Retro Review – Batman: The Movie (1966)

Batman: The Movie

Release Date: October 26, 1966

Director: Leslie H. Martinson

Writers: Lorenzo Semple Jr., Bob Kane (characters)

Stars: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin

MPAA Rating: PG

HoboTrashcan’s Rating:

It’s amazing just how versatile Batman can be.

In the hands of a director like Christopher Nolan, Batman can be this dark, brooding, complex character struggling to create harmony in a Dickensian world. But there is also room for a much lighter, sillier Batman like the one Adam West made famous in the 1960s. Adam West’s Batman is the polar opposite of Christian Bale’s – a milk guzzling do gooder in a skin tight costume aided by his goofy sidekick Robin.

The 60s Batman show was iconic. And until Tim Burton came along and reintroduced the character with a much darker and more mature film, the image of Adam West and Burt Ward socking criminals as duly deputized officers of the law was the first to come to most casual fans minds. The campy 60s show was fondly remembered for its over the top performances, ridiculous cheesy stunts and the rotating door of guest star villains, including Lee Meriwether (amongst others) as Catwoman, the mustachioed Cesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin and Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.

The 60s Batman movie is the high water mark for the series. The writing is crisp and funny and the plot suitably epic and ridiculous. Plus, it feels like a big event when you are watching it because all of the aforementioned guest star villains team up for the first time on-screen in a plot to kidnap the members of the United World Security Council using a dehydrating ray. (Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.)

The film fully embraces the campiness that defined the series. At one point, Batman uses a shark repellent spray conveniently located in his utility belt to save himself from the jaws of a (very rubbery and fake-looking) shark. He and Robin are rescued from a speeding torpedo by a noble porpoise sacrificing itself to save their lives (which happens off-screen, of course). And when their Bat-copter begins crashing toward the Earth, they are miraculously saved by a pile of loose foam rubber that was on display at the Foam Rubber Wholesalers Convention. There is also a truly enjoyable scene where Adam West runs around the docks with a giant bomb over his head, frantically searching for a place to dispose of it, but being thwarted by random strangers hanging out at inconvenient places and even a flock of ducks.

There are also The Riddlers riddles, all of them incredibly convoluted that Batman and Robin easily solve. A typical riddle in the film is something like this: “What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree and is very dangerous?” That answer to that one, which our caped crusaders instantly blurt out is “A sparrow with a machine gun.” (This solution ultimately clues them in to Catwoman’s involvement in the villain’s plot through a series of convoluted logic.)

There is a wonderfully absurd subplot where the supervillains decide to lure Batman into a trap by kidnapping a wealthy upstanding citizen. The only problem is that the citizen they pick is Bruce Wayne. Catwoman disguises herself as “Ms. Kitka” and seduces Wayne, getting him nabbed by the other villains. Bruce doesn’t realize Ms. Kitka is Catwoman and the rogues gallery doesn’t realize that Bruce Wayne is Batman, so all of them are stuck in this really ironic and hilarious misunderstanding.

This film was never in any Oscar discussions like The Dark Knight. It won’t blow you away with its special effects or cinematography. But if you enjoy the campy, lighter side of Batman, this film delivers exactly what you want it to. The villains give wonderfully over the top performances, Batman and Robin continue to find creative new ways to make improbable escapes and the whole thing is filled with some really great jokes. It’s a nice change of pace from the darker, brooding Batman and its a film that holds up surprisingly well considering it’s 46 years old.

Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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