Written by: Carroll Jenkins on November 16th, 2014
Original Air Dates: USA, January 12th, 1966 through March 14th, 1968
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp, Madge Blake, Yvonne Craig, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Julie Newmar, Frank Gorshin, Anne Baxter, Vincent Price, Carolyn Jones, Cliff Robertson, Eartha Kitt, Milton Berle, Van Williams, Bruce Lee
DVD released: November 11TH, 2014
Approximate running time: 3019 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono French
Subtitles: English, French and Spanish
DVD Release: Warner Home Video
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $199.70
Synopsis: A crime is committed by a super villain and Batman and Robin are called upon to solve it but get duped into a death trap. Will they survive? But they escape and track the villains to their super secret lair and punch it out with the henchmen. Will they prevail?
Perhaps you had to have been there to fully appreciate Batmania (or Beatlemania, for that manner). In 1966 I was ten years old and had been reading Batman comics for a few years, pretty much since I could read. Pack by pack I eventually acquired a complete set of Batman Trading Cards including the very rare grandfather clock entrance to the batcave card which was immediately replaced with batpoles in the library to match the series. Ten years old and watching the series from the very beginning in prime time [I saw the first episode of Star Trek too!!] was a truly mesmerizing and unforgettable experience.
Bert Ward was selected because he WAS NOT an actor; and it is evident in the desired manner. He also jumps conclusions in a single bound. Adam West’s mannerisms were perfection: a slowly deliberate and calculated consideration followed by an adrenaline fed fervor to bring that bad guy or gal to justice. The first season was also blessed with the following recurring rogues gallery featuring the hysterical Frank Gorshin, the irrepressible Burgess Meredith, and the maniacal Cesar Romero. The cheesy but extremely effective segment narration was performed by executive producer William Dozier. It was a huge factor in keeping the momentum of the show brisk and exciting. “Stay tuned for the worse is yet to come.”
Hi Diddle Riddle / Smack in the Middle – This was the pilot episode and was more adult and satirical than the resulting series. Note that the batmobile exits the batcave (filmed in Bronson Canyon) in real time instead of hyper speed. The wowza gangster’s moll is played by the delectable Jill Saint John and as Moll she proffers lots of sex appeal and cleavage prior to falling to her death. Batman attempts to save her but fails. From Hot Rod Girl to Invasion Of The Saucermen through Where The Boys Are and including many incisive and canny impersonation / impression performances on various television venues including the Ed Sullivan Show, Frank Gorshin was a hep dude and a cool cat. Here he tells a joke to a laughing gas induced audience where his impression of Greta Garbo is essential to sell the punch line. He was one of a kind and so is the pilot and his hysterical performance set the bar for villains to come. Most didn’t come close, but . . .
Fine Feathered Finks / The Penguin’s a Jinx – Burgess Meredith IS the Penguin. Who else could possibly persuasively perform, portray, and purvey this particular persona? Here the camp factor is elevated to the 99th floor as we get a giant umbrella launched from, well, the rooftop umbrella launcher, of course. One of the best episodes and with one of the best cliff hangers.
The Joker is Wild / Batman Is Riled – Cesar Romero as the Joker with his mustache painted white. What could be campier than that? How about springing himself from prison like a Jack-In-The-Box? Romero agreed to play the Joker after viewing the pilot episode and reading the script. He was already wealthy at this point and only took projects he was interested in; he most likely sparked the celebrity mania to appear on the Batman series.
Instant Freeze / Rats Like Cheese – George Sanders was born in Russia of English parents and died in Spain but he played lots of Germans in his career, and does so effortlessly here. His performance is coldly earnest with little of the campy overacting exhibited by most villains before and since. He’s also a killer as Batman and Robin were the first survivors of his flash freeze treatment. The hot / cold zones in his hideout are a nice touch, and Terri Garr can be glimpsed running out of the skating rink where the ice has been melted. This appearance was a one-shot for George though the character Mr. Freeze (derived from the comics’ Mr. Zero) would return.
Zelda The Great / A Death Worse Than Fate – Up to this point the episodes were all first class presentations with excellent art direction, the props and lairs were all created with imaginative and captivating imagery and the concept and casting of the various villains was truly inspired. This was the first lackluster episode and it contains some significant clues of crimes against the audience to come. Alfred says he is addicted to a television series on Wednesday evenings and Zelda The Great breaks the third wall and speaks directly to the camera. The thin veneer of serious sleuthing is about to slide away. Contains a cameo appearance by Frankie Darrow as the newsboy (Wild Boys of the Road, The Phantom Menace).
A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away / When the Rat’s Away the Mice Will Play – Another complex and captivating though thoroughly irrational plot. Frank Gorshin’s performance verges on the ridiculous (or sublime) as he kisses himself in a fit of narcissistic rapture.
The season continues with the Joker, Penguin, and Riddler each with two additional appearances. The one-shot villains are the weak point with David Wayne as Mad Hatter, Malachi Throne as False-Face, and Roddy McDowall as The Bookworm. Victor Buono would appear in all three seasons as King Tut, but the true revelation of the latter part of the first season was the singular but sensationally sultry appearance of Julie Newmar as Catwoman. She would be back for five episodes in season two plus a cameo appearance and single handedly save the second season. Rawrrrrrr!
Now you can be there just as it was but better. The image quality is absolutely astounding and just as pop art and mind blowing as it was in 1966 – but more so with the meticulous restoration (and you’re not watching on rabbit ears, are you?). English subtitles ARE included on the episodes and there are 3 hours of extras.
The primary decision is to buy the first season only or the complete set. [There’s also a limited edition collector’s set.] The first season is the strongest with the primary exception being the proliferation of Catwoman in the second series. In season two the guest villains and ‘window cameos’ became more important than story and plot. In season three the budget was slashed, the series went to one night a week, sets became mere painted corners, and the superimposed animated biff, bam and pow’s became ultra cheap fixed intertitles. The appearance of Yvonne Craig as Batgirl did add new dimensions to the show (Holy cleavage, Batman!), but the last show featured Zsa Zsa Gabor as the villain, dahling.
Note: Warner Home Video are also releasing this collection on Blu-Ray.