By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com
DVD Geek: Batman – The Complete Series
Under the mistaken assumption that it would teach me fiscal prudence, my parents limited my comic book purchases as a child to two magazines a month. This was a wrenching dictum, because there were four or five that I enjoyed very much, and all of them came out monthly, but while I may have varied my second choice from one month to the next, the first choice never altered. It was Batman. Less ensconced in fantasy than most of the other comics I followed, I appreciated, subconsciously since I didn’t know about that stuff yet, the series’ film noir roots. It was imaginative and playful, but its drama was serious, and without the deus ex machina of super powers, the stories were forced to be based more on logic and wit than the adventures of many of the other super heroes. I was very excited when the television series adaptation of the comic was announced as a mid-season replacement, for the whole world would be able to share in my passion, and I sat down eagerly to watch its premiere on ABC in January 1966.
I was aghast at what I saw. Rather than embracing the creative darkness of the comic book, it made fun of it. The TV show’s individual episodes ran 25 minutes each and were presented in a half-hour time slot, and during the initial two seasons, each episode was presented in double length, the first part broadcast for a half hour on Wednesday nights and ending in a cliffhanger, and then the conclusion broadcast on Thursday nights. Wasteland that television was in those days, I continued to watch the Thursday episodes, but on Wednesday I returned to my program of choice, the relatively more sophisticated Lost in Space. Unfortunately, I had an annoying younger sibling. This sibling was too young to see how blasphemous and stupid the Batman television show was, but was old enough to know darn well that it was broadcast on Wednesdays as well as Thursdays—and to insist, like the proverbial loudest baby bird, that we watch Batman on Wednesdays as well. Like the proverbial mother and father birds, our parents usually awarded that sibling the worm, while I stewed quietly after some unwelcomed protests, and awaited the days of summer re-runs when I could finally take in the complete hour-long adventures of the space family Robinson. This was in the days before iPads, before each child could curl up in a corner with his own entertainment and not be bothered or pestered by the wants and desires of others. Instead, there was only one television in the house and, fiscal prudence apparently being a byword up and down the line, it was a black-and-white TV.
That the show was colorful was plenty evident in the magazine spreads and other promotional materials that caught my eye in the print media. The 1966 feature film spin-off, which emphasized the show’s comedy, was eye-popping in its chromatic splendor. And it is because of the colors and not because of any other nostalgic impulse that I forked over our child’s college tuition to obtain the Warner Home Video Blu-ray Limited Edition boxed set, Batman The Complete Television Series! Within the boxed set, each of three seasons—the first and third are three platters long, and the second is six platters; another platter of special features is included, too—is offered up in a separate jacket. There is nothing subtle about the show’s colors—there is really nothing subtle about the show at all except for some of its humor—they are solid, basic hues and on Blu-ray they are as stupendously colorful as I expected them to be. Batman’s cowl is indigo, but his facemask is solid black, except for the nose, which in a humorous touch of inept design, is also indigo. The joke probably passed over viewers when it was originally broadcast in the crude color replications of the day, but you can’t take your eyes off of it now. Presented in full screen format, every episode of the series is spotlessly transferred. If the show is to be at all appreciated, Warner has made a spectacular effort to facilitate that appreciation. For hours and hours, the colors are fabulous, and every shot makes you wish that the real world could be as chromatically splendid as your TV screen.
The monophonic sound has been transferred with an equal interest in perfection, and therein lies the rub. Half a century later, the show is still as irritating as all get out, and the audio does not help matters in the least. Adam West and Burt Ward star as the show’s two heroes. West’s character is a millionaire who uses his surplus income to work closely with the police as a disguised vigilante. Ward is a non-blood relation teenager who lives with him and assists in his crime fighting. Their relationship need not speak its name to spawn comedic insinuation every time they are together on the screen. Their challenge in every episode is to combat a fancifully adorned villain played by a prominent guest star. Frank Gorshin (as ‘The Riddler’), Cesar Romero (as ‘The Joker’), and Burgess Meredith (as ‘The Penguin’) all co-starred in the 1966 feature film after each portraying the guest villain in the first three episodes and returning fairly early on for second, third and subsequent appearances. Almost all of the villains, including the other guest stars, act like they have ADD. Gorshin acts like he has it ten times over. Their voices are always loud, harsh and aggressive. They are all, in effect, just like my annoying sibling, and in DTS sound, with the amplified audio effects and brashly simplistic musical score, they are even more obnoxious.
The Batman TV series has held up very well as a show for children. It ought to be on Nickelodeon in prime time. For adults wishing to reclaim the innocence and protected excitement of their childhood, however, while I can’t speak for my sibling, I suspect that most will lose patience with the series fairly rapidly. It is best appreciated in extremely small doses, say an episode or two at a time with a lengthy break of days between that and the next, and preferably with companions so that any laughter can be fueled by camaraderie. Given that the set has thirteen single-part episodes, forty-nine two-part episodes and three three-part episodes, you can stretch your appreciation, nostalgia and viewing parties out for several years. Try to binge watch, on the other hand, and you’ll end up in Arkham Asylum, or at the very least, drive away anyone in your household who does not comprehend the fanaticism of your passions.
As I said, the show’s humor and its colors are its two saving graces. The obvious slapstick reinforces the show’s loud aggressiveness, and more intellectually, the show is a lampoon of both the comic book superhero concept and society’s idealized platitudes that such superheroes used to reinforce. But the comedy does not stop there, as the various writers toss in everything from witty literary allusions to really bad puns. The constant alliteration in the dialog is likely unique to the history of television. Twice the show stoops to using the, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane,” gag. And quite often, the show goes to elaborate lengths simply to laugh at itself. Searching for a clue on the parts of an automobile that have been wiped clean of fingerprints, West’s character discovers two small spots on the steering wheel. “There’s a tiny green speck, and an even tinier red speck on it. Robin, here, take a look at this.” “What do you think it is, Batman?” “The red speck appears to be chili, and the green speck is avocado. Do you know what that means? What restaurant serves the best chili and avocado dip in Gotham City?” “Holy Guacamole! The Adobe Hacienda Motel on the Inbound State Highway!” Basically, the more friends you can have watching an episode at one time, the funnier it will seem.
If no other television show has ever had as much alliteration, no show has probably ever had as many Dutch angles, either. The camera angles are deliberately wacky (though less so as the series advances), and the production designs, even when restricted by television budgets, are wonderful. Meredith’s character employs umbrella traps that look like something Christo might have conceived. From Romero’s green hair to the red light on the Batmobile, the show is a constant display of pop art at the height of pop art mania. Set in ‘Gotham City,’ a metropolis apparently on the American east coast, but containing radio stations with ‘K’ call letters, the stock footage is always of New York, while the location footage is pure Los Angeles. The mix is a deliberate part of the humor. Ward’s character attends ‘Woodrow Roosevelt High School.’
The endearing Neil Hamilton, who portrays the police commissioner, can be seen in a couple of the earliest episodes barely holding back his laughter as West, whose performance throughout the series is masterfully crafted, delivers his impossibly idealized platitudes about civic duty. The dynamic between West and Ward is carefully and competently sustained. Ward’s character often contributes to the solutions West’s character is seeking, and, on the other side of the coin, Ward sets up some of the gags by saying something impulsively emotional that West’s character can humorously chastise.
For all of the inspired comedy and talented performances, however, the show’s writing is lazy and uncreative. The screenwriters essentially gorge themselves on the low-hanging fruit—each villain is a gimmick—and don’t start focusing on actual stories until it is too late to rescue the show. In the beginning, every episode follows the format of a cliffhanger serial. The bad guys want to get something. The good guys try to stop them, but fail, get captured and are on the verge of being destroyed at the break, but then escape, go through the whole process again, and win at the end. Because the characters are so absurd, the show was able to coast on that template for quite a while. The cliffhangers actually get better as they go along because they become more and more ridiculous. At first, the writers attempt to find logical solutions to the dilemmas, but later on, they will just come up with something utterly inane—West’s character survives underwater for an hour by putting himself in a trance—and the humor of it more than compensates for the absurdity. The fight choreography, famously supplemented with text exclamations, is tedious and repetitive. Once in a while somebody will come up with a new move, and again, because of the absurdity of the show, it will seem unique, but it passes in a moment, lost in what is otherwise filler. This is network TV. The creators can’t take the time to sit down and really plan out two or three different, involving and exciting fights week after week, despite the handy presence of many wonderfully abstract props. But there is barely an attempt to make it interesting. It gets so that after a while, they don’t even try to sell the punches.
After their separate appearances in the first three episodes (Jill St. John co-stars in the first episode), Gorshin guest stars in three more episodes in the first season, while Romero and Meredith star in two more each. Most of them conform to the standard format. The one that is exceptional is a Gorshin episode with a motion picture theme, which was shot in part at old Hollywood locations and includes Francis X. Bushman in a supporting role. The first Julie Newmar ‘Cat Woman’ episode is a blatant celebration of the show’s bondage undertones, and derives humor from presenting explicitly what was otherwise a vague constant in the show’s tone. While the narrative is no different than the others in the first season, Newmar’s svelte demeanor and reserved phrasing are a welcome change from the wired, clownish antics of the male performers. “At last, the plunder of a dozen galleons. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds. Never again to face depravation,” she purrs while pawing through a chest of treasure she has retrieved, “From now on, pussywillows galore.” (“TTFN,” she says at another point and it takes a minute before you realize, ‘Wait a minute, that’s Tigger’s line.’ Newmar, however, used it first.)
George Sanders appears as the first of three different actors who would embody the villain, ‘Mr. Freeze,’ over the course of the series. He goes through the motions but really doesn’t understand it and has none of the accoutrements or makeup one associates with the character. There are some cheap special effects that are employed, however, which work really well in conveying the tone of the show. Malachi Throne, who remains unidentified until the final credits of the second part, plays ‘False Face,’ a Sixties version of a shape shifter that essentially allows the other members of the cast to be the villain from one sequence to the next. The narrative is a welcome relief, however, because of what the gimmick allows. Also welcome are the oodles and oodles of literary references that accompany Roddy McDowall’s character, ‘The Bookworm,’ although the plot doesn’t have much else to offer and McDowall doesn’t completely click as the character. While Anne Baxter would appear in the third season as a different character, she portrayed ‘Zelda the Great’ just once, in the first season, mesmerizing men—whose eyes enjoyably pop out when they are under her spell—to do her bidding.
David Wayne makes his first appearance as ‘The Mad Hatter,’ and is especially irritating, conforming to the requirements of the show by being loud and grating. At least the plot has more meat than usual, as his character is working his way through the jury that previously convicted him. Victor Buono also makes his first appearance as a character who would show up a number of times in both the second and third seasons, in ancient Egyptian regalia as ‘King Tut.’ Until the final couple of episodes, however, and despite his game performances, the shows are more concerned with the regalia than with the story. It must be noted that in the final episode of the first season, a Meredith effort, there is a shot that must be seen to be believed, as his sexy cohort, played by Julie Gregg, is bending over ninety degrees, in profile, to read a gauge while behind her, in perfect alignment, two henchmen are working a gigantic bellows. It is the sort of shot that in all likelihood passed over me the first time I saw the show, but explains why my father was always enthusiastically joining us when it came on.
The meat of the Batman series is the season that ran from 1966 into 1967, as the series carried over its physical format from the shorter first season and began to expand, though somewhat awkwardly at first, on its narrative concepts and story possibilities. It doesn’t begin well. Art Carney portrays a Robin Hood-type character, who mangles his archaic English vocabulary with a deadpan Ed Norton bluntness. In concept, it is amusing, but Carney doesn’t completely understand how to embrace the clownishness of his part and the episode pretty much falls flat. After another Newmar episode (Edy Williams has a supporting part), Van Johnson, singing Gilbert & Sullivan’s Wandering Minstrel, is the villain, a harbinger of a trend in the show to play to the retirement crowd rather than the lunchbox set. In any case, it is another flaccid effort. Army Archerd and Phyllis Diller have brief appearances. Many of the cameos were used to promote other ABC series, such as the brief pop up of Van Williams and Bruce Lee, ABC’s Green Hornet characters, in an early Buono episode.
The narratives start to improve a tiny bit when Shelley Winters, who would later play Ma Barker herself, plays ‘Ma Parker’ in an amusing rural gangster spoof. Newmar shows up briefly, as well. Walter Slezak portrays ‘The Clock King,’ and while the narrative is somewhat confused and uninteresting, the fight scenes are reasonably creative. And then, incrementally, the show really does start to get better. Vincent Price is a wonderful actor for such material and, as usual, gives it his all portraying a character with a large hairless head who is known as ‘Egghead.’ Adding to the humor, Edward Everett Horton plays an Indian who owns the lease on Gotham City. It’s not PC, but it is amusing.
In one of the show’s overall best episodes, the writers actually did some work on the episode that features Liberace playing twin brothers (for the tough one, he channels Sheldon Leonard, but then drops it after a couple of scenes; the other is his usual flamboyant self). Edy Williams also shows up again, and there is some good slapstick mixed in with the clever plot. That is followed by the Meredith episode that inspired Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, with the Penguin character running for mayor and, like most evil politicians, doing quite an effective job of it, especially when he has a do-gooder putz like Batman as his competitor. Paul Revere and the Raiders do a number.
In the second iteration of the Mr. Freeze character, which gets a bit closer to the ideal, Otto Preminger plays the villain, and Marie Windsor is on hand as a reporter. Cameo appearances by Van Williams again and Howard Duff provide promos for other ABC series in a fairly witty Romero episode, in which he has a box that can manipulate time. In order to squeeze everything in, the lengthy recap of the first half is dropped from the beginning of the second half in favor of just presenting the cliffhanger, a change that would eventually become permanent. The divine Carolyn Jones provides an alternative to Newmar as the ‘Queen of Diamonds, ’ divvying out love potions to have the men she meets do her crimes for her. Woody Strode is cool as one of her henchmen, and for once, the cliffhanger does not involve physical peril but is, instead, about West’s character being on the verge of matrimony to the villainess. How he escapes this fate worse than death is very clever.
Cliff Robertson stars in a cowboy spoof as ‘Shame.’ Although they work the Shane references to death, the show is still fairly humorous, and has an ending that is well worth noting. A little boy who, throughout the episode, idolizes Robertson’s character, changes his allegiance in the final scene to West’s character. Looking back, the moment truly marks a major paradigm shift in American childhood fantasies, from cowboys to super heroes.
The Meredith episode that follows is another one of the best in the series, as he repeatedly tries to get ‘into prison’ by committing blatant crimes and West’s character, realizing that something is up, refuses to follow through with the punishment. Had the writing been this good from the beginning, the show might have lasted longer than it did.
Maurice Evans plays a variation on the Riddler called, ‘The Puzzler,’ infusing his clues with Shakespeare quotations, but whatever educational value the effort has to offer, it does not offer an equivalent of entertainment. Newmar appears in a couple of episodes as her character becomes increasingly infatuated in a romantic way with West’s character. In one, she steals the voices of the singing duo Chad & Jeremy, and in the other she is paired with Michael Rennie, who plays ‘The Sandman.’ Rennie cuts a fine figure, but neither episode amounts to much.
After a return of David Wayne as the Mad Hatter, Romero and Meredith are teamed for the first three-parter. Its best moments are when the two stars play off against each other in a scene, but the story (they design their crimes around the zodiac) is back to the usual grind and has little to offer beyond the performances. Rob Reiner has a small part.
And then something quite interesting happened. I watched the next Newmar episode, which was pretty much a standard effort except that she was given a hot teen sidekick to seduce Ward’s character, played by Lesley Gore. Not only does Gore do two numbers (including the lovely California Nights) in kind of a nightclub that Newmar’s character is running, but she also cuddles quite a bit with Newmar. I didn’t pay too much attention except that, our house having more than one television set, I walked upstairs where my spouse was watching Gotham, in which Jada Pinkett Smith is running kind of a nightclub and is auditioning singers, ultimately making out in a very hot sequence with Makenzie Leigh. It struck me immediately how far television entertainment has come in half a century, while at the same time had me gripped in wonderment at where it might go a half-century hence.
It is Jones, rather than Newmar, who finally gets to make out with West in the next three-parter, in which she is teamed with Meredith. The story, while not monumentally plotted, has a decent thematic progression, as Meredith’s character pretends to be shooting a movie and ropes West’s character into being the star of the film. The climax is very amusing and the many movie gags are inspired.
John Astin was brought in to replace Gorshin as the Riddler character, but he has a completely different style of comedy and is entirely ill suited to the part. You feel embarrassed for him, because it really isn’t his fault. That is followed by a basic but well executed Romero effort, in which he becomes a comic book publisher and then takes over a bank, and an equally witty and satisfying Newmar episode, which has a college theme.
Another highpoint of the series as a whole, Roger C. Carmel is the nominal villain, ‘Colonel Gumm,’ counterfeiting stamps, but he doesn’t even make the opening guest star billing. That is reserved for Van Williams and Bruce Lee, who, as the Green Hornet and his sidekick, do an entire crossover episode with West and Ward. You can’t take your eyes off Lee, who looks like he could slice Ward to pieces in the wink of an eye. Nevertheless the episode is a refreshing change and also has a terrific cameo by Edward G. Robinson and fun supporting performances by Alex Rocco and Seymour Cassel as henchmen.
Lee Merriwether is quite amusing as a kidnapped heiress that Buono’s character believes is Cleopatra. Less tiresome than most of the Buono episodes, Grace Lee Whitney and Tommy Newman co-star, and there is an initial reference to a character who does not actually appear until the third season.
For star power, you really cannot beat Tallulah Bankhead coming out of retirement to portray the ‘Black Widow’ in her final screen role. She was and even still is a stellar personality, although even the biggest film enthusiasts would be hard pressed to name more than one movie that she appeared in, and so her presence has a great significance beyond the standard manipulations of the robbery plot.
Rounding out the second season, there is an inspired Romero episode about ‘modern art’ and Eli Wallach weighs in as the last and best iteration of ‘Mr. Freeze,’ which includes a nice supporting performance by Elisha Cook, and a wonderful bit by West in which he ‘talks to himself’ on two telephones, pretending on one to be Batman and on the other to be his alter ego, Bruce Wayne.
The third season dumped Madge Blake as the aunt of Ward’s character, and I didn’t even notice she was gone until an episode about halfway through the season in which she shows up for a final cameo. The show was trimmed to a single half hour, although some episodes are extended to doubles and even a triple. In Blake’s place, Yvonne Craig steps in as ‘Batgirl,’ the daughter of Hamilton’s character, whose identity is known only by Alan Napier’s butler character. Her presence changes the entire dynamic of the show, as does the need to tell a complete story in 25 minutes. She’s straight, so she sort of sucks the comedy out of a scene, regardless of how much West and Ward camp it up. She’s very pretty, but she isn’t all that sexy. There’s no S&M vibe to her as there is with Newmar or Newmar’s replacement in the third season, Eartha Kitt (the show’s first and only African-American villain; there were only a couple of African-American henchmen, and a few more African-American extras appear as middle-class citizens going about their business). On the other hand, Craig’s cheery spunk enlivens the flow of the narratives. While the initial episodes in the third season are problematic, the writers eventually get a handle on how to get everything in during the half-hour slot, focusing more on a good concept and less on the monotonous fights and stunts (there is no more time for wall climbing, either). Not knowing if it will be Batgirl, Batman or Robin who will fall into danger, or who will save the day as a plot jumps from one character’s contributions to the next enhances a viewer’s curiosity and anticipation. Indeed, the final seven episodes of the season are among the show’s best, with fully conceptualized narratives that are less beholden to the show’s standard quirks and more concerned with following through on a clever premise or theme.
The third season ran from 1967 to 1968, and the cultural divide between 1966 and 1968 was a vast chasm that the series was ultimately unable to bridge. Like Bankhead, Liberace and Johnson in the previous season, guest star villains such as Rudy Vallee, Milton Berle, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Ethel Merman were hardly playing to the audience that had initially embraced the series as a hip and irreverent contribution to the psychedelic zeitgeist. Cameo appearances by personalities such as Art Linkletter didn’t help matters, either. Fortunately, the show’s impulse for fanciful production design was unhindered by its budgetary cutbacks. Commonly, the backs of sets are solid black, but the few dressings in front are inevitably creative and colorful. Indeed, from a transfer standpoint, if it is at all possible, the third season is even more stunning than the previous two seasons, both in color clarity and chromatic intensity. In the place of the cliffhanger, except during the carryovers for the multiple-episode segments, the villain for the following week’s episode is introduced during a teaser at the end of the episode at hand, as part of its epilog. Sometimes the teasers are a direct beginning of the following week’s story, and other times they cheat a little. Interestingly, the words, ‘The End,’ appear at the conclusion of the teaser in the next-to-the-last episode, and nowhere else.
Meredith appears in two single episodes and a two-parter, which he shares with Merman, a piece about a horse racing scam that is stretched out to fill the double slot. Meredith’s first appearance is in the season opener, but the focus of that show is on Craig and it all rushes by very quickly. The final Meredith episode, however, is one of the final seven and is quite clever (there is a gaping plot hole at the end, but that’s the comics for you), almost as satisfying as the ‘prison’ episode. He devises a scheme to contaminate money, for which he and his gang (including Monique Van Dooren) have taken the only antidote. Citizens are frightened, and throw all of their money out into the street, and then he just comes along and scoops it all up, but when he then tries to use the money to buy things, the same fear he initiated prevents anyone from taking his cash. Similarly, Buono has one half-hour episode that is his usual tiresome shtick, but in one of the final seven he returns with a scheme to obtain a rare metal by burrowing under the hero’s mansion, inadvertently tumbling into the ‘Bat Cave.’ The episode also has a terrific unbilled cameo appearance by Henny Youngman (as a real estate agent).
Gorshin reappears one last time, coupled with Joan Collins (Mike Mazurki is also on hand), bringing energy back to his character, but there isn’t enough time in the half-hour slot to fool around much with the riddles and for the most part, the episode is a bust. It is, however, a quasi-double episode, with the second part focusing exclusively on Collins’ character, whose high-pitched voice can make men do her bidding. In the old days and old television sets, the audio tones they used for the numbing sound of her manipulation were innocently diffused, but if you’ve got the DTS track amplified to any degree, watch out! Anyway, it is with the Collins episode that the writers finally start to adapt to the show’s revised parameters successfully.
Berle appears twice, as some sort of flower or perfume impresario. Awkwardly, in both episodes he attempts to manipulate ‘hippies,’ understanding that someday, they will inherit the world and then he will control them. Look outside and you may think he succeeded. Anyway, the hippie stuff isn’t bad on a don’t-get-it level, but the flaccid nature of the narratives suggests that the writers didn’t know what to do with the concept. On the other hand, Berle is Berle, and the time he is allowed to just chew on his cigar and react to things is choice. Price returns for a double episode and then a final single episode, the latter not amounting to much. In both, he is accompanied by Baxter, who is playing a different character than she did previously, a ‘Russian.’ Her accent and occasional Slavic phraseology are a delight, as is Price under any circumstances. The double episode plays somewhat more like two singles, with the goal of the villains in the second being completely different than the goal in the first. It is the second episode that is most worthwhile, as the two attempt to bring a dinosaur egg to life. The finale is truly riotous. Alan Hale, Jr. (as a character called ‘Gilligan’) and Adolph Green have nice, unbilled cameos.
Vallee appears with Glynis Johns in a three-parter that is set in ‘England,’ although except for a few inspired gags (the office of the head of ‘Ireland Yard’ is the exact same set that Hamilton uses, except for a couple of pointedly different decorations), the piece is drawn out and not all that interesting. Even Johns doesn’t seem to be getting into it as much as one knows she could. The Kitt episode goes by much too quickly, but she returns again for a double episode with Romero, and even though the double episode sort of conforms to the older series format, the two stars play off one another so well that it is worthwhile. Romero has two other single episodes and both are well conceived and executed, one in which he ends up engaging with West’s character in a surfing contest, and the other, one of the final seven, in which he builds a flying saucer (including a shot that appears to copy, rather than lift, Invaders from Mars).
As for the other final seven, Robertson returns in one two-parter that is not as definitive as his initial episode, but still works well off the collision of comic books and westerns, particularly his final ‘showdown’ at the end with West’s character. In what is the most audacious but also one of the most entertaining episodes of all, Barbara Rush plays a crook who manages to have herself named police commissioner, replacing Hamilton’s character. She fires all of the male cops and hires females, so that when bank robbers and so on pull off their jobs, the police are more interested in gabbing about sales and cooking tips than stopping the crimes. The blatant nature of its sexism may make Horton’s Native American seem like a model of racial sensitivity, but you can’t help laughing at the deliberateness of it. Duff and Ida Lupino, made up kind of like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, use pills that turn them invisible to pull off robberies in the next-to-the-last episode, a good example of an efficient and engaging effort. The same is true of the final show, in which Gabor, running a ‘spa,’ uses a head massager to lift secrets out of the brains of her wealthy clients. But that’s the last of it.
If you press a little button on the side of the box jacket, you can hear the quintessential portion of the show’s theme song. Along with the three seasons and a couple of colorful booklets, the set contains a nice little Matchbox version of the ‘Batmobile’ (not presented in scale on the jacket’s promotional artwork, but that, too, seems to capture the nostalgia the set is attempting to instill), and a replication of 44 ‘trading cards’ similar to ones that once appeared in inexpensive packages of bubble gum. Each platter has a ‘Play All’ option. Some of the episodes have alternate French, Italian and German audio tracks. Those that don’t are marked as such on the individual episode menus. The Italian and the French tracks are good fun, of course, but there is something absolutely ultra über about the German track. Essentially, the sense of authority and seriousness that the tone of the German language conveys is so at odds with what is being presented visually that the effect is riotous even if you have no understanding of the language whatsoever. You owe it to yourself to watch at least one half-hour that way, and don’t cheat by activating the English subtitling. There is also French, Spanish, Italian and German subtitling.
A fourth platter is included with the third season that contains a wealth of special features. A very nice 30-minute interview with West is integrated with older interview footage, tons of terrific archival material, and a brief, staged sequence depicting his childhood. A 30-minute exploration of Batman collectibles includes interviews with several fanatics, one in conjunction with West, as the segment explores their Batman-themed collections and discusses not only the different pieces, but the emotional and psychic justification for possessing such items. One collector not only compares gathering memorabilia about a television show based upon a comic book to sex, but details in a one-two-three manner how the two experiences are the same. Okayyyyy. A collector who makes functional, full-scale Batmobiles is also profiled.
A 30-minute retrospective appreciation of the show includes interviews with Ward and Newmar, as well as West, and with a number of the animators for Warner’s various modern animated series, although it is salted with plugs for other Warner Batman programs, along with a 12-minute segment that is fairly similar, featuring actors and creators from other Warner shows. A group interview with West at a restaurant runs 45 minutes, discussing the show and its legacy with Kevin Smith, Ralph Garman, Phil Morris and Jim Lee of DC Comics. At no time in any of these segments, fawning fans though they all are, does anybody ever mention Carolyn Jones.
The complete 60-minute first episode is replayed with cutaways to West, who shows the notes from his original script and talks about his initial acting choices. There is too little of West to really justify the replaying of the entire episode, but he does share a few interesting anecdotes, such as how the crew cracked up laughing the first time he walked onto the nightclub scene, and offers at least a bit of the thought process that made him, for a few moments, a superstar. “I see that I have a note to myself. ‘Cape. Use it.’ You know, you keep moving and keep that cape swirling, and the kids love that.” Additionally, there is a terrific 2-minute interview with post-production supervisor James Blakeley explaining how he came up with the idea of using words like ‘Blam!’ and ‘Splat’ to hide the phony punches in the fight sequences, an 8-minute introduction/pilot to Batgirl in which she rescues Batman and Robin from a villain in a library, a 6-minute audition reel for Robin with West and Ward (billed as Burton Gervis) in which the charisma between the two actors is immediately apparent, and a 4-minute reel with two other actors doing the same material, Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell. Deyell is awful, but Waggoner provides an intriguing look at what the show might have felt like without West’s game sense of humor.