During the 60’s, Batman reached an all-time high in popularity thanks to the Adam West show. The series was a smash hit and brought Gotham’s hero to mainstream popularity. Those who had no interest in comics were being introduced to the mythos in an entirely different medium. By its very nature, the show was incredibly campy and paid homage to the old serials of the 30s and 40s. Nowhere was this more obvious than its cliffhanger style endings to link two episodes together. The draw of the show was mainly due to the guest villains played by prominent actors on stage and screen. After a few years, the series took the next step when a full-length feature film was released in 1966.
When I was growing up, I was introduced to Batman through this show and the animated series. Back then, I didn’t catch onto the fact that the 60s show was not meant to be taken seriously. As I got older, I realized that there were many different interpretations of Batman. He’s become synonymous with our culture and that means everyone has a favorite iteration. The 60s show is one of those you either love or hate. I completely understand that many prefer a serious and dark approach to Batman and I like that too. I still have a soft spot for the 60s series, though, mainly because of the sly humor brought to it by Adam West. Amidst the formulaic style, he and the guest villains were always a joy to watch. I’ve told you all of that to say this. If you don’t like the 60s show, you will not like this film. If you are a fan and have not seen it yet, what are you waiting for?
Because it was a full-length film, everything was bigger to make it worthy of a theatrical release. To raise the stakes, the film brought together the biggest villains from the series (Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman). While not always on the same page, they aspire to conquer the world by using a prototype dehydrator to eliminate world leaders. Batman and Robin spend the film tracking them down and attempting to stop them.
While it’s really an extended TV episode, the movie surprisingly has a sense of scope to it. Part of this is because of the extensive location shooting in Santa Barbara. They also bring in gadgets that were unavailable for the show due to budget restraints. Seeing the Bat-Copter and Bat-Boat was a huge treat for those who had only seen the series on their televisions. Speaking of Santa Barbara, the funniest scene in the movie involves Batman running around the pier with a lit bomb. Much like the show, many of the set pieces are designed around seemingly inescapable deathtraps. The difference is that there are no cliffhangers. To escape, Batman and Robin rely on either gadget (shark-spray) or coincidental absurdity (“a noble porpoise”). I should reiterate that while I find these instances hysterical, some may just roll their eyes.
Each of the villains’ trademarks is on full display and their performances are consistent with the show. When it’s finally revealed they’re in cahoots, Gordon has one of my favorite lines of the entire film. “The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate.” Not to be outdone in set pieces, the villains get to move around in a purchased submarine equipped with a penguin motif. Penguin acts as the unofficial leader because of his extensive resources. Riddler is still eccentric and over the top, complete with his riddles he leaves Batman through launching Polaris missiles. Speaking of which, I love when Robin shouts “Holy Polaris” before the missile even emerges from the water.
Catwoman is given a lot to do, as she becomes part of a plot to kidnap Bruce Wayne disguised as a Russian reporter named Miss Kitka. Much like their relationship in the comics, there’s a surprising sense of duality to their scenes. They’re both trying to seduce each other while posing as their secret identities. For a show aimed at kids, there’s a surprising amount of sexual energy and innuendos between the two. While I prefer Julie Newmar because she pulled off sinister more effectively, Lee Merriweather does a terrific job in the role. This leaves Joker, who gets little to do besides loading torpedoes and being heckled by Penguin for slacking off. Considering that Cesar Romero was arguably the most decorated actor of the quartet, this is somewhat disappointing.
One of the elements that really defines West’s Batman is his frequent overconfidence and modesty. While posing as Wayne, he fails to catch onto to the glaring signs that Kitka may be Catwoman. The villains are shown to be somewhat cunning, also making it appear that Kitka is their prisoner. Even when they’re reunited, he doesn’t seem to catch on. As Batman, he’s once against the smartest guy in the room. Despite the seemingly impossible to solve riddles, Batman deduces them with minimal effort. By this point in the show, no one should be surprised at his intellect. After all, he somehow convinced the police department to deputize him despite no background in law enforcement. That adds to the humor of the movie. Batman really is a superhero but perhaps through either accident or sheer genius.
So, with all of that taken into consideration, it is extremely hard to judge this film aside from comparing it to the show. It works as a great introduction in for those who have never seen the but only if they can accept the ludicrous nature. Considering how dark the character has become recently (BVS as an example), perhaps a resurgence of the West show is not a bad thing. 50 years later, it is still a ton of fun to revisit.