Batman: The Movie (1966)
Most films and television shows lately tend towards dark and serious themes. When you look at the new rebooted franchises for such notable members of this genre like ‘Batman’, ‘Superman’ and ‘The Hulk’ you will have to agree that this are much darker in tone than previous incarnations of the same characters. One reason may be the switch from comics as a children’s format to the more adult oriented graphic novels. Let’s face it in the old days a comic sold for a dime but now you can spend $25 on a graphic novel. Some forty odd years ago there was a television series that took a much lighter approach to a basically sullen comic book character, ‘Batman’. The TV series was popular enough to run for three seasons between 1966 and 1969. It also gave rise to one of the silliest comic hero flicks ever. This movie is now coming out on DVD and Blu-ray. The film was fundamentally just an extended episode of the television series. It had everything that made that show popular such as the over the top usually corny performances, inane inventions and silly premises. There is certainly a place in the world of entertainment for something as campy as this TV series, and by extension the film. In fact this is as close to the definition of camp as you will ever get. In the sixties when this show was popular there was a lot of bad news on the television each night. The civil rights movement was receiving violent opposition. A little war in South East Asia in a place called Viet Nam was growing. The cold war was at its height. We all needed a break from these deadly serious subjects and ‘Batman’ was just the right show at the right time. When the studio realized what a hit the TV show was it was only a matter of a very short time until they approved the film. This is far more than a silly movie made from a campy TV show. It is a piece of pop culture history.
What may surprise a lot of people about this film are the talented people behind the scenes. The script was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. You might make the assumption that it didn’t take much to create this ridiculous story. Actually Semple has a long history after this movie with some pretty impressive scripts to his name. He did write a lot for the television series but later on he wrote screenplays for such films as ‘Papillon’, ‘Three Days of the Condor’ and ‘The Drowning Pool’. He was also responsible for one of the Bond flicks; ‘Never Say Never Again’ and got to use his expertise in campy fun flicks with his script for the 1980 cult classic ‘Flash Gordon’. What this list demonstrates is Semple has the innate talent to handle a flick like this properly. The best silly humor comes from a serious consideration of what is funny. When you look at shows like ‘Monty Python’ it is completely crazy and ridiculous but upon closer consideration it is very intelligently constructed. Here Semple works within the strange universe of the TV Batman and just takes the camp value up a few notches. I remember standing on line to see this flick with my friends. While much of the story line has been forgotten I still can remember the sight gags and slapstick fights. Semple knew that this movie was not about the story. It was needed only as a scaffold for the fun. The worse thing is when the writer of this kind of film takes things too seriously. This almost always produces a pretentious flick that can never reach its own hype. Here what you expect is what you get. There is nothing but entertainment here.
The job of directing this movie went to Leslie H. Martinson. Anyone who has watched television in the sixties, seventies or eighties has certainly seen his work. He was on of the busiest directors in popular television. His list of credits is staggering. He has worked on almost every show you are likely to remember from dramas like ‘Ironside’ and ‘Mannix’’ through pop culture classics like ‘Six Million Dollar Man’, ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘Dallas’. There is no genre he has met with success. This gave him a unique perspective for a movie like this one. He can allow it to be silly fun while maintaining a certain degree of cinematic integrity. Here that refers to living within the confines of the established universe set by the TV show. When somebody gets punched you have to see ‘Bam’, ‘Pow’ or ‘Biff’ on the screen. As Batman and Robin watch up a wall it must be painfully obvious that Martinson just turned the camera on its side. These things could have been done better and more realistically in a movie considering the larger budget by Martinson remained true to the expectations of the fans.
This is just an amplified variation of a Batman series episode. Instead of the typical one weekly villain this story was based on the collaboration of four of Batman (Adam West) and Robin’s (Burt Ward) most persistent evil doers; The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether). The join forces in what they call the ‘fearsome foursome’. The Penguin has his own stolen submarine requiring Batman and Robin to come out with the Batboat to disable it with bat-charges. Catwoman, in her civilian guise tries to seduce Bruce Wayne, unaware that he is in reality here nemesis Batman. The foursome’s goal is to dehydrate the United World Security Council. In the melee the powders are mixed together so Batman must use his scientific genius to create a filter to separate them. In the end there is still a partial mixture so they now have some blended traits. There is a little speech about having to over come racism and other problems as humans.
Fox Home Entertainment has released this film to DVD before. Back in 2001 they had a plain vanilla version that is currently discontinued. Now a new release is here and it is available in two ways; regular DVD or Blu-ray. There is more than the usual price differences between the two formats with the DVD suggested retail price of $9.98 and the Blu-ray at thirty dollars higher. I can’t speak for the DVD version since the screener provided was of the Blu-ray variety. That had enough in re-mastering and special features to make this a sixties gold mine of nostalgia. This is something special to remember to golden age of campy TV.