Holy Rewatch Batman!

Holy Rewatch, Batman! “The Penguin’s Nest” / “The Bird’s Last Jest”

“The Penguin’s Nest” / “The Bird’s Last Jest”
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Directed by Murray Golden
Season 2, Episodes 27 and 28
Production code 9701
Original air dates: December 7 and 8, 1966

The Bat-signal: The Penguin has opened a fancy-pants restaurant called the Penguin’s Nest at the top of a Gotham City skyscraper. Peculiarly, the restaurant has a cover charge of $100, and a sign that says “ONLY RICH PEOPLE AND FRIENDS ADMITTED.” Warden Crichton has arranged for Gordon, O’Hara, Bruce, Dick, and Harriet to have dinner there to show how his prison reforms are working. Penguin apparently learned the art of haute cuisine in the penitentiary kitchen.

More peculiarly, orders are taken by writing them down on slips of paper and handing them to the waitstaff rather than being given orally.

Penguin very obviously lifts Harriet’s diamond bracelet, and when O’Hara catches him doing so, he all but begs to be arrested. Bruce finds this suspicious and suggests that Gordon call Batman, and given the oddness of Penguin actually asking to be arrested, he agrees. Gordon goes to a phone booth, while Bruce, claiming a call he needs to make, goes to the adjoining one. Bruce tells Alfred to hook that call up to the Bat-phone, while Gordon tells the GCPD switchboard to tie his line into the Bat-phone on his end. (Given the quality of 1966 phone lines, I’m amazed they could even hear each other…)

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Luckily, Harriet has lost her appetite, giving Bruce and Dick an excuse to leave. They take her home and then zip down the bat-poles to drive back into town and meet up with Gordon at the restaurant. (Assuming Batman drove at 55 MPH, as is the law, the shortest the 28-mile trip could have taken is half an hour, and it was probably longer what with city driving, making sure Harriet is okay, and so on. Probably more like 45 minutes to an hour. And Gordon, O’Hara, and Penguin just sat there the whole time…) Penguin insists that he was overcome by a temporary criminal impulse and that his reform hadn’t taken as well as Crichton had hoped, and oh well, he’ll have to go to prison. This baffles Batman, as the restaurant is doing well (the average tab is $87 per person, plus drinks and the $100 cover charge (man, stuff cost less in absolute dollar numbers fifty years ago, didn’t they? (I’ve paid $87 for a meal in New York City, and I am most assuredly not a millionaire (I mean, sure, things are more expensive in NYC, but still, they were going for sticker shock there)))) and most of the millionaires in Gotham were eating there.

At Batman’s request, Penguin introduces his associates in the restaurant: Chef Cordy Blue (former chief hash slinger at the state pen), head waiter Matey Dee (former valet to Crichton), and Chickadee, the hat check and cigarette girl (and also a bootlegger and seller of untaxed cigars). However, they’re all legitimately on parole.

Since Penguin isn’t incompetent enough or stupid enough to commit so obvious a felony, he must want to go to prison for some nefarious purpose, so they deny him what he wants, chalking up his theft to post-prison nerves, and not arresting him.

Penguin is livid at this kind treatment, and throws a pie in Gordon’s face. O’Hara’s ready to drag him to jail by hand at that point, but Batman holds firm. (Which is easy for him to say, since he isn’t covered in pie.)

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In the kitchen, Penguin rants and raves at his staff, frustrated at his inability to get arrested even after potting the police commissioner in the puss with a pie (which just gives you a hint at the amount of P-related alliteration this script pulchitrudinously provides). But then the bat-detector in his umbrella goes off—sure enough, the Dynamic Duo are bat-climbing up the side of the skyscraper to the restaurant, with Batman castigating the Penguin’s Nest for only catering to the rich rather than the average citizen. (Then gee, Bats, why was your millionaire ass chowing down and complimenting Penguin on how great the place was earlier?)

Penguin stages a murder of Chef Blue, which gets Batman and Robin to break in through the window and, he hopes, arrest him. However, Batman kicks the chef, whose yelp of pain exposes the ruse. Despite this, Batman decides to go ahead and arrest him—putting him, not in the state pen, but in the Gotham City Jail, which is for petty crooks only (which we know because there’s a sign that says, “GOTHAM CITY JAIL—PETTY CROOKS ONLY”). Penguin is, again, outraged that he’s only in the petty pokey, but what Batman took him in on was a violation of the sanitary code.

Our heroes return to the Batcave to puzzle out Penguin’s plot. Apparently, Penguin has his own special cell—P-1—in the maximum-security ward (makes sense, given how often he’s in and out of there), and it’s adjacent to Q-7, which is currently occupied by Barney F. “Ballpoint” Baxter, a forger.

Batman figures it out: Penguin was going to take the food orders to Ballpoint and have him forge checks “signed” by all the millionaires who patronized the Penguin’s Nest. They call Crichton on their direct line to him (handily labelled “DIRECT LINE TO WARDEN CRICHTON, STATE PEN”), and he confirms that all the prisoners have access to blank check forms to help them better be able to handle their own finances after their terms are up. As penological reforms go, it’s not bad, but may not be the best thing to give to a forger. (I should mention that Batman woke Crichton from his afternoon nap. He went to the trouble of changing into jammies, a cap, and an eye mask before taking that nap. Yeah.) Batman and Robin decide to give Penguin what he wants in order to set him up.

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However, Penguin sets up his own breakout from the penny-ante prison. Matey Dee, Chef Blue, and Chickadee come with a meal for Penguin, which they tell the guard is in honor of his birthday, and it was authorized by O’Hara! The guard, not being a complete moron, calls O’Hara down, and also checks the food with a metal detector. The pie is actually electrified, and it zaps the guard when he runs the detector over it.

However, Batman and Robin show up just in time to foil the jailbreak. Fisticuffs ensue (after Chickadee tries to shoot the Dynamic Duo with the guard’s gun, though she misses them by a country mile, because, y’know, girls can’t really shoot straight…).

The fight ends, though, when O’Hara answers the summons only to be easily taken down by Chickadee (who is less likely to miss at point-blank range). Penguin, Chickadee, Matey Dee, and Chef Blue make their escape with the chief as a hostage.

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Penguin tells Batman and Robin to retrieve O’Hara at the swimming pool at the abandoned Navy recreation center. They’ve put O’Hara in a trunk at the top of a water slide into the pool, and they’ve electrified the water. Matey Dee and Chef Blue set up with a rifle to shoot the heroes, while Chickadee is ready to push O’Hara’s metal trunk into the charged pool. Penguin then hears the Batmobile coming (for some reason, his umbrella’s bat-detector doesn’t go off), and they take their places.

Chickadee tosses the trunk into the pool as soon as the Dynamic Duo show up. The bat-shield protects our heroes from the rapid-fire rifle fire (say that four times fast), and they manage to reverse the polarity of the electric feed into the water, so that when Penguin thinks he’s turning on the electricity, he instead turns the water into an anti-magnet (just roll with it), which tosses O’Hara’s trunk out of the water.

Once the rifle runs out of bullets, the bad guys surrender and Batman takes them in.

We cut to Penguin’s arraignment, where he and his gang are charged with kidnapping, littering, electrifying a swimming pool, attempted murder, mayhem, battery, and compound assault. Batman and Robin have asked to represent the people in place of the district attorney for reasons passing understanding.

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Penguin argues that his mayhem and other stuff was a natural reaction to the conspiracy to deprive him of his proper incarceration after stealing Harriet’s bracelet. Judge Moot considers this argument to be a strong one, and so the people drop the charges. However, Penguin was too eloquent for his own good—the judge not only drops the current charges, but also those of stealing the bracelet. He’s free to go, despite having admitted in a court of law that he committed theft, so he still can’t get himself sent to the state pen.

Batman decides to set Penguin up a different way. He paints false fingerprints on Alfred’s hands, specifically those of “Quill-Pen” Quertch, another forger. Batman then calls in an anonymous tip to the GCPD that Quertch would be dining at the Penguin’s Nest.

Sure enough, O’Hara shows up at the restaurant and gives Quertch three hours to leave town. Penguin has Chickadee check Quertch’s fingerprints, which Penguin cross-references with his extensive collection of criminal fingerprints.

However, once he sits down to talk to “Quertch,” he recognizes Alfred and gasses him. He clears the restaurant by saying there’s an epidemic of Moldavian food poisoning. Penguin figures that Alfred was sent by Bruce Wayne on behalf of his banking interests to stop the forging scheme. Penguin sets Chef Blue to making 50 pounds of piecrust…

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Since Alfred hasn’t checked in, Batman and Robin head to the Penguin’s Nest to find the place closed due to the Moldavian food poisoning, both dining room and kitchen empty, though in the latter they do find Alfred’s bowler covered in flour.

Meanwhile, Penguin and his gang show up at Wayne Manor with a gigunda Alfred pie. When Robin checks in with Aunt Harriet as Dick, Penguin yanks the phone away and tells “Dicky-boy” to tell Bruce to get home quick.

They return, zipping up the bat-poles, and Penguin delivers his ransom: they cook “Quertch” alive inside the pie unless Bruce gives him a million dollars cash. Bruce says he has that in the wall safe in his study—they head there, go down the bat-poles, then come back up after turning off the costume-changing function. After preserving their secret identities by screaming that they see Batman and Robin coming through the window (and using their given names multiple times, thus making them as convincing as an eight-year-old trying to tell her parents that she didn’t break the vase, no really) and that they’ll stay out of their way in the study, the two of them run out to the living room in costume.

Fisticuffs ensue, but when the fight goes badly for the bad guys, Chickadee reminds them that she’s got an umbrella pointed right at Harriet’s head. However, Alfred chooses that moment to finally recover from the gas and break out of the piecrust, distracting her long enough for Harriet to clomp her on the head with a spittoon.

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When the fight ends, the Dynamic Duo run out, go down and up the bat-poles, return as Bruce and Dick, and pretend like they missed the whole thing. Alfred plays along by saying that the Dynamic Duo left through the window, and left a message for Bruce and Dick: if they ever encounter Penguin again, to call the police rather than handle it themselves. This extemporaneous outpouring is no doubt a hint by Alfred to stop putting his damn life in danger with these undercover endeavors…

Penguin thinks, however, that he’s finally gotten what he wants: to be sent to the state pen. However, he learns to his chagrin that Ballpoint Baxter has been released on parole thanks to Bruce, who has secured him a position teaching penmanship to underprivileged children. Penguin is devastated as O’Hara drags him off to jail.

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Batman has an entire large machine labelled with, “STATE PEN OCCUPANCY REPORT,” which is seems to me would make more sense as, I dunno, a booklet? It also looks suspiciously like the bat-computer. We also get the bat-shield, which pretty much materializes in Batman’s hand when they’re fired upon, a bat-pellet (which is apparently a grenade now?), insulated bat-clippers, and a bat-inverser that reverses polarity.

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While they don’t actually consult it, at one point the Dynamic Duo walk past the Giant Lighted Lucite Map of Gotham City, which the camera lingers lovingly on. ALL HAIL THE GIANT LIGHTED LUCITE MAP OF GOTHAM CITY!

Also Penguin has a “bat-detector” in his umbrella handle. It’s unclear what, exactly, it detects. Probably something radioactive or explosive in their utility belts, since they’re always carrying crazy-ass dangerous stuff in their belts……………..

Holy #@!%$, Batman! When told how well Penguin’s restaurant is doing, Robin says, “Holy straitjacket,” implying that Penguin is crazy to get caught on a grand larceny charge when he’s making money feather over wing. When he sees Penguin “shoot” Chef Blue, Robin cries, “Holy firing squad!” and when Batman exposes it as a fake, he screams, “Holy blank cartridge!” When Chickadee dumps the trunk containing O’Hara into the pool, Robin cries, “Holy Davy Jones!” (He’s referring, I hasten to add, to the guy with the locker, not the Monkee…) When they’re shot at, Robin yells, “Holy Guadalcanal!” from behind the bat-shield. When O’Hara’s trunk is cast out of the pool, Robin screams, “Holy levitation!” When Judge Moot considers Penguin’s argument, Robin puts himself in contempt of court by yelling, “Holy flipflop!” When they find Alfred’s flour-covered bowler, Robin mutters, “Holy chocolate éclair.”

Gotham City’s finest. Gordon gets a pie in the face. It’s awesome.

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Special Guest Villain. Burgess Meredith makes his second appearance of the season as the Penguin—though these were, in fact, the first two produced, they weren’t aired until three months into the season. He’ll return, teaming up with the Joker, in “The Zodiac Crimes.”

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

“I bet Batman’s the only one in the world with a hand steady enough to paint false fingerprints.”

“Come come, Robin, don’t exaggerate. All it takes is a little practice and a bit of patience.”

“Fortunate the criminal classes don’t realize the possibilities.”

“It wouldn’t help them if they did, Alfred. The poor wretches are addicted to tobacco and alcohol. They lack the nerve control for this sort of work.”

–Robin admiring Batman’s ability to manufacture evidence, Batman demurring, Alfred pointing out that this can be used by criminals, and Batman overgeneralizing to an imbecilic and appalling degree.

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 32 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Billy Flynn of Geek Radio Daily.

This episode was based in part on the story “The Penguin’s Nest” that appeared in Batman #36 from 1946, by Alvin Schwartz, Paul Cooper, & Ray Burnley. The entire opening of “The Penguin’s Nest” is adapted from the comics story, up to and including Gordon getting hit in the face with a pie.

David Lewis is back as Crichton, having last been seen in “Ma Parker.” He’ll return in “Catwoman Goes to College.”

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The window cameo is Ted Cassidy in character as Lurch from The Addams Family, whose appearance is telegraphed by the harpsichord playing the show’s theme music in the background as Batman and Robin climb the wall.

At one point, Penguin identifies himself as “P.N. Gwynne,” the same pseudonym he used in the movie to purchase the surplus submarine.

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “I am brainy, I am nimble, I am versatile!” I keep going back and forth on this episode. On the one hand, I like the bits of continuity, from “P.N. Gwynne” to Penguin actually recognizing Alfred (considering that he’s encountered the butler three times before). On the other, this is the third time we’ve dipped into the “Penguin has reformed” well, and it’s starting to wear thin, especially since him as a restauranteur isn’t anywhere near as much fun as him as a politician.

On the one hand, I like the fact that Penguin stays on point throughout the two-parter, always coming back to his original plan of being sent to the state pen so he can enlist Ballpoint in his forgery scheme. On the other hand, Batman knows this is his endgame, so why does he go to all the trouble of actually prosecuting Penguin’s case to get him sent to the state pen? For that matter, how is it even possible that a guy in a mask who won’t reveal his true name can prosecute a case for the state? That’s probably illegal. So is faking fingerprints, if it comes to that.

Burgess Meredith remains magnificent, brilliantly managing both the physical and verbal gymnastics required to make the role work, and the screen lights up whenever he’s on it. Plus Gordon gets a pie in the face, Alfred gets put in a pie, O’Hara gets put in a trunk, we see Crichton in his jammies, the bit with Gordon and Bruce in adjacent phone booths is comedy gold, and the whole thing is magnificently goofy in a way that really only Lorenzo Semple Jr. and Stanley Ralph Ross are able to manage, and Semple mostly does it well here.

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Bat-rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido urges folks to support the crowdfunding campaign for Altered States of the Union, an alternate history anthology being put together by Crazy 8 Press and ComicMix, featuring a story by your humble rewatcher about the Conch Republic of the Florida Keys, as well as stories by David Gerrold, Michael Jan Friedman, Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, Aaron Rosenberg, Brendan DuBois, Malon Edwards, G.D. Falksen, Alisa Kwitney, Gordon Linzner, Sarah McGill, Mackenzie Reide, Ian Randal Strock, Ramon Terrell, and more besides! The book will launch at Shore Leave 38 in July.

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