“Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club”
Written by Stanford Sherman
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
Season 3, Episode 19
Production code 1719
Original air date: January 18, 1968
The Bat-signal: Gordon is being rewarded for his twenty-five years of service to Gotham at a luncheon at the Gotham Astoria. Gordon sits at the head table along with Barbara, O’Hara, Bruce, and Dick—and there are seats for Mayor Linseed and his wife, who arrive late. When they do show up, they’re arguing.
The argument ends, and Linseed presents Gordon with a 24-carat gold watch—and then discharges him, replacing him as commissioner with Nora Clavicle, a staunch advocate of women’s rights. Clavicle then enters with a woman beating a drum that says “WOMAN POWER,” and she then discharges O’Hara and appoints Mrs. Linseed to be the new chief of police.
Linseed later explains to Bruce that his wife refused to cook or clean or wash his shirts until he appointed Clavicle to be commissioner. He laments that he’s worn the same shirt for weeks and hasn’t had a decent meal in months. (Clavicle’s platform is that women can run Gotham better than men, and if the mayor doesn’t know how to operate a washing machine or get his staff to provide him with clean clothes and food, you can kinda see her point…)
Clavicle cuts off the bat-phone in the commissioner’s office, after informing Batman that his services will no longer be required. After she congratulates Chief Linseed on her reorganizing of the police department, she cackles diabolically, as this is all a plot to start a crime wave. She needs to get Batman, Robin, and Batgirl out of the way, so she has her henchwomen lure them to a bank robbery—said robbery goes off without a hitch because the policewomen are too busy fixing their makeup or discussing recipes to actually stop the crime. The dispatcher is sending all the cars to sales rather than crimes, though the bank robbery gets an offhand mention.
Batman, Robin, and Batgirl are listening to the police frequency, and so they check the bank robbery. They use the portable bat-computer in the Batmobile, which leads them, er, somehow to the Dropstitch & Co. warehouse, manufacturers of knitting needles. But Clavicle is waiting for them, and ambushes the trio, putting a knitting needle to Batgirl’s throat.
The henchwomen tie the three of them into a human Siamese knot. Any movement will tighten the knot and strangle them and/or break a bone or six. Clavicle reveals her master plan: She has taken out an insurance policy on Gotham City itself—so once she destroys it, she’ll be rich.
She’s going to destroy the city with little windup mice that will explode half an hour after sunset. She and her henchwomen wind them up and set them loose.
Batgirl gets a leg cramp, and the muscle contraction of that cramp combined with Batman wiggling his ears and Robin wiggling a finger enables them to untangle themselves. Sure.
They find one of the mice (two policewomen shrieking and standing on a lamppost in fear at the sight of it, because all women are afraid of mice, of course), and the explosive inside it. Batman has Robin call Chief Linseed to have her mobilize the police force, but they’re all standing on desks and chairs and fainting at the sight of mice.
However, Batman gives tin whistles to Robin and Batgirl and has them all play the same tune, which leads the mice to them. Batgirl takes the east side, Robin takes the west side, and Batman does midtown. They converge at the docks, trailed by windup mice, leading them into the river. Well, except for one that won’t go in—Batman plays the tune at the mouse until it falls in, it not occurring to him to pick the stupid thing up and throw it in.
Alfred, O’Hara, and Gordon were alerted by Batman to Clavicle’s likely fleeing of the city, where she exceeded the speed limit, so they made a citizen’s arrest. Somehow this is enough to put Clavicle and her henchwomen in prison and the men all get their jobs back, even though there’s no proof that Clavicle did anything wrong (aside from exceeding the speed limit, which is a fine-able offense, not an imprisoning one).
Still and all, somehow, Gordon and O’Hara are back to work—and then the Penguin calls Gordon with a threat…
Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! The Batmobile has a mobile bat-computer, which makes you wonder why they’ve driven the fourteen miles back to the Batcave to use the one there so many times in the past. Batgirl laments that she has nothing so sophisticated in her Batgirl-cycle. Batman also keeps three tin whistles in the Batmobile, apparently. (Maybe they were in his utility belt. Whatever.)
Holy #@!%$, Batman! After listening in on the police radio to the dispatcher discussing sales more than crime, Robin grumbles, “Holy bargain basements.” After Batgirl is captured by Clavicle and threatened with a knitting needle, Robin cleverly cries out, “Holy knit-one-purl-two!” After they’re tied into a human knot, Robin laments, “Holy hamstrings!” After finding out that Clavicle took out an insurance policy on the city, Robin says, “Holy underwritten metropolis.” After Batman suggests a way out of the Siamese knot, Robin utters, “Holy slipped disc!” After realizing how many windup mice there are, Robin yells, “Holy mechanical armies!”
Gotham City’s finest. After the mass firings by Chief Linseed, the Gotham City Unemployment Office has a special line for ex-policemen, on which we see O’Hara and Gordon standing.
Special Guest Villainess. The great Barbara Rush does the best she can as Nora Clavicle, bringing a certain elegance to the role. Rush is still alive, and was still acting as recently as a decade ago, with a recurring role on 7th Heaven while in her eighties.
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.
“As the new police commissioner, I intend to carry on my crusade for women’s rights, and to prove that women can run Gotham City better than men. Much better.”
—Clavicle’s statement of intent. Given the competence level shown by the people who run Gotham City, she could hardly do worse…
Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 62 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Chris Franklin, cohost of The Super Mates Podcast.
The two policewomen who discuss recipes outside the bank are played by twins Alyce and Rhae Andrece, who also played the Alice robots in the Star Trek episode “I, Mudd.” One of the great comic character actors, Larry Gelman—who’s pretty much the Platonic ideal of the shnook—plays the bank manager. Byron Keith makes his first of two third-season appearances as the mayor (he’ll be back one last time in “The Joker’s Flying Saucer”), while Jean Byron, late of The Patty Duke Show, plays his wife.
Apparently the name “Nora Clavicle” was supposed to be a play on Gloria Steinem, the women’s right activists who would later found Ms. magazine. I only know this because IMDB mentioned it in their “trivia” section for this episode, because I totally missed it. I guess Stanford Sherman thought “Steinem” was pronounced similar enough to “sternum” for the joke to work, but it really doesn’t…
Pow! Biff! Zowie! “This is torture at its most bizarre and terrible.” It’s easy to lament how little progress we’ve made as a civilization. Women still make less than men for the same work, women are still treated like crap and discriminated against on a regular basis, and every bit of forward progress seems to be marred by regression.
And yet, if you need to be reminded of how far we’ve come as a culture, just watch this episode.
Or, truthfully, any random episode of a TV show from this era. “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club” isn’t any kind of outlier or radical notion. While it’s exaggerated the way everything is exaggerated on this show, portraying women as goofballs who stand on desks at the sight of a mouse and who are more concerned with fixing their makeup or discussing cooking or finding a sale than doing anything important, was considered normal and mainstream at the time, as is the horror expressed by Gordon and O’Hara that they’re being replaced by women.
Making this misogynistic disaster all the more appalling is the presence of Batgirl, who seems to go along with the disdain for Clavicle’s takeover, even though she should be in the heart of it, since she’s already done what Clavicle claims to be doing.
On top of that, when Clavicle shows up at Gordon’s luncheon to take over, all I can do is nod my head and say, “RIGHT ON!” when she says that women can run Gotham better than the men. I mean, c’mon, the authority figures of Gotham are Gordon, O’Hara, Linseed, and Warden Crichton, under whose tutelage we have goofily dressed criminals running around wreaking havoc on a weekly basis, and who are paralyzed with fear any time one shows up, leaving some random dude in a bat-suit to do their job for them.
Leaving aside the horrible misogyny, how far has the show fallen when the death trap is tying the three heroes into a human knot, pretty much the textbook definition of a low-budget trap, as it requires only the three actors contorted into what have to be uncomfortable positions? Plus it’s totally unclear how our heroes were led to the Dropstitch & Co. warehouse where Clavicle was waiting for them in ambush, since the bat-computer consulting happened off-camera with no explanation.
Clavicle’s scheme is actually entertaining, both in the use of windup exploding mice, and in doing it for the insurance money. I have to admit to being tickled by the policewomen being armed with brightly colored rolling pins, and am only sorry we didn’t get to see them wielded and used. Adam West, Burt Ward, and Yvonne Craig are obviously having a great deal of fun cavorting about with tin whistles on the unconvincing dock set, and Barbara Rush and Jean Byron both do quite well as Clavicle and Chief Linseed.
But these are not enough to redeem this offensive piece of crap. On top of everything else, because Clavicle and her help are all female, there’s no fisticuffs, because it’s unladylike for women to engage in such (which is why Batgirl never once threw a punch on the show), so the climax is very anti-.
This episode is an appalling relic of a bygone era. Some episodes of this show have aged like a fine wine. This one has turned into rancid vinegar.
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be one of the readers at the Line Break reading series tomorrow, Saturday the 5th of March, at 3pm at QED in Astoria, Queens, alongside Emily Alta Hockaday, Barbara Krasnoff, Jonathan Sumpter, and Andrew Willett. Come see him!