Adam West and Burt Ward have hung on the various walls of my various dwellings, donned in their spandex Batman and Robin costumes from the 1960s television series, for the past three years or so — but I've never spent much time watching their campy antics on-screen.
That changed the other night when I was casually browsing the Netflix machine and just so happened upon Batman: The Movie (1966), a feature-length film released after the first season of the 1960s show Batman, which ran for three seasons from 1966-1968, starring the aforementioned dynamic duo.
West and Ward, as the Bat and Boy Wonder, face off against four super villains in the movie: Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and the Joker (Cesar Romero). The premise is that the four baddies have come up with an invention capable of dehydrating people, and they attempt to use the cockamamy contraption to take over the world.
Batman: The Movie does not lack for the kind of uncanny comedy and ridiculous one-liners — always delivered with a straight face, no less — that permeated the television series. It's even complete with a fist-fighting scene atop a submarine where the POW!s, ZWAPP!s, and KLONK!s steal the show.
WHAT ABOUT THE JOKER?
Before we get into the inanity that defines the movie, a serious observation: one of the first things I noticed was that the Joker seemed to take a backseat to the other villains — something that was out of place, in my mind, when it comes to Batman. Catwoman and Penguin were the ones calling the shots, and even the Riddler, who somewhat joined the Joker on the back burner, stole a little more of the spotlight than the Clown Prince of Crime.
The villainous foursome opted to employ Penguin's submarine (decked out with a beak and flippers, I might add), relied on Catwoman to disguise herself and lure Batman into their trap, and made use of the Riddler's word puzzles to toy with the dynamic duo, leaving the Joker with little to do. Gorshin's Riddler even outdid Romero's Joker in the categories of infinite energy and general kookiness.
(*Side note* A 2015 article written for Cracked.com had this to say about Gorshin's Riddler in the television series: "Gorshin is constantly moving and twitching in his loving tribute to kinetic energy, and he seems to be constantly daring the camera and the unlucky people cast as his henchmen to keep up with him.")
Joker's one highlight seemed to come when the four villains broke into a meeting of dignitaries and he was allowed to do the honors of unleashing their dehydrating invention.
'HAND DOWN THE SHARK REPELLENT, ROBIN!'
Adam West's iteration of Batman was always well equipped. A perfectly ridiculous example of this in the movie comes when Batman and Robin fly the Batcopter out over the ocean in pursuit of a ship and get into a pickle with a bite-happy (and oh-so-fake) ocean dweller.
Batman, hanging just above the water on a rope ladder, finds that a shark has latched onto his leg near the beginning of the film, prompting him to call up to Robin on his walkie talkie. He asks the Boy Wonder to toss down the shark repellent, which of course is stored in a neat rack inside the Batcopter, right next to the barracuda, whale, and Manta ray repellents. This is the writers dishing out some in-your-face ridiculousness not even 10 minutes into the movie. You gotta give 'em credit.
Cue scene: Batman and Robin yet again flying the Batcopter, this time over Gotham City (which looks oddly familiar to Los Angeles (a.k.a. a place antonymous with more contemporary depictions of Gotham)), about to crash as they've just been clipped by a Riddler-launched missile. Lo and behold, per happenstance, they crash land at a foam rubber wholesalers convention, softly plopping down in a conveniently-placed pile of crude foam rubber.
As Batman so stoically states: "I'd say the odds against it would make even the most reckless gambler cringe."
That's too good.
'THIS BRASSY BIRD HAS US BUFFALOED!'
Batman: The Movie, just as the 1960s television series, counts on its characters being blithely unaware of facts that are plainly obvious to the audience. One of these glaring realities is that Robin's "mask" does little to hide his secret identity — and yet no one on screen will notice that he is Dick Grayson in spandex for a simple reason: they aren't supposed to.
Burt's Robin even says at one point: "In fact, our own relatives we live with don't know."
Hard to believe? You better believe it.
This inability to see past the thinnest disguise, which plagues every citizen of Gotham, plays out well for the villains on a couple of occasions. Catwoman hardly bats a paw when tricking Batman into thinking she is a Russian reporter, and the Penguin, dressed as a sea captain, dupes the dynamic duo into taking him to the Batcave so they can verify his identity with a retinal scan.
If you didn't know it was all purposefully ludicrous, you might pull your hair out.
I guess I should stop before spoiling the rest of the movie, huh?
FINAL VERDICT: 7.5 out of 10 — The plot isn't all that intricate, by design most likely, but there is much fun to be had watching West and Ward (and Meriwether, Meredith, Gorshin, and Romero) gallivant about the L.A. version of Gotham. The one-liners, riddled with alliteration, certainly don't hurt either.