Batman: The Movie (1966)

*. I have a lot of trouble separating this movie from the television series it was spun out of, and for good reason. Though it was originally thought of as a way to introduce the series (at least in foreign markets), the series actually launched first, making the movie a sort of glorified episode in-between the first and second season. Think of The X-Files: Fight the Future, which came out between that show’s fifth and sixth seasons. Again, not much of a movie but rather more like a long episode, showing off a bigger budget.
*. That’s really all this movie is. They had a bit more money so they could add a Batboat and Batcopter (which would go on to be featured in the series). There’s some impressive stunt work at the beginning. But aside from that it looks like just another television episode, albeit with an inflated villain count. Villain inflation, something that would really take hold with later Batman movies (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin) and the Marvel franchises, was already getting in gear.
*. As with other cases of villain inflation, having more bad guys just means leaving some of them with nothing to do. Basically this is a plot driven by The Penguin and Catwoman. I don’t see where The Joker or The Riddler have much to add to the criminal conspiracy at all.

*. This is too bad, since Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith hold their own very well when placed up against later versions of the characters they play. Frank Gorshin seems a bit underdeveloped here, perhaps because nothing about him is as good as the solving of his riddles. Still, I’d rather watch him than Jim Carrey doing the The Riddler any day.
*. As for Adam West, his Bruce Wayne/Batman stands alongside William Shatner’s Captain Kirk as an icon of camp emoting (Star Trek, curiously enough, also running for just three seasons exactly contemporary with Batman). It’s interesting that already Batman’s wooden stiffness could be played comically, almost fifty years before we’d be asked to take it straight.
*. Watching it again this latest time I have to say I didn’t find it as much fun as I remembered it. The one really good comic bit, with Batman trying to get rid of a bomb, has since been turned into a meme. I’d completely forgotten the criminal plot to turn world leaders into dust, probably because it’s easy to forget. The dehydration business is dragged out far too long, for too little payoff, and isn’t interesting in the first place. I really liked the opening credits though, which are creative and stylish in a way that works.
*. The problem with camp that tries to be camp is that it can start to seem laboured. I give credit to this movie for keeping things moving along and for being at least somewhat sui generis, but I don’t know if it rises to “theatre of the absurd” status (which is what West liked to call it). It’s far more “toyetic” than later movies in the canon, even when toyetic was what those movies were consciously aiming for. But it was good fun for kids back in the day, and I think it probably still is.

4 thoughts on “Batman: The Movie (1966)

  1. Tom Moody

    They say the TV show was something kids and adults could enjoy for different reasons. I enjoyed it as a kid, for kid’s reasons, but can trace the exact moment I wised up — it was in this movie, when Batman pulled out the “shark repellent spray.” I mean, even the most starry-eyed kid has to say “no way” at that point.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      That shark repellent spray is definitely one of the signature gags. I guess the bomb bit is the only part that’s as well known. I can’t remember how seriously I took the show as a kid, but I do remember watching it.

      Reply
  2. Tom Moody

    One of my favorite, similar, moments from the TV show is when the Batmobile breezes through a busy traffic intersection while chasing a criminal. A driver motions a cop over and asks “How come Batman gets to go through a red light when we have to sit here?” The cop says, “Sir, I’ll have you know Batman is a duly deputized agent of the law, and when he’s not fighting crime, teaches classes in traffic safety.” Whereupon everyone sitting in cars in the intersection bursts into spontaneous applause.

    Reply

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