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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Batman (1966)

Here we are again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, that thing I do where I blog about a movie I own.  Today, I'm starting something I've wanted to do for a long time:  I'm plowing my way through every Batman movie.  I'm kicking things off with the Adam West Batman from 1966.  This was originally in my notes at April 26, 2016.

Here on this silly little sub-blog of mine, I've plowed my way through many franchises.  Did every Star Trek movie, every X-Men movie, and such forth.  But the first time I thought about going through a whole franchise was with Batman

I first got the thought a few years ago, in months leading up to The Dark Knight Rises.  I was just out for a walk, when I got a text from my best friend.  The text was along the lines of, "Dude, I just watched Batman Returns for the first time in a really long time, and all I can say is JOEL SCHUMACHER GOT SCREWED!!  BATMAN RETURNS IS HANDS-DOWN THE WORST BATMAN MOVIE EVER MADE!"  I asked him when the last time he saw Batman & Robin was, and he said, "Well, not since I saw it in the theatre in '97," and I said he should probably hold off judgement until he saw all the Batman movies. 

But that got me thinking...which Batman movie is the worst?  I should watch them all!  And now, that I recently got all the Batman movies on Blu-Ray for dirt cheap, I figured no more putting it off.  Now is the time!

I told my friend I was finally embarking on this adventure, and that his text all those years inspired it.  He elaborated that, after the seriousness of Tim Burton's first Batman movie, Batman Returns felt like a hard left turn back towards the camp of the 1960s.  And to that, all I can say is...watch Batman & Robin again.  If Batman Returns was a hard left turn, then Batman & Robin is hard left turn, followed by lighting the afterburners and heading towards it at full speed. 

But if the whole crux of this is "It feels like the camp of the 1960s Batman," then what better place to start than with the 1960s Batman

I've decided that, in doing this, I'm going to stick with the theatrically-released Batman movies.  Don't get me wrong, they've made some very fine direct-to-DVD Batman movies in the past few years, but I've got to draw a line somewhere, ya know?  Besides, I review most of the straight-to-DVD ones as soon as they come out, and you'll find my reviews elsewhere on the blog.  So, chronologically, we're starting with Batman '66

The beloved Batman TV series premiered in the spring of 1966, and exploded onto the pop culture landscape.  And since this was a time when colour TV was still a new thing, what better way to showcase this series in colour than by making a movie?  The feature film quickly went into production, and hit theatres in the summer of 1966 -- between the first and second seasons.  As Adam West says on the film's running commentary, the logic was that they could use the bigger budget of a film to build more expensive props like the Batcopter, the Batboat, and the Batcycle, and then use them in the show.  But then, using them proved to be so expensive, they wound up hardly using them on the show! 

The film opens with a distress call from a ship at sea.  Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson -- out for a Sunday drive -- quickly return to Stately Wayne Manor to suit up and answer the call.  I don't know why, but I just love the shot of Bruce and Dick out driving that opens the home.  I don't know how it was filmed in a pre-camera drone society, but it's almost like the camera is floating alongside the car.  And the music that accompanies it is pretty cool, too.  Just like the Bond movies, and detective movies of the era, if you're doing an action film in the 1960s, you need a big, brassy, jazz-based score.  Such good music in this movie. 

Anyway, Batman and Robin take the Batcopter out to the ship, only to find it's a holographic projection, and Batman soon has a fake shark gnawing at his leg.  Yes, here's the infamous "Bat-Shark Repellent" scene.  Actually, it's becoming one of those most misquoted movie lines...it's actually "Shark Repellent Bat-Spray." 

They return to Gotham Central to debrief with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara.  Going over the police files, they find that the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, and Catwoman are all at large.  They notice that this death trap had elements of all four villains.  Could it be...that they've teamed up?

Yup!  Since super-villain team-ups were too expensive for the show, here's where you could give the fans something super-special to get them into the theatre.  You can't deny that these villains are just fun.  Frank Gorshin's manic portrayal of the Riddler really made the character...he was always regarded as a second-tier villain in the comics until Gorshin's performance was so memorable.  Caeser Romero's Joker is more a fun-loving prankster than the homicidal clown we all know and love today.  Burgess Meredith as the Penguin... he manages to bring such a dry humour to the character.  Once they've dehydrated some henchman to smuggle into the Batcave, Penguin mutters, "Remember...each one of them has a mother," which always makes me chuckle.  And Lee Merriweather, as the sexy and seductive Catwoman. 

In fact, this is where we get the most epic Batman/Catwoman romance on the big screen until Batman Returns.  The film does get pretty episodic as our villains unleash one plot after another to destroy Batman and Robin to clear the way for their heist of the century.  One scheme, taking up most of the middle of the film, involves our villains kidnapping Bruce Wayne to use as a trap for Batman.  To seduce and capture Bruce Wayne, Catwoman takes on the persona of Miss Kitka, a Soviet reporter who's come to Gotham City to do a story on the famous Batman.  Wayne is instantly smitten, and finds himself falling for her.  But of course, he gets captured, but he's still Batman, and Bruce Wayne manages to kick some ass and escape and promises to come back for Kitka. 

Needless to say, in the climactic battle, when Catwoman loses her mask and Batman sees her true identity, he's heartbroken.  Probably the most character development we get out of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 1966 series. 

The final plot by our United Underworld (as our four call the gang) is to use an instant dehydrator (stolen from that missing boat at the start of the movie) to dehydrate the Security Council of the United World and hold the world hostage for $1 million per member of the council.  Yeah, it's the plot that was so widely ridiculed in the Austin Powers movies, but hey, that was the 60s, baby. 

I don't know why people are so down on the campy aspects of the 1960s Batman.  I know, the dark and gritty is what's most known about the character now, but you can't deny that 1960s Batman is fun!  They were no grey areas, the good guys where good and the bad guys were bad and men were men and women were women and you just have a good time with it.  Why can't we have good time Batman anymore?  Must he always be crying for his dead parents?  Dude, get some grief counseling already. 

It's funny...I only discovered the 1960s Batman film because of Tim Burton's film in 1989.  As the hype to 1989 film began to grow, I spotted it in my corner video store one day and got my parents to rent it for me.  I remember liking it quite a bit.  And then the Tim Burton film came out and that was also the summer my family finally got cable TV, and it was on basic cable quite a bit that summer. 

And before I wrap this up, I've got point out one scene that always gets me.  It's the only time that someone acknowledges that there's something a little...not realistic about this world.  As Batman and Robin are in their death trap, Catwoman begins howling like a cat in heat.  And one of the henchman just looks at her with a, "Dude...seriously?" look.   You can tell, in that moment, that henchman begins seriously questioning his life choices. 

But I'm glad to see that lots of comic book critics are beginning to embrace the 1960s Batman as a fully valid interpretation of the character, rather than that embarrassing phase the franchise went through.  Yeah, the jokes haven't aged well, yeah, the camp occasionally makes you roll your eyes, but dude, it's just fun. 

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