Holy Rewatch Batman!

Holy Rewatch Batman! “The Great Escape” / “The Great Train Robbery”

“The Great Escape” / “The Great Train Robbery”
Written by Stanley Ralph Ross
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22
Production code 1723
Original air date: February 1 & 8, 1968

The Bat-signal: Calamity Jan and Frontier Fanny spring Shame from the Gotham City Prison with a big red tank. O’Hara calls Gordon, who is at his daughter’s place, along with Bruce, where they are having fondue. Gordon has O’Hara use the bat-phone, and Bruce nervously activates his cufflink, which signals Robin and Alfred that they need to set up the bat-answer-phone. (Why Robin doesn’t just answer the bat-phone himself—which he’s done in the past—is left as an exercise for the viewer.)

Gordon says that Shame has escaped. The recorded Bat-voice says that they’ll be right there. (Why Batman doesn’t just use a recording every time Gordon calls, given how generic these calls tend to be, is also left as an exercise for the viewer.) Gordon excuses himself, as does Bruce, as it wouldn’t be proper for him and Barbara to be alone together without a chaperone. (Ah, 1968…)

Bruce returns to Wayne Manor, and Batman and Robin head to GCPD HQ, where O’Hara reveals that Calamity Jan got the tank from Madman Otto’s Used Tank Lot. Only in Gotham City would there be a used tank lot.

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Shame leaves a sawhorse (because an actual horse isn’t in the budget) with a note for Batman. Batman, for reasons known only to the voices in his head, reads the note in a Western accent, revealing that Shame intends to hit the Gotham City Stage at 8:45 that evening. He’s going to steal a rock and a roll. Batman and Robin head off to the Batcave to try to figure out the clues in the letter.

At the Gotham Central Park stables, Calamity Jan introduces the other two members of the gang—a Mexican named Fernando Ricardo Enrique Domingues (Fred for short), who speaks with a posh British accent, and a Native named Chief Standing Pat.

In the Batcave, they deduce that “a rock” is slang for diamonds, and “a roll” is slang for a bank roll. Then the bat-phone beeps, and it’s Barbara in Gordon’s office, saying that she (as Batgirl) has figured out what the Gotham City Stage is. They agree to meet, then Gordon enters the office, they exchange pleasantries, and Barbara leaves. Batman calls back to determine which corner, but Gordon says Batgirl isn’t in the office and never has been. At no point does he even consider the fact that his daughter was alone in the office with the bat-phone just a few minutes ago. For their part, Batman and Robin are baffled as to how Batgirl does it (Gordon never mentions to them that Barbara was in the office).

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Shame and his gang break into the Gotham City Opera House, where the current opera playing is a Western, which would attract Shame. And the leading lady always wears a 283-carat diamond, while the leading man always carries a ton of cash on him for luck. Batman, Robin, and Batgirl catch the gang in the act of robbing the opera singers, and fisticuffs ensue.

But while our heroes take down the men-folk, Calamity Jan and Frontier Fanny spray them with fear gas, which makes them scared of everything. Shame leaves, taking Batgirl as a hostage. (The fearful Batman and Robin give her up in an instant.) The Dynamic Duo head back to the Batcave, where Alfred feeds them chicken soup laced with bat-antidote (though the fearful, paranoid heroes almost don’t eat it for fear that it’s poison; one wonders how they were able to operate the Batmobile in such a state). With pressure from Gordon (who is in turn getting pressure from the mayor and governor) and the urgency of Batgirl’s kidnapping, our heroes dope out that Shame is in the Gotham Central Park stables, and they head there, where Shame has a still-fearful Batgirl tied up. He sends Fred and Standing Pat to purchase what they need to rob the train, and then they head out. But as they leave, Standing Pat (who is very tall) bumps his head on the door, and Shame’s lucky horseshoe falls on Frontier Fanny’s head, knocking her out.

Batman and Robin arrive to find Frontier Fanny, who refuses to give up any info on her fellow criminals. Meanwhile, Shame and the rest of his gang steal weaponry from a gun shop, then they send Standing Pat to deliver a message: a trade of Frontier Fanny for Batgirl. Exchange is to be made at eleven o’clock at the Central America pavilion of the Gotham State Fair, which is shut down.

The exchange happens, but Shame comes well armed and intends to shoot the heroes down once Frontier Fanny is safe. Luckily, Batman has a chemical that makes metal twenty times heavier, which evens the odds. (How the stuff doesn’t affect any of the three heroes’ utility belts is also left as an exercise for the viewer.) Fisticuffs ensue, but our heroes are done in by Shame managing to pick up a gun long enough to shoot a piñata off the ceiling, which knocks our heroes for a loop, allowing the bad guys to escape.

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Batgirl overheard Shame mention the great train robbery he’s planning (he’s mentioned it so often, Fred eye-rollingly mouths the words alongside Shame when he speaks of it), and they figure out that he’s after the bank train that takes tattered old money to the treasury to be destroyed. Shame breaks in with the only thing that can penetrate the armor of the train—a 283-carat diamond drill—and uses the fear gas on the guards.

Batman resorts to taunting Shame with a skywritten note calling Shame a coward who is afraid to face Batman mano-a-mano. Batman says his goodbyes to Robin, Batgirl, Gordon, and O’Hara in case he doesn’t make it out of the showdown alive, and then he heads to a condemned urban renewal district to confront Shame.

Shame, of course, brought his whole gang with instructions to shoot Batman. However, Robin and Batgirl suspected such a double cross, so they show up as well and hogtie the gang. Left to confront Batman alone, Shame tries taunting and cowering in fear, neither of which works particularly well, so fisticuffs ensue, and Batman is triumphant.

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But while Shame, Calamity Jan, Frontier Fanny, Fred, and Standing Pat are all ensconced in prison, King Tut is in the process of breaking out of prison…

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! The Emergency Bat-communicator is linked to Bruce’s cufflinks to signal that Robin and Alfred should set up the bat-answer phone, which has a prerecorded Batman voice saying, “Yes, Commissioner,” “What’s the problem, Commissioner?” and “We’ll be right there, Commissioner.” The stuff that the bat-antidote pills are made of apparently also comes in powder form, which Alfred puts in chicken soup for the Dynamic Duo. Batman has a chemical that makes metal twenty times heavier, bravery pills that can combat the fear gas, and a skywriting drone.

Holy #@!%$, Batman! After reading Shame’s note, Robin growls, “Holy gall.” Seriously, that was the best he could come up with. He scarcely does much better when they figure that Shame is going after diamonds, and he says, “Holy carats.” When they figure out that Shame’s hiding out in the park stables, Robin declares, “Holy hoofbeats!”

Gotham City’s finest. Gordon is utterly clueless as to the fact that his daughter is Batgirl, even though Batman tells him that Batgirl just called him on the bat-phone when Barbara was alone in his office, and even though Barbara goes missing at the exact same time that Batgirl is kidnapped. Having said that, O’Hara is critical in this one, as his having some tattered dollar bills in his billfold clue our heroes into Shame’s target.

 

Special Guest Villains. Cliff Robertson returns as Shame, following “Come Back, Shame” / “It’s How You Play the Game,” this time accompanied by Robertson’s real-life wife Dina Merrill as Calamity Jan. When he was approached to reprise the role, Robertson requested a role for his bride, and Stanley Ralph Ross accommodated him.

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

“You’re a sham, Shame. Don’t ever cry on my tights or pull on my leg again.”

–Batman doing his best John Wayne.

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 64 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, serial podcaster The Hunnic Outcast.

The episode titles are both riffs on film titles, Part 1 being the 1963 John Sturges film starring Steve McQueen, Part 2 the 1903 silent short by Edwin S. Porter (and also the name given to a 1963 heist in the UK).

Frontier Fanny was played by Hermione Baddeley, who was also in Mary Poppins, and would later go on to fame as Mrs. Naugatuck on Maude.

The two opera singers (played by Dorothy Kirsten and Brian Sullivan) are named Leonora Sotto Voce and Fortissimo Fra Diavolo. Sotto voce and fortissimo are Italian terms used in music that indicate, respectively, vocalizing quietly and playing loudly, while fra diavolo is the name of a hot sauce.

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Leave it to Beaver‘s Jerry Mathers make an uncredited cameo as the stage door manager, who is nicknamed “Pop” even though he’s only seventeen, while standup comic Arnold Stang makes an uncredited cameo as the gun-shop owner.

When Batman’s skywriting note appears, Shame’s gang cry out, “Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” This was the famous opening to the Superman radio show, and was also used on The Adventures of Superman TV show.

This is the last story in the show that was told in more than one part.

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “You sure he’s Mexican?” Parts of this final two-parter are magnificent. I love Batman reading Shame’s note in a Western accent. I love how craven Batman and Robin are under the influence of the fear gas. I love how Batman calmly replies to each of Shame’s insults with a reasonable calm response. (“Your mother wore Army shoes!” “Yes, she did. As I recall, she found them quite comfortable.”) I love that Gotham City has a used tank lot. I love that it takes the brain power of all three heroes to dope out the opera-house robbery. I love the easy banter between the husband-and-wife team of Cliff Robertson and Dina Merrill as Shame and Calamity Jan. I love that Batgirl and Robin save the day by actually expecting the bad guys to go back on their word, thus saving Batman’s trusting ass from getting shot.

And oh my goodness do I love Fred! Barry Dennen is superb here, looking every bit the unbathed, droopy-mustachioed Mexican that was a tired staple of Westerns, but speaking with a posh British accent and with a delightfully withering dry wit. Honestly, this whole storyline is worth it just for Fred and his sardonic commentary. He’s fantastic.

But there are serious problems, too, most of them relating to Standing Pat and Frontier Fanny, who embody awful stereotypes. Even as Fred is nicely subverting clichés, these two are living down to them in the worst way. Standing Pat started out promising, using a cigar to “speak” in smoke signals, handily translated by Calamity Jan, but they abandoned that in short order, and Standing Pat started talking like a not-too-bright eight-year-old, the common Hollywood stereotype of the type, but no less offensive for that—and without the satirical elements that made the show’s last Native stereotype, Screaming Chicken, at least tolerable.

On top of that, Frontier Fanny’s sole purpose is to be The Annoying Mother-in-Law, which not just offensive, it’s lazy. Not to mention a waste of Hermione Baddeley’s talents, as she’s utterly wasted in a thankless role here.

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In addition, Shame has been seriously dumbed down here. He was actually a clever foe in “Come Back, Shame” / “It’s How You Play the Game,” but here he can barely string a sentence together, and he’s constantly baffled by Fred’s erudition. It just feels wrong, never more so than when he cowers before Batman in their climactic confrontation.

The comedy is fast and furious in this one, and while the script doesn’t do Robertson any favors by turning Shame into an idiot, his comic timing is superb, as is his Western drawl, perfectly embodying the many Western bad-guy clichés that the character needs to embrace to work. In addition, Adam West nicely channels John Wayne and Gary Cooper at various points, being even more the stiff-jawed hero than usual.

It’s flawed, but still fun, and certainly a damn sight better than most of the third-season offerings.

Bat-rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at I-Con 32 this weekend in Brentwood, New York, alongside fellow authors David Gerrold, Peter David, Christopher Golden, and Cory Doctorow, as well as Daniel Knauf, Cecil Baldwin, Rikki Simmons, Pamela Gay, and tons more. You can find his schedule here.

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