REVIEW: BATGIRL (1967)

CAST

Yvonne Craig (Olivia)
Adam West (Family Guy)
Burt Ward (Legends of The Super Heroes)
Alan Napier (Marnie)
Neil Hamilton (Tarzan The Ape Man)
Tim Herbert (Duel)

At the Gotham City library, Barbara Gordon helps Bruce Wayne find a book on butterflies so he can prove a point to a friend, a millionaire explorer. As Bruce and his youthful ward, Dick Grayson, are leaving they spot the villainous Killer Moth and three of his henchmen and, suspecting they are up to no good, determine to return as their superhero alter-egos, Batman and Robin. While the Caped Crusaders are donning their costumes, the criminal quartet knock out the millionaire, lock Barbara in an alcove and prepare to spirit their victim away. When the Dynamic Duo attempt to capture the crooks, they are encased in Killer Moth’s silk cocoon. Is this the end of our Gotham City heroes? And why does a beautiful librarian have a cowl and a cape hanging in a convenient closet?

When the second season of Batman came to a close, it seemed unlikely that a third season would be forthcoming. Batman’s ratings had started to fall and ABC were seriously considering cancelling the bi-weekly series. William Dozier was determined to persuade ABC that the Batman Series had a lot of life left in it and was definitely deserving of a third season.

Dozier arranged a meeting with staff members of DC Comics, with a view to discovering a way to rejuvenate the ailing series. It was decided that the introduction of Batgirl to the cast would give Batman the necessary freshness and energy that would justify a third season. Unfortunately, ABC were a lot less enthusiastic about the idea than Dozier had anticipated. In order to convince ABC that his idea was feasible, Dozier shot this eight minute promo film, which introduced Yvonne Craig to her most famous role… Batgirl! Dozier was hoping that this film would convince ABC that the chemistry between Batman, Robin and Batgirl was strong enough to warrant a third season. In a sense the film was a success. Therefore, ABC agreed to give it a go, Thus Batgirl officially joined the team.

 

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW – BATMAN (1966): THE PUZZLES ARE COMING/THE DUO IS SLUMMING

CAST
Adam West (Family Guy)
Burt Ward (Return to The Batcave)
Alan Napier (Mary Poppins)
Neil Hamilton (General Hospital)
Stafford Repp (My Favorite Martian)
Madge Blake (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.)
GUESTS
Maurice Evans (Planet of the Apes)
Barbara Stuart (Airplane!)
The Puzzles Are Coming :
Batman and Robin deduce that a backwards puzzle sent by the urbane Puzzler in a toy plane through Commissioner Gordon’s window is a reference to Artemus Knab, a multi billionaire staying at the Gotham Arms hotel. Solving the puzzle, The Caped Crusaders concludes The Puzzler is after Knab and rush to his penthouse apartment. Knab rebuffs The Dynamic Duo, claiming to be working on a legit deal with The Puzzler for a puzzle balloon business.
Returning to The Batcave with a sample puzzle balloon, the Dynamic Duo learn the Puzzler and his gang plan to strip Knab and his guests of all their jewels at the christening of The Retsoor, the multi billionaire’s supersonic plane. Sadly, Batman and Robin arrive too late as the Puzzler and his men have already immobilized the guests with Puzzle Gas and have stolen their jewels. After throwing the gas at The Dynamic Duo, they make a break for it. Recovering from the Puzzler’s gas, Batman and Robin find another puzzle balloon left in The Puzzler’s wake. They follow the balloon’s clue to The Puzzler’s hideout at The Balloon Factory where they are overpowered by Blimpy, Glider and Ramjet and gassed. They regain consciousness to find themselves strapped into the basket of a hot-air balloon that is rigged to send them skyward and then plummeting to their doom once it reaches 20,000 feet!
The Duo is Slumming:

Robin deactivates the hot-air balloon’s altimeter with a piece of chewing gum that was dropped in the basket by one of Puzzler’s men just scant seconds before it manages to reach 20,000 feet. Utilizing a bird call, The Boy Wonder then attracts an elusive and high flying giant red-eyed hermit nuthatch bird migrating south for the winter. The bird pecks a hole in the balloon, allowing it to descend safely to earth next to an emergency public telephone booth.
The Dynamic Duo returns to The Puzzler’s factory where Puzzler distracts them long enough for himself and his cronies to scram. Puzzler continues his quest to seize Knab’s supersonic plane, the Retsoor, sending his sexy moll Rocket to drug Knab’s tea while Puzzler himself photographs the secret plans for the hi-tech jet. The Caped Crusaders are alerted to The Puzzler’s new target by way of a rooster sent to Gordon’s office. Batman and Robin speed to the Retsoor’s hangar, have a tense Batbattle where the entire gang is captured and the theft of the Retsoor prevented. Bruce and Dick end by having fun with Puzzler’s puzzle baloons with Harriet and Alfred.
60’s Batman will always be a classic. The Riddler would of appeared in the episodes but because Frank Gorshin was holding out for money they replaced his character with the Puzzler, who evidentially is mostly a Superman villain. Maurice Evans plays the character perfectly. The two episodes are well plotted and well played by all actors, the Santa cameo is fun too.

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)

CAST

Adam West (Return To The Batcave)
Burt Ward (The New Adventures of Batman)
Lee Meriwether (The Munters Today)
Cesar Romer (The Little Princess)
Burgess Meredith (Rocky)
Frank Gorshin (Star Trek)
Alan Napier (Marnie)
Neil Hamilton (Tarzan The Ape Man)
Stafford Repp (Plunder Road)
Madge Blake (The Long, Long Trailer)
Reginald Denny (Of Human Bondage)

Batman is a faithful movie adaptation of the hugely successful live-action TV series, which for most of 1966 had been a genuine pop culture phenomenon comparable to the James Bond craze and Beatlemania, and almost unique for a TV show before or since. The Batman movie, filmed in the late Spring of ’66 and released that August, between the end of the first season and premiere of the second.
The story is relatively simple, far too simple to justify its 105-minute running time: Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny) is kidnapped – along with his fantastic new invention, a “Total Dehydrator” – by the United Underworld, an uneasy alliance of Gotham City’s most notorious villains: The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, replacing an unavailable Julie Newmar from the TV series).
As Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West) and his ward Dick Grayson/Robin (Bruce Ward) inch toward finding the villains’ lair and uncovering their dastardly plot, Bruce and his alter-ego fall for a Russian journalist from the Moscow Bugle (love that name!), Miss Kitka, actually Catwoman in disguise. Meanwhile, the villains come up with a plan to lure Batman into a trap, using a kidnapped millionaire as bait – Bruce Wayne! Oh bitter irony.
Like the TV show, the movie reaches two very different audiences at once: kids were attracted to the comic book elements while adults appreciated its deliberately campy humor. Many people were responsible for Batman’s success, but the biggest share must go to star Adam West, without whom the show probably wouldn’t have worked. Other actors could have played Robin, and some of the villains were played by different actors over the show’s three seasons. But West was the perfect match for this Batman: there is an earnestness in his consistently hilarious performance that only Neil Hamilton’s Commissioner Gordon comes close to matching. (Hamilton was an excellent “straight man” on this series and a fine actor late in life; by 1966, he had been making films for nearly half a century. See his appearance in the The Outer Limits episode “The Invisibles” as an example of his diversity.)
Handicapped by a cowl that severely restricted his facial expressions, West relied on a funny clipped speech, constantly adjusting its speed. Like Fred Astaire’s dancing, West makes something extremely complex seem easy and natural, but that precise type of delivery had to have required hours upon hours of thought and preparation: it’s a masterwork of comic timing.
In the movie, one also has a new appreciation for his talent as a physical comedian. The scene everyone remembers succeeds largely due to West’s funny, frantic movements: Batman darts around a pier with a lit bomb the size of a basketball, vainly trying to dispose of the thing before it explodes. In every direction is an obstacle, however: a group of nuns, lovers in a rowboat, a Salvation Army brass band, a family of ducks. Again, though hindered by a head-to-toe costume that would seem to limit most expression, West somehow conveys Batman’s sense of urgency, panic, and controlled frustration. For that gem of a scene alone, Batman is worth watching. (Interestingly, West doesn’t simply play Bruce Wayne as Batman unmasked, but in a much less stylized manner. I wonder if this was deliberate, or if wearing the costume somehow inspired him.). The rest of the film is hit-and-miss. Some ideas are quite funny: when the Batcopter is struck by one of The Riddler’s Polaris missiles, sending it crashing to earth, Batman and Robin are saved by an enormous pile of foam rubber – an outdoor display at the Foam Rubber Wholesalers Convention. (“I’d say the odds against it would make even the most reckless gambler cringe,” Batman says.) However, the picture makes the mistake of shooting its wad in the first half-hour. During that time everything there is to see is shown: the Bat Cave, the Batmobile, the four villains and their submarine, as well as several new gadgets, the aforementioned Batcopter and Batboat. After that the film becomes rather serial-like in its extreme repetitiveness. Almost every scene drags on way too long; had it been fine-tuned to 70-75 minutes instead of 105, it might have become a classic ’60s comedy instead of the kind of footnote it’s become.
The film will always be a classic and will always be fondly remembered

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE COMPLETE 60’S SERIES

CAST

Adam West (Family Guy)
Burt Ward (Legends of The Super Heroes)
Alan Napier (Marnie)
Neil Hamilton (Tarzan The Ape Man)
Stafford Repp (Plunder Road)
Madge Blake (The Long, Long Trailer)
Yvonne Craig (Olivia)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Frank Gorshin (Star Trek)
Jill St. John (Diamonds Are Forever)
Burgess Meredith (Rocky)
David Lewis (The Apartment0
Leslie Parrish (Sex and The Single Girl)
Cesar Romero (The Thin Man)
Nancy Kovack (Marooned)
George Sanders (All About Eve)
Anne Baxter (I Confess)
Susan Silo (James Bond JR)
David Wayne (The Andromeda Strain)
Malachi Throne (Catch Me If You Can)
Myma Fahey (House of Usher)
Julie Newmar (Mckenna’s Gold)
Ziva Rodann (Forty Guns)
Victor Buono (Beneath The Planet of The Apes)
Olan Soule (The Toweing Inferno)
Francine York (The Family Man)
Roddy McDowall (Planet of The Apes)
Sherry Jackson (Brenda Starr, Reporter)
Julie Gregg (The Godfather)
Barbara Nichols (Where the Boys Are)
Art Carney (Last Action Hero)
Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny)
Phyllis Diller (A Bug’s Life)
Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects)
Michael Pataki (Rocky 4)
Bruce Lee (Enter The Dragon)
Van Williams (Surfside 6)
Shelley Winters (Alfie)
Walter Slezak (Lifeboat)
Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands)
Liberace (Another World)
Woodrow Parfrey (Dirty Harry)
Otto Preminger (Anatomy of Murder)
Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family)
Cliff Robertson (Spider-Man)
Ted Cassidy (Genesis II)
Maurice Evans (Rosemary’s Baby)
Michael Rennie (The Day The Earth Stood Still)
James Brolin (Hotel)
Lesley Gore (The Pied Piper of Astroworld)
Bob Hastings (batman: TAS)
Roger C. Carmel (Star Trek)
Alex Rocco (The Simpsons)
Seymour Cassel (Rushmore)
Lee Meriwether (Barnaby Jones)
Grace Lee Whitney (Star Trek)
Tallulah Bankhead (A Royal Scandal)
Eli Wallach (The Holiday)
Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby)
Joan Collins (Dynasty)
Ethel Merman (Call Me Madam)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
Milton Berle (Hey, Abbott!)
Glynis Johns (Mary Poppins)
Rudy Vallee (Sunburst)
Eartha Kitt (Holes)
Barbara Rush (When Worlds Collide)
Dina Merrill (Caddyshack II)
Linda Harrison (Planet of The Apes)
Ida Lupino (High Sierra)
Howard Duff (Kramer vs Kramer)
Zsa Zsa Gabor (Jack of Diamonds)

This is the show that set the tone for the Batman franchise for decades, good and bad, as its indelible mark is hard to erase. The power of the show is in how iconic it was, with every element so vibrant that it’s impossible to forget. Yes, it had the advantage of being the first modern-era mass-media representation of the character, and it also basically had the stage to itself forever, but there was so many memorable ingredients that made it the definitive Batman for generations. First among those were the performances of Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. Playing it completely straight–West with thoughtful gravitas, Ward with youthful enthusiasm–these actors kept the show from descending into parody. The world may be crazy, but our heroes remain vigilant defenders and detectives. The contrast makes their square-jawed heroics comedic, and the effect is enhanced when things get unusual like seeing Batman dance or surf, or when the Dynamic Duo are chilling out in the Batmobile eating burgers.
The structure of the series, which leans heavily on the style of the old serials and a well-defined formula, was also a big reason for the show’s success and long-lasting legacy. During the first two seasons, stories were split over two half-hour episodes, shown twice a week. The first episode would always end with Batman and Robin on the edge of destruction in some sort of insane death-dealing set-up, with the now classic refrain “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel” reminding viewers to come back to see the story’s weekly conclusion. These cliffhangers, along with the emphatic narration, the atmospheric music, the wonderfully detailed sets and costumes and the choreographed fight scenes, which feature the show’s famous “Pow!” and “Bam” visual sound effects, all serve to create a larger-than-life adventure series that’s great fun to watch.
Though West doesn’t appreciate the show being described as campy, it’s hard to think of a word that fits the series better. The thing is, you have to separate the ideas of bad and camp. Camp doesn’t have to be bad. It just has to be absurdly silly. So much of the show is obviously aiming for comedy, be it the way Batman solves impossible clues impossibly quick, the goofy names of the bad guys’ labeled henchmen, the villains’ strange obsession with personal branding, the overly literal signs seen all over the place, or the strangely specific gadgets Batman always has at the ready. I mean, really…an empty alphabet soup bat-container? Then there are the overtly humorous parts, like the cameos when Batman and Robin climb up the sides of buildings, which feature celebrity cameos from Sammy Davis Jr., Don Ho, Santa Claus and Lurch from The Addams Family. Elements like this earn plenty of chuckles throughout the series, but they don’t take away from the fun of the action or the crime-fighting plots. They also serve to make for what might be the most accessible Batman ever; enjoyable for young and old alike.
The show burned brightly, but only for three seasons, crashing hard considering the show’s immense popularity. Perhaps it was overexposure due to the twice-a-week schedule, with 58 episodes in season two, but the show was definitely showing signs of slowing down in the final season before cancellation, including mostly eliminating the cliffhanger, instead linking episodes via a coda at the end. Whether it was an artistic choice or otherwise, the weird way the show started to use “suggested sets,” in which parts of a set were placed in an otherwise black room to create the idea of the setting, made it seem like something had changed for the worse. Another major change in the third season also stood out somewhat negatively, as Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl (the crime-fighting alter-ego of police commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara) was added to the show as a regular. She didn’t bring a great deal to the party though, outside of a great costume design, as she often needed saving as much as she helped the team.
The other issue with Batgirl was she was further evidence of the show being a product of its time, as, in addition to the clothes, sets and language all being heavily dated to the ‘60s (especially in the third run), sexism is rampant throughout the series, whether display via the eye-candy molls of the villains or the drooling narration for the new distaff member of the Bat-team. The portrayal of women is pretty much entirely negative in the show, with flippant remarks about the vanity of women or their value, while one villain, Nora Clavicle, is actually a women’s rights activist, who replaces the police force with women, who are only interested in coupons and recipes. The rampant misogyny is odd considering the show was progressive enough to have an interracial flirtation between West’s Batman and Kitt’s Catwoman.
Though the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are obviously the stars of the show, the villains are what defines the series, as has always been the case with Batman. In addition to his traditional rogues gallery, including Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman, this series introduced a number of freshly-minted felons, some of which eventually were incorporated into the comic books, like Victor Buono’s over-acted King Tut. The oft-ridiculous nature of these baddies, which were often created to give big celebrities of the day a chance to play, like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Minerva, Milton Berle’s Louie the Lilac or Liberace’s Fingers, was a big part of why the show was viewed as campy.
As goofy as the new creation were, the originals were wonderfully evil, especially Cesar Romero’s Joker, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler and Julie Newmar’s Catwoman (though that shouldn’t take anything away from Eartha Kitt’s purr-fect turn in the cat suit in the show’s third season.) These three each brought something special to the show, be it Romero’s manic glee, Gorshin’s dark intensity or Newmar’s unrestrained sensuality. The problem with having the villains be such a focal point of the show is it makes the series uneven, as a weak villain, like Van Johnson’s Minstrel or Maurice Evans’ Puzzler, usually makes for a weak episode. The exception to that rule would have to the two-part “A Piece of the Action”/”Batman’s Satisfaction”, which had a terrible nemesis in the stamp-forging Colonel Gumm, but which is great fun because of a crossover with The Green Hornet, which meant Van Williams and Bruce Lee were on hand for twice the crime-fighting action. Just seeing Lee on Batman was great, but having two masked heroes and their rich alter-egos interacting without each other knowing made for a fun twist on the heroes.

Looking at the set as a whole, it’s easy to wonder why the first 12 discs are extras-free. There’s not a commentary to be found. Considering how long the wait has been, and how influential and popular the show is, you’d think there would be plenty of people that would want to sit down and talk about this show. It’s bad enough that the lengthy delays have resulted in many of the cast and creators passing before its release, but to not have any contemporary perspectives is just doubling down on this problem.
There’s also the fact that two separate releases of bonus content that have been released in the past, “Holy Batmania!,” which offered four documentaries on the series, and “Adam West Naked,” a collection of recollections produced by West himself. Some of this contest should have been included on the third disc of season three, which has just two 30 minute episodes. What’s worse is Warner Brothers is offering “Adam West Naked” as part of an odd package online that includes the first 64 episodes, the Batman ‘60s movie and some ephemera.
Thankfully the 13th disc fills in a lot of the gaps holding all of the set’s bonus content, most of which is courtesy of master extra maker Alexander Gray, who has produced and directed this kind of material for loads of DC-related DVDs. It all starts with “Hanging with Batman” (29:56), which focuses on West, looking at his life, from his childhood to his acting career, with plenty of time on his experiences as Batman and the legacy of that performance. The piece, which is loaded with archival photos and video, isn’t fluffy in any way, touching on some of the darker moments of West’s life, including controversy that surrounded him at his peak as a star and his personal and professional struggles in the wake of the show’s cancellation and the character’s rebirth with the Tim Burton movies. An excellent profile of a charismatic man with an interesting life.
“Holy Memorabilia, Batman!” (29:59) looks at the fans, a few in particular, and the collecting that sprung up around the show, including the key pieces and the process of acquiring them. With Toy Hunter’s Jordan Hembrough providing expert (and some personal) perspective, the featurette checks out the collections of actor Ralph Garman (Family Guy, the Hollywood Babble-On podcast) and Guinness record-holder Kevin Silva, as well as the work of Mark Racop, who builds replica Batmobiles. The Garman segments also feature a visit by West to check out (and even try on) the goods, and the result is an excellent look at a side product of the series.
An odd inclusion is “Na Na Na Batman” (12:15) which features a huge roster of producers and directors from Warner Brothers-produced series talking about the Batman series, including their memories of watching the show (if they are old enough) along with the costumes and villains. The connection to the show for most of these participants, which include Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy, Mike O’Malley, Stephen Amell, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Jensen Ackles, is beyond tangential, which coats the whole piece with a sheen of promotion, but if you’re a fan of shows like Supernatural, Arrow, The Following and The Mentalist, perhaps you’ll enjoy these worlds crashing together. Wedged in here with all these people is West and Burt Ward, bringing things back to center a bit.
The point of “Batmania Born!” (29:41) isn’t entirely clear, as it can get a bit scattered in terms of the subject matter, but it seems to mainly talk about the look of the series, and mainly features the voices of people from the world of comic books and related TV series, though some production design and costuming people sneak in as well to discuss the visuals of Batman, including the influences of the comic books, the animated opening, the tights and, most interestingly, the negative effect the show had on comic books in the larger world of entertainment. Among those sitting down to chat are Jim Lee, Bruce Timm and Julie Newmar, long with archival clips of Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin, making this catnip for comics fans.
Lee and Garman return in “Bats of the Round Table” (45:08), joining Batman superfan Kevin Smith and actor Phil Morris (Smallville), as they sit down for a meal with West. Unsurprisingly, the chat is dominated by Smith–a natural conversationalist–but they all chime in at some point, peppering West with questions and actually getting some interesting answers, including talk about dealing with a difficult Otto Preminger, who West’s favorite guest star and favorite Catwoman was, life on the set and a fun story about Ward and Bruce Lee. One wonders how the mostly unconnected Morris got in on this group (though he does have a Batman story of his own to share), but they all interact well in a smooth-flowing get-together. The ending may be slightly cheesy, but it’s a satisfying featurette.
Though there are no commentaries in this set, there are two pseudo-commentaries, in the form of the two-part “Inventing Batman: In the Words of Adam West.” These pieces, which run a total of 59:08, feature West, in occasional picture-in-picture appearances, reading excerpts from his shooting scripts for “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Stuck in the Middle” while the episodes play. There’s a tremendous amount of dead air (probably more than half the episodes are just the original audio), which may explain the lack of commentaries, but it’s great when West shares the notes he made on the script during the production process and his thought process for the character.
The bonuses wrap up with a quartet of rarities, which are mostly great to check out. First up is the 7:54 pilot for Batgirl. This never-aired “episode” was intended to show the character could work, in advance of her introduction in Batman’s third season. This compact adventure, which features Batgirl fighting Killer Moth and his gang alongside the Dynamic Duo in a library, feels just like the Batman series, complete with the “Pow!”s, but with a lot more sexism, courtesy of the narrator and Batman himself. Today, it’s really kind of creepy.
Also included are a pair of screen tests for the show, which are truly fascinating. First up is West and Ward (6:16), in a proto-Wayne Manor and the Batcave, doing a pair of scenes, following by a brief tumbling and karate demonstration by Ward and some silent footage of the pair in the ‘Cave. The performances were so fully formed right off the bat (no pun intended) that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the roles. That’s solidified when you see Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell try out for the parts (4:23), doing the same roles on the same sets, with the same sketchy costumes. Robin is more childish in Deyell’s performance, while Waggoner doesn’t bring the same measured intensity as West. Watching it though, allows you to picture an entirely different history for Batman.
The final entry is a James Blakely Tribute (2:24). The title is a bit misleading, as it’s just a clip of Blakely, post-production supervisor on the show, discussing the story of the series’ development and the idea of editing in the show’s iconic sound-effects graphics. It’s not really a tribute in the traditional manner.
 It’s only natural that waiting so long for these episodes to arrive on home video has made expectations unmeetable, but between the wonderfully silly show, the quality of the presentation and the excellent extras that actually have been included, this set is one all Batman fans will want to own.