One day, while defending Gotham City, Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) learn that there is a plot to abduct Commodore Schmidlap from his yacht. Quick! To the batcopter! Flying over the ocean, they locate the yacht but it turns out that the whole kidnapping plot was a ruse for a shark to attack Batman!
“Holy sardine!” Robin exclaims!
With the help of porpoise who bravely sacrifices its life to protect the Caped Crusader, Batman manages to escape. Back at police headquarters, Batman, Robin, Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton), and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) wonder which member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery of villainy could have been responsible for the ruse.
Batman says that it was pretty “fishy” what happened and that could possibly mean The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) was involved!
Robin points out that it happened “at sea” and C stands for Catwoman (Lee Meriweather)!
Batman then says that the shark was “pulling my leg” and that might mean it was working for The Joker (Cesar Romero)!
Chief O’Hara says that it all adds up to “a sinister riddle,” which can only mean one thing: The Riddler (Frank Gorshin)!
“The four of them,” Batman says, “working together…”
“Holy nightmare!” Robin exclaims!
As you can probably guess, the tone of 1966’s Batman: The Movie is far different from the tone of more recent Batman films. That’s because Batman: The Movie was based on the light-hearted 60s TV show that made Batman a household name even while transforming the character from being a shadowy vigilante to being a comedic straight arrow, a proud square who regularly lectured the citizens of Gotham about respecting the forces of law and order.
Batman: The Movie was released after the conclusion of the first season of the Batman televisions series and it featured nearly the entire cast of the show. (Lee Meriweather replaced Julie Newman in the role of the purring Catwoman.) The movie feels like an extended episode of the show, still using the same famous music and featuring scenes of Batman and Robin running in place with a street scene projected behind them. The attitude is one of affectionate parody, as opposed to the more cynical campiness of Joel Schumacher’s infamous films from the 90s. Adam West expertly deadpans his way through the main role while the underrated Burt Ward energetically plays the naïve and easily amazed Robin. Of the villains, Lee Meriweather is a sexier Catwoman than Anne Hathaway and there’s never been a better Riddler than Frank Gorshin. (Of the many actors who played Batman’s villains on the TV series, Gorshin was always the only one who seemed to understand that he was supposed to be playing someone dangerous.) At 104 minutes, Batman: The Movie runs out of steam before it ends but there’s still much here to entertain fans of the television show.
Of course, when I was growing up in the 90s, there was no easier way to lose credibility with most diehard Batman films than to admit to liking anything about the television series. The Batman TV series was widely blamed for people thinking that comic books were only meant for kids. Tim Burton was a hero for treating Batman seriously. Joel Schumacher was hated for taking the opposite approach. Batman and Robin was criticized for being too much like the TV show, right down to George Clooney doing a poor man’s Adam West impersonation in the main role. Despite the acclaim that greeted Batman: The Animated Series, It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan took control of the character that the cinematic Batman truly returned to his grim roots.
Since the conclusion of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, there have been several versions of Batman. Ben Affleck took over the role for two films. Young Bruce Wayne and his doomed parents briefly appeared in Joker. Robert Pattinson is set to take over the role in The Batman. Now that everyone knows Batman as a grim avenger and countless actors have bragged about how they prepared for their roles in the Batverse by reading either The Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns, it’s easier to appreciate the more light-hearted approach of something like Batman: The Movie. After two decades of grim and serious Batmans being used as a metaphor for everything from PTSD to the surveillance state, the sight of a paunchy Adam West trying to find a place to safely dispose of a ridiculously oversized bomb can be a relief.
“Sometimes,” Batman says, “you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
Tell me about it, Batman.