Holy Rewatch Batman!

Holy Rewatch, Batman! “The Minstrel’s Shakedown” / “Barbecued Batman?”

“The Minstrel’s Shakedown” / “Barbecued Batman?”
Written by Francis & Marian Cockrell
Directed by Murray Golden
Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6
Production code 9713
Original air dates: September 21 and 22, 1966

The Bat-signal: The Gotham City Stock Exchange is gripped by panic, as stock prices are going binky-bonkers—false stock prices are sent to the GCSE, and speculating on those false prices lead to chaos. Shortly afterward, the Minstrel, a man in a silly outfit and playing a fancy guitar, shows up on everyone’s TV screens and filks “A Wand’ring Minstrel” from The Mikado, assuring the folks on the Stock Exchange that they’ll be kept safe from the GCSE goofiness if they pay him $1000 a day, payable to his Swiss bank account.

Outraged at the blackmail attempt, one stock exchange member suggests calling the TV station, but Mr. Cortland, the president of the exchange, calls Gordon instead—and he calls Batman. Bruce and Dick were also watching the pirate broadcast (with Aunt Harriet declaring the mysterious figure to be very handsome), and they assure Gordon that they’re on their way.

Batman-Minstrel09

Gordon, O’Hara, Batman, and Robin meet at Gordon’s office with Cortland and then proceed to the GCSE to see if they can find the sabotage that allowed the false prices through. They see that the circuitry has been sabotaged, but they say that they can’t find anything for the benefit of the microphone planted by the Minstrel.

The Dynamic Duo return to the Batcave to put together a microphone of their own to plant on the broadcast circuitry. After arranging entry to the GCSE with Gordon (as well as an office to hide out in), and eating a quick meal prepared by a concerned Alfred, they head over. At first, their mic only picks up a cleaning lady whistling, then the Minstrel ambushes them with a sparkler, fancy lights, and a riff on “Goodnight Ladies.” However, he left before removing all his sabotage—he attached oscillators to each circuit, and he forgot to grab one. Batman confiscates it.

But the Minstrel realizes that he left one behind, and now he needs to set a trap for Batman, since he expects Batman to trace the signal of his next pirate broadcast. Sure enough, Batman sets up a bat-drone to do so. The Minstrel hops onto another broadcast, this time to deliberately threaten Batman and Robin. They track the signal to the corner of Willow and Fourth Streets, and head there in the Batmobile. They bat-climb to the top of the abandoned warehouse and into a store room full of musical instruments—and also Minstrel’s henchmen waiting in ambush. Fisticuffs ensue, and while the Dynamic Duo are initially successful, they burst into a room that two thugs ran into, only to be trapped, er, somehow off-camera. Minstrel then ties them to a spit and starts rotating and roasting them while making fun of them to the tune of “Rock-a-Bye Baby.”

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However, Batman had planted some bat-bombs in the hallway before they were trapped, and when they go off, Minstrel and his gang go off to check it out—at which point the Dynamic Duo are able to literally shake themselves loose from the spit. Fisticuffs ensue, but the Minstrel gets away—and so do the henchmen. The Dynamic Duo let the henchmen go, as there’s apparently no value in stopping riffraff when the real bad guy got away.

Octavia offers to surrender, but Batman sees no reason to imprison her, as she’s obviously there against her will. She quickly puts the kibosh on that notion, but Batman lets her go anyhow—complete with a tracking device in her handbag.

Batman-Minstrel10

However, Minstrel finds the bug, and informs the Dynamic Duo via the bug that he’s enacting Plan High C, which—based on the apprehensive comments made by his henchmen—could get out of control and endanger the world. Minstrel urges Batman, Robin, Gordon, O’Hara, and the heads of the exchange to meet at the GCSE meeting room in thirty minutes.

At the appointed time, the room starts to shake—apparently the Minstrel found a subsonic frequency that would cause a sympathetic vibration with the building’s superstructure. Minstrel then shows up on television reiterating his demand of a thousand bucks each from the heads of the exchange—this time the checks must be delivered by Gordon to the Minstrel at six p.m. Otherwise, the Minstrel will destroy the GCSE.

Batman’s notion is to cut the power to the building, so Minstrel can’t make good on his threat. Cortland provides him with engineers to set up a switch that will cut power to the building.

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Just before six, Minstrel shows up disguised in a suit and glasses along with Batman, Robin, Gordon, O’Hara, and the rest of the heads of the exchange. (Don’t they usually evacuate buildings that are threatened with destruction?) At six, Batman orders the power cut—but after a second, the power comes back on. The exchange members agree to give in to Minstrel’s demands—but Batman says that won’t be necessary, and he removes the glasses and shirt from the Minstrel, revealing his true identity. Minstrel summons his thugs and fisticuffs ensue. Batman and Robin are triumphant, and the Minstrel is taken away. He’s denied bail, though he sings a taunting song saying that he’ll return some day and kill the Dynamic Duo.

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Batman has some tiny bat-bombs that work nicely as smoke bombs—and distractions. They have particle bat accelerator units that can apparently neutralize Minstrel’s sparkler. Also, Batman has his very own bat-drone! Talk about predicting future tech…

But the best part is the triumphant return of the Giant Lighted Lucite Map of Gotham City! Hooray! Batman and Robin use it when tracking the drone’s signal.

Batman-Minstrel03

Holy #@!%$, Batman! “Holy transistor’s bill,” Robin mutters when seeing the messed-up circuitry at the GCSE. “Holy rainbow!” he cries when blinded by the Minstrel’s sparkler. “Holy flytrap!” he yells when Minstrel traps them (off-camera), and grumbles, “holy hot spot” when he and Batman are rotating on the spit. When they almost get flash-fried by the Minstrel’s booby-trapped door, Robin cries, “Holy fireworks!” When Minstrel threatens the entire world with Plan High C, Robin mutters, “holy cosmos.” “Holy kilowatts!” he yells at the notion of cutting power.

Gotham City’s finest. O’Hara expresses very legitimate concerns about Batman and Robin being masked vigilantes whose identities they don’t even know, but Gordon reprimands him pretty thoroughly for daring to speak ill of the pair of them who seem to do all the actual crime-fighting work in town. After all, it’s not like the GCPD has any whiff of competence—as if to prove it, O’Hara proves utterly useless in the climactic fight, being taken out with one punch by one of Minstrel’s thugs.

Special Guest Villain. The latest member of the famous-person-showing-up-to-play-a-villain-once derby is heartthrob Van Johnson as the Minstrel. Though he promises to one day return at the end, he never does.

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No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Octavia thinks Batman is dreamy. When she offers herself to him to surrender, she says, “I think I might like it better being on your side.” Batman replies, “It’s always a satisfactory feeling knowing that you’re on the side of right, Octavia.” She says, “I wasn’t talking about right,” and Batman says, “I know.” Wah-HEY!

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

“Is this it, Batman? Is this the end?”

“If it is, Robin, let’s not lose our dignity!”

–Robin worried about finally dying in a deathrap, and Batman attempting to close the barn door after the horses are looooooong gone.

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 21 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Jim Beard, editor of Gotham City 14 Miles.

This is the first time the titles of the two-parter didn’t rhyme.

Phyllis Diller makes an uncredited cameo as a cleaning woman in the GCSE.

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Despite being referred to as Octavia throughout both episodes, Leslie Perkins was for some reason credited as “Amanda” in the closing credits.

Minstrel’s Swiss bank account number is 007, likely a reference to James Bond‘s code number in the Ian Fleming novels and various films.

Robin mentions all the other villains they faced recently, and he lists most of the ones in the episodes that were produced for the second season prior to this one: Penguin, Catwoman, the Archer, and King Tut. In fact, this was the seventh two-parter produced, though the third aired.

This is the second of two scripts by the husband-and-wife team of Francis & Marian Cockrell, after “The Joker Trumps an Ace” / “Batman Sets the Pace,” which also had the villain breaking into song.

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “Goodnight Batman, goodnight Robin.” Here’s something I never expected to say about an episode of this show: this two-parter is a triumph of scripting over acting.

This goes counter to the entire credo of the 1966 Batman series. The whole point is that we watch the show for the goofiness, the earnestness, the pop-art sensibilities, the bright shiny colors, the incredibly specific signage, and most of all the superb performances of the villains. We do not tune in for the elegant, depth-filled scriptwriting.

And okay, we don’t get depth here, either, but still, this is one of the better writing endeavors. The Cockrells provide a much stronger effort than their disjointed mess of a previous script. Here we get a clever plan; borking the stock exchange and then blackmailing the heads of it is actually very clever, and I like that Minstrel threatens the GCSE building with science!

Plus we get a very rare case of a villain Batman hasn’t encountered before. In general, I like the fact that we’re seeing Batman in medias res, as it were, but it’s also nice to occasionally have there be a villain that the Caped Crusader isn’t already familiar with. It challenges our hero a bit more.

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The problem is the Minstrel himself. Van Johnson was best known for playing nice guys, the fella next door who was really swell and would always lend you his power tools. Sometimes casting against type can work wonderfully (e.g., Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad), but it fails utterly here, as Johnson is just too gosh-darned bland to be effective as a villain on a show that specializes in Cesar Romero’s giggling, Frank Gorshin’s gadding about while chortling, Burgess Meredith’s waddling, Julie Newmar’s purring and slinking, Roddy McDowall’s calmness with bursts of insanity, Victor Buono’s bloviating, and so on. Johnson playing him as bland as—well, as a stockbroker works against him.

The episode certainly has its moments. I love the revelation that Alfred is a bit of a day-trader, having suffered a few losses thanks to the Minstrel’s sabotage. O’Hara’s rant about whether or not they can truly trust Batman is spot-on, even if he does recant it a minute later (and a rare bit of backbone for the usually impotent chief). The seeds of the Dynamic Duo’s escape from the deathtrap are actually sown in the first part, as we see Batman plant the bombs in “The Minstrel’s Shakedown” that will be used to distract the bad guys so they can escape in “Barbecued Batman?” Also rotating on a spit is an awesome deathtrap! Plus both Aunt Harriet and Gordon going out of their way to point out how attractive and suave the Minstrel is…

But ultimately, it’s hard to care about the episode because the Minstrel just isn’t that interesting a villain as performed. As written, he’s fascinating, but Johnson’s bland affect and the weak-tea lyrics over public-domain songs just aren’t that compelling.

 

Bat-rating: 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at (Re)Generation Who 2 in Cockeysville, Maryland this weekend. Other guests at this delightful Doctor Who convention include former Doctors Peter Davison and Colin Baker, as well as actors Michael Troughton, Nicola Bryant, Sophie Aldred Henderson, Wendy Padbury, Deborah Watling, Anneke Wills, Terry Molloy, and Frazer Hines, Big Finish’s Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs, musicians Cat Smith and Dominic Glynn, podcaster Dr. Arnold Blumberg, LEGO designer Andrew Clark, performers Antipode and Hannah Harkness, artist Kelsey Wailes, and fellow writers Robert Shearman, Nev Fountain, John Peel, Darren Watts, and Walt Ciechanowski. Keith will have a table where he’ll be selling and signing books; his full schedule is here.

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