Batman: The Movie

  • Year:  1966
  • Director:  Leslie H. Martinson
  • Series Rank:  #11
  • Year Rank:  #132
  • Oscar Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Batman Villains:  Burgess Meredith  (Penguin), Cesar Romero (Joker), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman), Frank Gorshin (Riddler)
  • Batman Allies:  Burt Ward (Robin), Alan Napier (Alfred), Neil Hamilton (James Gordon), Stafford Repp (Chief O’Hara)

When I first explained to Veronica what movie we would be watching that night, I fake-punched her in the arm and said “POW!”  That told her everything she needed to know.  How disappointing then, that the visual use of the sound effect only appears once in the film, very late in the game.  By then, the film is already almost unbearably bad.

But that brings up an interesting question when it comes to this film.  Do I review it for what it is?  Or, more to the point, do I rate it based on how well it does what it sets out to do?  Because this isn’t a film to be taken seriously.  If I take it seriously, is the problem me?

I don’t know when I first became conscious of Batman as a character.  It definitely was before I moved to California in 1981.  I have a distinct memory of getting up early to watch the Batman show in syndication before going off to school on some mornings when I still lived in Albany.  So the show was probably my first impression of the character of Batman.  I remember loving the show as a kid – there wasn’t much else in the way of live action super-heroes so I enjoyed what I could get, even if it was silly, and besides, at age six, I was really too young to notice the difference.  Perhaps the show is why I have a thing for redheads and librarians, because, hey, Batgirl (who, sadly, isn’t in the film, since she was added for the third season and this film was made in between the first and second seasons).

Is the problem with this film that it is deliberately campy, just like the show?  That could explain ridiculous moments like the way Bruce Wayne reacts when Catwoman, disguised as a Russian reporter named Miss Kitka, starts coming on to him.  He doesn’t seem to know quite what to do, an odd reaction from a supposed playboy.  Veronica reacted in disbelief (“Is this the first time he’s ever been with a woman?” she asked) and while I am usually not a fan of looking for subtext that is not intended (as opposed to subtext that is intended, like, say all six seasons of Xena), I must say, it is easy to find subtext for Batman being gay in this film.  He seems so overwhelmingly bewildered at how to respond to Miss Kitka’s attentions that the only reasonable explanation is that he is gay.  Or perhaps that Adam West isn’t much of an actor.  Or that Bruce Wayne isn’t much of an actor.  Or that he’s just dumb.

The latter bit is certainly possible, as it takes far too long for him to realize that Miss Kitka really is Catwoman and that he’s been played along the entire time.  We kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and it just never did.

But this is all getting a bit far away from the film and what I have to say about it.  Again, I should just review the film I have, not the film I want.  So, I can’t really complain that the Joker is played as more of a clown than a psychopath, because, partially, he was written that way in the comics at the time (the original homicidal Joker who is so much more interesting had basically faded away in the 40’s and wouldn’t return until 1973 with “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge“, a fantastic story) and partially because this was still a movie (and television show) aimed at children.  I can complain that Cesar Romero refused to shave his mustache and you can clearly see it under his makeup.

And hell, there’s a lot more to complain about.  Is it churlish to complain about the ridiculous signs, like the one on the poles that go down to the cave (to the point where they are labelled for Bruce and Dick, so, you know, neither ends up with the wrong costume)?  Possibly.  Is it silly to complain about the shark scene?  No.  The shark scene is so badly done, so ridiculous (Bat Shark Repellent?) and such a bad effect that it’s appropriate to complain about it.  Yet, it’s not the dumbest thing in the film, as there is the whole bomb gag, where Batman has to run all around to find a place to throw the bomb instead of just pinching the fuse.

Is the problem that this is a kid’s film and I’m no longer a kid?  I did enjoy the show as a kid.  But I still maintain that kids films can be good.  Yes, the acting is campy, and that’s fine.  But the plot is just too over-the-top ridiculous and the film is just too painful to watch.  I give it *.5 because I can’t bring myself to rate it any higher.  It’s not well-made on any level, it’s badly written, it’s badly directed and there isn’t much to recommend it for anyone over the age of six.  And hell, it doesn’t even have Batgirl.