The Batman Project: Batman and Robin, 1949
We’re in the second leg of The Batman Project – as far as you’re concerned. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve watched three more films, and am nearly caught up in addition to deciding that watching two Batman serials in rapid succession is maybe the best bad decision a person can ever make. I’m also currently writing in the nude while wearing only a Batman mask. That this project would drive me to delusion, madness, and nudity is surprising to officially no one. I’ve also started addressing like, my friends, some enemies, and also strangers on the subway as “Denizens of Gotham City.” That I will admit was entirely to be expected and is not a little delightful.
Just after I graduated college, I moved back home to live with my parents for a year and quietly freak out while buying a lot of shoes off of Ebay and watching reruns of the Nanny. It was weird. That Halloween, with no friends residing in the area, I made a Batman costume for myself, looped Danny Elfman’s famous Batman theme (Just as a by the way, once you’ve watched the first serial from 1944 you grow a new appreciation for Elfman’s finished product, seeing where its roots lay and the true sense of fun he had revamping it) and stood out on the balcony of my parents house pelting children with candy and bellowing “I AM BATMAN!” or “CITIZENS, DO NOT FEAR ME!” It was pretty awesome, especially when I made a baby girl cry with fear in spite of my loudly proclaimed protestations and hurled fun size Butterfingers. Welcome to Grey Gardens – Rebecca Jane Stokes edition.
While the 1944 Batman was fascinating for its gawky charms, deplorable racism, and for the important additions made to the Batman canon, the 1949 Batman serial is made remarkable in its attempts to do something now standard in Hollywood – repeat a success. Subscribing to the popular (and very often successful) notion that if something is not in anyway broken, why on earth fix it, Columbia went ahead and produced a second series of Batman movies. On the surface, they might appear to be “better” than their predecessors – but this subjective improvement is almost entirely superficial. Because the war was over, there was less blatant propaganda, and it goes to follow, much less racism – THANK THE SWEET BUDDHA WHO DWELLS IN THE SKY. But without the high-stakes of a world war, the serial founders with its substitute Big Bad – the Wizard, and his device of evil – a giant remote control. That’s right, a remote control. To remote control ANYTHING. Sure, part of my reaction doubtless comes from being inured to anything that isn’t a blockbustin’ feat of pyrotechnics and special effects (ha ha that sentence reads like I am 80 years old) but partially, the story just isn’t up to snuff – especially given the stakes of the last serial – ZOMBIE ARMY YOU GUYS.
A definite improvement in this series – the Batcave. It’s definitely more cave-meets-lab-believable, though they are still employing the ever popular Bat On A Stick to cast shadows technique, and I’ll be honest, my arms are getting tired from holding up this fishing rod, you guys. Another improvement comes in the form of Robert Lowery, The Fucking Don Draper of Batmans. The dude can wear a suit! And he is tall! And kind of mean-hot! And his hair IS SO FLOPPY. I die for floppy hair. Seriously. I blame repeat viewings of Reality Bites and thus overexposure to Ethan Hawke during my sexually formative years. But that is neither here nor there. Lowery simply cuts a better figure in the costume, in large part because the mask and head piece have evolved ever so slightly. It’s not a huge improvement, but it’s enough of one that you won’t giggle quite so persistently when he swans about in it. Robin was also recast, with the muuuch more believable John Duncan taking on the role of the boy wonder. It is a relief to see him, as he no longer looks roughly sixty years old.
There are still hints of the Superman myth lingering – at one point Batman totally gets changed in a convertible which made me be all “THAT IS THE LAMEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN, ALSO VALE LITERALLY JUST GOT OUT OF THE CAR – WHAT IF SHE TURNS AROUND?” but it’s worth it for the first glimpse of the Bat signal as used by Gordon – I swear to God I got DAMN CHILLS, SON! (…Even if at one point the signal is used…during the daylight hours? Which, what?) Plus, for all the plots gaping holes – and they exist – and sort of…dullness, the Wizard is nominally interesting, he has powers, and the twist ending – I won’t spoil it and ruin your covert watching-Batman-on-youtube time – is deeply satisfying is a super cheesy way. Plus I want the Wizard’s medallion:
Perhaps the aspect of this later serial I enjoyed the most, was the coming of photo-journalist, Vicki Vaaaaaale! AH VICKI VALE I LOVE YOU! Even if you spell your first name with two ‘i’s. Playing Bruce’s paramour, this incarnation of Vicki – at the time a tertiary character in the comics – is basically as crazed as Detective Sarah Linden, in AMC’s The Killing. Vicki hears a strange sound – AND MUST INVESTIGATE. It doesn’t matter if that sound was a fart, or a cat walking through a room, her curiosity and focus cannot be swayed. We all think of Lois Lane when we think, intrepid girl reporter, but something about Vicki’s desire to put herself in harm’s way and all towards the end of the story, of capturing it on film, makes her all the more fascinating, and dangerous – of course a Superhero whose identity must not be compromised has fallen for a woman who dedicates her life TO EXPOSING IMAGES TO THE PUBLIC. She is the perfect storm, and her popularity in the series actually conspired to make her a more central character in the comics – I mean, I still kind of feel like maybe they will work out their shit (and there is sooo much shit, like, attacks, and marriages, and betrayal) – but that is neither here nor there! People LOVED HER. This may have had something to do with the fact that Kane modeled her looks-wise on Marilyn Monroe. It may also have had something to do with the fact that she wasn’t an idiot, and while Batman always leaves their encounters convinced he’s swayed her into believing Bruce isn’t Batman, her suspicions are never far from the surface. Because she is not a moron. Beauty, Booty, and Brains: now as ever, a perilous combination – something Jane Adams deftly manages, though Monroe she ain’t. The only issue in the serials proves to be why the hell is she wasting her time with Lazy Bruce Wayne. Vale’s popularity would continue to the Bassinger era (God help us all that PERM) which I will cover in between sad shots of bourbon when we get to it.
Until next time! I AM BATMAN.