Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Batman (1943)

Bruce Wayne, posing as a useless playboy, goes under cover as the Batman for Uncle Sam. A Japanese scientist (J. Carrol Naish) uses mind controlling electronics to steal radium so that he can make a big gun to free the enslaved people of America from their corrupt way of life. Or something like that.

Before the Adam West series there was this World War II serial, the first live action depiction of the caped crusader. While I am without any particular affinity for the character, I do like movie serials, and Batman is a particularly good one. Lewis Wilson was cheeky and heroic, and only eight years older than the dad-bodied West even though he came 23 years earlier.

Allow me to summarize just about every episode: "Jap spy" Daka, having recruited various gangster-types, enact various plots for the destruction of America. From his secret lair he tries to steal radium, blow up a bridge, steal a plane, and hijack a mine. Batman interferes, gets into lots of fist fights, and disrupts the plan. Some henchmen are captured, but Daka stays at large. The baddies, along with the more gullible of the audience, believe that Batman is at last killed. Amazingly, he survives each episode. Oh, spoiler alert.

Here's whats interesting: The dynamic duo return from the bat cave by climbing out of a grandfather clock. No bat pole in evidence. Also missing is the Batmobile. Alfred chauffeurs our heroes both in and out of costume. In the first episode the bad guys get away using a color shifting car. Using clever shading, the car appears to transition from white to black. That was fairly cool given the budget. It is unclear why hottie Linda Paige bothered with Wayne, who carefully hid away his heroics. Only in it for the money, apparently. She would later do battle with It! Boy Wonder Douglas Croft did not live to see the Adam West version.

Some of the sillier elements include the Lockheed engineering room resembling a boathouse and their security being nothing more than goon standing outside of a fenced area. In one episode the homeland transmits a message to Daka using the highest tech of all communication devices: a dead guy. Also Daka's lair includes not only radium guns and a mind control device, but also a giant Buddha.

If you are sensitive to racial epitaphs, you may find cause to be offended. The primary antagonist was called a slant-eyed or shifty-eyed Jap from time to time. Most of that comes from the bad guys, however, and they don't get the best of it. I can overlook this because we were at war with Japan at the time, and this sort of thing was a sign of the time.

Batman completionists must see it. Batman purists (if there is such a thing) may be annoyed. Because I enjoy serials, and because this one was a rather well done, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The opening theme was very reminiscent of radio serials which I listened to as a kid (no, I'm not THAT old!) Batman and Robin, made six years later, might be aired later this summer. TCM's schedule is rather vague sometimes. Columbia went with an entirely different cast for that one. AMRU 3.5.

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