man wants to have, yet no man wants to lose. Robin answers, “A lawsuit!” which is just what the Riddler is hitting Batman with. It’s a one-million-dollar lawsuit for assault, slander, and false arrest.

Bruce checks through his father’s law books, but can’t find anything useful. The Riddler has a case, and the suit will force Batman to reveal his true identity. Alfred reminds him how much the truth will devastate Dick’s aunt, Harriet Cooper. They go down to the Bat-cave and examine the legal documents the Riddler handed Batman, and they find two hidden messages: First, when is the time of a clock like the whistle of a train? (When it’s two to two.) Second, what has neither flesh, bone, nor nail but has four fingers and a thumb? (A glove.) Robin figures that it’s an address: 222 Glover Avenue, which is the address of a new discotheque called What a Way to Go-Go. Batman goes in alone (Robin is underage; he stays with the Batmobile), telling the maître-d that he’ll stay at the bar, as he doesn’t want to attract attention. (That ship, of course, has already sailed, as the entire bar is gawping at him.)

However, several of the staff are members of the Mole Hill Gang, whom the Riddler is using as his henchmen—as is Molly, a redhead who asks Batman to dance (after hitting him with a riddle of her own). Batman drinks his fresh-squeezed orange juice (which the Mole Hill Gang has spiked) and dances with her until he collapses. Robin runs to help him, but the Riddler hits him with a tranq dart before he can even get out of the Batmobile.

Luckily, Robin was smart enough to flip over the label that says “START BUTTON” over the label that says “ANTI-THEFT ACTIVATOR,” so when the Riddler tries to steal the Bat-mobile, the “start button” instead causes the exhaust pipes to shoot loud fireworks. Since he can’t steal the car, the Riddler settles for stealing the sidekick, as he, Molly, and the Mole Hill Gang take the unconscious Robin into the tunnels to their underground lair, where the Riddler puts Robin’s head in a vise and starts closing it slowly.

Batman is conscious, but still woozy from the mickeyed OJ, so he doesn’t notice the Bat-signal, and the cops (who take his keys away, as he’s in no condition to drive) think it’s better not to tell him, especially since he’s so busy lamenting the loss of Robin.

By morning, Batman has recovered, and he’s trying to locate Robin, to no avail. Down at the Mole Hill Gang hideout, we discover that the vise wasn’t to crush Robin’s head, but hold it still while the Riddler made a mold of it. He then wakes Robin up and tricks him into contacting Batman via Gordon to pose him two more riddles: What kind of pins are used in soup? (Terrapins.) What was Joan of Arc made of? (She was Maid of Orleans.) Batman figures out the clue: the old Turtle Mill on Orleans Cove. He hops into the Batmobile and drives off.

Molly has changed into a duplicate of Robin’s costume, and she’s used the mold to form a face mask. The Riddler gives her Robin’s belt, and then they head to Orleans Cove and activate the homing transmitter. Batman chases them down, disabling the Riddler’s car—but Riddler was expecting it, and he and Molly wore helmets. Molly lies on the ground pretending to be hurt as Robin while the Riddler runs off, and Batman takes her to the Batmobile.

Once in the Batcave, Molly reveals herself—but Batman knew it was her, as the breathing holes in the mold made the nostrils too big in the mask. Batman also used the hidden Bat-laser beam to burn off her revolver’s firing pin.

Molly panics and runs to the atomic pile that serves as the Batmobile’s nuclear power source. Batman tries to rescue her, but she falls into the reactor and is killed.

Batman goes to police HQ, where Gordon has a recording of the phone conversation between Batman and the Riddler from earlier. Batman and Gordon listen to it, along with O’Hara, and Batman hears subway trains in the background. Using the mobile crime computer, he figures out where the call came from (how is unclear), and heads to the subway station, using an explosive to gain ingress.

He almost captures the Riddler, but he manages to escape by cutting Batman off with bullet-proof glass. After Riddler and the Mole Hill Gang depart, Robin reassures him that he knows what the next caper will be, because he overheard the Riddler’s riddles for this one: how many sides does a circle have? (Two—inside and outside.) What President of the United States wore the biggest hat? (The one with the biggest head.) It means he’s going to rob the head office of the Gotham City National Bank. (Just go with it.)

However, the Riddler and the Mole Hill Gang are tunneling under the Moldavian exhibit at the World’s Fair. They pump laughing gas into the air vents, and then Riddler (wearing an elephant-shaped gas mask, because, why not?) goes up and tells awful jokes, which the PM and his guests only laugh at because of the gas, and then they fall unconscious.

The Mole Hill Gang join the Riddler, preparing to steal a mammoth made entirely of old postage stamps—but then Batman and Robin burst out of it, Batman having realized that Robin screwed up the riddles. (“A Trojan mammoth?” laments the Riddler.) Batman and Robin engage in fisticuffs with the Mole Hill Gang and the Riddler (with everyone still wearing gas masks, so it’s way easier to work in the stunt doubles), with the Dynamic Duo eventually being triumphant, though the Riddler gets away.

The lawsuit is dropped, as Riddler never appears in court. Bruce and Dick discuss the case, and while the Riddler did get away, Bruce is satisfied that they stopped an international incident by preventing the theft of the mammoth (though he never mentions the damage done to the artifact by Batman and Robin hiding inside it and then bursting out of it). However, he deeply regrets Molly’s death.

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! We get our first look at all the regular toys—the Batcave, the Batmobile (with its emergency Bat-turn-lever and Bat-ray projector and hidden Bat-laser beam), the Bat-phone (the one in Gordon’s office, the one in Wayne Manor, and the bat-shaped one in the Batmobile), the Bat-signal, and the Bat-a-rang so they can Bat-climb up the wall. We also get the Bat-laser gun that Batman uses to undo the cage over the window, the Bat-hook that he hangs it on, because Robin shouldn’t just drop the cage to the ground from that height (“Pedestrian safety!”), the Bat-scope (which Robin can use to spy on the discotheque in a manner that is probably illegal), the Batostat Anti-Fire Activator, the Bat-gauge, and of course the Bat-cuffs.

Holy #@!%$, Batman! When Bruce asks Dick if he wants to go “fishing,” Dick says, “Holy barracuda!” When the Riddler reveals that his gun is a lighter, Robin cries, “Holy ashtray!” And when Batman blasts his way into the Riddler’s hideout, Robin yells, rather boringly, “Holy smoke!” but when Riddler seals them in with bullet-proof glass, he cries, “Holy showcase!”

Gotham City’s finest. Gordon actually asks each of his top cops if any of them can handle the Riddler. They all look away shame-facedly, and Gordon then calls upon Batman. However, Gordon does do one useful thing: record the phone conversation between Batman and Riddler, thus providing Batman with the clue to find Robin.

These two episodes also have the only appearances of Inspector Basch (played by Michael Fox).

No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Batman tells Molly that she interests him “strangely,” and he does the Batusi with her after drinking the spiked orange juice. He deeply laments her death.

Special Guest Villain. Frank Gorshin makes his debut as the Riddler, arguably the best of Batman’s gallery of rogues, and certainly your humble rewatcher’s favorite. He’ll be back in “A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away”/”When the Rat’s Away the Mice will Play” later this season.

Jill St. John also gets billing as a special guest star, the only time someone other than the villain is credited at the beginning of the episode.

Na-na na-na na-na na-na na. “Poor deluded girl! If only she’d have let me save her! What a terrible way to go-go.”

Batman deciding that the violent death of a human being is a good occasion to make a pun related to the place where he first met her.

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 1 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, New York Times best-selling author Dayton Ward.

This episode was based on Batman #171 (May 1965), a story entitled “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler” by Gardner Fox, Sheldon Moldoff, and Joe Giella.

The cliffhanger voiceover simply said to tune in tomorrow, “Same time, same channel,” without the ever-popular Bat- prefix.

Gordon’s office looks different from how it will appear in subsequent episodes, with the bookcase in a different location, and no sign of the larger exit.

This is the only time Bruce ever mentions his parents and their violent death, the catalyst for his becoming Batman.

The opening shots of the Gotham City World’s Fair used footage from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City.

Batman’s dance is only referred to as the Batusi in William Dozier’s voiceover at the top of “Smack in the Middle” that shows scenes from “Hi Diddle Riddle.” However, the dance became quite popular for a bit there…

 

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “Riddle me twice, Batman!” The first part of this initial two-parter serves as an excellent introduction to the series, giving us the standard setup, showing us a moralistic Batman who is mindful of the law and doing the right thing, fiercely protective of Robin, and a user of tons of gadgets. We get the Batmobile startup sequence, the meeting with the commissioner and O’Hara, climbing up a wall, and the climactic fight scene.

But the best thing we get is the Riddler. Of all Batman’s villains, Frank Gorshin is the finest, completely throwing himself into the part, from the Riddler’s acrobatic gyrations in his most manic bits, to his wide-eyed glee in his quieter moments, his odd gestures, and his constant giggling. Gorshin fully inhabits the role, and it’s an absolute joy to watch.

The riddles are, of course, quite lame, but to some degree, that’s part of the point. Batman even states in Gordon’s office that the Riddler gets his enjoyment from matching wits with Batman more than anything.

Unfortunately, Part 2 drags somewhat. Where “Hi Diddle Riddle” is well paced and includes some great moments (Riddler’s lawsuit, the Batusi, the hilarious ineffectiveness of the Gotham City Police Department), “Smack in the Middle” is slow and draggy. Molly’s death is clumsy and unconvincing (tragedy is a bad fit for the show’s daffy pop-art sensibility, and the show will stay away from character deaths for the most part going forward, probably in part due to how badly it fell over here), there are too many scenes of the Batmobile driving through the mountain roads, and Riddler and the disguised Molly driving on the same roads, and it’s just endless. For that matter, Molly’s death also takes too long, and the lawsuit plot, which actually promised to be an interesting twist on the usual hero/villain interaction, was completely dropped until it was waved off at the very end. In addition, the cliffhanger is kind of weak, although it’s possible that this one was written before they realized they’d be doing it as two separate episodes; indeed, this two-parter feels like it was written to be a one-hour episode, not two half-hour ones.

Still, this is a good introduction to the series, setting the tone for the show going forward.

Batman 1966 Batusi

 

Bat-rating: 7

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