Monday, August 8, 2011

Batman (1943)

Lewis Wilson stars as Batman in the caped crusader's first big screen appearance.  Along with his trusted sidekick, "Robin the Boy Wonder" (Douglas Croft), they fight to protect Gotham City, and the world, from the clutches of the evil Dr. Tito Daka (J. Carrol Naish), his "Radium Powered Ray Gun" and his "Zombie Machine".  The 15 episode serial was released by Columbia Pictures and I have to admit it sounds promising, but doesn't deliver.  The serial plays up Batman's alter ego "Bruce Wayne" as extremely lazy and untrustworthy, rather than suave and sophisticated, as he keeps his girlfriend "Linda Page" (Shirley Patterson) in the dark about his identity.  I can see where he would want to hide his Batman identity but I think they go a little overboard. 

The Dynamic Duo work as government agents attempting to uncover Axis plots instead of acting  as vigilantes which is truer to the comic origin.  The air is thick with anti-Japanese slurs, especially with the serial being released after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II.  Anyone easily offended might take exception to some of the dialogue.  But, like other films and serials from that era, they have to be viewed in the context of the times. 

The chemistry just doesn't seem to click between the main characters causing the serial to fall a little flat.  Most of the bad guys I recognized as some of the Columbia contracted  "mugs and thugs" that appear in other Columbia shorts and serials.  Naish does a good job as usual, and Charles Middleton appears in a few episodes as a prospector with a Radium mine, and the bad guys are after him for a change, he usually plays the villain.

There are a few good stunts, mostly car crashes etc., but a lot of the action that goes on might cause the viewer to just shake their head and chuckle.  In one scene Batman gets thrown down an elevator shaft and hits the bottom in a puff of dust like "Wile E. Coyote" in a "Road Runner" cartoon, only to get up in the next scene saying "that was a close one ".  In another scene Batman and Robin try to gain access to one of the crook's hideouts when Batman remarks about how "well guarded the place is", then they simply just climb over the high iron fence and onto the property without being noticed. 

The punches fly like a windmill in a hurricane, but everyone just keeps getting right up for more punishment.  The character "Alfred" (William Austin) is too bumbling, unlike the aristocratic and polished character played by Alan Napier in the Batman film and television series of the 60's.
The "Bat's Cave" is a cave with a desk, a telephone, and a couple of chairs in it.  There's no "Batmobile", just a Cadillac convertible with a large backseat where most of the Bruce Wayne to Batman / Dick Grayson to Robin and vice versa transformations take place.  Columbia was obviously on a limited budget judging by the repeated use of sets and locations used for filming.  And the "bat ears" on Batman's cowl look more like devil horns.

I hope I don't sound like I'm totally trashing the serial, it has it's moments, but I think only true Batman and serial fans will really appreciate it.


  1. The local theatre ran this serial on Saturdays one summer when I was a kid. Looking back, I think it was rather imaginative of the management as the TV series "Batman" was a super hit at the time. However, in my weekend visits to the theatre I was always disappointed when they didn't show a western.

  2. Caftan -
    I think a good rousing western would have always been a better crowd pleaser. This serial was good but not great ...

  3. And the Liebster Award goes to YOU from Another Old Movie Blog: