Greetings and salutations! Boy, oh boy, am I excited today! This is my
contribution to the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon of 2015 (sponsored by Flicker Alley), with the era I’m taking part in (Modern) being hosted Ruth of Silver Screenings. So, my part in this affair shall be taking a look at the history behind the at-least-4th best Batman film (behind the Nolan trilogy), Batman: The Movie (1966), and its massive influence on superhero cinema, being the first superhero movie, discounting serials and Zorro movies. I mean, seriously, why does Wikipedia consider Zorro movies to be superhero movies anyways? He’s just a guy with a sword!
Now, I’m going to say this now: I end up going a lot more in-depth on the TV series than the film, making this barely qualify for the blogathon, so, be warned. I warned you. Though, in all honesty, the Batman film is basically your typical three-parter from the TV series cut into a movie, creating one hour and a half block instead of three thirty minute blocks. Nothing more, nothing less. But that’s not a bad thing. The TV series is fantastic. I highly recommend that you check it out if you haven’t seen it, it’s a comedy classic, and one that actually represents the core elements of Batman better than the Burton/Schumacher films (and even some parts of the Nolan films *cough* blowing up ninja temple, killing dozens to not kill one *cough*) ever did. And I’m not here to solely talk about the movie, but about the character. About Adam West’s interpretation, why it’s the best interpretation of the character, the most fun, the most entertaining, the most timeless, and the one with the biggest cultural impact.
Adam West’s Batman is a cool, trustworthy, honest guy. So trustworthy, in fact, that he stores his helicopter at an airport, not some soggy cave on private property. He works fully within the law, as a deputized agent, unlike the others, who are dirty low-down criminals. He’s so cool that he can wear this, and nobody laughs. Well, nobody laughs except when they’re meant to laugh.
When was the last time you saw another Batman dance, huh? In fact, when was the last time you saw a Batman that was allowed moments of levity, jokes, humor that’s not cringe-worthy, and good old-fashioned fun?
Not only that, he’s the toughest of all Batmen. Keaton’s Batman is constantly knocked over by ordinary guys, Kilmer’s is cursed with nerd glasses, Clooney’s is greying, and Bale’s can’t even fight off a dog! Adam West’s Batman takes on a shark, single-handedly! Sure, he had a spray, but he was prepared for such a situation! He also punched it in the face several times.
He’s also the best detective of the bunch. Why, just read this exchange that proves his detective genius in figuring out who pulled the caper:
Gordon: Could be any one of them, but which one? Whi…which…ones?
Batman: Pretty fishy what happened to me on that ladder.
Gordon: You mean where there’s a fish there could be a Penguin?
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea. See? C for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet, an exploding shark…was pulling my leg!
Gordon: The Joker!
O’Hara: It all adds up to a sinister riddle. Riddle-r…Riddler!
Gordon: Oh, a thought strikes me! So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance.
Batman: The four of them. Their forces combined!
See how he came to that conclusion? Through some middlingly (BTW, that’s totally a word!) clever wordplay, he was able to string them all together, proving they were linked. Wait…that doesn’t make sense! But, it was the sixties. I’m sure that was pretty commonplace for detective work to make no sense. And the Riddler was involved. He probably planned it this way. Besides, it’s not easy to string together such tenuously random links like that.
Not only is he intelligent, he’s also classically handsome and wonderfully charismatic, in a deadpan sort of way. He was the Batman who could smile, have a laugh, have real friends, be open to socialization, dispense with all the brooding, and include Robin without it being creepy. Well, not very creepy. Also, his Robin isn’t annoying, unlike Chris O’Donnel.
He also has the coolest car of any Batman. As in, he has the only Batmobile that I would ever want to actually drive. The one from the serials is too bulky, Burton’s is overly stylized, Schumacher’s is a neon mess, and Nolan’s is a tank. Who wants a tank when you can have this?
All of these itty-bitty details add up to equal one charismatic, witty, and fun lead in a show that became a smash hit with audiences. Is it such a surprise that it became such a hit? Where else would audiences have gotten their superhero fix? Huh? Riddle me that, Frank Gorshin!
Think back all the way to 1966. If you weren’t born then, like moi, just use your imagination! What was there in terms of cinematic superhero entertainment? Well, you had yourself your awful, awful film serials like Batman, Captain America, Superman and the Mole Men, etc. In terms of TV, the Adventures of Superman TV show starring George Reeves had been cancelled back in 1958 (that’s 8 years ago, for all you math deficients out there), with Reeves himself dying only a year later. There was your odd animation like the Superman theatrical shorts of the 40’s, a Superman/I Love Lucy crossover episode, and that was it. None of these, outside of Reeves’s Superman, had been particularly successful, and it seemed like there wouldn’t be one that would. Certainly no cultural phenomena. Until Batman, that is.
Let’s dive into the history books, shall we? Blue Skidoo, we can too!
If you want more detail, read on Wikipedia (where I read about it) here. Dateline: Early 60’s. Ed Graham Productions purchased the TV rights to Batman, planning a juvenile adventure show, akin to Reeves’s Adventures of Superman and The Lone Ranger.
The show is planned to be mostly serious, until an ABC executive and Bat-fan contacts other ABC executives who were already planning a TV series based on a comic-strip hero, and proposes that they suggest a prime-time Batman show in the hip, fun style of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. [Funnily enough, the current Superman, Henry Cavill, is starring in a reboot of this very TV series (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., that is).]
When negotiations between ABC and Ed Graham Productions stall, as negotiations so often do, DC Comics quickly takes back the TV rights and makes a deal with ABC, who proceeds to farm the rights to 20th Century Fox to produce the series. Fox then hands the project to William Dozier and his production company, Greenway Productions (as these studios seemed determined to involve as many studios as possible), who turns Batman into the lovable camp-fest we know and love today. Funnily enough, one of the most-loved, campiest part of the series, the famous cliffhanger with the “How will Batman and Robin get out of this one? Tune in next time…” and so on and so forth (narrated by Dozier himself) actually arose through the ABC’s cramped schedule, having only two separate, 30 minute blocks available per week, forcing Dozier to cut the planned hour-long episodes in two. This emulated the movie serials of yore, but to a much lesser extent, as those had like 15-20 chapters, each (usually) with their own cliffhangers, therefore making the story ridiculous when viewed all at once. With only one cliffhanger, the story feels much more natural.
People went through a lot of trouble to get this show on the road is the basic point of those last paragraphs, and boy, oh boy did it pay off for them. The show was called by many “the biggest TV phenomenon of the mid-1960’s.” It was extraordinarily popular amongst families, and you can certainly see why. There’s something for everyone to enjoy. Action, comedy, slapstick, gadgets, cars, everything!
Now, how was it that a movie happened to come about in the first year of the TV show? Was it just “that popular?” No, actually. The movie was always intended to happen before the TV series, in order to generate buzz, but Fox refused, seeing it as too much of a risk. Dozier was still insistent on getting a movie made even after the series aired, and Batman: The Movie was released at the end of July, 1966 (the series premiered in January), to the tune of $3,000,000 domestically. What was the worldwide total? Nobody on the internet seems to know. Odd. Anyways, this movie was nowhere near as successful as the TV series, perhaps because people saw no reason to pay to watch what they could already watch on their television at home. I understand that argument. The one difference is: the movie teamed up the villains. Whoop-dee-do.
The TV series was cancelled in 1968 after 3 seasons and 120 episodes, with the bulk of episodes occurring in Season 2. The series was briefly revived in animated form from 1977-’78 with Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their roles in voice form, and, after that, it sort of faded into the back of public consciousness, especially after the smash hit that was Superman: The Movie. People just sort of let it be, until they began picking on it in the angsty 90’s after Burton’s inexplicably loved film. But, that’s a tale for another day. And by that, I mean I don’t like talking about Burton’s Batman. Also, that’s another period of cinematic history.
Question of the day: How do the film and the show hold up? Amazingly, not at all surprisingly. They never took themselves seriously, so when you laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, you’re laughing with Batman, not at him. The film and TV show are camp classics, fantastic pieces of cinematic history that ingrained themselves in popular culture. References to them abound, from the Shark Repellent Bat-Spray (often misstated as Bat-Shark Repellent) being the most remembered bat-gadget to SpongeBob’s Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.
In fact, Adam West even returned to voice himself in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, as part of a game feature: Adam West in Peril, which had you saving the TV star from various dangerous situations. Just give him a commercial break, he can get out of it himself! By playing through a ’66 Batman themed bonus level within the game, you can play as Adam West’s Batman himself, who has access to all the gadgets that normal Batman has to earn. The fact that a children’s game was willing to reference something that no child would understand is truly a testament to the long shadow that Batman ’66 has cast upon public memory.
The show and movie have been long-remembered, and there’s a reason that it was the “big thing” that was re-released in HD for Batman’s 75th birthday instead of the serials, or a box set of the movies: it’s simply the best, most-loved, and fondest-remembered of all of classic Batman, and that’s something worth dancing about.
Well, there ends my history overview thingy. It’s not a review, I know. I hope that fits in with the rest of the blogathon, I tried really hard, you guys. BTW’s, don’t forget to check out the rest of that blogathon. I’ll know if you don’t! I’m watching, always watching. Anyways, there you go. You’ll see the next 10 in my ongoing series about My 100 Favorite Films on Friday the tomorrow-eth, and then a review of something on the following Monday. I don’t know what yet, I’ll tell you on Friday. Well, uh buh-bye!