The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Batman: The Movie’ (1966)

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Batman: The Movie.”

The info:

The Movie: “Batman: The Movie” (1966)

Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether

Director: Leslie H. Martinson

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) The Dynamic Duo faces four supervillains who plan to hold the world for ransom with the help of a secret invention that instantly dehydrates people.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 80 percent

Our take:

Brown: Da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na JOE-DOWN!

Last week, we went into one divisive entry into a franchise with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (which was mixed here, too. Froemming was not a fan, I enjoyed it). And now, we’re into another divisive entry into a storied franchise: Adam West as Batman.

And all the things you think of with ‘60s-era Batman — The hokey dialogue, bad puns, big bold letters exclamating violence — it’s all here. And right of the gate, this movie tells you that it’s going to be nuts in the opening credits.

So after growing up on darker Keaton-Kilmer-Bale Batmans (I kept Clooney out for a reason), we are now entering the world of camp with West. And in that regard, it does not disappoint.

So while I prep my utility belt with some shark-repellent Bat-spray and find some place to get rid of a bomb, what are your initial thoughts on this movie, Froemming, old chum?

Froemming: Holy Over-The-Top Camp, Joe Brown!

Let me start by saying I am a huge Batman fan. The first Michael Keaton film got me into the character, the comics and so forth. But I also really enjoy the Adam West Batman as well. It shows that you can have fun with the character, instead of a dreary, three-hour long scowl fest that Zack Snyder unleashed upon us last year. Batman doesn’t always need to be the gritty Frank Miller psychopath with questionable rules and morals. Batman can be light-hearted while still being somewhat true to the character. But that doesn’t mean this film is above reproach from me. Brown, why don’t you get us started on a film where the Joker merely paints over his own mustache instead of shaving it off!

Brown: Well, this movie vaults us right into the action with Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson race into Wayne Manor to change into Batman and Robin by opening a secret passage that has a SIGN that says “Bat-Poles to the Bat-Cave. I mean, my God, Batman is so protective about their secret identities, but if you’re to press one button in Wayne Manor, there’s a big sign saying, “Hey, here lies Batman.” Subtle as a conversation on a megaphone, guys.

Anyways, Commodore Schmidlapp is being kidnapped aboard his yacht and Batman and Robin are on the prowl in the Bat-Copter… in broad daylight.

Honestly, after years of brooding Batman movies, how much did it throw you off to be watching a Batman movie that takes place in the middle of the day with not a cloud in the sky?

Froemming: It is quite the change in tone, that’s for sure. Also, I suspect Batman labels everything — almost everything in the Batcave has a label on it — is because in this Bat-World, Bruce Wayne has made his fortune on selling label makers. It is not just a hobby for him, it is a (REDACTED) passion!

Also, do those people at the dock work for Batman? They seem to, but that wouldn’t make sense unless Batman paid them in cash…

Now, Batman and Robin are heading toward the hijacked yacht on their trusty Bat-Copter. Batman grabs a ladder and tries to descend upon the boat when, out of nowhere, he is attacked by a blood-thirsty rubber shark!

Brown: OK, we have a couple things to digest here before we move further. And I’d like to state, this is like five minutes into the movie.

So when the Bat-Copter is up in the air, we see a group of bikini girls randomly on a helipad waving at Batman and Robin. That never happened to Christian Bale. And Batman is unphased by the buxom beauties on the building, and we’ll get to why later.

Next, Batman descends toward the yacht, only for it to disappear?! And, he’s going down on the Bat-ladder, which has a (REDACTED) label! Yo, Bruce, if you need to label everything, you should go to a doctor. I sincerely worry that Batman has early-onset dementia and those labels exist only to actually help him function in the real world. And while we’re at it, quit adding Bat to the beginning of everything! I’m sure Bruce Wayne is a master of branding, but my God, you ride a helicopter, you drive an automobile. You have shark-repellent spray. IT’S NOT BAT-EVERYTHING!

Now, to the shark… I mean, this thing is notorious. The thing that was truly insane to me is when Batman is getting his leg munched on by said shark, Robin descends the Bat-ladder (Ugh) at a sloth’s pace to give Batman his shark repellent. Like, we should be seeing nothing but shreds of muscle and bone from Batman’s leg.

But nope, Batman is unphased, the shark drops back into the water and EXPLODES! EXPLODES! I used this during “Cowboys Vs. Dinosaurs,” and I have to use it again.

Froemming: OK, a few things. Christian Bale’s Batman had a boat with beautiful women on it in “The Dark Knight.”

Second, if you can suspend your disbelief when Indiana Jones survives a nuke fridge, but not Batman surviving a rubber shark attack, that’s more on your own jaded cynicism than anything else.

Thirdly, if our new president has taught me anything, it is billionaires love putting their brands on everything from high rises to steaks to sprays that repel sharks!

But the yacht disappears and Batman and Robin get trapped on a buoy that is magnetized. Which, all they have to do is remove their utility belts here.

Now, I want to talk about our villains here. We have not one, not two, but four classic baddies from the comics. Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman.

Brown: Notably absent: The Scoutmaster.

Froemming: The ‘60s show had a lot of strange villains for pop culture to mock. I guess it was tough to book Cesar Romero all the time.

And…I really enjoyed these villains here. They were a lot of zany fun. My big question throughout the film was: Why did they put up with Riddler? They guy couldn’t contain his love of riddles for two minutes and always gave away their location to Batman in riddle-form.

Also, his riddles made absolutely no (REDACTED) sense! One answer was something about a chicken with a machine gun I think? I think the writers of this were on too much LSD…

Brown: Well, before we get to the buoy, Batman and Robin meet with Commissioner Gordon and find out that all four of our baddies are not at Arkham Asylum. So that’s our first clue. Then, Batman and Robin decide the foursome are behind it because of the biggest jump to conclusion ever. Like, Tom’s “Jump to Conclusions” mat from “Office Space” made more sense than this. The shark was pulling Batman’s leg. Therefore, Joker! This whole thing seems fishy … Penguin! It’s from the sea. C. Catwoman! This is a sinister riddle… Riddler!

Froemming: We also have a press conference with Batman and his Boy Wonder. Which really sort of threw me off. Vigilantes don’t host press conferences!

Brown: Oh, so he can brand his (REDACTED) name on everything, but he can’t hold a press conference? Nope. Not buying that. Also, I want Bruce Wayne to release his taxes.

Froemming: Nobody cares about his taxes! You need to move on and let Batman be great again!

Anyway, at the press conference we meet a Russian reporter named Kitka. Because this was the Cold War, we once again find Eastern European accents inherently evil and suspect. It turns out that this dirty commie is not a dirty commie, but Catwoman!

For me, as the viewer, I didn’t recognize her as Catwoman because the role usually went to Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt. Here it is Lee Meriwether.

But for Batman, Robin and the entire Gotham Police Department to be thrown off by her not wearing a mask and cat ears and sporting a bad accent proves to me that Gotham is protected by the most incompetent people ever. Did they let her wear her costume in Arkham? I’m surprised the city hasn’t burned to the ground at this point.

Brown: Well, Catwoman says her costume worked (and really, it does, because I think Batman/Bruce Wayne suffers from face blindness), but Batman said nothing incriminating in that presser. In fact, he admits afterward that he lied to the press as not to cause panic.

So, now we’re back to the water inside Penguin’s adorable submarine. Batman and Robin are back to the buoy to check for fingerprints and our villains start launching torpedoes at them. Batman stops them with a device that messes with the torpedo’s frequency, but breaks after the third one. With one torpedo left, our Dynamic Duo seems doomed until dumb luck kicks in! The fourth torpedo explodes, and we find out it’s because dolphins are apparently Batman’s secret service and said noble porpoise (Batman’s words) swims in front of the explosive, sacrificing his life for Batman and Robin.

Somewhere, Aquaman is plotting his revenge for Batman being the reason for one of his sea pals being a soup of blood and viscera.

Froemming: Aquaman can put an egg in his fishy shoe and beat it.

Our Rogues Gallery have kidnapped Commodore Schmidlapp, who — because the Joker keeps pumping him full of Rohypnol — has no idea he has been kidnapped and is in a drug-fueled haze, much like the writers of this film probably were. He has invented a gizmo (scientific term) that shoots lasers at people and turns them into Day-Glo colored dust. Basically it dehydrates the person and rehydrates them back. These knuckleheads (technical term) are going to use it the blackmail the United World. For one billion dollars!  Before they do that, their obsession with Batman that keeps them from their true potential at global terrorism gets in the way and they need to stop him with an elaborate plan: Kidnap Bruce Wayne!

Brown: If we learned anything from “The Dark Knight Rises,” it’s that women with eastern European accents are just able to barge into Wayne Manor like they own the place. Like Talia al Guhl after her, Catwoman dons her Kitka “disguise” and an infatuated Bruce Wayne takes her on a date (to be safe, Robin and Alfred are in the not-discreet-at-all Batmobile following the two). And it’s here, along with the women helipad scene, where I realize that Bruce Wayne is petrified of women. Absolutely horrified, and that’s coming from a man who is terrified of dating.

They have a slow dance where Bruce won’t put his hand on Kitka’s back. Rather, his hand is balled up like a fist. Then, when they go be alone and things start to get a little sexy, Bruce starts talking like a Shakespearean weirdo and is so uptight you could shove coal up his butt and have diamonds come out.

It made me feel better about my own romantic life. Thanks, Bruce Wayne.

Froemming: His awkwardness reminded me of the last time I tried to flirt with a woman. And the reason I have stopped doing that and now just live like a hermit.

Anyway, Robin is uncomfortable with watching in on their date (Batman apparently has cameras everywhere in Gotham, just like in “The Dark Knight” minus the ethical and moral issues). We then see Joker, Penguin and Riddler fly down from the sky on what looked like those flying whatchamacallits from “Flash Gordon” and crash Bruce Wayne’s awkward date. Honestly, I think Bruce welcomed this.

But Bruce Wayne is no baby-hand billionaire. He has adult-sized fists for punching adult-sized people! And he puts up a good fight, but gets kidnapped anyway.

Robin, you had one job and you blew it.

Brown: Let’s just get this out of the way: Robin is a preachy wieney. He talks about what kind of losers people who drink are. For all things decent, he shuts off the screen and stops watching Bruce just because things are getting a little too steamy for him (yet, Alfred seems way into it. Way to go, you dirty man). Then later, Batman gives Robin a pill and he takes it with no qualms whatsoever. Mixed messages there, movie.

Froemming: I have always hated the Robin character. In this, in the comics, always. I was happy when they had the Joker bludgeon him to death with a crowbar in the comics. Batman never needed a (REDACTED) sidekick. Hell, what’s the point of that mask? It just covers his stupid eyes. That is obviously Dick Grayson…

I’m getting too heated here.

Anyway, Bruce is hauled away to the top room of a dive bar on the docks of Gotham. Here his face blindness becomes shockingly apparent when he is tricked into a conversation with Kitka. Bruce, for the World’s Greatest Detective, you are not very bright, are you?

Brown: All right, we mentioned it before, but now, we get a demonstration of Schmidlapp’s dehydration machine as Penguin’s “guinea pigs” — completed with “GP” on their shirts — are shot with it and go from men to kitty litter. I was happy the movie didn’t have Catwoman start pawing the piles. My question is, with five guinea pigs, after seeing one of their buddies get turned into dust, how do the other four not book it out of the room? Henching cannot pay well enough to be turned into Catwoman’s bathroom.

After this demonstration, we see Batman escape from the dive bar and jump head-first into another one of the most infamous scenes in this movie: The bomb.

Froemming: I was cracking up at this. The mayor of Quahog dressed in a bright blue Batman suit running around with that comically large bomb….just made this movie for me. Even better, Batman is saved once again by dumb luck! He is seriously Gumping his way through life.

Brown: All this needed was the Benny Hill music. I mean, he’s running away from a marching band, a baby carriage and a flock of ducklings in the water all in an attempt to get rid of this bomb that looked like it had a very short fuse. Alas, he throws it at the nick of time and hides behind a bunch of metal pipes.

Batman should be dead.

Alas, he is not, and Penguin, poorly disguised as Schmidlapp, convinces Batman and Robin to take him to the Batcave. Only, he’s got an ace in the hole: The dehydrated henchmen that’ll attack the Dynamic Duo with just a little water. … Don’t think too hard about this movie, folks.

Froemming: I secretly wanted Burgess Meredith to throw out some Rocky-inspired lines here, but I remembered that film was still years away from being made.

Also, that disguise lead me to believe Penguin is either not very bright or a drunkard. Seeing where he has his hideout (a bar) and how he walks (that weird waddle) had me thinking Oswald Cobblepot is probably a raging drunk. Batman isn’t fooled, Robin isn’t fooled, the only one who believes in this ridiculous disguise is Penguin, who is probably three sheets to the wind since it looks like it is early afternoon here.

Yet, Batman is still fooled by Catwoman’s Kitka….

But they get him into the Batcave, where he asks for a drink of water. Drunky McDrunkerton, look at all the labels. Even the water fountain is clearly marked! Penguin then rehydrates his goons to take on the Dynamic Duo on their home turf!

Brown: What blew me away was how as soon as the goons are brought back to life, Batman immediately identifies them as rehydrated pirates. How the hell would you know that, Batman?! You didn’t really see the test tubes and water hose Penguin had.

Now, when Batman and Robin strike the henchmen, they immediately disappear because reasons. My question is this: Does this mean that Batman and Robin killed them? Because that’s a big Batman no-no.

Final point: Penguin is just running around the Batcave slowly like Danny DeVito, and yet Batman and Robin don’t think to stop this bad guy from having free reign over the secret hideout? Oh yeah, Batman doesn’t know it’s Penguin. He suffers from face blindness. Apparently, Robin does as well.

Froemming: Batman has killed in every movie minus “Batman & Robin.” Which might not be the case, since nobody watches that film, so it is up in the air.

Good thing Batman just so happens to have Anti-Penguin Gas Pills ready at all times, because they are able to not be knocked out when he blasts them in the face with that smoke bomb at the end of his umbrella. They can follow him to find out just what is next apparently. They give chase and luckily crash into — and I am not making this up — a foam rubber wholesalers convention. Dumb luck once again!

Brown: Batman has more luck than Aaron Rodgers throwing a Hail Mary. To the non-sports fans out there: Batman has a horseshoe up his butt.

So Batman and Robin finally understand the villains’ plan to dehydrate the world leaders at the United World building and they deduce (because Batman is supposed to be the world’s greatest detective) that the fastest way to get there would be to run. …

Froemming: I have a suspicion that if the United World Security Council decided to go to war with Batman’s villains, the lone vote not to would come from Russia. #Topical

Hot on their heels with literally their heels hitting the pavement, the Dynamic Duo gets to the dock (once again, these people at the docks seem to be employed by Batman, a true job creator) and chases after Penguin’s submarine. This leads — finally — to the fight scene we waited the whole film for: The one with the crazy letters that tell us the sound of their strikes in bright, psychedelic colors!

Brown: OK, the best part of this fight, by far, is while Penguin, Joker and Riddler (who was the bad guy that scared me the most. He had something crazy behind the eyes), Catwoman stands idly by. And when she finally attacks, what does she do? She throws a cat at Batman. And Batman is not only attacked by the cat, he continues the fight WITH THE CAT IN HIS HAND. It was so cumbersome to watch Adam West try to do this fight scene while clumsily holding on to this black cat.

When Batman and Robin get into the sub and find the test tubes with the dehydrated security council, we think the day is saved until the tubes are knocked out of his hands and break on the ground. DRAIN THE SWAMP! DRAIN THE SWAMP!

Froemming: Good thing Batman has a clearly-labeled Super Molecular Dust Separator in the Batcave, otherwise this would have been a tragic moment for global bureaucracy. Robin asks Batman maybe the should combine some of the dust so the people on the council will get along better. Robin, old chum, politics is not about getting along. It is about absolute power.

Brown: Quick aside while we mention politicians. So after Batman rescues the security council’s kitty litter forms, he gets a call from the president for a job well done. I’d like to believe that Lyndon B. Johnson (the president when this movie came out) tried to get Batman to help out with Vietnam.

Froemming: At least Robin. He is of age for the draft, right?

Well, Batman brings back the security council. But they are all speaking the wrong language of their country. Batman screwed up! And how does he deal with that? He sneaks out the (REDACTED) window with Robin.

Message of this film: Never take responsibility for your actions, kids.

Brown: I know we’re at the end, but I feel like there’s so much more to talk about with this movie. Alas, we’ll get our review-repellent Bat-spray and get to our recommendations.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Brown: Really, if you don’t watch this movie, shame on you. This was such great camp fun. This is camp done right compared to Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies, which is camp done horribly, horribly wrong. This is on Netflix. There’s no football on next weekend, so go watch this.

Froemming: Yes, yes a million times yes! This is such a fun movie. I love the campiness of it, and I really think the folks who played the villains put on an amazing performance. This movie shows you can have fun with this character. I say check it out.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: