Batman (1966) Movie Review

If you're old enough, you remember when Batman first became a cultural phenomenon. No, not when Tim Burton tagged then-comedian Michael Keaton and Oscar-winning warhorse Jack Nicholson to play the Caped Crusader and his joking nemesis, respectively. Forty years ago, every kid in America was glued to their living room TV set, awaiting the moment when the familiar Neal Hefti theme music would announce another amazing adventure with the crime fighter and the boy wonder Robin. So successful was the '60s version that at the height of its popularity it actually aired twice a week. Naturally, ABC wanted to maximize its prime time hit's potential, so in between seasons one and two, a full length motion picture was produced.

The storyline of 1966's Batman offers up the four main villains from the series -- The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, subbing for a previously committed Julie Newmar) -- uniting to bring down Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) once and for all. Using a device known as a dehydrator, they kidnap the United World Security Council, determined to use their crime to dismantle the organization and take over the world. With the leaders now turned to dust, our bad-guy-busting duo must save the day, hopefully restoring the assembly before the planet devolves into chaos.

Though it's often called campy and kitschy, this particular Batman movie is actually a telling template for future installments of the character's big-screen escapades. The TV show was definitely dopey, comedy and slapstick substituting for anything remotely violent or suspenseful. It even offered the surreal "bonk"/"zap" title cards to amplify the fun. Yet thanks to a bigger budget and broader scope, some novel new inventions (the Batboat, the Batcycle, the Batcopter) were added to the movie arsenal, while the clever combination of all four key criminals allowed for some wonderfully over-the-top acting turns. Many in the fanbase forget how great Meredith, Romero, and (especially) Gorshin really were. They didn't trade on celebrity and fame to fool the viewer. Instead, all took their evil personas very seriously, resulting in criminals who seemed like a legitimate threat to our heroes.

Watching these performers some 40-plus years later is a revelation the original Batman movie just can't avoid. Unlike other attempts at bringing these characters to life -- Michelle Pfeiffer's dominatrix/Goth Catwoman, Jim Carrey's far too flippant Riddler -- the TV cast really captures the inherent insanity of the roles. They make the good vs. evil element of the standard storyline work wonderfully. In fact, the Batman movie adds a unique, contemporary theme to the otherwise kid-friendly fantasy. When the Council is vaporized and reduced to ash, Robin wonders why their particles can't be mixed together -- the better to help in world peace and understanding. Pretty highfalutin' for a goofball comic book construct.

And then there are stars West and Ward. Together they create a classic combination, Batman's sonorous seriousness immediately modulated by Robin's reactionary naiveté. Even better are the rare instances when Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson make an appearance. Decked out in ridiculously retro mid-'60s fashions, our millionaire playboy and his "ward" offer the kind of half-baked Hugh Hefner-isms that kept a generation glued to their TV sets in wide-eyed wish fulfillment. Some may argue that the movie plays like overinflated episodes of the series, the visual bigness never translating beyond the new toys, but for an audience used to seeing their heroes on a tiny cathode ray tube, this cinematic update was indeed larger than life. Four decades later, little has changed.

Aka Batman: The Movie.

Cast & Crew

Director : Leslie H. Martinson

Producer :


Comments

Batman (1966) Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 1966

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