Holy Rewatch Batman!

Holy Rewatch, Batman! Batman (1966 film)

Batman
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
Produced by William Dozier
Original release date: July 30, 1966

The Bat-signal: A yacht carrying a dehydrator invented by Commodore Schmidlapp (intended for use in whiskey making) is en route to Gotham City. Bruce and Dick have received word that the commodore is in danger, so they return from a day-time drive in Bruce’s convertible, slide down the Bat-poles, and head out in the Batmobile to the airport, where the grounds crew prepares the Batcopter. The Dynamic Duo take off in the Batcopter and head out over Gotham City, flying over a bunch of bikini-clad babes exercising, a foursome of cops who take off their hats in salute, and a couple having a picnic.

They fly out over the sea and lower the bat-ladder so Batman can board the yacht—but the yacht then disappears! Apparently it was an illusion so sophisticated that it even created a wake in the water behind it! Unfortunately, before Robin can pull up the bat-ladder, a shark bites onto Batman’s leg and won’t let go. Robin climbs down the bat-ladder and hands Batman the shark repellant bat-spray and the fish falls to the water—and then explodes!

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Later, the Dynamic Duo give a press conference in Gordon’s office. He denies that a transatlantic yacht just disappeared, and refuses to answer any further questions about the yacht or the exploding shark (which he says was probably some unfortunate animal who accidentally swallowed a mine).

Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karenska “Kitka” Alisoff of the Moscow Bugle asks if Batman can take off his mask so she can get a better picture. He explains that his effectiveness as a crimefighter requires that his true identity remain a secret. He does not, however, explain how that works, exactly.

After the press is dismissed, Gordon congratulates Batman on allaying their fears, though he doesn’t explain how he did that, since he didn’t truly answer any of their questions. After the press is gone, the Dynamic Duo, Gordon, and O’Hara speculate as to who might be responsible for distracting Batman in the hopes of killing him with an exploding shark, and possibly also hijacking the real yacht.

They check the status report, and learn that the Penguin, the Joker, the Riddler, and Catwoman are all currently at large, and it could be any one of them. Gordon hits on the rather frightening notion that it could be all four of them working together, which scares the bejabbers out of all of them.

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Our Soviet journalist takes a cab to a waterfront dive, Ye Olde Benbow Taverne, where the regulars are either brawling, smooching, or dancing. She goes upstairs, through a door labelled “U.U.H.Q. STRICTLY PRIVATE,” and we find out that “Miss Kitka” is truly Catwoman. She has indeed teamed up with Joker, Riddler, and Penguin to form the United Underworld (their slogan: “today Gotham City, tomorrow the world!”). They squabble amongst themselves (Riddler is peeved that Penguin’s exploding shark trick failed), but quickly calm down, as they need to put aside their egos for the greater, er, bad. Penguin even quotes Benjamin Franklin (“we must hang together or most assuredly we will hang separately”).

The U.U. have kidnapped Schmidlapp, and placed him in a replica of his cabin on the yacht, complete with image of the sea and fog outside his porthole, with a henchman making water noises and blowing a foghorn. Schmidlapp believes that they are fog-bound in the Outer Banks, but he is using it as an excuse to catch up on his Dickens. The bad guys bring him tea when he rings for it.

The bat-camera in the Batcopter was pointed right at the yacht, but its polarized lens filtered out the illusion of the yacht. It did, however, pick up a bell buoy, and Robin verifies that there isn’t a buoy assigned to that location. They head to the docks and get into the Batboat and head to the buoy.

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The U.U. have their very own submarine—well, actually, it’s Penguin’s sub, which allows him to boss around the others, to their chagrin. The sub sets up under the buoy, just in time to see Batman and Robin check it out. The buoy has a shark cage attached to it, as well as a set of super-powered lenses.

They spy the periscope, and Penguin orders torpedoes to be loaded and the magnets in the buoy activated. The Dynamic Duo are stuck on the buoy via the metal in their utility belts. Batman tries to use the bat-transmitter to mess with the torpedo’s signal, and it explodes prematurely. The same happens to the second torpedo, but the batteries in the bat-transmitter die before he can mess with the third one. It explodes when it’s supposed to, and the bad guys squeal with glee.

However, our heroes survived! A porpoise heroically hurled itself into the path of the final torpedo, allowing Batman and Robin to survive. (How they demagnetized themselves from the buoy is left as an exercise for the viewer.)

The Dynamic Duo calls the Pentagon, where Admiral Fangschliester is playing tiddlywinks with his secretary. (Not actually a euphemism.) The admiral tells Batman that the Navy recently sold a pre-atomic surplus submarine to a man named P.N. Gwynne, whose only address is a PO box.

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After Batman scolds the admiral, who belatedly realizes that selling a submarine to someone who doesn’t provide a proper address may not have been the hottest idea, a missile shoots through the air from the sub and skywrites two riddles in the form of jokes: “What does a turkey do when he flies upside down?” and “What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree, and is very dangerous?”

They head to Gordon’s office, concerned that the evidence indicates Riddler, Joker, and Penguin are working together. Robin answers both riddles: it gobbles up, and a bird with a machine gun. Combine them, and you get something that gobbles up a bird, to wit, a cat—which means Catwoman is part of it, too.

Back in the bad guys’ lair, the Riddler comes up with a plan that uses all their tricks. Catwoman—disguised as Kitka—will seduce and kidnap some millionaire (Riddler suggests Bruce Wayne, because of course he does), and Riddler will plant a clue that leads to the hideout. Batman will follow that clue to Joker’s jack-in-the-box, which will spring Batman out the window and onto an exploding octopus of Penguin’s. It can’t possibly fail!

Kitka pays a visit to Wayne Manor. She shows Bruce some riddles on Wayne Foundation stationary that were slipped under the door of her borrowed penthouse apartment. Bruce says it’s probably the work of some crank, and then invites Kitka to dinner, which she, of course accepts. After having Alfred walk her out, he heads to the Batcave where he and Robin decipher the riddles: “What has yellow skin and writes?” A ballpoint banana. (Naturally.) “What people are always in a hurry?” Russians. (That’s actually almost clever.) They assume it’s a threat to Kitka’s life. Sure.

Alfred and Robin are tasked with tailing Bruce and Kitka in the Batmobile to look out for any signs of the Riddler.

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We see them out to dinner, violin players in the background. Kitka drinks an amber liquid, probably alcohol, while Bruce drinks milk out of a brandy snifter. Yes, really. They then take a horse-drawn carriage to a night club, and they dance to a French singer.

Back in the horse-drawn carriage, Bruce flirts outrageously, to the point that Robin, out of courtesy (and out of being underage and therefore shouldn’t be watching this stuff), turns off the surveillance in the carriage that broadcasts to the Batmobile, where Alfred is driving (while wearing a domino mask, his glasses over it, for some reason). Robin checks in with Gordon, and suggests activating the bat-signal. The bad guys will think that Batman and Robin are en route to police HQ, and they’ll view that as the best time to attack Kitka.

“Kitka” surreptitiously signals the other three while they flirt, and they head back to her borrowed penthouse apartment, where they smooch before Kitka changes into a sexy pink robe. (The smooching prompts Robin to once again switch off the surveillance, despite Alfred’s misgivings, though eventually the butler accedes to the notion that they shouldn’t be voyeurs.) Bruce quotes Edgar Allan Poe’s “To One in Paradise” at her.

Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and their henchmen fly to the penthouse on jet-powered flying umbrellas. (Really!) Bruce says that he has a feeling he’s about to be madly carried away—and then the three bad guys and the henchmen show up to madly carry him away. Bruce puts up a good fight, but is subdued. Robin turns the surveillance back on—just to peek for a second—to see that the place is empty and the bad guys are flying off on jet-powered umbrellas.

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Bruce wakes up in the U.U. HQ and immediately asks where Kitka is, threatening to kill them all if she’s harmed. Catwoman agrees to take him to her, and he’s blindfolded and led down a labyrinthine path that gives Catwoman time to change. Bruce tells “Kitka” that they’re screwed, but she says that she overheard that she and Bruce are bait for Batman. She’s sure they’ll be freed once Batman is trapped. Bruce is less sanguine (for reasons he can’t divulge). He also tells Kitka that he keeps a radio transmitter by his left elbow—a common security device employed by capitalists such as him who carry large sums of money.

The other three are listening in, of course, and grab Bruce and untie him to remove the transmitter. But there is no transmitter, it was a ruse to get himself untied, and fisticuffs ensue—one of the henchmen falls onto the jack-in-the-box and is sprung to the waiting tentacles of the exploding octopus.

Bruce manages to jump out the window and swim to safety, returning to Wayne Manor to a relieved Dick and Gordon. After getting rid of Gordon, they head down the poles to the Batmobile and speed off.

The U.U. agree to enact Penguin’s plan. They grab Schmidlapp’s dehydrator and use it on five guinea pigs. All five strapping young men have all the moisture removed from their bodies, leaving only piles of blue dust. Catwoman and Penguin put the bits of dust into separate containers.

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Batman and Robin arrive at the docks, intending to ambush the U.U., but they find only an empty hideout and a bomb. Batman briefly searches for Kitka, but finds nothing, so he grabs the bomb and heads down to the bar. But not all the patrons evacuate (two women refuse to end their meal), so Batman runs around the docks trying to find an uninhabited place to toss the thing, and failing rather miserably, until he at last finds an empty spot of water to toss it into.

Penguin shows up disguised as Schmidlapp, a disguise the Dynamic Duo see completely through. But he insists he’s Schmidlapp—and he also has plastic coated fingers after scorching his fingertips, so they can’t check his fingerprints. However, there’s a retinal scanner in the Batcave, and they gas him and bring him there. Penguin asks for water, and after going to the drinking water dispenser (which Batman helpfully says is clearly marked, just like everything else), he hooks it up to the specimen bottles containing the guinea pigs, which were in his waistcoat. (However, he accidentally switched the lever to heavy water rather than light water; why a drinking water dispenser would ever dispense heavy water is left as an exercise for the viewer. Yes, the heavy water is for the atomic reactor in the Batcave, but why does that come from the same dispenser as the drinking water????)

The five guinea pigs are rehydrated, but because Penguin used heavy water, they are unstable and are turned to antimatter upon impact. Batman pretends to apologize to “Schmidlapp,” who obviously was kidnapped and brainwashed. They gas him and take him out, then wake him up and let him pretend to gas them and steal the Batmobile. They take the Batcycle to the airport, letting Penguin lead them to the U.U.’s new hideout by tracking the Batmobile from the Batcopter.

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Unable to help himself, Riddler fires another riddle missile, but he lucks out and actually hits the Batcopter with the missile. Riddler is stunned—but not nearly as stunned as Robin to have them crash softly. Luckily, they landed atop a foam rubber wholesalers convention, specifically on an exhibit of foam rubber in its crude form (clearly labelled with a sign reading “FOAM RUBBER IN ITS CRUDE FORM”).

Then the missile explodes, providing two more riddles: “What goes up white and comes down yellow and white?” An egg. “How do you divide seventeen apples among sixteen people?” Make applesauce. Somehow they contrive this to mean the United World Building, which is having a session of the security council.

The Batcopter having been damaged, they leave it unattended at a wholesalers convention (maybe the van that picks up the parachutes can swing by and pick the copter up, too?) and run to the Gotham East River where the UW Building is located.

The sub also arrives at the UW Building, and Catwoman, Joker, and Riddler break in, carrying the dehydrator.

In addition, Penguin arrives at the UW Building, gassing all the guards. They rendezvous at the elevators and head to the council meeting.

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The nine members of the UW security council are arguing, each in their native language, which means the argument isn’t going anywhere. They don’t even notice the four weirdly dressed people entering, nor does Joker dehydrating them one by one cause them to miss a beat in their arguing. They put each bit of delegate dust into a separate vial.

Batman and Robin arrive at the UW Building and order the building evacuated. They rush to the elevator, where Batman has to read the word on the upper button in six different languages before figuring out that it’s the one for “up.” (As if the one on top is ever anything but up!) They arrive just as the U.U. are heading out with their dehydrated kidnap victims. However, Batman hesitates when Catwoman says that Kitka will die if they attack.

The bad guys go down to their sub, while Batman and Robin discover what they’ve done to the council. They head out to sea toward Short Island Sound, through which the sub will go out into international waters. The Dynamic Duo follows in the Batboat.

Riddler sends a ransom note to all nine countries, asking for a billion dollars from each nation for the safe return (and rehydration) of their delegate.

The U.U. fire a missile at the Batboat, but Batman has Robin jam it with the bat-radio. Then they try a torpedo, but the bat charge launcher detonates them prematurely. Penguin has them dive, but then Batman circles the sub with the Batboat while Robin fires the bat charge launcher at the sub. It rattles the sub enough that they are forced to surface. The Dynamic Duo board the sub, and fisticuffs ensue on the deck of the sub, until everyone except for Catwoman is knocked into the water.

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Batman and Robin chase Catwoman into the sub, but she trips and her mask comes off and the Dynamic Duo realize that Catwoman and Kitka are one and the same. They manage to save the vials of dusty delegates—at least until Schmidlapp come out, stumbles into Batman, shattering the vials—then he sneezes, scattering the dust motes further.

Returning to the Batcave, the Dynamic Duo struggle to separate the dust particles into the right order. Gordon checks in, also speaking to the press and to the president, and to the whole world, who are all concerned.

Once the work is done, they return to the UW building and rehydrate all nine piles of dust (using soft light water this time). Unfortunately, something went wrong, and the delegates are all speaking something other than their native tongues. They obviously got all mixed up.

Batman, though, is philosophical about it. Maybe this mixing of minds is the greatest service they could perform for humanity. He urges them to leave inconspicuously—through the window.

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Lotsa new gadgets thanks to an actual budget! We gotcher Bat-copter, we gotcher bat-ladder (which is unable to have wings or bat-ears placed on it, so it just has the label “BAT-LADDER” on the bottom rung), we gotcher film developing tank (super fine batgrain), we gotcher magnifying lens, we gotcher navigational aid computer, we gotcher Batboat (which makes the same jet-powered noises as the Batmobile), we gotcher super-blinding bat-pellets, we gotcher bat-gas, we gotcher anti-Penguin gas pill, we gotcher bat charge launcher, we gotcher bat-centrifuge, and we gotcher super molecular dust separator.

For the first time, we see what was always implied: a lever halfway down the batpole that changes the Dynamic Duo’s costumes that Bruce hits on the way down, though we don’t see the actual costume-changing process (it is a family friendly movie, after all…). In addition, we see the compressed-steam-powered pillows that send them back up the batpoles (and presumably change their clothes back).

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Plus, of course, WE HAVE THE BAT-SHARK-REPELLANT (actually the shark repellant bat-spray)! Best bat gadget ever!

Holy #@!%$, Batman! “Holy sardine!” Robin cries when Batman is attacked by a shark. “Holy nightmare!” he utters at the realization that their four greatest foes might be working together. “Holy Merlin the Magician!” he cries when realizing that the yacht was an illusion. “Holy Long John Silver!” he yells upon sighting Penguin’s periscope. “Holy glue pot!” he screams when they’re magnetically tethered to the buoy. “Holy Polaris!” he on-the-noses the first time the Riddler launches a UGM-27 Polaris missile. “Holy demolition!” (at the empty penthouse) and “Holy Halloween” (at the flying umbrellas) he screams when he realizes Bruce has been kidnapped. “Holy heart failure!” he ejaculates after realizing that Batman survived the bomb explosion. “Holy costume party,” he grumbles when Penguin pretends to be Schmidlapp. “Holy hallucination!” he bellows when the five guinea pigs are rehydrated in the Batcave. “Holy marathon, I’m getting a stitch,” he grumbles as they run to the UW Building. “Holy Captain Nemo!” he literary-references when realizing that the U.U. are escaping the UW Building via submarine. “Holy Bikini!” he atolls when they jam the Polaris missile heading for the Batboat. “Holy heartbreak,” he mutters when Catwoman’s mask comes off and she is revealed to be Kitka. “Holy almost,” he cries upon realizing that the dehydrated delegates are safe, and then “Holy jigsaw,” he laments after Schmidlapp breaks the vials and sneezes.

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Gotham City’s finest. The GCPD is even more useless than usual, as their sole function is to stand around and wait for Batman or Robin to tell them something. The notable exception is that it’s Gordon who first figures out that all four villains might be teaming up.

Special Guest Villains. The first team-up of preexisting villains (though not the last), as Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin return as, respectively, the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler. Julie Newmar had a prior commitment, and so could not play Catwoman, so she was replaced by Lee Meriwether.

No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Bruce is smitten with “Kitka,” at one point saying he’s never met a girl who was such a potent argument in favor of international relations. (Wah-HEY!) He’s obviously devastated by the revelation that she’s really Catwoman, but he puts on a brave face.

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Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.

“Holy marathon, I’m getting a stitch, Batman!”

“Let’s hope that it’s a stitch in time, Robin, that saves nine—the nine members of the United World Security Council!”

–Robin bitching about having to run all the way from the convention center to the UW Building and Batman being unsympathetic. (For what it’s worth, in New York City in 1966, the convention center was in Columbus Circle, and the distance from there to the UN Building is only about two miles…)

Trivial matters: The film was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 18 by host John S. Drew with special guest chums Dan Persons of Cinefantastique Online, Billy Flynn of Geek Radio Daily, and Jim Beard, editor of Gotham City 14 Miles.

William Dozier had wanted 20th Century Fox to produce a feature film to debut while the first season was running, but the studio refused to pony up the money. Once the TV show became a massive hit, they green-lit the film to air between the first and second seasons.

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The film opens with a spotlight on a brick wall with cards thanking “enemies of crime and crusaders against crime throughout the world for their inspirational example.” The film is then dedicated to “funlovers everywhere.” It is possible that it inspired the cover of the 1973 album Band on the Run by Wings. (When I was a kid, I thought Batman stole it from Paul McCartney’s band, not knowing that the movie came seven years earlier…)

The Bat-boat was created by Glastron, a company based in Austin, Texas. (They also made the boats used in the big boat chase in the James Bond film Live and Let Die.) In exchange for having the boat in the film, Fox agreed to debut the film in Austin, which it did at the Paramount Theatre (which is still there today, by the way).

The Batcycle will be used again on the series; the Batboat and Batcopter will be seen again but only by reusing footage from this film.

This is Lee Meriwether’s only appearance as Catwoman, though she will appear as Lisa, King Tut’s kidnap victim, on the series in the second season’s “King Tut’s Coup”/”Batman’s Waterloo.” Julie Newmar will return to the role of Catwoman in the second season’s “Hot Off the Griddle.” Cesar Romero will return as the Joker in “The Impractical Joker.” Burgess Meredith will return as Penguin in “Hizzoner the Penguin.” Frank Gorshin will get into a contract dispute and not reprise the role of the Riddler until the third season’s “Ring Around the Riddler.”

Meriwether was not in the first of the submarine scenes, as it was filmed before she was cast in the movie. (The production schedule was seriously rushed…)

Having previously played King Boris in “A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away” / “When the Rat’s Away the Mice Will Play,” Reginald Denny returned to play Schmidlapp. It was his last role before his death in 1967.

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Van Williams—who would play the title role in Dozier’s Green Hornet series that fall—did an uncredited turn as the voice of the President of the United States. Madge Blake does get billing, even though she has no dialogue, and the sum total of her role in the film is to prune flowers and wave at Bruce and Dick as they drive up to Wayne Manor and to quietly watch TV with Alfred. Exercise guru Jack LaLanne makes an uncredited cameo as the leader of the bikini-clad babes who are exercising on the roof as the Batcopter flies over.

The delegate who speaks Russian at the very end bangs his shoe on the table, a reference to Nikita Khruschev doing the same during a debate in the United Nations in 1960.

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” Freed from the constraints of two half-hour TV shows, including the formulaic needs of same, Lorenzo Semple Jr. gives us a story that can stretch itself a bit. Not, y’know, overwhelmingly, but they do break the format somewhat here. The opening bit is pure Batman and Robin, without a prelude setup nor the usual journey to police HQ (that happens later). The budget allows for more gadgets, more vehicles (the Batboat! the Batcopter! a new, improved Batcycle!), and more sets.

Best of all, the movie format means certain tropes can be dispensed with. There really is only one proper “bat-fight,” with the goofy sound effects, and that’s not until the very end. There’s almost one in the Batcave, but the bad guys pop out of existence before the fight can even start, and there are two more, but they involve Bruce Wayne engaging in fisticuffs, not Batman (and Robin’s nowhere to be found).

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And the closest we get to a cheesy cliffhanger is the magnetized buoy, and the resolution is—well, just as lame as many of them, honestly, but at least it’s over quickly, though one does feel sorry for that porpoise.

Speaking of the porpoise, the movie also allows for people (and animals) actually to be killed. Since the awkward death of Jill St. John’s Molly in “Smack in the Middle” (and a few off-screen implications), the show has avoided having characters be anything other than badly hurt, but here we’ve got the self-sacrificing porpoise, the five guinea pigs, and the poor dude who sprung the jack-in-the-box and got blown up by the exploding octopus, not to mention the exploding octopus and his predecessor the exploding shark.

They take a little time for social commentary, too. First we have the rebuking of careless government oversight with the submarine sale to “P.N. Gwynne” (and Penguin’s pseudonyms are getting more careless—at least “Knott A. Fish” was mildly clever), and then there’s the United World Security Council. The constant arguing in different languages in such a way that they can’t even understand each other, nor are interested in listening to each other, is nicely satirical enough, but then they beautifully double down on it by having the delegates’ languages (and personalities?) all mixed up at the very end, with Batman’s stentorian declaration that it could be the best thing for the world. If only…

The movie also makes better use of Bruce Wayne. While the series to date has gone out of its way to avoid using Bruce as anything other than an identity Batman barely uses or as a plot device, here we get to see Bruce actually being Bruce Wayne instead of play-acting at it. Oh, sure, to some extent it’s a ruse, as he’s got Robin and Alfred tailing him, but he has genuinely fallen for “Miss Kitka,” and he wines and dines her rather impressively. And Adam West gets to show some rare emotion, not just in Bruce’s interest in Kitka but his fury at the possibility of the United Underworld harming her. (He actually threatens to kill them, a big step for Mr. Moral Pants.)

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But what makes the movie shine, truly, is putting four magnificent actors together and cutting them loose. The camaraderie mixed with contempt that the four villains have for each other is superbly played by four actors who are generally at the top of their game.

Indeed, the weak link in the bunch is Cesar Romero. His cackle is magnificent, but Frank Gorshin’s lunacy is far more impressive than his, and this version of the Joker isn’t psychotic enough to stand out from the Riddler’s giggling insanity, especially since Gorshin is so good at modulating from that to deranged calm. (It’s the same problem that 1995’s Batman Forever had: Tommy Lee Jones’s Two-Face was a simple crazed lunatic, without the nuance of the comics character, so he was just a generic crazy guy, and was outshined by Jim Carrey doing Ace Riddlura, Bat Detective.) Instead, Joker is reduced to scolding the Riddler, complaining about his need to send riddles.

It doesn’t help that the Joker doesn’t actually contribute anything. Penguin is sorta-kinda the ring leader—it’s his submarine and his henchmen, and the overall plan is his notion. Riddler is the one who comes up with the plot to kidnap Bruce Wayne (which would’ve worked if they’d kidnapped some—any—other millionaire). And Catwoman’s disguise as Kitka is the ace in the hole.

Ultimately, of course, despite the lack of the formulaic elements, this is overall true to the TV show it spun off of. There are the moralistic lessons dropped unsubtly (like Robin’s imploration to support the police, despite their near-total absence from this narrative, or Batman and Robin’s discussion of the demon rum and how even drunks who are awful people deserve not to be blown up by bombs, or Batman’s total unwillingness to dispose of the bomb where anyone, even baby ducks, might get hurt), there’s the copious use of bat-gadgets of many kinds, there’s the ridiculous solutions to cheesy riddles, and the absurd leaps in logic made from them. And there are supremely OTT villains to enjoy. Your basic quintessential bat-experience, freed from the constricting bonds of the twice-weekly TV show.

Bat-rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at First CON-tact this weekend at the New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott in Queens, New York. He’ll be doing a panel on genre fiction alongside fellow author Ilana C. Myer and also have a table where he’ll be selling books and signing autographs.

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