Sunday, August 11, 2013

Batman - 1966

"Batman" - 1966
Dir. by Leslie H. Martinson

Theatrical Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

There have been many, many Batman movies, with a wide range of approaches and levels of watchability.  I regard "The Dark Knight" as the best of all of them, but I haven't been able to re-watch it even once since seeing in it the theatre.  I haven't even seen last year's "The Dark Knight Rises" yet; TDK was so intense that even though I think it's the best Batman film I've ever seen, I'm not eager to revisit it as a viewing experience, and it kind of killed my interest in continuing with the franchise.  The Joel Schumacher-helmed films are unwatchable for other reasons (namely that they're fucking stupid (and I rarely swear that hard on this blog, but I feel that strongly about the films in question), and until I watched them it had never occurred to me to associate Batman with neon and rubber nipples, which isn't nearly as funny as putting Batman and Robin on the ocean to fight seafood).  The Michael Keaton movies were pretty good, evidence of action film-making before every accessory needed to be designed to look like a Transformer.  And then there's the Adam West version.

Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) are crime-fighters deluxe - the kind of people who have an awesome crime lab and have shark repellent bat-spray on hand for when they venture out onto the open seas in a helicopter.  But they also have a league of villains: the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and the slinky Catwoman (Lee Meriwether).  Behind a plan hatched by the Penguin, they've joined forces to dehydrate the United World Organization's Security Council.  But they also need to lure Batman and Robin out into the open to distract them from their real goal, so the villains decide to kidnap Bruce Wayne, which will be sure to get the Dynamic Duo's attention.  Catwoman pulls double duty as Kitka, a Russian journalist, when she seduces Wayne into a more compromising situation, allowing the kidnapping to take place.

"Batman" is also really stupid, but it's so silly that it's kind of awesome.  Maybe this is what Schumacher was trying to update when he committed his crimes against humanity, but all the fetish gear and ridiculously serious attitude got in the way.  Here, the whole situation is played strictly for laughs, and pretty successfully.  I'm not going to pretend that "Batman" paved a whole new direction for films, but after watching it again, it's easy to see where films like "Airplane!" or the Austin Powers series came from.  I know that this film may have derailed the Batman comics for quite a while (I'm sure that there's a whole generation who thought this was the approach from the very beginning, and were disappointed when they picked up a copy of Detective Comics), and I also know that comics fans are really touchy about having their source material taken as seriously as possible, but the results are worth the complete lack of fidelity.

As far as the actors, well, Adam West's portrayal is iconic for a reason.  He nailed the sort of required naive egotism and absurd leaps of logic these kinds of characters can take too seriously (or, as West shows, not seriously enough).  All of the villains are awesome, loopy, and hyper-caffeinated, plus Lee Meriweather really wears that Catwoman costume like nobody's business.  Everyone with a decently-sized role handles their comedy well.  And beyond that, I found it hilarious that Batman seemed to take up residence somewhere on the west coast, has an awesome convertible, and is revered by the police department.  Talk about liberties!

I can understand Batman fans hating the 1966 movie, because it's an outlier.  All the rest of the film adaptations have at least tried to take the character's concept seriously, and this version openly mocks the idea that Batman knows what he's doing, that he's trustworthy (or even competent at times), and that he's some master of disguise.  At the conclusion of this film, he and Robin have to discreetly leave through the window while everyone else is distracted, because they've kind of fouled things up.  But, at the same time, you know that everyone will forgive them tomorrow, when everything's been sorted out.  I may be a comics fan, but you'd think that with the constant rotation of artists and writers on work-for-hire books like Batman, comics fans would be a lot more accepting of the idea of varying approaches to the same characters.  I don't have a problem with a bumbling, super-serious version of Batman.  It doesn't detract anything from the character, and this film was pretty damned funny.  And if truth be told, if I'm going to re-watch any of the Batman movies, it's likely to be this one.

3.5 / 5 - Theatre

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