Director – Leslie H. Martinson, Screenplay – Lorenzo Semple Jr, Based on the Comic Created by Bob Kane, Producer – William Dozier, Photography – Howard Schwartz, Music – Nelson Riddle, Art Direction – Serge Krizman. Production Company – 20th Century Fox
Adam West (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Burt Ward (Robin/Dick Grayson), Cesar Romero (The Joker), Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Lee Merriwether (The Cat-Woman), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), Alan Napier (Alfred), Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon), Stafford Rett (Chief O’Hara)
The Joker, The Penguin, Cat Woman and The Riddler join forces to form United Underworld. Using a Dehydration Ray, they reduce the delegates of the United World Security Council to dust. It is up to those stalwart fighters against crime, Batman and Robin, to foil the nefarious scheme.
The tv series Batman (1966-8) was a peculiar kind of madness that could have happened only in the 1960s. Producer William Dozier was inspired by a re-release of the serial Batman (1943) when he saw how much the audience was laughing at its deadpan ludicrousness. Dozier went away and created the Batman series where everything was played as a dizzyingly absurd parody of the comic-book. The tv series made fun of the central character in baggy tights, the over-the-top villains, plots and one-dimensional sets. Every device came prefigured by the phrase ‘Bat’, fights were punctuated by onomatopoeic comic-strip balloons and the series became a showcase for well-known actors to guest star as villains and camp it up as wildly as possible. This wilful silliness became a trendy hit that swept America and then just as quickly went again. Fans of the Batman comics hated it – although DC Comics themselves were not so purist, allowing the tone of the comic-book to be rewritten to the style of the tv series, using the show’s design of the Batmobile and later even making one of the characters that had been specifically created for the tv series, Batgirl, to become a permanent fixture of the comic-book. The tv series remains a fascinating artefact from 1960s pop art.
Regrettably, this feature film spinoff, in an attempt to milk the Bat-craze, reeks of too forced an attempt at capturing the series’ zaniness. The dedication in the opening credits “to crimefighters the world over and to lovers of the ridiculous, lovers of the bizarre and fun lovers everywhere” seems to be trying to hit too wide a barn door. The bringing together of the most popular villains from the tv series (and incidentally the only ones the series ever took straight from the comic-book) seems like overkill – the idea of United Underworld seems more like a meeting of Overactors Anonymous. The dialogue is very, very silly – deductions go: “Fishy – fishy like a penguin! Wait a minute it happened at sea – of course, C for Cat Woman! An exploding shark was ‘pulling my leg’ – The Joker! It all adds up to a sinister riddle – The Riddler!”
Still there are moments when the film attains a delirious absurdism. Like the image of Batman hanging from a rope ladder with a rubber shark attached to his leg while yelling “Hand me the Bat Shark Repellent, Robin.” The scene where Batman attempts to get rid of the bomb and at every turn faces ducks, boating lovers, nuns, Salvation Army Bands and frogmen is a priceless slapstick sequence that would not have gone out of place in a Buster Keaton short. Batman is forever lecturing Robin a series of wonderfully cod epithets on good and evil: “When you think of people in weird outfits hanging around here, it’s amazing someone hasn’t reported this place to the police,” comments Robin. “It’s a low neighbourhood, full of rum pots who are used to curious sights which they attribute to alcoholic delusions,” replies Batman. “Gosh, drinking’s a filthy thing isn’t it – I’d rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes.” At the end, Batman and Robin realize they have made a mistake in reconstituting the council and Batman advises “Let us leave inconspicuously out that window.” At half an hour twice a week, the tv series was an enjoyable piece of surrealistic zaniness but at feature-length the joke often seems stretched.
Adam West and Burt Ward subsequently reprised the roles of Batman and Robin in the animated tv series The New Adventures of Batman (1977-8), and the live-action tv special Legends of the Superheroes (1977). West and Ward subsequently revived their roles in the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017). Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt (2003) was a live-action film parody/homage to the original where they played themselves. West also voiced the role of The Grey Ghost, an earlier superhero in episodes of Batman (1992-4) and Thomas Wayne in Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-11).
The other Batman films and tv series are:- Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949), two 15-chapter serials from Columbia; the animated tv series The New Adventures of Batman (1977-8); Tim Burton’s superb duo of films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) starring Michael Keaton, and Joel Schumacher’s dismal campy follow-ups Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), featuring respectively Val Kilmer and George Clooney, followed by Christopher Nolan’s fine revival of the franchise with Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) starring Christian Bale, and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) with Ben Affleck; the excellent animated series Batman (1992-4) inspired by the Tim Burton films and its follow-up The New Batman Adventures (1997-9), which spawned several film spin-offs with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero (1998), The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1998) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), as well as the later DC Universe Original Animated Movies Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Batman: Year One (2011), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part I (2012), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013), Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014), Son of Batman (2014), Batman vs. Robin (2015), Batman: Bad Blood (2016), Batman: The Killing Joke (2016), Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) and Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (2018), as well as Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), a compilation of anime Batman shorts; Batman Beyond/Batman of the Future (1999-2001), the futuristic follow-up series from the same creative team featuring an aging Bruce Wayne and his young apprentice, which also spun off one animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000); the animated series The Batman (2004-8), which badly revised the basics of the series and was also spun off into a film with The Batman vs. Dracula (2005); two further animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-11), which placed Batman alongside other DC superheroes, and Beware the Batman (2013-4); the live-action tv series Gotham (2014– ), which tells the origin stories of the familiar characters and villains as Bruce Wayne grows up; Batman turns up as an animated character in The Lego Movie (2014) and gets a whole film to himself in The Lego Batman Movie (2017); the animated films Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (2015) and Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (2015) spun off from a line of action figures; the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) featuring a return of Adam West and Burt Ward; and the anime film Batman Ninja (2018). Batman also makes appearances in the line-up of superheroes in various other DC-related animated series such as SuperFriends (1973-7), The All New SuperFriends Hour (1977-9) and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-5), as well as the films Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) and Justice League Dark (2017). Other spin-offs include the short-lived live-action tv series Birds of Prey (2002), featuring the women of Batman – a paraplegic Batgirl, Cat Woman’s daughter and Harley Quinn – and the Halle Berry starring Catwoman (2004), while Robin appears as a member of Young Justice (2010-3) and Suicide Squad (2016) features a team-up of DC villains including The Joker and Harley Quinn. The Batman-Robin relationship is also excrutiatingly spoofed in the Superhero Speed Dating segment of Movie 43 (2013). Also of interest is Batman & Bill (2017), a documentary about the unacknowledged co-creator of Batman, Bill Finger.