KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF BATMAN (1966-1968), PART THREE

Before resuming Season Two of “Batman”, we’ll cave into the crave of batmania with one of the biggest chunks of studio-backed cinematic cheese ever conceived: 1966’s Batman, the Movie. For years, this was the only Batman vehicle available on home video. Batmaniacs have reason to rejoice, because this gloriously dated, souped-up big screen treatment of the series is an “it has to be seen to believed” extravaganza. The hopelessly dippy plot and dialogue may throw off angsty fanboys, but it’s all about our merry villains: Lee Meriwether in her sole performance as Catwoman, as the Riddler, as the Penguin, Cesar Romero as the Joker,  and the most color-saturated array of (inflatable) henchmen in cinema. After the sexiest psychedelic credits you’ll probably ever see comes Batman infamously fending off a rubber shark with his “Bat-repellent Shark Spray.” That gag’s almost topped with later with the “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb” routine. It only gets loopier from there.

Among the toys on display is the Batcopter, Batboat, and Penguin submarine (with flippers!). Even cooler are the fight scenes. Here’s where the multi-hued henchman get to show their mettle, withstanding the dynamic duo while an arsenal of “Kapow, Zlopp, and Touche!”s fills the screen. Each of the four primary villains is at their maniacal best, and all take turns stealing their scenes. Watching Romero’s Joker today, his influence on is blatantly obvious. Of course, Gorshin (a tad underused) twitches with caffeine; there’s a reason he was the sole actor from the series nominated for an Emmy. Meredith’s Penguin is delightfully obnoxious, and Meriwether’s Catwoman is a walking pheromone . Meriwether is criminally underrated, but they’re all so damned animated that you don’t care one bit that their goal is to turn the United Nations into colored sand.

If we weren’t so close to completing the List, I’d plead with the admin here to at least include Batmanas a List Candidate. It’s a rarity in being both weird and absurdly entertaining. Like the series, it’s bound to be considered as blasphemy to modern-day Bat toddlers, who erroneously believe the darker version of the Caped Crusader is truer to the comics. Yes, it is: to the later comics from the likes of Neal Adams, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore. But Batman didn’t start that way. The comics of the 40s and 50s were pure camp. Originally, “Batman” series producer William Dozier planned to create something more serious, akin to “The Adventures of Superman,” but after reading the comics he went high camp instead. That is what the series, and movie bring to life in a way that has never been replicated with such energy and dated style (the Blu-ray edition is a must, with Robin’s hot colors popping against Joker’s cool pinks and greens and Batman’s blue and grey).

Back to Season Two. In “The Impractical Joker/Joker’s Provokers” (directed by James Clark, written by Jay Thompson and Charles Hoffman, airing 16 and 17 November, 1966) the Joker is obsessed with keys; so obsessed that he rips up a copy of the novel “Keys of the Kingdom” and smashes an LP of “You’re the Key to My Heart.” The Joker’s henchbabe is Cornelia,[1] clad in skintight purple. She’s pure decor, and she knows it. There’s a big skeleton key, and we learn that Joker was a hypnotist in his youth when he attempts to revive his old talent on the Caped Crusaders. Robin throws a bat-wrench into Joker’s plans with counter-hypnosis bat-pellets! Cue the “Kapow!” Howard Duff does the bat climb cameo, and there’s a quick plug for us to watch “The Green Hornet.” Apart from the purple decoration, this episode only kicks in near the finale of Part One, when Batman (about to get his goose cooked) has to get in the last word: “Evil only triumphs temporarily, but never conquers!” It turns out Batman has a key too and uses it to get out of his predicament in Part Two. There’s also a magic box that stops time, and Alfred gets a piece of the action in two roles.

“Come Back Shame/It’s How You Play The Game” (directed by Oliver Rudolph, written by Stanley Ross, airing 30-31 of November 1966) is one of the most off-kilter episodes, which is quite an accomplishment. Old West shootist Shame (Cliff Robertson) is back, and he’s stealing parts from hot rods! “Why wouldn’t he steal the entire auto?’ Robin asks. “That,” Batman waxes, with pointed finger, “…is the question!” Shame has a duo of dunderhead henchmen in Messy James (Timothy Scott) and Rip Snorting (John Mitchum) along with gal pal Okie Annie (“Playboy” model Joan Staley). An ordinary lead bullet …with platinum paint is no help at all for the world’s greatest detective. Nor is the lame Shane ripoff tyke Andy (Eric Shea) who screams “Shame, come back” again and again and again and again. Like the kid in the overrated George Stevens “classic”,  Andy’s a good argument for birth control; but don’t give up yet, because there is a cow, by golly. “What’s a nice cow like you doing in a place like this?” youthful ward Dick Grayson asks. To the batcycles, but lo and behold there’s a stampede a-comin’, pardner, and I’m gonna turn you boys into some good ol’ hamburger helper. “Will Batman and Robin bite the dust? Is this the Last Roundup? Find out tomorrow, Shame time, shame Channel!” Part Two gets the batprize for most preposterous escape from a cliffhanger. “Holy Guacamole!” Then it’s Col. Klink (Werner Klemperer) from “Hogan’s Heroes” (the comedy about Nazi concentration camps!) for the bat climb cameo! Andy gets a moral lesson, Shame runs outta ammo and, sigh, the kid lives. Not all endings can be happy.

“That Darn Catwoman/Scat Darn Catwoman” was directed by Oscar Rudolph and written by Stanley Ross and aired on the 25th and 26th of January, 1967. Pop singer Lesley (“It’s My Party”) Gore shows up as a pussycat, belts out a couple of tunes, and not only bewitches Catwoman’s pussypatters, but the Boy Wonder himself. Batman falls prey to the pussy succubus too (“Yeah, Cat-Baby, we’re gonna wail, doll”); but it’s a trick! With a sip of Bat-sleep, the cat is conked and carried to the cave. “I’ll do everything I can to rehabilitate you.” “Marry me.” Everything, but that.” Well, there goes life number two when the cat falls to her death and the tears of a Batman get shed. Luckily, he has his bat-kerchief handy.

“Batman’s Anniversary/A Riddling Controversy”(directed by James Clark and written by William D’Angelo) aired February 8-9, 1967. It features John Astin (better known as Gomez in “The Addams Family”) as the subtsitute Riddler. Smartly, Astin doesn’t mimic Gorshin, instead making the part his own with subdued menace and a question mark cane, but the episode itself lacks the lunacy of those with his predecessor (who will return in season 3).

“A Piece of the Action/ Batman’s Satisfaction” (directed by Oscar Rudolph, written by Charles Hoffman, first aired March 1st and 2nd, 1967) is the crossover episode with “Green Hornet” which, like Batman, was struggling in the ratings. “Hornet,” which was darker in tone, only lasted one season. Batman was a pop phenomenon for a year, but was so original that its novelty was quickly fading by the second season.  Luckily, this twofer is a stylish change of pace, and a hoot to boot, with the Green Hornet (Van Williams) and his trusty kung fu sidekick Kato (the legendary Bruce Lee) arriving at the Pink Chip Stamp Factory in search of a counterfeit stamp ring. Owner Pinky Pinkston (Diane McBain—she has pink hair and a pink puppy) mistakes Green Hornet and Kato for villains and soon the Dynamic Duo are summoned. You guessed it, it’s the Batmobile vs. the Black Beauty. There’s a real villain afoot by the name of Col. Glumm (Roger C. Carmel, best knowns as Harry Mudd in “Star Trek”) who, with the focus on the guest heroes, gets short-shrifted. That’s unfortunate, as he has personality aplenty.  Glumm is a stamp-themed menace who perforates the Green Hornet and Kato, turning them into wallpaper: “Holy human collector’s item!” Batman and Robin aren’t ignored, of course, threatened with an undetachable “Holy flypaper, Batman!” glue pad. Solving an alphabet soup puzzle and feeding noodles to the bat-computer (!) will set things straight in Gotham for sure. Character actor Alex Rocco proves a colorful henchman. Angelique Pettyjohn (who will soon appear in “Star Trek” and get mauled by alien-loving Captain Kirk) is the lingerie-modeling babe, but our chaste hero isn’t moved. “I smell pink,” he intones (don’t go there). In the hippest bat cameo since Ted Cassidy (Lurch from Addams Family), Little Cesar legend Edward G. Robinson shows up for the bat climb to bitch about ! Yeah, if you can’t see the coolness of Batman, you just need to go away.

Michael Rennie as Sandman, Walter Sleazy as the Clock King, and Maurice Evans as the Puzzler are a few of the lesser-known, underrated villains of Season Two.

However, the Batbank was quickly drying up. For Season Three, producers dispensed of the two-episode format (holy no-more-cliffhangers!) but brought in a potential ratings booster with Batgirl (Yvonne Craig). “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin” (directed by Oscar Rudolph, written by Stanford Sherman) aired on 14 September, 1967, with Commission Gordon’s daughter Barbara (Craig) kidnapped by the Penguin because he wants a bride. Alfred gets kidnapped, too, finds out Barbara is Batgirl and, trusty guy that he is, keeps her identity secret, even from his masters Bruce and Dick. With her Batgirl cycle, batkicks (she doesn’t punch) and batpartment, Batgirl is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Batman and Robin are barely present and get their batasses saved by BOTH Alfred and Batgirl (what a series that would have made).

Joan Collins made a wonderfully hammy villainess in “Wail of the Siren” (she has henchmen named Allegro and Andante). Both King Tut and Shame surpass their previous appearances in this season. , Anne Baxter, Rudy Valle, Milton Berle, and Zsa Zsa Gabor were colorful fillers in lesser entries. In addition to Batgirl, we are introduced to Eartha Kitt’s delightfully idiosyncratic take on Catwoman in the episodes “Catwoman’s Dressed to Kill” and The Joke’s on Catwoman (teaming her with Romero’s Joker). She was set to make additional appearances, but publicly criticized the Vietnam War and was sacked (!) “Batman” was fortunate in having three exceptional actresses essaying the role of Catwoman. Through no fault of her own (Kitt commands the scene for every second she is present–she truly is EEEEEEVIL), neither of the actress’ episodes quite match the scenes with Newmar, or Meriweather in the movie.

I want to end this survey by discussing one of the most bizarre episodes of the entire series. Joker made three appearances in the final season of “Batman.” In his second (“Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under”), both Joker and the caped crusader go a-surfin’, but the sheer insanity of that cheesy green screen gets blown to smithereens by “The Joker’s Flying Saucer.” Allegedly, it was directed by Sam Strings and written by Charles Hoffman (airing on leap year 1968), but I swear those are pseudonyms for . This literally feels like it’s written and directed by our favorite cross-dressing freak. For most fans, it’s the nadir of the series, but for a weird movie site, it may be the crowning achievement of “Batman.”

Surrounded by henchmen  (Shamrock, Chartreuse, and Green) wearing various shades of green, a Martian, and a babe (Emerald) adorned in a green mini, the Joker is going to be doing something with a flying saucer. I think he’s planning on an invasion of some sort. He kidnaps Alfred, believing the butler to be a mad scientist, and he kidnaps Batgirl too. “I’ve thrilled many a woman, Batgirl, but I’ve never sent one completely into orbit before,” the Joker says as he ties her to a rocket. There’s a professor Greenleaf, too (he’s a Joker plant), and a Mrs. Green who swears she saw a little green man. The Batcave is bombed and there’s a fight, and that’s about as a good a synopsis as any, because this is a mess, which doesn’t stop Romero from overdosing with glee. Take his cue.

  1. Played by Kathy Kersh, who briefly became Mrs. Burt Ward. It should have been a match made in bad bat-acting heaven. []                                                         *reprinted from 366 weird movies 

KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART ONE

It’s very simple: if you love “Batman” (1966-1968), starring Adam West, you’re in the cool kids club. If you don’t, you’re clueless and need to go away. Only freaks are allowed here.

“Batman” is still the yardstick by which all other live-action superheroes are to be judged. There has never been another series like it. I’ll go even further: it’s not only a genre and cult yardstick, but it’s a yardstick for television, period.

Before we catapult into the Batcave, I’ll share a few childhood memories, of which I’m damned proud. Adam West’s Batman and ‘ Superman  were the epitome of cool (I’ll never forgive for turning them into caped white trash and making them go commando). I caught Superman in syndication and already knew that Superman had blown his brains out. For me, that was part of his appeal. (I was a tad off-kilter. In my defense, Superman was a more appealing martyr than the Pentecostal Jesus). Admittedly, however, Superman had bland villains, and his second Lois Lane was too June Cleaver-Protestant boring.

Then came Adam West’ Batman. I caught the last season in its first-run, then caught up in syndication. Of course, the show was mass-marketed. Among the most cherished mementos was Batman trading cards, which I would often lose. They meant so much to me that my poor Dad would have to drive all the way downtown to buy me replacement cards from the only store that carried them. I found my true rainbow pot of batgold, however, through a wedding. My cousin was getting married and wanted me for a ring bearer. The last thing I wanted to do was climb into a tuxedo in front of a church crowd, but when she promised to buy me a Batman suit AND a Batmobile to pedal around the back porch on, I begged Dad to call the tuxedo shop immediately so I could be fitted. For Christmas, my brother asked for a children’s Bible (he was such a suck-up). In sharp contrast, I asked for, and received, a Batman View-Master set. With all those bat-toys, I was indisputably the coolest kid who ever lived.

“Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed!” “Roger. Ready to move out!”

Since I’m hard pressed to come up with a single non-enjoyable episode, a “Best of Batman” list is bit of an oxymoron, although of course there are standout episodes. This is really more an exercise in cherry picking highlights, because by the time I could finish covering the entire series, we might be heading into 366 Weird Movies, the Sequel. So, without further ado, I have to start with the pilot, which features Batman dancing in a disco.

On 12, January, 1966  “Batman” premiered with “Hi Diddle Riddle” (directed by Robert Butler, written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr,) and, yes, that means… the Riddler () is our first dastardly criminal. He pranks the World’s Fair with an exploding cake and inspires Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) to dial the batphone. Alfred, the butler (Alan Napier) answers, and rescues Bruce Wayne (Adam West) from a fatally boring meeting. Bruce uses the excuse of “gone fishing” with his ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) who utters his first “Holy Barracuda!”

“It’ll be a pleasure” to tackle the Riddler, Bruce tells Gordon with such square-jawed seriousness that we damn well believe him.  Cue the opening animation to Nelson Riddle’s iconic theme music.

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AMICUS ANTHOLOGIES (1965-1974), PART ONE

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With Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965, directed by Freddie Francis and written by Milton Subotsky) Amicus Productions (spearheaded by Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, who previously produced for Hammer and was a cousin to Doris Wishman) established itself as a vital competitor to Hammer Studios. Rather than imitating Hammer’s modernization of Gothic classics, Amicus developed its niche in the omnibus film. It was successful enough to be in full-fledged production for a decade, establishing a reputation as the go-to studio for horror anthologies. This, their introductory portmanteau film, clearly influenced by EC Comics, sets a pattern of to-be-expected unevenness. Still, Amicus installs themselves as a horror studio to be reckoned with, sparing no expense in procuring Hammer’s top actors: Peter Cushing (who would  star in all but one of the Amicus anthologies) and Christopher Lee. For its wraparound segment, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors opens to the duo (among other passengers) on a train. Dr. Schreck[1] (Cushing, saddled with a terrible German accent and glued on brows) pulls out a deck of tarot cards. “Pick a card, any card, and tape it three times,” Schreck tells his fellow passengers. Each participant will hear of a fate that may await them. Among the passengers is Christopher Lee who will, of course, factor into one of the five narratives.

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In “Werewolf,” Neil McCallum is an architect renovating an old dark house, which turns out to be cursed. The title monster is featured in this pedestrian tale of ancestral revenge with a “twist.”

With Alan Freeman  (better known as the U.K D.J. for “Pick of the Pops”) served up as a snack for a venus fly trap,”The Creeping Vine,” thankfully doesn’t take itself so seriously. It is refreshingly lightheaded hokum.

“Voodoo” is the worst of the lot; badly dated in its stereotypes, with Kenny Lynch belting out a stolen voodoo tune.

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“Disembodied Hand,” has elitist art critic Franklin Marsh (Lee) driving artist Eric Landor (Michael Gough) to suicide. Landor’s severed hand returns to exact revenge on the mean critic. It’s in the spirit of The Beast with Five Fingers, among others, and chock-full of two-dimensional caricatures of both artists and critics. It holds no surprises, but with Lee and Gough engaged in a bit of whistling-while-they-work fun, it’s easily the best episode.

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“Vampire” feature a young Donald Sutherland who discovers he is married to… a vampire! It barely raises a pulse.

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Seen today, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is more camp than horror, and its appeal is one of genre nostalgia. Still, the phenomenal box office success of Dr. Terror green-lighted a second portmanteau film in 1967, entitled Torture Garden (directed by Freddie Francis and written by Robert Bloch). It contains no torture nor any garden. Burgess Meredith (in a preposterous  disguise, reminding us of the Penguin) is Old Nick himself, going by the pseudonym of Dr. Diablo and moonlighting as a carnival barker who promises a tortuous exhibit that can reveal the future. “You’ll shake, you’ll shiver, but it’s all good fun,” Diablo hammily tells his patrons. Unfortunately, only one of the four tales lives up to that promise.

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“Enoch,” is the opening narrative. Michael Bryant’s inheritance money (from an uncle who took his time dying) is going to be spoiled by a mean ol’ puddy tat with a lot of doubloons.

“Over Hollywood” has Beverly Adams discovering the fountain of youth in Hollywood with robotic consequences.

“Mr. Steinway” might be seen as a poor precursor to Stephen King’s “Christine,” replacing a killer car with a killer piano. It’s as absurd as it sounds.

The first three segments are sloppily written and executed with little enthusiasm; each progressively worse, but the final segment single-handedly salvages the anthology.

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“The Man Who Collected Poe” finds Jack Palance (playing against type) as an Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed geek who may have found his soulmate in fellow fanatic Peter Cushing. However, somebody’s got something—or someone—hidden in the basement and … somebody’s got the fever, which leads to a fiery finale. Cushing and Palance clearly enjoyed playing opposite one another and their chemistry, along with clever writing, making one wish the previous segments had been as enjoyable.

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1970’s The House That Dripped Blood (directed by Peter Duffell and written by Robert Bloch) is a considerable improvement over its predecessors. Duffell lacks the visual astuteness of Freddie Francis, but he has superior stories to work with and a top notch cast. The connecting theme is the titular house, which has a bit of baggage left over from all who have resided there.

In “Method For Murder,” Denholm Elliott is a horror author who writes a character that becomes a tad too three-dimensional, much to his wife’s peril.

“Waxworks” stars Cushing as an uptight retired stockbroker and lifelong bachelor who visits a wax museum, only to see a figure of a woman whom he once was in love with. Obsession and unrequited love naturally go hand-in-hand, or head-on-plate.

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In “Sweets to the Sweet,” Nyree Dawn Porter is hired to tutor a young, motherless child  (Chloe Franks) who is unloved by her cold-hearted father, Christopher Lee. Without giving too much away, let’s just say the underlying theme is one few filmmakers would dare tackle today.

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“The Cloak” is the most famous of the four episodes, remembered fondly for its absurd humor. It stars John Pertwee (best known for his portrayal of Dr. Who) as an actor who mantles the cloak of a purported actual vampire. Hammer favorite Ingrid Pitt bares her fangs and, of course, a bit more.

All four episodes feature strong acting, which is a rarity in contemporary horror and should be a model for genre filmmakers. Elliot’s restrained performance in “Method For Murder” is admirable enough to forgive the predictable “twist.” The stylish “Waxworks” features an equally stylish performance from Cushing, although narratively it is the thinnest episode. “Sweets to the Sweet” is psychologically intense with three powerhouse performances, making it the strongest entry. Although John Pertwee is a bit on-the-sleeve in “The Cloak,” his performance suits the tone; but, he’s no match for Pitt.

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