Batman on Film Part 1 – Batman: The Movie (1966)
For those that may have been living under a rock, Team Forced Perspective (With some special guests) have been doing special Batman-themed episodes all in anticipation for the huge The Dark Knight Rises premiere that took place on July 20. Given that these episodes were long and had tons of guests, we wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to give their opinion… so I’m writing down all my thoughts on each of the major Batman movies that I didn’t get a chance to voice.
Let’s start with the campiest film of the bunch (at least until 1997): Batman The Movie.
Let’s start at the beginning. Batman: The Movie was born out of “Batman” the television series on ABC television. The show debuted in 1966 and ran for 3 seasons. At the time, television executives were looking for a new kid’s adventure show to play alongside “The Lone Ranger” and “Superman.” However, when tv executive Yale Udoff attended a party at the Playboy Club one fateful night, a series was born. The Playboy Club had been hosting screenings of the old Batman serials from the 1940s as a gag… and they were a hit. Udoff saw the campy potential in the show and pitched the idea of a campy, corny, action show in prime time and the rest is history.
The show, which was heavily reliant on a “villain-of-the-week” formula, was fast-tracked into production with the film being planned to hit theaters in between seasons. The show and the film was fast-paced, campy, goofy and often-times surreal. Adam West played the comic straight (Bat)man to the villain guest stars. The film featured the four most memorable villains of the series: The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler and Catwoman.
The Joker was famously portrayed by Caesar Romero who, while refusing to shave his mustache for the role and just painted over it, for better or worse is cinema’s first on-screen Joker. Much debate is centered around who the best Joker ever was, but this reviewer’s opinion is that every actor who has portrayed the Joker worked perfectly for his particular “universe.” The “Batman” tv series/movie was so over-the-top and campy, that its Joker also needed to be… and Romero provided that. Frank Gorshin portrayed the Riddler, and to this day I honestly don’t think anyone’s done it better (sorry, Jim Carrey.) Rocky fans may recognize a familiar face… Burgess Meredith (Mickey) as the villainous Penguin, also camping it up. Rounding out the rogues’ gallery is Lee Meriwether as Catwoman. Julie Newmar was the original (and sexiest) Catwoman in the television series, but injured her back prior to production on the film and was replaced by Meriwether.
The plot is pretty dopey, truth be told. Batman and Robin get a tip about a foreign dignitary being in peril aboard his yacht, but they quickly find out it’s a trap complete with exploding shark (seriously) that is dispatched by shark repellant spray (no, seriously.) Batman quickly deduces (in record time) that his four greatest foes are behind the attack, and they are now in possession of a dehydration ray, which they plan to use to reduce the entire United Nations to dust! The scoundrels.
The film is pretty much exactly like the show… it’s a 105 minute long episode. And if you like the show, you’ll love the movie. It’s so tongue-in-cheek that it’s practically making out with you. If you don’t like the show… uh, skip the movie. It’s pure camp. I’m a hardcore Batman fan that prefers his Caped Crusader to be dark and gritty, but I can appreciate the show and this film and its place in pop culture history.