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)
Myrna 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)
Donna Loren (Dr. Kildare)
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)
Diane McBain (Thunder Alley)
Lee Meriwether (Barnaby Jones)
Grace Lee Whitney (Star Trek)
Tristram Coffin (Adventures of Superman)
Tallulah Bankhead (A Royal Scandal)
Kathleen Crowley (Target Earth)
Eli Wallach (The Holiday)
Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby)
Billy Curtis (High Plains Drifter)
Joan Collins (Dynasty)
Linda Gaye Scott (The Party)
Ethel Merman (Call Me Madam)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
John Astin (The Addams Family)
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)
Jane Wald (Girl Talk)
Angela Greene (The King of Bandits)
Norman Alden (Back to The Future)
Jack Kelly (Forbidden Planet)
Shelley Winters (Lolita)
Walter Slezak (Lifeboat)
Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands)
Estelle Winwood (The Producers)
Joan Staley (Broadside)
John Mitchum (Dirty Harry)
Sharyn Wynters (Westworld)
Terry Moore (Mighty Joe Young)
Rob Reiner (This is Spinal Tap)
Deanna Lund (Hammerhead)
Stanley Adams (Star Trek: TOS)
Meg Wyllie (The Last Starfighter)
Lisa Seagram (Caprice)

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.
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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.
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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.
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“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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

REVIEW: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

 

CAST

Michael Rennie (The Third Man)
Patricia Neal (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
Hugh Marlowe (All About Eve)
Sam Jaffe (Ben-Hur)
Billy Gray (The Seven Little Foys)
Frances Bavier (Benji)
Olan Soule (Super Freinds)

MV5BZDRkOGQwNWItZjQ1ZC00MjU0LWJiZTUtZWIwMjZkMTdhNWM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI3MDk3MzQ@._V1_The Day the Earth Stood Still is far from being solely about other-worldly visitors; what gives it the longevity that still stretches to this day comes in the way it peers into humanity, especially our limited capacity to adapt to and understand concepts that reach outside our little bubbles. It’s a masterwork of science fiction, but for a slew of intricate, intelligent reasons that you might not expect.MV5BZmQ0YmE1MTMtYWQ2ZS00ZDNhLWIzOTctNjk4YTQ1YmQzZDZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI3MDk3MzQ@._V1_Wise’s plot, based off of Harry Bates’ story, is simple enough: a flying saucer has landed smack dab in the center of Washington, D.C., drawing scores of curious onlookers to its touchdown site. To the eyes of thousands upon thousands of nervous citizens, two entities step forth from the ship; one is a seemingly human individual instantly taken into custody, while the other is an ominous looking metal robot that, upon finding a spot outside of the U.F.O., has completely stopped moving — as if awaiting orders. The human-like visitor, named Klaatu (Michael Rennie, The Lost World), has come to Earth for the sole purpose of warning about the impending doom that might come about if we neglect to cease our petty wars and development of element-based weapons.MV5BNWMxZDYyOGQtZWNkNy00NjE2LTg2ZGItZjIxMTY3NmE1NWI4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDE5MTU2MDE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_Operating as a critique for the post-WWII environment entrenched in the Cold War, The Day the Earth Stood Still can be quite deceptive if a glance or two is taken at its artwork, still shots, and the iconic, almost monolithic, stature of that metallic robot that it’s become famous for. Assumptions could easily be made that this operates on a purely science fiction level, demonstrating death rays and ominous flying saucers as the Thermelin coats the surface. In fact, that’s far from the case; Robert Wise’s sci-fi picture operates on much more meaningful levels. It’s these concepts that have kept it fresh — and surprisingly relevant with today’s societal conflicts — over the years, which will probably continue for years to come if the globe doesn’t latch onto some of its sprawling concepts.MV5BMTEyN2ZjOWItNTliYy00ZTg0LTk4MGYtNWRmNThlNWNkZmNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDE5MTU2MDE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_One conversation held around a dining table earlier in the film features a group of characters discussing Klaatu and his presence on Earth, wondering why he might be here and for what purpose, or purposes. Suddenly, the gears shift in the conversation and a discussion arises that changes his status from being an alien to being a foreign spy — which evokes even more fear and hostility than the idea of him being from another planet. There’s one clear message that The Day the Earth Stood Still persistently communicates: in all our vast experience and untapped inexperience with the universe, there’s an undeniable possibility that other human lifeforms exist on scattered planets — and they might not be all about trying to ensnare the human race, capture loopy farmers for probing experiments, etc. Instead, it bluntly informs us of the ideal that humankind poses a much stronger threat than those curious other-worldly entities, along with the fact that they might be looking down on our pointless bickering with a smirk and a shaking of the head. There’s a shaky, strained wire regarding global tension that Wise’s film tightropes across, embodying the undertones of the time period that epitomizes post-McCarthy hysteria and activity in the nuclear disarmament effort.MV5BZDRjMTFiY2YtYjJlMC00NmU2LTk3YTQtOTg4NjYxNDI0ZmMyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDE5MTU2MDE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_But remember, this is a society fallen victim to the radio talents of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, as he tricked the people into believing that the earth was under attack by aliens during his 1938 broadcast. In a similar, pre-WWII environment, people took the content at face value, believing that alien warfare was adding onto the already-tense situation. Media perception on both ends only highlights and intensifies mania, which also plays a rather sizable role in The Day the Earth Stood Still. When an ominous, disc-like object floats down to Earth and opens to reveal a ironclad robot with a human-like figure controlling it, the natural reaction could be fear — or curiosity, or acceptance. Media’s engineering of major events, however, aims for hysterics, which creates the pick-and-choose dynamic in telling people what to think and feel about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Wise’s film opts to go the “fear” route, as most media outlets do, which leads to the cherry-picking of material to convey to the film’s absorbent victims. It’s a clear critique on mass-media and its manipulative nature, highlighted by subtle clues like the posturing of newscasters that relay the information and the excising of non-hysterical content from the crowd at the spacecraft’s touchdown site.MV5BY2FhNjA1OWUtOWUxNi00MGE0LTkwNDYtYjAwMTdjMWUxMDI5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDE5MTU2MDE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_It’s not just the themes that hold up well over the years, either. The Day the Earth Stood Still was crafted in 1951, a time when Hollywood was growing more and more experimental with crafting science fiction material on-screen in unique ways. Surprisingly, the careful techniques used in Wise’s picture still look fantastic, from the presence of the flying saucer as it soars above and touchdowns within Washington D.C. to the usage of “death rays” pouring from the eyes of the ominous robot Gort. When the film begins to ramp up its sci-fi elements near the second half of the picture — devoting the first half to building tension with its thematic poignancy — it becomes both terrifying and engrossing to watch as the advanced methods of technological prowess flex their muscles on the world’s overestimated grasp on technology’s boundaries. Nowadays, computer generation can shatter and liquefy most types of matter while making just about any focal object fly; still, using simple techniques with found objects and camera tricks, there’s tangibility that The Day the Earth Stood Still’s production crew infuses into its stripped-down scenes that still work with full potency to this day — which, in ways, can be seen as real magician’s tricks instead of tech flexing its muscle.MV5BN2UzNGUyOTItYjYyOC00YWE3LTg1MWMtMmI1ZDYyOWMzODhiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDE5MTU2MDE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_More importantly, The Day the Earth Stood Still blends all these elements — intelligence, tension, and curious whimsy heightened by technological awe — into a hour-and-a-half of significant science-fiction entertainment that’ll trump the effort of most modern films remotely in the same spectrum of genre. It’s an important picture, especially during a time when tension has been mounted by the brewing, highly publicized threats of war and violence against each other. Even in a time when the efforts from science-fiction works like Forbidden Planet and the Star Trek television series have begun to show some significant rust, the seminal energy brooding in this ’50s classic still stands as crisp and clean as Gort standing in front of his stunned onlookers. That’s the sign of why The Day the Earth Stood Still is a truly great film — the fact that you can pick it up more than fifty years later and it’s still as polished and noteworthy as the day it was minted.