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October 14, 2013
 

Movie Mondays: Batman: The Movie

Holy technicolor Batman!

Holy technicolor Batman!

Title: Batman: The Movie
Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Writers:
Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Based on characters created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane)
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Lee Meriwether, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp, Reginald Denny
Release Date: July 30, 1966
MPAA: PG

Welcome back to another smashing installment of MOVIE MONDAYS!  At the beginning of the year, we took a look at Batman’s first two big screen adventures, Batman (1943) and Batman & Robin (1949).  This week we kick off our look back at the rest of the Caped Crusader’s action-packed outings on the silver screen.  Starting things off with a BANG, or should I say “BAM,” “BIFF,” and “POW,” is Batman: The Movie.  Released while the Batman TV Series starring Adam West was at the height of its popularity, this film was full of the camp, zany tone, and self-parody that was the hallmark of the show and the comics of the era.

Yes, that's a fake shark. Yes, it's SUPPOSED to look fake!

Yes, that’s a fake shark. Yes, it’s SUPPOSED to look fake!

In this adventure, the Dynamic Duo Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) fight against a fearsome felonious foursome in the form of The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), The Joker (Cesar Romero), and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin).  These nefarious ne’er do wells kidnap the kind Commodore Schmidlap, who has invented a dehydration device, and plan to turn the Delegates of a Peace Council (a UN meeting of sorts) into dust and threaten the entire world.  Will our spandex-clad superheroes be able to save the day?  Of course they will!  And you’ll have lots of laughs along the way.

HOLY "insert scene-appropriate pun here" BATMAN!

HOLY “insert scene-appropriate pun here” BATMAN!

One important thing to remember when watching this film is the era in which it was made.  The 1960s were to camp what the 1980s were to over-indulgence.  The Batman comics reflected the time they were in, and also became much more wacky and kid-friendly due to harsh restrictions placed on comics.  So, here we have a campy, wacky, silly adventure comic brought to life on the big screen in what could only be described as quite possibly the most accurate live-action adaptation of Batman to ever grace the silver screen.

Caesar  Romeros enthusiasm is electrifying.  And yes, Frank Gorshin bites his thumb at you sir.

Cesar Romero’s enthusiasm is electrifying. And yes, Frank Gorshin bites his thumb at you sir.

All of the actors embrace the tone of the story wonderfully, and act out every scene with a perfect mix of earnestness and hilarious excess, all with their tongues planted firmly in cheek.  This film revels in a complete and utter absence of subtlety. The absolutely goofy villains are played with both sincerity and wild abandon by veteran actors.  Batman and Robin are played with seriousness and exuberance.

This adaptation presents a terrific rendition of the comics!  The costume design is straight out of the comics, complete with spandex unitards and shimmering capes for our heroes, and the villains, with the exception of Catwoman, sport their comic book attire.  Catwoman wears a skin-tight…well, catsuit, which is a major improvement over her purple dress from the comics.  Such an improvement in fact, that the comics and later adaptations started using this 60s live-action outfit.  This film is a real treat for fans who get to see all sorts of Bat-gadgets and Bat-vehicles such as the Batmobile, the Bat-boat, and the Bat-Copter, that’s right the Bat-Copter!  Before there was the Batwing, Bat-Jet, or Bat-Plane, there was the Bat-Gyro, brought to life as the Bat-Copter!

The music is terrific to say the very least.  It’s light and bouncy and fun, soft and even romantic, and dramatic and blaring when it calls for it, telling a story all its own.  Like any good musical score, it underscores the on-screen activity, always accentuating and never distracting the viewer from the action.

A garden hose, a water cooler, and SCIENCE!

A garden hose, a water cooler, and SCIENCE!

The visuals of this film are a treat for both lovers of camp and fans of the comics.  The bright and vibrant colors of the comics are represented beautifully in this movie, with lush sets full of little details.  Wayne Manor, the villains’ hideout, and the Batcave are all visual feasts full of little details for the audience to enjoy.  Be sure to pay close attention to all of the villains’ personal belongings, and keep a sharp eye out for all the Bat-Labels abundantly plastered over practically every little Bat-Gadget.  Every time Batman and Robin do battle with dastardly foes while donning cape and cowl, the screen is filled with giant splashes of words like “bam” and “pow” that mirror the sound-effects of the comics.

The only real complaints one can muster are in regard to the overall tone of the film.  While acting as self-parody as well as faithful adaptation, this film also acts as a parody of 1960s political and social situations.  The movie also acts as a direct parody of the 1940s Batman cliffhanger adventure serials that this film was more or less inspired by.  In the serials, Batman and Robin would constantly get caught up in near-death situations only to miraculously survive by the skin of their teeth, generally out of some fluke of luck.  This movie is chock-full of moments like that.  And while generally amusing, at times the parody can get a little out of control, even for the most avid lover of camp and absurdist humor.   

GOD! Lee Meriwether! So purrrfect as Catwoman!

GOD! Lee Meriwether! So purrrfect as Catwoman!

Everyone is having so much fun!

Everyone is having so much fun!

That minor complaint aside, this movie has a lot to offer.  Anyone can genuinely enjoy the enthusiastic performances from all of the players in this production.  If you enjoy camp or absurdist humor, or the 1950s and 1960s Batman comics, then you should thoroughly enjoy this film.  If you enjoy light-hearted, good-spirited fun and a grand adventure, you should enjoy this film.  If you long for a more innocent time in history, you will enjoy this film.

As a stand-alone film this campy classic gets a solid score of 8 out of 10.
As an adaptation of the comics it’s based on, this movie earns a score of 9 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger
Aaron@comicattack.net
aarongni@gmail.com

 

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