Sunday, 20 October 2013

Batman (1966) or POW! How to Kill an Acting Career

So, here we go with my first foray into the Marvel vs DC Movie Mashup and it's all the way back to 1966.  World Cups and Harold Wilson, Blonde on Blonde and an Everton FA Cup win. But none of that really matters.  Not when you're thinking about superheroes.

I'm a child of the '80s and I know two Batmans.  One is the Dark Knight: stoic, emotionally stunted and very, very serious.  The other is a camp cowboy in grey, unflattering cotton lycra mix with speech bubbles that come out of his hands.

Batman was born in 1939 and became a leading light of the Golden Age of comic books, he was a dark vengeful detective not a superhero; a man who had put his intelligence and money to use, the perfect foil to the alien Superman.  By the late 1950s superhero comics were waning,  the Comics Code of America, war and the nuclear age had taken their toll whilst the world was becoming freer as Baby Boomers grew up.  At the same time Batman comics were very sci-fi orientated, full of aliens and gadgets.  Just as the comics took a turn back into darkness ABC commissioned a Batman TV series.  Ironically, ABC's vision of Batman was Pop Art and drenched in camp comedy, practically a parody of Bob Kane's character.

The series ran for three seasons and sandwiched between seasons one and two was a hastily put together movie starring most of the TV cast.  Sadly, Julie Newmar missed out and Lee Meriwether was drafted in as Catwoman.  The villains are the real stars and there's a level of innocence and pure fun that makes Batman brilliant.  Four TV show regulars form United Underworld, I mean who
Just one villain? Nah, I'll take the lot.
makes a superhero movie with just one villain? 

Cesar Romero plays The Joker as a pure clown and it's this gay abandon that makes the character more dangerous than other incarnations.  He's so unpredictable which compliments the scheming of Burgess Meredith's Penguin.  Bouncing between the two is Frank Gorshin's manic Riddler, a performance aped by Jim Carrey in 1995, whilst Catwoman is essentially the groups pawn, used for bait and reconnaissance.

A simple plot is stretched over 105 minutes with a clever appreciation of the Cold War and several breaches of the fourth wall.  Ignore the huge lumps of ham in the form of Chief O'Hara and the irritant Aunt Harriett and enjoy the saturated colour of the dehydrated United World Organization's Security Council.

Ready for anything
We begin with a bit of high budget tomfoolery and an exploding shark. Yep, Peter Benchley is rapidly scribbling that one down.  The vanishing yacht and the imprisonment of Commodore Schmidlapp feel like they could be investigated by Steed and Mrs Peel, instead we are whisked away to downtown Gotham and Commissioner Gordon gets handy with some Polaroids and a slide projector.  The United Underworld are loosely headed up by The Penguin and romp around in a, frankly, ludicrous submarine.  A porpoise may foil a torpedoeing of the Dynamic Duo but no submerged mammal gets in the way of the kidnap of the Security Council.  The cheeky Schmidlapp had invented a funky Dyson which helps store people in their own, individual test tubes.  Chuck in a kidnap and an infiltration of the Batcave and The United Underworld are very busy indeed but there feels like there's something missing.  The TV series had been built on cliffhangers and set piece fights yet apart 'some days you just can't get rid of a bomb' the ridiculous peril of seeing Robin about to be drowned in a giant Slush Puppy or Batman being fed into the Human Key Duplicator is absent.  We're crying out for 'Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel' moment.  You'd have thought they could have found just one more abandoned candy warehouse in Gotham.  No matter, the brisk pace sees Batman come to an enjoyable end.  You won't see an ocean based ending again until Star Trek IV.  I'm not entirely sure if that's s good or bad thing.

After a spot of rehydration without Lucozade Sport Batman saves the day and quietly returns to the small screen.  He won't make it back to the cinema for over 20 years.

At least Batman endured, unlike Adam West and Burt Ward.  Once the series was cancelled both found work hard to come by having been so heavily identified with the thwocks and the pows.  Even a rumoured flirtation with Bond wasn't enough to keep West off the convention circuit before nostalgia saw Batman reappraised and a stint in Quahog.  The dodgy rumours of deviancy made it hard for Ward to shed his life in tights, maybe he should have taken that role in The Graduate.  Batman himself wouldn't be rid of the camp and colour until the mid 80s when Frank Miller and Alan Moore took the character back to black and a darker, dirtier Gotham.  Their work would be the template for Burton and Nolan.

Batman appeals to the kid in me, the colour, the nostalgia and the camp make it perfect easy viewing and it's unfair to compare it to the modern cinematic interpretation. 
One thing's for sure: Adam West was a better Batman than George Clooney and he didn't need nipples on his Batsuit