Movies & TV / Columns

Dissecting the Classics – Batman (1966)

June 16, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

So I really wasn’t planning to cover three superhero films in a row, especially since I will be covering Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films very shortly. I promise, I do actually watch other movies. But some things are more important, and the loss of Adam West is one of those things. While 88 is a respectable age to pass away, it’s a tremendous loss to the geek community. The 1966 Batman movie was always on the docket for this column, but to do it any other week than this one would just feel wrong.

Farewell Bright Night. You and your contributions to television will be fondly remembered.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics , the column previously known as Taken For Granted. In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.


Batman

Wide Release Date: July 30, 1966
Directed By: Leslie H. Martinson
Written By: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Produced By: William Dozier
Cinematography By: Howard Schwartz
Edited By: Harry Gerstad
Music By: Nelson Riddle (Main Theme by Neal Hefti)
Production Company: William Dozier Productions and Greenlawn Productions
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Starring:
Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin
Lee Meriwether as Catwoman
Cesar Romero as The Joker
Burgess Meredith as The Penguin
Frank Gorshin as The Riddler

What Do We All Know?
Few shows were as big in their time or had as much long-lasting impact on pop culture as the 1960’s Batman television show. A light-spirited comedy romp that’s masquerading as a crime show, it followed the adventures of the Dynamic Duo as the helped saved Gotham from supervillains. Beloved by a generation and scorned by the next, the show has managed to find a new audience that is sick to death of the dark and brooding Batman stories that have had sole ownership of the character ever since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

Hitting theaters only a few months after the first season of the show ended, the 1966 movie pit Batman and Robin against his four most popular villains. In the process, it introduced the Bat-Boat, Bat-Copter and the Shark Repellent Bat-Spray to the show. While various rights issues kept the show out of fans’ hands for a long time, the movie was easier to find and is a lot of younger folks’ first real introduction to this era of Batman. So, how does it hold up?

What Went Right?

Before we continue, we need to acknowledge a few things. The first and most important is that “camp” does not equal “bad”. It is an artistic style, and can be done badly (see Batman and Robin), but it can also be done well. I know that the idea of Batman as a lighthearted comedy series is anathema to a vocal group of Batman fans, but this movie isn’t for them. The truth is that the hijinks, humor and moralizing is a part of Batman’s history and is every bit as legitimate as the darker, more “mature” version. Batman is a larger than life icon; one interpretation does not de-legitimize another, both have merit and compliment each other.

So, on its own terms, Batman is not only a good movie, but kind of awesome. It’s very funny, from the trademark insane deductions and signs labeling everything to the more unique gags like the shark repellent (and other marine animal repellent in the helicopter) and Batman’s inability to get rid of a bomb. This is also by far the best use of super villains teaming up in any movie; Joker, Penguin and Riddler are great as themselves and working off of each other. And while Lee Meriwether was not Catwoman before or after this, she really sinks her teeth into the role and nearly steals the whole show. We get classic Batman and Catwoman interplay, and the villains’ plot is suitably grandiose for a big summer movie. At one hour and forty five minutes, the film breezes by and I can’t help being impressed by the amount of content they manage to get in.

What Went Wrong?

Like I said, as long as you’re willing to approach the film for what it is and judge it on those merits, it holds up remarkably well. That said, I will acknowledge that some parts don’t work. The shark repellent is a great gag, but the shark itself is a pretty embarrassing special effect. I’ve also never been a fan of the Batman mask, specifically the nose decal. Other than that, trying to poke holes into the logic of nonsense is a giant waste of time. It’s not meant to be serious; it’s just entertaining fun.

What Went Really Right?

Adam West is a very underrated Batman. He handles every bit of ridiculous dialogue with total seriousness. I love his performance here, and I love Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith in their respective roles. I also can’t overstate how cool the Bat-Copter and Bat-Boat are; both were too expensive for a TV budget and I’m glad they came to life here.

If there’s a silver lining to Adam West’s passing, it’s that he lived just long enough for people to appreciate the quality and importance of his contributions to Batman. His portrayal is an influence on virtually every Batman since, most notably the animated series, which reconciles the Bright Knight with his darker influences to create what many consider the best Batman ever. If you haven’t given the Adam West version a fair shot before, there is no time like now to start. You will probably be surprised at just how much fun you will have.

Like This Column?
Check out previous editions!
Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II,

Or check out my column with Michael Ornelas; “From Under A Rock”. Last week, we reviewed Rebel Without A Cause. This week, Michael introduces me to Predator.

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I log reviews for every film I see, when I see them. You can see my main page here. Recent reviews include The Amazing Spider-Man, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Get Out.