Batman on Film: Batman (1966)
My first real exposure to Batman came as a kid with the 1966 movie starting Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as his faithful ward Robin. Sure, I saw a few Super Friends episodes from time to time, but it was that movie that really hooked me. There I was, watching it for free at an outdoor summer festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Top of the Park. I look back on that first viewing very fondly. It could have been all the Bat-fans reciting and acting out the scenes in the movie and my desire to have as much fun as they were having; it could have been because this was my first (of many) Top of the Park experiences; or it could have been because Batman was just so damn cool. My guess is that it was a little bit of all three. From that point on though, Batman became as important to me as Star Trek is to Trekkies and as the original films are to Star Wars’ fans. So, as you can imagine, this summer is a special one for me as Christopher Nolan finishes up his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises. Like I do with every theatrical Batman release, I prepare by watching all the previous movies in chronological order leading up to the new flick’s opening weekend. I normally watch these movies for pure enjoyment, but this year, I thought it would be fun to write about my journey.
Naturally, I’m going to avoid writing straight-up movie reviews because that’s just overkill. I’m also going to avoid the overdone debates like “Who was the best Penguin or Riddler?” (It was Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin of course), or “Who was the best TV Catwoman?” (Julie Newmar of course) because those battles are ones that no one can win…especially against me. Instead, I’m going to look at Batman (1966) by itself, and the other six movies by director. For good or bad, Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolan have all left their mark on the franchise and it’s my duty and privilege to explore their work for all of you. Some of what I say will probably be anticipated, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve as well. So, without further ado, I give you my thoughts on the Batman film franchise.
Part One: Batman (1966)
This Batman movie will always hold a special place in my heart. Adam West is a great Batman for that era and he portrays some of the more important aspects of the Batman persona. For one, he’s a master detective, which this film fully takes advantage of. He’s hit with a barrage of riddles, clues, and predicaments to solve, and even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds West’s Batman stays calm and cool under pressure and prevails. Shark attack? He’s got Shark Repellant. He’s got just about everything in that utility belt of his. All of the world leaders get transformed into powder and scattered across the Bat Cave? No problem! Sure, they may not all speak their original language any longer, but cool as ever Batman quips, that might just be better for the world. This scene also shows West’s Batman as the one with the biggest moral compass because he immediately dismisses Robin’s idea to alter the dehydrated world leaders in an effort to force peace upon us (plus, if he did that, would there be a point for a second season of the television show?).
This movie is also the only time in any superhero movie that more than one or two villains have been portrayed without losing the impact of their individual contributions to the plot. Sure, The Avengers successfully brought together several major heroes, but it still only had one major antagonist. As a rule, once you start adding too many villains, the movie gets bogged down and hard to watch (I’m looking at you Spider-Man 3 and X-3), but that doesn’t happen with the 1966 Batman film. Not only are there multiple villains, but they’re arguably the four biggest villains in Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery. The reason this movie is so successful as using all four of these major characters has everything to do with the quality of actors portraying them, as well as the fact that it had the strength of an entire season of the TV show to establish all of them as characters (much like what Marvel did with The Avengers and all the lead-in movies). Because of that, the screenwriter didn’t have to waste time establishing each villain. Instead, all they had to do was give them a common goal. Sure, their plans were foiled by Batman and Robin amidst a sea of POWs, BONKs, and KAPOWs, but in this campy movie you’ll see the best villain ensemble in the history of comic book movies.
Finally, one of the things I’m consistently amazed with about this movie is how well it continues to hold up. The camp factor really makes it timeless. It feels aged, but not dated and cheesy. Because of that, I could watch Adam West and Burt Ward take on Cesar Romero and gang forever.
Author’s Note: In the comments below, let me know your thoughts on Adam West’s Batman. Also, if there’s something you’re just dying to see a Batman diehard write about in regards to Burton, Schumacher, or Nolan’s addition to the Batman canon, let me know below.
Up Next: Next Week! Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Site!
Tim Burton and Michael Keaton Bring Batman to the Modern Cinema