BATMAN (1966) – Adam West’s Portrayal of the Caped Crusader Defined a Generation

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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!

Indeed, Robin.

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The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), and the Joker (Caesar Romero) work at taking over the world in BATMAN (1966).

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!

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Solving the Riddler’s riddles.

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.

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Batman meets Jaws?  A famously silly scene from BATMAN (1966).

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.

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Preparing to leave, inconspicuously, through the window.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

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MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: BATMAN (1966)

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Batman (1966) poster

Welcome back to MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes in the movies.

With BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) due out in theaters on March 25, let’s take a fun look back now at the 1960s version of BATMAN, starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader.  West’s hilarious take on the character was the way a lot of us of a certain age were first introduced to Batman, and the way we still fondly think of him today.

The 1960s BATMAN  TV show ran on ABC from 1966-1968, and it remains one of the funniest interpretations of a superhero ever.  Of course, when I was a tyke watching this on TV, the comedy went over my head.  I just thought it was a fun action adventure.

The movie version, BATMAN (1966), was originally slated to premiere before the show, but it didn’t happen that way and was actually released after the show had already started airing.

Let’s take a look now at some of the memorable lines in this incredibly entertaining superhero vehicle, starring Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith at the Penguin, Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, and Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, screenplay by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.

Semple Jr. also wrote the scripts for KING KONG (1976), FLASH GORDON (1980) and the last Sean Connery Bond film, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).  BATMAN is full of quotable lines.  Let’s have a listen.

For me, the most memorable line from the movie, and the one that always pops into my mind first whenever I think of BATMAN, comes from one of its most memorable sequences, where Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) infiltrate a seedy bar and discover a bomb there.  Batman grabs the bomb and attempts to dispose of it, but everywhere he runs, someone is there, and he can’t find any place to get rid of it.  At one point, he’s about to chuck it into the ocean, but he doesn’t when he sees baby ducklings swimming.

Finally, he says exasperatedly:

BATMAN:  Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”

Moments later, it explodes, but no worries, Batman was able to shield himself and survive the blast.

 

Robin criticizes Batman for risking his life to safe the ruffians in the bar, to which Batman replies, teaching his young sidekick:

BATMAN:  They may be drinkers, Robin, but they’re still human beings.

 

Of course, a lot of the humor comes from Batman and Robin’s attempts to decipher the Riddler’s riddles.  For example:

BATMAN (reading the Riddler’s riddle):  What has yellow skin and writes?

ROBIN:   A ball-point banana!

BATMAN (reading):  What people are always in a hurry?

ROBIN:  Rushing people… Russians!

BATMAN:  So this means—.

ROBIN:  Someone Russian is going to slip on a banana and break their neck!

BATMAN (excitedly):  Precisely, Robin!

 

Later, Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) join in on the riddling solving business:

CHIEF O’HARA (reading):  What does a turkey do when he flies upside down?

ROBIN:  He gobbles up!

CHIEF O’HARA:  Of course.

BATMAN:  And, number two?

COMMISSIONER GORDON (reading):  What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree and is very dangerous?

ROBIN:  A sparrow with a machine gun!

COMMISSIONER GORDON:   Yes, of course.

 

Of course, these scenes work so well because everyone involved handles them so seriously. Both O’Hara and Gordon keep a straight face and react  to Robin’s answers as if they are as straightforward as the time of day.

And who can forget Adam West’s energetic peformance and boisterous delivery of lines as Batman?  His Batman is as much a 1960s icon as James Bond, Star Trek, and the Beatles.  The ongoing joke in the show, and in this movie, is that Batman simply doesn’t realize how funny he is. He plays everything straight, even though his lines of dialogue are hilarious.

 

Here’s more riddle fun:

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!

 

Right after this, with their bat copter out of commission, Robin suggests they hail a cab to make it to the United World Organization building, but Batman won’t hear of it.  Why ride when you can walk?

BATMAN:  Luckily, we’re in tip-top condition. It’ll be faster if we run. Let’s go!

 

One of Batman’s best bits of dialogue comes in this scene where Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) disguised as Russian reporter Miss Kitka asks Batman and Robin to take off their masks, much to the horror of Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara.

KITKA:  If you please, to take off the mask to give the better picture?

COMMISSIONER GORDON:  Great Scott! Batman take off his mask?

CHIEF O’HARA:  The woman must be mad!

BATMAN (calmly):  Please, Chief O’Hara.  All of you. This young lady is a stranger to our shores. Her request is not unnatural, however, impossible to grant.

KITKA:  Impossible?

BATMAN:  Indeed. If Robin and I were to remove our masks, the secret of our true identities would be revealed.

COMMISSIONER GORDON:  Completely destroying their value as ace crimefighters.

CHIEF O’HARA:  Sure, ma’am. Not even Commisioner Gordon and myself know who they really are.

ROBIN:  In fact, our own relatives we live with don’t know.

KITKA:  But your so curious costumes—.

ROBIN:  Don’t be put off by them, ma’am. Underneath this garb, we’re perfectly ordinary Americans.

KITKA:  You are like the masked vigilantes in the Westerns, no?

COMMISSIONER GORDON:  Certainly not! Batman and Robin are fully deputized agents of the law.

ROBIN:  Support your police! That’s our message!

BATMAN:  Well said, Robin, and no better way to end this press conference.  Thank you, and good day.

 

And in fitting fashion, when the movie ends, and Batman and Robin have saved the day, rather than leaving through the door, Batman suggests a better and more unassuming way to exit the proceedings.

BATMAN (deliberately):  Let’s go, but, inconspicuously, through the window.

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Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) getting ready to leave inconspicuously through the window.

We end with the dialogue that always breaks me up whenever I watch this movie.  Batman is trying to locate the whereabouts of the four supervillains and acts on a tip that they have in their possession a submarine.  He telephones a Navy Admiral in the hope of learning more, and he finds out that yes, the Navy has sold the submarine, and when he asks for a forwarding address, the Admiral replies that he didn’t get one from the buyer.

ADMIRAL:  Your tone sounds rather grim. We haven’t done anything foolish, have we?

BATMAN (with the slightest agitation in his voice):  Disposing a pre-atomic submarine to persons who don’t even leave their full addresses—.  Good day, Admiral!

ADMIRAL (after Batman hangs up):  Gosh!

 

There you have it.  I hope you enjoyed these quotes from BATMAN.  Join me again next time when we look at more memorable quotes from another memorable movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael