Sunday, October 25, 2020

BATMAN: “THE OGG AND I” (1967)

 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*

Olga, Queen of the Bessarovian Cossacks, isn’t much of a supercrook, but she’s a decided improvement over the character Anne Baxter played in Season One: Zelda the Not-Close-to-Being-Great. At least with Olga, Baxter has the chance to render a lot of exaggerated line-readings in a standard phony East European accent, so by herself she qualifies as a “clever-zany.” Unfortunately, in all of her appearances she’s teamed with Egghead (Vincent Price), and by her proximity a decent camp-style villain falls into the trap of being a dumb-zany antagonist.


Technically this is one of two segments of a two-parter, though they’re written with very little connection to one another. Allegedly Stanford Sherman meant to write one single-part episode with Olga and Egghead, which would have ended with the events of the second part, entitled “How to Hatch a Dinosaur.” But once Sherman was allowed to expand the one episode into two segments, he came up with a decent opening scheme for Egghead and his somewhat fickle ally. The villains kidnap Commissioner Gordon, and for ransom Egghead demands that every citizen must pay a tax on every egg consumed in Gotham. This conceit gives Stafford Repp one of his few decent scenes in the season. Chief O’Hara goes into a diner for breakfast, and the arrogant Egghead shows up, demanding that the chief should order nothing but eggs for his meal.


Batgirl is naturally perturbed by her father’s abduction, but Batman and Robin pursue a different course to foil the villains: checking out the local Bessarovian Embassy, where they suspect that Olga will seek to shore up her claim to her country’s throne by stealing “the Silver Samovar of Genghis Khan.” The Duo hides in the big samovar, but Olga mousetraps them, and when Batgirl follows, the villains get her as well. Olga plans to make borscht out of Batgirl, Robin and Gordon, but she considers making handsome Batman one of her husbands, much to the displeasure of Egghead. Adam West shows appropriate dread at the thought of being married to such a voracious female, but he’s spared the fate worse than death by a last-minute save from Alfred, who’s only present because of Batgirl The bad guys get away thanks to one of Egghead’s weapons, and by itself this would not be one of the worst of the dumb-zanies.


Unfortunately, in part two Egghead comes up with a resoundingly stupid plan, stealing both a radioactive isotope and a giant dinosaur-egg. He has the idea that he can irradiate the egg and bring the dino, a so-called “Neosaurus,” to life—whereon he will somehow tame the dino and use it to kill Gotham’s trio of costumed crimefighters. Batman, Robiu and Batgirl show up at the villains’ hideout, planning to foil their scheme. Then, for no obvious reason, Batman just disappears from the story, and the other two heroes beard Egghead in his lair. Egghead’s forces overwhelm the duo, agt which point the giant egg breaks open, and out comes a bipedal dinosaur. Egghead makes a weak attempt to “sic” the creature upon the heroes, but when the dino roars at him, he, Olga and the Cossacks all run out of the building, into the waiting arms of the police.


Then, as Robin and Batgirl prepare to conftont the snarling creature, it pulls off its head, and, Holy Improbability, it’s Batman inside a dino-suit. Maybe Sherman thought this nonsense would appeal to the kids who watched the show, but only the dumbest children would not have wondered (1) how Batman got into a dino-egg without anyone noticing, and (2) why he didn’t bother to inform Robin and Batgirl of this lamebrain ploy. He does give a reason as to why he chose this avenue of crimfighting: that he wanted to prevent a big fight so that none of the Cossacks would be hurt! Despite some of Sherman’s superior work on other episodes in the series, in this one he was clearly “writing on fumes.”


BATMAN: “LOUIE THE LILAC” (1967)








PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


Mlton Berle played a bit role as a guard in the first-season episode “The Greatest Mother of Them All,” and his few minutes as a guard prove a better use of screen-time that both of his episodes as a dumb-zany supercrook. Dwight Taylor has the honor of creating the third season’s first really execrable guest villain, though even Louie the Lilac may not be the “Lamest Villain of Them All.”


For no particular reason, Louie and his hoods all dress like 1940s gangsters, complete with flowers in their lapels, which image possibly suggested the idea of a fiend with a flower-fetish. Despite looking like the times have passed him by, though, Louie intends to gain a stranglehold on the future, by getting in good with Gotham City’s community of “flower children,” a gaggle of clean-looking youths—never called hippies—who hang around one of Gotham’s parks, assembled around their spiritual leader Princess Primrose. Louie’s plan to somehow gain control over the love generation for some unspecified profit makes even less sense than Penguin’s plan to marry the police commissioner’s daughter.


As it happens, though, Primrose was once a college-buddy of Barbara Gordon, thus giving Barbara a personal reason to nose around. Louie doesn’t like snoops and sends a thug to Barbara’s apartment to abduct her. This leads to an incredibly time-wasting scene in which the thug breaks into the apartment, Barbara hides in another room while changing into Batgirl, and then drives the thug away simply by stepping into the room. Maybe the thug’s heard about her killer kicks, but he acts more confused than fearful. I imagine most viewers evinced a similar confusion, though more in the nature of “What is all this crap?”

Meanwhile, Batman and Robin find their way to Louie’s hothouse-hideout, and he traps them by feeding them to his giant carnivorous plant (not much of a death-trap, but a distinct improvement over the giant tea-bags of ‘Enter Batgirl.”) The crusaders manage to rescue themselves before Batgirl arrives and all three trounce the thugs in a slightly better-than-average fight—if one ignores the silliness in which Batgirl immobilizes Louie by dousing him in a mildewing solution. Sadly, Louie and his floral foolery would return for an encore than nearly no one wanted.


BATMAN: “THE UNKINDEST TUT OF ALL” (1967)

 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


n an early scene of this one-parter, Stanley Ralph Ross does provide a line reminiscent of the best campy asides of the first two seasons. Bruce and Barbara are seen riding in a limo as both talk about the concert they took in on what sounds like a very decorous (and boring) first date, as Barbara states, “There’s nothing I like better than hearing ‘Lady of Spain’ played eight times.” Regrettably, there are no other lines as good as that one, though at one point, Batman asks his butler, “What’s it all about, Alfred?”


Once again, King Tut (Victor Buono) has reverted from eminent Yale professor to ancient Egyptian despot. However, instead of committinig crimes this time, Tut seeks to win over Gotham by convincing its citizens that his prophetic powers enable him to predict crimes before they occur. Batman and Robin are obliged to shore up Tut’s reputation by personally foiling one of the crimes. It will come as no surprise that Tut sets up all the crimes he predicts with his hirelings, but there’s a method behind his machinations. While the Dynamic Duo are busy fighting a gang of crooks, one of them slips a homing device on the Batmobile. Thus the robed rapscallion actually succeds at the goal sought by many of his peers: he tracks the device’s signal to the Batcave, and correctly deduces that the heroes are Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. However, the crimefighters cleverly contrive events so that no one believes Tut’s assertions.


Batgirl, who was sometimes allowed to overshadow the Dynamic Duo at times, doesn’t have as much to do this time. Sadly, though Buono chews the scenery as well as ever, Ross doesn’t write him any lines worthy of his mouth.


BATMAN: “THE SPORT OF PENGUINS” (1967)

 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


Charles Hoffman pems the third season’s first two-part episode, but it’s far from a return to good form.

This time the Penguin’s big score at least makes sense as a moneymaking venture. He teams up with Lola Lasagna (Ethel Merman), a horse-owing celebrity whom Penguin knew in her days as a crooked type. The two ne’er-do-wells plot to fix a horse race by doctoring up a ringer to take the place of the favorite in an upcoming contest (sponsored, as almost everything in Gotham is, by Wayne Enterprises). As a visual counterpoint to Penguin and his umbrellas, Lola parades around most of the time with a parasol, and even uses the name Parasol for her horse. However, she’s an extremely minor character, and even an actress more skilled than Merman couldn’t have done anything with Lola.


Despite a better motive this time around, Hoffman constructs the plot poorly. Penguin first appears at Barbara Gordon’s library, though he doesn’t seem to know in advance that she works there. His primary purpose is to abscond with a priceless book about collectible parasols, but Barbara easily chases him away. Later Hoffman’s script laboriously sends Penguin back to the library again, in part to attempt vengeance on the woman who rejected him as a husband, but the clumsy repetition of the same set makes it seem as if the filmmakers were trying to get their money’s worth out of the new locale. Like most multi-parters of the season, there’s no death-trap at the end of the first segment, though Penguin does manage to glue Batman and Robin to the seats of their own Batmobile.


Part Two at least provides a novel new locale, since it isn’t enough for Penguin to fix the race, he has to ride in it as well (which development alone makes this into one of the dumb-zanies, given that Burgess Meredith would not have made a credible jockey under any circumstances). The episode’s only high point is that Alfred is obliged to use his special knowledge of Batgirl’s identity—though without disclosing it to anyone-- in order to line her up to ride in the race against Penguin. Neither the race nor the concluding fight is anything special, and no one gets any standout lines of dialogue.


BATMAN: “THE WAIL OF THE SIREN” (`1967)

 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


“Wail of the Siren” is far from a great episode, but it’s one of the few third-season outings that doesn’t fall into the trap of over-zaniness.

For one thing, the Siren (Joan Collins) doesn’t make use of the usual villain-gimmicks. She has the closest thing one can find to a “super-power” in the series, in that she can mesmerize men with her voice when she sings a “high C” note (though implicitly this is the result of some arcane training). For another thing, Siren’s big score is simple and logical. Her main plan is to enthrall Bruce Wayne and force him to yield his wealth to her. But to nullify any interferene by Batman and Robin, she seeks out Commissioner Gordon and hypnotizes him. Under Siren’s control, Gordon stows away in the trunk of the Batmobile, undermining the claim in “The Zodiac Crimes” that the car has devices to prevent such infiltratiuon. Once he’s been taken to the fabled Batcave, Gordon is supposed to learn the identities of the Duo and expose them. (Siren seems to have no plans for Batgirl, despite having met her in the previous episode.) Gordon succeeds in his mission, and even meets Alftred, whose voice the top cop recognizes from their many encounters on the Batphone. Alfred saves the day by dosing Gordon with Bat-gas and keeping him out of trouble until he recovers from the Siren-spell.

The other part of Siren’s plan goes swimmingly. Wayne falls victim to her spell, making this episode one of the few times Batman can’t escape a trap. Robin (his ears protected by Bat-earplugs) and Batgirl (naturally immune to the femae of the species) are obliged to rescue Wayne. The episode concludes with a very dull rooftop-fight between the heroes and Siren’s goons, though the advantage of the rooftop locale is that in the melee Siren gets knocked off the side and has to hang on for dear life. Robin—who’s just been forced to kayo the robotized Wayne—proves uncharacteristically hardcore, threatening to let Siren fsll to her death if she doesn’t reverse her spell on Wayne. She does so, ruining her voice and eliminating herself as a future threat. There aren’t that many strong lines, although Siren does disparage both Catwoman and Black Widow as “amateurs” in comparison to her. Certainly. she’s one of the better female villains of the third season, though characters like Nora Clavicle and Doctor Cassandra set that particular bar pretty low. Not surprisingly for the actress who later made it big on DYNASTY, Collins is quite good in the role of a venal villainess.  


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

BATMAN: “RING AROUND THE RIDDLER” (1967)

 








PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


Charles Hoffman has the honor of scripting the first of the “clever-zany” episodes, in which the story is fundamentally ridiculous (even for the genre) but enough clever stuff happens to make the experience bearable.

One online source makes the claim that Frank Gorshin returned to the role of the Riddler because the show was finally able to meet his salary demands. Given the cuts in the budget this season, this would only be possible if the producers thought that getting Gorshin back for just one episode—which was his only contribution to Season Three—might give the program a boost in publicity, On the other hand, such publicity might’ve given other actors similar ideas. Whatever the reason, “Ring’ became Gorshin’s last bow as the Prince of Puzzlers, and the actor plays it to the hilt, possibly with the knowledge that this would be his last chance with the role that made him famous.

For unknown reasons the Riddler decides to gain control of the “fight-game” in Gotham City. Nothing is said about making money by betting on fixed fights, but Riddler’s mode of operation consists of fixing fights anyway, by taking prominent boxers and subjecting them to debilitating treatments so that they lose their matches. In addition, Riddler himself masquerades as a Middle Eastern pugilist with the amusing cognomen of “Mushy Nebuchadnezzar,” though this seems to be nothing but a scheme to trap Batman. But this scheme is no better than the first, since it doesn’t do anything to take Robin out of the picture, much less coping with the advent of Batgirl.

Gorshin seems to be having fun with his readings of the riddles—certainly a decided improvement over John Astin’s delivery of same—but the highlight of the episode is when Riddler introduces a villainous ally, the Siren (Joan Collins). Siren, who can mesmerize men with her high-pitched singing, helps Riddler destabilize some of the boxers, but she doesn’t seem to be either his henchwoman or his partner in crime. Further, she departs the episode in the middle, setting up her solo venture in the next story. An amusing goof is that Siren first appears when Batgirl invades Riddler’s gymnasium-hideout, and Riddler orders Siren to paralyze her, just before he and his goons all put on earmuffs to block out the sound. For the first time, everyone there apparently learns that Siren’s song does not affect women—although for some strange reason Riddler’s henchwoman Betsy seems to know this in advance, since she alone does not don earmuffs.

As usual Adam West and Frank Gorshin play off one another’s characters quite well, and the scene between them in a boxing ring is amusing.Following the concluding punch-up, Riddler delivers a riddle that promises his eventual return. Instead this was the villain's final round.


BATMAN: "ENTER BATGIRL, EXIT PENGUIN" (1967)

 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


BATMAN ’66 entered its third and final season by getting cut back to one episode per week. This didn’t entirely preclude multi-part stories, since the season included one three-parter and four two-parters. But for the most part the show’s writers never seemed to figure out to make “camp Batman” work in this scaled-down structure. Even budget cutbacks and the addition of a third starring character never hurt the program as much as the restrictions on time. Perhaps as a substitute for witty banter, the episodes begin emphasizing pure zaniness, not unlike the turn Batman comics took in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with characters like Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite. Only a few episodes escaped the Zaniness Curse, though even the victimized episodes can be divided into “clever-zanies” (showing at least a little imagination) and “dumb-zanies” (showing the writers tossing out silliness to cover thin scripting).

Stanford Sherman’s “Enter Batgirl” is certainly one of the dumb-zanies. The story introduces the Commissioner’s daughter Barbara Gordon, but the action barely strays either from the young woman’s apartment or a neighboring apartment—patently a money-saving strategy. Penguin (Burgess Meredith) takes up residence in the room adjoining Barbara’s so that he can more easily kidnap her and force Barbara to marry him. The villain thinks that becoming the Commissioner’s son-in-law via a forced marriage will somehow immunize him from the law, which ranks as the Penguin’s most bird-brained plot during the series. Having captured Barbara, Penguin can’t resist boasting to the Commissioner, which gets Batman and Robin on his trail. In addition, the supercrook sends his goons to kidnap a minister. The goons instead abduct Alfred, who substitutes himself for the minister, and though Pengun has met the Wayne butler on two previous occasions, the villain is utterly fooled by the deception.

Alfred then bears witness to Barbara Gordon displaying some un-ladylike behavior as she escapes via a window to get to her neighboring apartment. Therein she’s built her own “Batgirl-cave” with her costume and various pieces of equipment, and she transforms into Batgirl for the first time ever, bent upon fighting crime like Batman for undisclosed reasons. Just as Batman and Robin invade Penguin’s apartment and come to grips with the cagey bird, Batgirl shows up and joins the fight. Penguin gets away with one of his many devices, only to return to the same location once more a little later. He mousetraps the Dynamic Duo and puts them in a cut-rate death-trap (giant tea bags!), but Batgirl rescues them and foils the evildoers. Later she makes Alfred into her confidante, even though technically he never witnessed her becoming Batgirl.


As would happen in many other episodes, Batman and Ronin don’t have that much to do, and Penguin doesn’t get more than one or two strong lines of dialogue. On the plus side, Batgirl’s character is suitably courageous, an attribute not seen in other females in the series. The new setup with Alfred—where he must afeguard both the identities of the Duo and of the new hero in town—works to give Alan Napier a lot more comic business in this season, which is a titanic improvement after such Season Two inanities as “Cousin Egbert” and “the Alf-Cycle.”