Published on July 24th, 2012 | by PJ Montgomery0
Batman the Movie (1966) – A Movie Flashback
With The Dark Knight Rises being released in the cinema last week, there’s no better time to take a look at Batman’s movie debut, which couldn’t really be any different, tonally speaking, to Christopher Nolan’s Bat trilogy.
Filmed in between the first and second series of the seminal sixties Batman TV series, featuring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Robin, Batman the Movie was very much in keeping with the style of the show. The small screen incarnation was meant as a loving spoof of superhero tropes, and the film ran with this, also parodying the conventions of the old movie serials of the thirties and forties (two of which featured Batman himself). Remember how in those serials, at the end of one episode the hero would clearly die, and yet the next week, the scene would have been shot completely differently so that the hero survived? Batman plays with this a couple of times to hilarious effect. Witness the scene where the Batboat is apparently struck by a missile, creating a very definite explosion. Two scenes later, we see Batman and Robin driving the Batboat, discussing the porpoise which threw itself between them and the missile. It’s a genius, laugh-out-loud moment which typifies the film.
The movie also features some of the most memorable, and most hilarious, moments from the Adam West era. Shark Repellant Batspray anyone? I know a few players of Arkham City who wished that particular item was still a part of Batman’s inventory. And then there’s the glorious sequence in which Batman runs around a pier for absolutely ages with a lit bomb in his hands, trying to dispose of it. After running into a brass band, some nuns, an elderly couple, a pair of young lovers and some cute, fluffy ducklings, Batman famously declares “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb.” West himself is spot on in this film, very much in on the joke and having a ball, ably assisted by Burt Ward as the Boy Wonder. Both ham it up wonderfully, knowingly adding to the silliness whenever they can. The chemistry between the two is obvious, and a major factor in the success of the film.
Of course, no Batman film is complete without a memorable villain or two. Or four, in this case. Returning from the TV series were Cesar Romero as the Joker, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler and Burgess Meredith as the Penguin. While Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman in the first series of the show, was invited to return, a scheduling conflict meant she was unable to reprise her role, so Lee Merriwether was brought in instead. All four villains get their moments to shine, and each has their part to play in the nefarious scheme to remove the water from the bodies of a group of world leaders and hold them hostage as piles of brightly coloured dust. Romero, Gorshin and Meredith all play their parts with manic glee, while Merriwether smoulders seductively as Catwoman, though can’t quite match Newmar in the sexy stakes (but then, which Catwoman can?).
Are there problems with the film? Well, yes, but they’re not really anything we can hold against it. Sure, the film and the series were so successful that the comics began reflecting their tone for a good long while (really until Frank Miller got hold of the character in the eighties), and the spoof version of Batman became the only version people really knew. Also, there’s only one scene where comic book sound effects appear on screen. That’s not enough.
Yeah, okay, those are a stretch. The fact is, Batman the Movie is one of the best movies based on a comic of all time. But, it’s hardly a good representation of the source material, and its very existence as a parody of the superhero genre makes it difficult to put in our list with the other, more serious takes on comic based films. Sure, it’s easily the funniest film on our list, but best? No, not quite. It’s up there, and if I want to watch a superhero comedy, this would be my first choice. But if I just want to watch a crackin’ comic book film? There are a couple of films I’d take over Batman. This means that Batman doesn’t top our list, but it certainly places highly.
1. X2 (2003)
2. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
4. Batman the Movie (1966)
5. X-Men: First Class (2011)
6. Spider-Man (2002)
7. Thor (2011)
8. Iron Man (2008)
9. X-Men (2000)
10. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
11. Daredevil (2003)
12. Iron Man 2 (2010)
13. Hulk (2003)
14. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
15. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
16. Ghost Rider (2007)
17. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
18. Elektra (2005)
Recommended Reading – Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest
In keeping with the tone of Batman the Movie, this week, I’m recommending a story which mostly makes fun of comics, and has a laugh doing it. In this DC published one-shot, written by Evan Dorkin, Mr Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite both show up at the end of a Superman / Batman adventure, and start arguing. Their argument ends up killing Supes and Bats, and destroys the entire universe. So, they travel to another universe. And destroy that. And travel to another one, and on and on, visiting most of the more famous stories from DC’s output up to the year 2000, including the then current comics continuity, the universes of The Dark Knight Returns and Kingdom Come. What makes World’s Funnest even better is that Dorkin is working with a whole list of great artists on the book, including Mike Allred, Dave Gibbons and Stuart Immonen. This also means that you get the segment set in the DC Animated Universe (told in storyboard style) drawn by Bruce Timm, The Dark Knight Returns section drawn by Frank Miller, and the Kingdom Come pages featuring glorious painted work by Alex Ross. It’s both an amusing run through DC Comics back catalogue, and a loving homage to some of their best stories. It might be hard to track down these days (near as I can tell, DC only ever released it in the original prestige format once, and I’m not sure its ever been included in any collections), but if you can, you’ll plenty of enjoyment out of it.
Next time, Hellboy.