To honor Adam West, who passed away on June 9, 2017, here’s a review of the movie BATMAN (1966).
I started watching the BATMAN TV show (1966-68) in earnest during its syndication run in the early 1970s and would watch the show nearly every day. I spent many a summer day as a kid coming home from the beach and then watching BATMAN followed by LOST IN SPACE.
I would also look forward to the movie BATMAN, and back in the day, it was on TV quite a bit, nearly once a month, it seemed, usually on Saturday afternoons.
BATMAN pits Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) not only against one of their supervillains, but four! That’s right, in this film, Batman fans got to see the Joker (Caesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and the Catwoman (Lee Meriwether). Their evil plot? Why, to control the world, of course!
Holy Fantastic Foursome, Batman!
BATMAN, now called BATMAN: THE MOVIE, was originally planned to be released before the TV show aired, but when the show went into production ahead of schedule, plans for the movie changed. The show aired first, and then to capitalize upon the enormous success of the first season, the movie was released in theaters that summer.
BATMAN: THE MOVIE is every bit as fun and as campy as the TV show. It shares the same strengths as the TV series: the hilariously campy script, and the superior acting by the players involved, especially Adam West as Batman.
The script here was written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who co-created the TV show with William Dozier. Semple would go on to write some other campy screenplays as well, including KING KONG (1976), FLASH GORDON (1980), and the final Sean Connery Bond flick NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983). Semple, Jr. also wrote more serious stuff, screenplays for movies like PAPILLON (1973) and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975).
Here in BATMAN Semple, Jr. captures the camp perfectly, and the film contains many memorable lines. Some of the best are when Batman and Robin are trying to decipher the Riddler’s riddles. Like this exchange, for example:
BATMAN (reading a message written in the sky by one of Riddler’s missiles): What goes up white and comes down yellow and white?
ROBIN: An egg!
BATMAN (reading another skywritten message): How do you divide seventeen apples among sixteen people?
ROBIN: Make applesauce!
BATMAN: Apples into applesauce. A unification into one smooth mixture. An egg—nature’s perfect container. The container of all our hopes for the future.
ROBIN: A unification and a container of hope? United World Organization!
BATMAN (Excitedly): Precisely, Robin!
And one of my favorite lines, when Batman tries in vain to dispose of an ignited bomb, but can’t, says exasperatedly into the camera: “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
Of course, the humor works here because the actors play it straight. The running joke of the series is that Batman doesn’t realize he’s funny. He says all these lines with a straight face. And while the villains ham things up and then some, they’re not joking around or acting silly. They really are trying to take over the world.
For a generation, Adam West defined Batman, and when you watch him in this movie, you’ll understand why. His comedic timing is impeccable. Granted, this interpretation of Batman isn’t the traditional one, but in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, it worked.
I also think it helped propel Michael Keaton’s darker interpretation of the Caped Crusader in BATMAN (1989) to higher levels of success because for so many, it was the first time they were seeing a darker interpretation on-screen. Not to take away anything from Keaton’s performance, because he is excellent in the role, but the fact that before Keaton we had West made audiences all the more eager to accept a more serious version. And likewise, becoming a fan of Keaton didn’t take away from being a fan of West. It wasn’t like “Oh, now the 1960s Batman is outdated.” Not at all. It was simply a matter of going forward.
Burt Ward, who before BATMAN had no acting experience, is pretty darn good as Robin as well. His high energy alone is enough to win over legions of fans. And he really is the Boy Wonder. His youthful exuberance is infectious, and he always defers to his elder mentor, Batman, with lines like, “Gee, Batman, I didn’t think of it that way,” and “Golly, Batman, when you put it that way.”
And the villains here are out of this world.
Lee Meriwether is terribly sexy as Catwoman/aka Ms. Kitka. Yes, she poses as a Russian journalist Ms. Kitka to strike up a relationship with Bruce Wayne in order to kidnap him, which sets up one of the more memorable moments in the film for Adam West when at the end of the movie Batman discovers that Catwoman and Ms. Kitka are one in the same. See, Bruce Wayne had developed quite the crush on Ms. Kitka, and when he sees that she is really the Catwoman, we witness Wayne’s expression from underneath the Batman cowl as the lights go out of his eyes for a moment, only to be replaced by the calm, logic of Batman who sees to it that he’s above this sort of thing. It’s a great moment for Adam West, the type of thing which made him stand out in both this movie and the series.
Now, Meriwether did not play Catwoman in the series. She took over the role in the movie from Julie Newmar, who had played Catwoman during Season 1, but was unavailable to do the movie because of a conflict with another project.
Caesar Romero is hilarious as the Joker— a far cry from the later and superior interpretations of the character by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger— even with his painted over mustache, which he refused to shave for the role. Seriously!
Frank Gorshin remains the definitive Riddler with his high octane giggling and skipping. While Gorshin played the Riddler in Season 1 of the series, he skipped Season 2, but would return in Season 3.
Burgess Meredith as the Penguin is the glue which holds the other three villains together in this film. The Penguin is the one who seems to be pulling the strings and more often than not takes the lead in the villainous proceedings. Meredith is quite good in the role, and I prefer his interpretation of the Penguin over Danny De Vito’s in BATMAN RETURNS (1992).
Other cast members from the show also appear in the movie. Alan Napier returns as Alfred, Neil Hamilton is back as Commissioner Gordon, and Stafford Repp once more plays Chief O’Hara. Madge Blake also returns as Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet Cooper, although she doesn’t have any lines in the movie. Aunt Harriet is an interesting character. Reportedly, she was featured prominently on the TV show because TV executives feared that two men living together (Bruce and Dick) would give audiences the wrong idea about their relationship, and so Aunt Harriet was written in to live in the same house with them. Bizarre.
BATMAN was directed Leslie H. Martinson., a director with mostly TV show credits. He does a nice job with this move. It’s colorful, full of the signature Batman fight sequences complete with the superimposed “POW!” and “THWACK!” signs, and is well-paced.
There are also plenty of Bat gadgets in this one. In addition to the Batmobile, there’s the Bat Boat, the Bat Helicopter, the Bat Cycle, the Bat Bazooka, and of course the infamous Bat Shark Repellant in the very famous shark scene, where Batman is attacked by a very fake looking rubber shark. And there’s also the Penguin Submarine which wreaks havoc under the seas.
Martinson himself passed away only last year, on September 2, 2016, at the age of 101.
There’s also a high-octane music score by Nelson Riddle, although noticeably absent is Neal Hefti’s signature Batman opening theme song.
But the main reason to watch BATMAN is the same reason to watch the TV show, and that is Adam West’s performance as Batman.
I was fortunate to have met Adam West a couple of times at some comics and collectibles shows back in the early 2000s, and his humor in person was very apparent. It seemed to ooze out of him with ease.
Adam West is to Batman as Sean Connery is to James Bond. Other actors have played the role, and some have put their definitive stamps on the character, but West and Connery took their characters and made them embodiments of a decade. Like the Beatles, Bond and Batman helped define a generation.
I’ll leave you with Batman’s final line from the movie, as Batman and Robin, after a job well done, prepare to leave the United World building, a line delivered with impeccable timing by Adam West.
Let’s go, but inconspicuously, through the window. We’ll use our Bat Ropes. Our job is finished.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.