I remember when Bat-mania hit. When the Adam West TV series premiered, millions of kids were glued to their sets. We thrilled to the colorful adventures of the Caped Crusaders, Batman and Robin, as they fought to keep flamboyant foes such as Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman from terrorizing the good citizens of Gotham City. It was like seeing the old Bob Kane comics brought to life, and we all went batty over it. In no time the Batman logo was all over T-shirts, lunch boxes, bubblegum cards--you name it. It was cooler than cool.
Meanwhile, back in my childhood...the show had been on for one season when word hit the playground that there was gonna be a movie. HOLY HOLLYWOOD, Batman! The local theater was packed to the gills with screaming kids on a Saturday morning back in '66 when BATMAN:THE MOVIE lit the place up.
Back in the Batcave--that is, my livingroom, present day--I can now enjoy BATMAN:THE MOVIE as the wonderfully funny spoof that it is. Adam West as the wise, mysterious, somber Batman and Burt Ward as his earnest, straight-arrow yet boyishly-impetuous sidekick Robin are almost painfully deadpan.
Their dialogue is often hilarious, as in this Batcave think-session which features them trying to decipher two of the Riddler's fiendishly clever brain-teasers:
BATMAN: "Listen to these riddles, Robin...tell me if you interpret them as I do. One: what has yellow skin and writes?"
ROBIN: (after a moment's reflection) "A ballpoint banana!"
BATMAN: "Right! Two: what people are always in a hurry?"
BATMAN: "Right again. Now what would you say they mean?"
ROBIN: "Banana...Russian...I've got it! Someone Russian is going to slip on a banana peel and break their neck!"
BATMAN: "Precisely, Robin! The only...possible...meaning!"
Giving Batman and Robin a run for their money in the deadpan humor department is Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon. To him, each new outbreak of villainy is the gravest catastrophe and would spell certain doom for Gotham City save for the intervention of the Caped Crusaders. His constantly apprehensive expression and dead-serious line delivery are perfect.
The bad guys, on the other hand, get to have all the fun. Back then, everyone wanted to play a super-foe on "Batman"--even Frank Sinatra tried to land a role--and people who hated or didn't "get" the show were astonished by the list of big-name guest stars lining up to be on it. Here, Latin romantic star Cesar Romero plays the treacherous trickster, the Joker, his trademark moustache covered in white greasepaint (he refused to shave it off!)
There's a story floating around somewhere, but it isn't really important. The villains kidnap a guy named Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny) in order to obtain his new invention that dehydrates people into powder so they can make off with a group of United World ambassadors and somehow end up ruling the world. Who cares? It's all just an excuse to have fun.
Highlights include: Batman on a rope ladder below the Batcopter with a rubber shark hanging from his leg ("Robin! Hand me down the Shark-Repellent Batspray!"); Batman scrambing all over the waterfront trying to find a safe place to discard a huge bomb he's carrying, but surrounded by nuns, mothers with baby carriages, and baby ducks ("Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"); Batman scolding a Pentagon offical over the phone for selling a war surplus pre-atomic submarine to a Mr. "P.N. Guinn", who didn't even leave his full address; and a long sequence involving Batman's alter ego, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, on a date with a Russian reporter named Miss Kitka, who is really Catwoman.
Of course, since the TV series always featured a nail-biting cliffhanger every week, the movie is filled with certain-death situations for Batman and Robin. We also get to see the famous Bat-climb, and we're finally shown how Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward, Dick Grayson, always leap onto the Batpoles in their street clothes but end up at the bottom in full costume. ("An instant costume-change lever!" I remember thinking as a kid. "So that's how they do it!")
On the downside, the movie gets a bit draggy in spots, and the ending isn't exactly what I'd call a big pay-off. I've always been disappointed by the opening titles as well--no supercool "Batman Theme", no cartoon Batman and Robin POW-ing their way through a horde of evildoers. There's even a lame-joke foreword that betrays the mock seriousness of the whole concept. But most of the time, BATMAN:THE MOVIE is a colorful rush of nostalgic fun that raises pure, straight-faced Bat-silliness to a level rarely experienced by anyone who isn't huffing nitrous oxide. TO THE BATPOLES!