Monday, August 04, 2008

"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"

With all the hype - the much-deserved hype I should say - about The Dark Knight, I felt it necessary and appropriate to remind you all that there was once, some 30-odd years ago, a very different but equally brilliant Batman movie. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favourite films of all time. I refer you to Batman (or Batman - The Movie as it has become known).

Men Die! Women Sigh! Beneath that Batcape - he's all man! (Actual tag line used in advertisements)

1966 was the year that Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India; that John Lennon declared that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus; that Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell; that Harold Wilson became Prime Minister of the UK, the Moors Murderers - Ian Brady and Myra Hindley - were convicted; that Mao Zedong led the Chinese cultural revolution; that Star Trek debuted on TV; that Buster Keaton, Walt Disney and Lenny Bruce died; and when England won some football competition or other. But it was also the year that Lorenzo Semple Jnr penned one of the funniest scripts of all time (in my humble opinion). Batman the series had already been running for a year on TV when the decision was made to commission a full-length feature. Semple decided to follow the formula of the series and camp it up big-time. It didn't please the fans - the film wasn't a great commercial success - but it did ensure later cult status. Interestingly, later in his career, he wrote the script for 1980's equally high camp Flash Gordon. Once again, not a huge box-office success, but now a cult film much beloved by many.

Batman the Movie has one of the best opening scenes ever. Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder are investigating a mayday originating from a yacht belonging to Commodore Schmidlapp, boss of Big Ben Distilleries. As Batman drops down to land on the ship, it mysteriously disappears leaving the Dark Knight up to his utility belt in the ocean. Suddenly, he is attacked by a shark ... what can save him? Thankfully, Robin is on hand with a handy can of Shark Repellent Bat Spray that just happens to be stored in the cockpit of the Bat-copter. Performing an entirely arbitrary upside-down hanging stunt on the Bat-ladder (an ordinary rope ladder with a handy sign attached to the bottom rung), Robin passes the spray to his mentor who then uses it to repel the outrageously obvious rubber shark. The scene sets the tone for the whole film; tacky, wacky, camp, hilarious. I bloody love it.

There are some truly astounding lines. I love the one when Batman and Robin are driving away from the projector buoy in the bat-boat having miraculously escaped a trio of torpedoes fired from The Penguin's submarine. "Gosh Batman, the nobility of the almost-human-porpoise", says Robin. "True Robin", replies Batman, "It was noble of that animal to hurl himself into the path of that final torpedo ... he gave his life for ours." Absolutely fantastic. The lines are played absolutely straight by Adam West and Burt Ward. Very few actors can get away with that although Leslie Nielson has made a pretty good career of it.
The one question I've always wanted answered though is ... when Batman rehydrates the world leaders at the end, they all reappear in their seats. So what happened to the test tube holders and retorts that were on the seats beforehand? Ouch.

Let's have a big cheer please for the original Batman. Yes, it was all very tongue-in-cheek and a monstrous parody but it worked. Which is why it's as popular today - perhaps even more so - as it ever has been. If you haven't seen it for a while, treat yourself.

I'll leave you with two pieces of bat-trivia I recently uncovered:

Alan Napier, who played Alfred the butler was Neville Chamberlain' s cousin. Chamberlain was UK Prime Minister from 1937-1940. There is a distinct similarity of appearance.

During the three series and feature film, Burt Ward exclaimed 'Holy *****!' a staggering 352 times, all of them different. They ranged from 'Holy Agility!' to 'Holy Zorro!'

Holy silliness!


John Soanes said...

Didn't Mr Semple go on to write 'Never Say Never Again'?
I watched this Batman film again recently, and was surprised at how much fun it was.
If you've read Miller's 'Dark Knight', you might like this silliness...

Stevyn Colgan said...


He certainly did. And thanks for the link. Brilliant stuff!