Monday July 14, 2014
Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Batman: The Movie (1966)
Nathaniel Rogers over at The Film Experience has a long-running series, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” in which he and other film writers post favorite frames from favorite (or not-so-favorite) movies. It’s an always interesting and frequently surprising exercise. How can two people, for example, with all of those frames to choose from, choose the same frame? Yet it keeps happening.
It’s also difficult. Man. After deciding to participate in the latest (any Batman movie), and halfway through the ’66 “Batman,” starring Adam West, I wondered, “Wait. Do we want the best aesthetic shot or the shot that best represents the movie?” I was going with the latter. But kind of a moot point with Batman ’66 since the movie doesn’t have many great aesthetic shots. Just devastating ones.
I still think “Batman: The Movie” is the best superhero parody ever made, but then it doesn’t have a lot of competition. “The Specials”? Meh. “Superhero Movie”? Blah. Rainn Wilson in “Super”? More a parody of vigilante movies, and more gross than funny. “Kick Ass”? Buys into the very thing it’s parodying. It takes superheroes way too seriously.
Not Batman ’66. Basically it’s a parody of movie serials and the post-war pomposity that often accompanied them. (Donald Trump wishes he were as self-important as Adam West’s Batman.)
Maybe it helps to be several decades removed from the heyday of the genre? Serials were usurped by TV and died, then played for laughs (at least the “Batman” ones) at the Playboy Club, which led to this spot-on parody. But movie serials had the last laugh. In the next decade, first George Lucas (“Star Wars”) and then Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”), would revive the genre with A-list production values and a relentless pace, and we haven't gotten off of that roller coaster ride.
For “best shot,” I wanted a moment that captured the brilliant absurdity of it all. Here’s a slideshow of runners up.
The TV show began as a midseason replacement in January 1966, became a huge hit, and the movie was released the following summer amidst “Batmania.” This is a classic shot, against blue screen, that we often saw on the TV show. It's from the beginning of the movie. Robin is phoning the airport so they'll get the batcopter ready. Because everyone in Gotham is at Batman's beck-and-call.
Shots like these indicate the movie had the budget to go outdoors, but these outdoor shots actually make the movie seem cheaper. It's as if the Batman universe needs false lighting; it shrinks in the sun.
Cops holding hats over hearts as the batcopter goes by. Love this. You really need to see the second Batman serial from 1949, “Batman and Robin,” to understand how perfect this is.
Again, better production values lead to a cheaper look. It's the shark jumping Batman rather than vice-versa.
Batman and Robin, with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara, talking themselves through a complex riddle and into an absurd answer. This was a serious contender for a while.
As was this. I just love the briefcase with the little bat emblem on it. That's the thing about these superheroes and villains: everyone labels everything. Even the periscope the Penguin uses is in the shape of a penguin. Subtlety was not an option.
Another classic shot. Ralph Nader's “Unsafe at Any Speed” was published two months before the show aired and was certainly being buzzed about. Not sure if Nader is the reason for the shot or it would've been a good bit no matter what. I.e., these guys are such milk-drinking, straight-arrow heroes they buckle up every time. Plus crotch shot.
Not a contender. I just find it hilarious that Cesar Romero didn't even bother to shave his moustache for the role.
Our only shot of the batsignal. Way too cool-looking to get my vote.
Titilation was a big part of the Batman shows. Julie Newmar's Catwoman was totally unfair to the libidos of young men but Lee Meriwether wasn't far behind.
Frank Gorshin seems to agree.
A serious contender. It looks diabolical, but Romero's Joker is more right-hand man to Burgess Meredith's Penguin, who runs the show.
Not many shots with all four supervillains together. Here, Catwoman licks herself.
Another classic TV series bit.
Probably the movie's most famous scene: Batman attempting to get rid of a bomb along the Gotham waterfront, but constantly running into the more innocent members of society, such as mother and child.
Then a Salvation Amy band. Baby ducks were next.
“Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!” West's gift for physical comedy is underrated.
Another serious contender. The worst aspect of movie serials was the often serendipitous (read: lame) resolution to the previous week's cliffhanger. Here, the batcopter crash lands ... at a Foam Rubber Wholesalers Convention.
Another blue screen shot. It's intercut with footage of Batman and Robin running through ... is it New York? Does anyone know?
This is one of the better shots to include all four supervillains, and contains the extra absurdity of each of them wearing a mask as if to hide their identities.
Nathaniel posted a similar shot. Penguin and Catwoman celebrate their abduction of the United World Security Council (see vials).
I considered this, too. It's from the final epic battle atop the Penguin's pre-atomic submarine that he purchased under the pseudonym “P.N. Gwynn.” Here, Batman and Penguin thrust and parry while the Joker takes a swing at Robin and misses by a mile.
Not a contender but always good to have another shot of Catwoman.
Batman is stunned to learn that his “love,” Miss Kitka, was really Catwoman. In the background, Parisian music plays. We were still on a WWII wavelength.
How can you not love this? Batman's utility belt outside his smock? The label on ... well, everything? Another contender.
One of the final shots of the movie. The grand pomposity is there in West's eyes, while Robin looks ready to receive his fatherly wisdom. “Who knows, Robin. This strange mixing of the minds may be ... the greatest single service ever performed for humanity.” *FIN*
All good contenders, but here's my best shot:
Everything comes together. Robin, intense as ever, is in the midst of his signature move, pounding fist into palm, while Batman crosses his arms like a bat. Meanwhile you have that great comic look from Stafford Repp's Chief O'Hara.
It's really a meta-message on the absurdity of the dialogue. After Batman and Robin escape the magnetic buoy, a Polaris missile writes two riddles in the sky. ”What does a turkey do when he flies upside-down?“ ”He gobbles up!“ Robin says. That's actually a legitimate answer to a legitimate riddle. Less so the second one: ”What weights six ounces, sits in a tree, and is very dangerous?“ It's when Robin gives the answer, ”A sparrow with a machine gun!“ that O'Hara gives us this look. Gordon adds to the absurdity by saying, ”Of course," but the greater, unspoken absurdity is the fact that Gordon and O'Hara, a police commissioner and his chief of police, follow the lead of a man dressed like a bat and a short-tempered teenager in tights. That's why this one gets my vote.