Batman: The Movie (1966) Director Leslie Martinson
“Pow!” “Wham!” “Ouch!”
Holy film review, Batman! Every bit as campy and goofy as the 1960s television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward, Batman: The Movie is an ironic and all-around ridiculous comedy that is so self-aware, it is often difficult to follow the wandering plot all the way to the end. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson and written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., the film was hurriedly patched together and released between seasons one and two of the Batman television show. It conveys the convoluted rise of a criminal group known as the “United Underworld” which consists of the all-star villains from the show –Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), Joker (Cesar Romero), and Riddler (Frank Gorshin) as they develop various unfolding plots to take over the world. In each case, Batman and Robin stumblingly thwart their efforts at word domination.
Amidst visibly painted backdrops and zippy visual onomatopoeia, Batman and Robin can be found punching sharks while suspended from the Batcopter over the ocean, sneaking into secret lairs, solving absurd riddles, running around holding exploding bombs (“sometimes you just can’t get rid of a bomb”), accidentally stumbling into foam rubber conventions, battling with cats and umbrellas aboard submarines, and re-animating the leaders of the world at the United Nations Security Council who had been atomized using an evil device known as a dehydrator so Batman constructs a Super Molecular Dust Separator to revive them.
While this is undoubtedly the right film for the right viewer –someone interested in a parodic, disorienting deconstruction of the Batman mythos– this is not a film I hope to soon revisit. These days, it has become somewhat fashionable to reappraise old anarchic movies like Batman: The Movie based on nostalgia for a simpler time when every movie was not necessarily a dark nihilistic narrative, however I greatly prefer the Christopher Nolan interpretation of the Dark Knight. In many ways, it is a testament to the durability of Batman, that he can be successfully portrayed as a cartoonish straight man in the 1960s, as well as a bleak but tragic hero for our time in the 2010s. Two animated sequels to Batman: The Movie were released decades later, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017). The latter co-starred William Shatner as the voice of Two-Face and it was the final performance of Adam West before he tragically passed away due to leukemia.
In summary, Batman: The Movie is a fun satire for the right audience, particularly fans of the accompanying television show, but there are far better Batman films out there for true devotees.