The Batman Project: ‘Batman’ Swings In Technicolor, 1966
1 Comment »Jun 13, 2012
I have to admit that after the grey-toned, slowly-paced, half-hearted, lackluster stabs at Batman made by the Batman serials of the 1940s, 1966′s Batman, based on the popular (and now camp classic) Batman TV series which ran from 1966-1968, was a nicely placed jolt to my slowly dying critical faculties. In fact, I was so paralyzed by the vivid technicolor that it took Adam West’s perpetually confused (read: drunk?) Batman descending into the ocean by way of the “Bat Ladder” (because the yacht he was trying to board proved to be a hologram, like they do.) and being attacked by an exploding shark to awaken my ire.
I mean, it’s not exactly news that Swingin’ Sixties Batman was a far cry from the hero’s dark, brooding roots. Dick and Bruce are hep cats that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sterling Cooper Draper Price copywriter’s office, from their turtlenecks paired with blazers to the their red-detailed Batmobile, Batcopter, and…what did they call it, a Batboat? They are one catch phrase away from Austin Powers territory, and it is, in its way delicious – if you can get past the simplistic take on the narrative and the puns – oh dear lord how much they love their puns.
But free love, and a nation that loves and approves of Batman ain’t all that’s cooking – this is an era of liberation and civil rights, so it goes to follow that the mastermind behind the missing yacht, sea captain, and his ‘mysterious device’ (an apparently necessary tenet in all Batman joints) is one CATWOMAN. While no Eartha Kitt, Lee Meriwether’s CW is 60s chic, and, if it weren’t for her Maryanne hair do while in costume, she’d be positively feral with her swipes, hissing, and strange licking gyrations. While the flick doesn’t bother to give you any sort of back story on the broad, they do give her an alter ego – Kitka, a reporter for the Moscow Bugle. Fuck yeah, you guys, the war propaganda is back, Cold War style, and Kitka is a commie reporter – with those lushes lashes and fabulous nude lip color it’s not hard to see why all the Brucse and Batman are smitten. That’s right, I think the 60s were the first time an actor made the choice to explore the nebulous second-Bruce, idea, the Bruce who is in a sense, a fusion of the Bat and foppish playboy – a man with a fully realized sense of self. I mean, it’s not all there, but it’s a start. His relationship with Kitka definitely speaks to that.
What is hard to see is why the hell Catwoman feels such ire towards Batman. Also, Meriwether is just fine as a manic kitten when gallivanting around the other villains, who we’ll shortly visit, but overall, she’s just too clean cut, too lacking in justifiable pathos – not that this keeps her being a total babe. I got vaguely nervous watching this, because I feel like I got a precursor to the experience I’ll have watching Hathaway don the suit. Say what you will about her TOTALLY INSANE ATTEMPTS TO GET THE PART, but Sean Young (and again, with the insanity) would have brought a dirty dangerous quality that I’d STILL cast in a minute over Hathaway. (Though not Kitt, or Pfeiffer.) In fact, Young’s brand of disconnect with reality is what a character like Catwoman needs.
But back to the scheme – which of course, Batman doesn’t know Catwoman, his beloved Miss Kitka, is behind the scheme. Unfortunately for him, basically every evil super-villain he’s ever dealt with is on the loose. (HOW CONVENIENT FOR THEIR T.V. FANS!) First up -
Mr. Monopoly!The Penguin! Meredith Burgess at his…most mediocre? (Though I do love his quietly squawked, “Maaawwww”s)
Then, everyone’s favorite creepy uncle, Caesar Romero as the Joker! Jack Nicholson lamented the loss of the great Heath Ledger saying that he’d warned the actor against the perils of playing a character as dark as the Joker. I agree with Nicholson’s sentiment and cannot fathom a world where Romero’s Joker was anything other than maybe a guy you did not want to sit next to at a wedding.
And then, no party in complete without my least favorite of all villains – The Riddler. I BLAME JIM CARREY. (Shouldn’t we all?) I feel like the Riddler’s always sort of gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop, you know? At least solo he’s got his own thing happening, but when you put him next to the Joke it’s just sort of awkward. Like Frank Gorshin’s build. Fun facts: Gorshin is from Pittsburgh, and would later go on to be in 12 Monkeys and to work as a voice actor on Batman, the animated series. Actually, his IMDB page is pretty fun, and I recommend reading it because you will decide that he got a bum wrap in this film, and that maybe you want to hang out and drink a beer with him. He’s like a less-try-hard Robin Williams.
Conveniently, even though they have all escaped, and are on the loose and thus able to commit this boring, boring crime, they have been gracious enough to quietly pose for live-action glamor shots in what appears to be commissioner Gordon’s private photography studio where absolutely no children have ever been dandled. The gang – Gordon, Batman, Robin, and an offensive Irish cop – are torn. They suspect the Penguin, because there was a shark involved, they suspect the joker because the shark exploded, they suspect the Riddler because they have obtained a riddle, and Catwoman, because they were made to feel like bait. This is basically the most brilliant detective work of all time. To figure it out, they call a CSI team and do some real legwork. Ha ha, I’m just kidding. Instead what they do is assume all of the villains are working together and that Catwoman is their ringleader. This saved a lot of time and I began to become concerned that the movie would be over in five minutes. To take a break from the tensions, I went and listened to Frank Zappa and Burt Ward’s genius work, “Boy Wonder, I Love You.”
You guys. Never start researching Frank Zappa and Burt Ward because you will maybe never stop and those onion rings will not eat themselves nor will your boss pretend to not notice you taking screen grabs from Youtube forever. Preach. Then get me a diet soda. Moving on, the super villains are all hanging out above this dive type bar that really doesn’t look dangerous so much as dusty. Also I love that on 60s television, a place was considered a dive bar so long as someone is getting punched and some young bobbysoxer-types are doing a heavily choreographed and totally non-sexual dance.
The super villains have a plan, and it is a hilarious one. They are planning to take control the entire world. Because, of course, right? To do it, they have stolen this dehydrating machine from the aforementioned boat which had been turned into a hologram. The will use it to, like, dehydrate people and thus rule the world. Conversely they will use this threat to get ALL OF THE DOLLARS! It’s pretty awesome. If by awesome you mean unspeakably lame and not that big of a deal? They are planning to dehydrate these guys who represent 9 major nations on the fake Batman equivalent of the United Nations.
So the gang of Evils have kidnapped Schmidlapp, the inventor of the dehydrator, and to help convince him that he hasn’t been kidnapped, they are tricking him into thinking he is still on a luxury boat, receiving the tea he requires from his beloved Pirates, and also, the Joker who understands that having tea is important for reasons.
It’s also ironic that the dude likes tea, since it…DEHYDRATES YOU. That was awful and I’m sorry. It was too much 1960s Batman, okay? Caesar Romero WOULD HAVE LOVED THAT. Speaking of Romero, he is a terrible butler but somehow the admiral doesn’t seem bothered or concerned. This is a stupid gag and I hate it forever, but at least it gave me some time to stare at how they simply slathered white face makeup over Romero’s mustache. An alarming, mesmerizing (sexy?) choice.
Batman figures out pretty quickly that the gang of evils have done more than just steal the boat – turns out, the Penguin bought it, using the clever alias of P.N. Guin. It was at this point that I slapped my knee and was all “HA. Penguin you clever old bitch.” Because I love the Penguin. I really do. The dude is a baller who refuses to acknowledge that he is disgusting. He’s all “FEED ME RAW LIVING FISHES” and yet wearing a monocle! Class and trash. It’s a fusion of my great loves. And also I identify with him.
In any case, Batman figures out about the purchase by calling The Head Of The Navy who speaks in nautical terms and is playing board games with his lady assistant – pictured above – to demonstrate to the audience that he is inept and Batman is the greatest. Note to all writers everywhere: if you have to make another character seem borderline mentally deficient to prove the intellect of your hero – you are doing it wrong.
I mention his assistant, because in addition to totally stealing her scene, she’s emblematic of the type of women who people the flick – if you aren’t Catwoman, you are a ditz. You are a ditz working for the Navy, or you are ditz wearing a bikini and jumping up and down on a helipad waving at Batman and Robin as they fly by. It’s a strange dichotomy. In a way, I appreciate the honestly presented contradiction: a woman can scheme to take over the world, so long as she’s evil, but all you other bitches best get to applying your fake eyelashes and gallivanting, ya heard? This would of course be a totally different conversation if Batgirl were in the movie. But she is not. And that is a DAMN SHAME.
Ugh, okay. So, Batman and Robin go back to the ocean to prove by looking at a buoy that there was, in fact, a hologram. They manage to prove this, and not get blown up in the process because a porpoise shows up and swims them to safety. We learn about this IN AN ASIDE. Dear writers of Batman- that was a moment of genius that would have made this a film for the ages and you robbed me of it, and for that I will never forgive you.
The super villains, feeling they are not getting the attention paid to their leader that she is her due, has a message blasted into the sky that essentially leads Batman to approach Robin with the “clues” and Robin to ponder it and go “…gobble…sparrow with a machine gun – gobble up a sparrow – cats eat birds – CATWOMAN.” This is not a dril, y’all! Dickie boy is on the case!
Speaking of drilling, the super-villains realize that if they want their plan to succeed, they’ll have to kill Batman – OBVI. In order to do this, they plan on kidnapping “noted millionaire playboy and no good do-gooder Bruce Wayne”, because they are sure that Batman will come to the rescue. OH THE BAT-MANITY! (I’m sorry. It’s getting to me. It is all. Just. Getting. TO ME.) Anyway, that leaves them with the following puzzle: How to get to Bruce? Why, with their noble leader’s sticky man trap, of course! Going back undercover as Miss Kitka, Russian Reporter, Catwoman will seduce Bruce and the Bat will follow.
She shows up at Wayne Manner in a killer pumpkin colored aline dress that I want, and with a feeble story that leaves Batman believing that Kitka, who he desperately wants to shag, has learned something she shouldn’t and is at risk of being murdered courtesy of the band of crazed villains. He wants to save her, but he also wants to take her out to dinner and then get freaky, so he consults with Dick and Alfred.
Robin still thinks girls are silly, and just kind of giggles throughout, but Alfred is all “Theeere you seee here, sitting there acrossss the waaay! She don’t got a lot to say, but there’s sooomething aboooout her – ” and then Batman is like, “Alfred. Dude. Stop. That’s awkward.” Then Batman decides to go on a date with Kitka, having Alfred and Dick working as backup. Hilariously, Batman asks Alfred to drive the Batmobile, probably because once Robin nearly got Batman’s legs and whole self eaten slash exploded by an EVIL SHARK the one and only time he was put in charge of a vehicle. Boy Wonder my ass.
So the gang heads out on their date, and Bruce takes Kitka to all of his favorite places: a carriage ride, and then a club with a sunken section, a la Don Draper’s new apartment, where some broad displays the side of her face and sings in French while Kitka and Bruce squish the sides of their faces together – the truest sign of romance.
Wooed by the face squishing they return to her abode, Bruce being none the wiser, because of how he is an idiot. Which depresses me deeply and also make sme pity him, because he seems to have fallen so earnestly in love that it is embarrassing and you’re all – dude you are being a girl! He doesn’t know that he is playing perfectly into Kitka’s hands! He even sort of just squirms when the Bat Signal is displayed, which only serves to confuse the equally idiotic Kitka into thinking that perhaps Bruce and Batman are not as close as she had hoped.
Meanwhile. Robin and Alfred are driving along and singing ‘Cruisin’” as made popular by Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow, all while Alfred breaks in his new top secret disguise:
Eager to let her gang of cronies know what’s what, Kitka takes out THE MOST ADORABLE TRANSMITTER I HAVE EVER SEEN! YOU GUYS! IT IS SHAPED LIKE A CAT! AND SHE TRANSMITS MORSE CODE BY SQUEEZING ITS TAIL! AND THE EYES LIGHT UP! AHHHH! I LOVE IT! Back at her place they get to Frenchin’ and Robin turns off the screen splutterin’ about tongues and the unholy desires of the flesh as his member grows turgid. Then Alfred is all, “WE SHOULD TOTALLY BE WATCHING THAT!” Because Alfred is Number One Perv Pimp In My Heart! So they turn their monitors back on just in time to witness Bruce getting the shit beat out of him.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Robin and Alfred are so late, that they miss Bruce’s entire abduction, and somehow don’t put together that Kitka is in on it. Meanwhile the gang of evil super villains think it is a great idea to fly away on these giant umbrellas that belong to the Penguin. (You totally get a lot of Burton’s awesome choices watching this, I’m just sayin’!) It’s weird, and could be good weird, but instead just reads as kind of…homoerotic? Adam West must have thrown a conniption about this. A conniption, I say!
Back at their den of inequity – a problem arises. Batman isn’t showing up to save this guy. I wonder why ever not, geniuses. Lee Meriwether takes some time off to prop up her killer legs and clean her genitals with her tongue. Bruce is freaking out because “OMG KITKAAAAA!” so they pull the ol’ switcheroo, blindfold the guy and take him to see Kitka who Bruce looks at and is all, “I am sorry but we are probs gonna die now?” and she is all “Behold my sexy, sexy, pink robe.” It’s a good time for everyone basically.
Everyone except Batman! Luckily Robin is all “Time to get me my man!” saves him. And they scamper away and all the villains are like “CURSES!” Then they dehydrate everyone they hate and when they are dehydrated they are turned into small piles of the insides of a pixie stick. It’s all terrible scary in a very, very boring way. It doesn’t have the darkness or the sense of urgency that modern day Batman exudes, and while it’s a fun release – it’s made me crave a walk on the dark side….Luke?
The government tosses up its hands at the whole dehydration scandal – how can we possibly fix this? They bellow. We are total morons! ONLY BATMAN AND ROBIN CAN SAVE US! So Batman and Robin are like, damn straight. They figure out how to isolate the super villains’ submarine – but before they do that, and get to brawling, they have to get to the harbor. Robin wisely suggests flagging down a cab. But because Batman is a life long Gothamite, he knows it can be hell getting a cab “at this time of day” so he insists that they run to the water. Also Batman is one cheap mother fucker.
The duo manages to explode the submarine, and all of the super villains drown to death in what is arguably the most macabre scene in 1960s cinema. Ha ha, no that didn’t happen. Instead the sub just floats up and all the villains stand around on top of it fighting each other with some of Batman’s trademark “POWS!” It’s pretty great. People keep falling off the submarine and into shallow waters and then climbing back up and then falling back off again. It’s essentially like watching the most out of shape but incredibly stubborn people you know brawl – pathetic, entertaining, and deeply shameful. Catwoman thinks the same thing and absents herself from most of it.
This drove me slightly nuts initially. They ‘let’ her be the criminal master mind but they won’t let kitty use her claws? Very often as the men folk fight, she stands hiding behind objects looking on and hissing and clawing the air. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was pretty much exactly what my cat Rumi would do if confronted with violence and as he is the best cat who was ever born, I cannot fault her behavior. Also, I know full well that if pressed I could mastermind an evil scheme, but I can in no way take a punch, ergo I would also be hiding behind objects hissing. THESE ARE THOUGHTS I HAD. Still, at the end of the day I would’ve liked to see the chick get one solid roundhouse kick – even if it was just to Robin’s ass. Instead, she tepidly pushed Batman off the boat, like a kid at the beach.
Catwoman also had other things on her mind beside the foiling of Batman – she had a pussy to save! I mean, to use as a weapon. Yeah. That. She brandished her pussy to keep peeps away from her, before finally hurling it at Batman who maybe sauntered around the fight holding the cat at arm’s length for a solid five minutes before deciding he should put it in a tiny raft. The cat was ten kind of pissed about this, and I loved that.
With the rest of his foes vanquished, Batman has one left to capture and it’s Catwoman and he does. Oh, I’m sorry – did that sound incredibly anticlimactic? Maybe because IT WAS. After avoiding the fracas entirely, Catwoman retreats into the submarine where she promptly falls down. And. Is. Apprehended. It’s the worst! So bad! She just like, falls over! For no reason! And her mask falls off and the Lee delivers this killer gaze that defies you to believe she’s capable of such idiocy.
I sort of immediately forgave the stupidity of her capture because of the enormity of Adam West’s reaction to having his heart broken. There’s actual weight to it! He is full on devastated – like, sad, you guys! You kind of want to hug him and be all, “Awww, it’s cool – even if she had been a real Russian she would have had to go home eventually, guy, it’s cool.” In any other iteration you’d get peeved, peeved at him for not realizing who she is, peeved at her for playing it with no dimension and pure disdain for the Bat, and peeved at a Robin for full on not knowing to take a clue. But because Adam West’s Bruces and Batman are so, well, simple, it’s a little wrenching when he quietly says, “This happens in the life of a superhero sometimes.”
Then the moment is immediately ruined when he demands that Robin put the ‘Bat Cuffs” on her. Why can’t they just be regular cuffs? WHY?
Batman reports the boats of ne’er do wells to the coast guard and then returns to his lab to rehydrate the important heads of state. The nation, nay, the world – waits, biting their nails, like everyone is super freaked out, but it’s cool because Batman is all “I’ll be real with you – this is almost impossible, but if me and Rob-Rob can’t do it – NO ONE CAN”, and then he dons a lab coat and very quickly separates the co-mingled particles of the heads of state….using his super molecular dust separator.
Cool. Glad he had a chance to dust that one off.
The president, and his dogs, and still the rest of the world waits as the guys bring the dust particles to the fake UN and proving their skill, rehydrate them. Everyone is all “YAY! THE WORLD IS SAVED!” Only then it turns out that the dust separator is on the fritz, because all of the dudes are speaking the wrong language – LOL – so really, while they are still alive the world is just as royally fucked as it once was.
Realizing their error, Batman and Robin quietly and awkwardly leave by way of the window – those retarded scamps!
As much fun – and on a scale of colonic to prison rape, this ranks about an ice-cold enema – as wild, free-love, Robin-havin’, Batman of the 1960s is, the ladies in the flicks are still primarily objects with little cachet or power outside of the sexual realm. It is important to note that even in this cheese-fest, there are aspects of the hero’s darkness that cannot remain hidden. His – albeit brief – devastation at Catwoman’s betrayal speaks to the themes of isolation, obsession, and duality of self that will begin to take center stage as Batman moves into the 80s and 90s.