Title: Batman and Robin
Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet
Writers: George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland, Royal K. Cole (Based on Characters created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane)
Distributed By: Columbia Pictures
Starring: Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan, Jane Adams, Lyle Talbot, Eric Wilton, Leonard Penn, William Fawcett
Release Date: May 26, 1949
Welcome back to another retro review! This installment of Movie Mondays picks up where we left off, with the further adventures of Batman and Robin as they return in their second theatrical adaptation. Just like the previous theatrical release, this one is another mixed bag, with a good bit to appreciate and a lot to criticize, as well. So, let’s get started!
In the Dynamic Duo’s second big screen adventure, they fight a sinister mad scientist known as The Wizard. This mysterious villain has a secret weapon that allows him total control over any and all motorized vehicles in Gotham City, and later in the adventure he develops a second weapon that renders him completely invisible. With such a large-scale threat from a villain that they can’t even see, the Caped Crusaders have a lot to handle!
The cast this time around offers a few ups and downs. Johnny Duncan’s turn as Robin suffers from the same problems as Chris O’Donnell insofar as he is just too old for the role. One thing this film has over its 1943 counterpart is the inclusion of both Vicki Vale and Commissioner Gordon. While the two don’t add much to the overall plot, their inclusion at least adds a little bit of accuracy to the source material. All the players manage to act out their roles with a much needed sincerity, which manages to keep the viewer invested despite the overall hokey nature of the presentation.
In regards to the costuming, Batman’s tights aren’t so tight, and his mask seems to hang loosely about his face causing the actor to frequently tilt his head upwards in order to see. Also, Batman’s cape, while an improvement over its previous incarnation, still looks flimsy and cheap. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that The Wizard’s cape, and costume in general, is rather awesome. The older Robin wears tights this time around as opposed to showing his bare legs, not that this is a bad thing. It also marks a first for the character, considering later incarnations would also lose the bare-legged look.
There are other interesting observations to be made as far as elements appearing in this adaptation that echo in later versions. Looking at Lyle Talbot as Commissioner Gordon, it’s difficult not to think that his appearance was the inspiration for the casting of Pat Hingle in the same role in the 1989 adaptation of Batman. The same comparison can be made for Eric Wilton’s Alfred and Michael Gough’s 1989 portrayal of the character.
This film serial doesn’t contain any of the racism found in its predecessor, and thankfully without any of the wartime prompting Batman and Robin are merely crime fighters and not secret agents. These facts, plus a much cooler villain, make this serial much more enjoyable than the first adaptation.
The film serial is unfortunately rather mediocre as a whole, with a lot of questionable cliffhangers and a downright disappointing ending, featuring a god-awful plot-twist that comes completely out of left field and has no set up at any point in the film before its reveal. On the other hand, one thing this film serial does rather nicely is showcase Batman as an actual detective, looking through mug shots, criminal files, and using science and forensics (well, at least 1940s fantasy versions of the two), which is rather fun to watch.
Overall, this film serial should be seen as a fun old-school treasure amongst Batman fans, and in spite of the few faults, it’s not all that bad. I highly recommend that you all check it out.