is a 15-chapter serial, released in 1943 by Columbia Pictures and
was the first DC Comics character to have his own serial. It starred
Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin. J. Carrol Naish
played the villain, an original character named Dr. Daka. Rounding
out the cast were Shirley Patterson as Linda Page (Bruce Wayne's love
interest), and William Austin as Alfred the butler. The plot involved
Batman attempting to defeat the Japanese spy Dr. Daka (J. Carrol
Naish), who has invented a device that turns people into pseudo-zombies.
Because of the strict serial regulations, Batman and Robin were
portrayed as FBI agents in the serial. In the comic strip at the
time, however, they were vigilantes. Film censors, who would not
allow the hero to be seen taking the law into his own hands. The
regulations also prevented the writers from using the Batman's Rogues
Gallery, so none of Batman's villains appear in this serial and the
one made in 1949. Bob Kane's name did not appear on this serial's
original credits. The source credit reads "Based On The Batman
Comic Magazine Feature Appearing In Detective Comics and Batman Magazines".
The film is notable for
being the first filmed appearance of Batman, and for debuting story
details that became permanent parts of the Batman mythos. It
introduced "The Bat's Cave", and its secret entrance
through a grandfather clock inside Wayne Manor. Both departures
subsequently appeared in the comics. The serial also changed the
course of how Alfred Pennyworth's physical appearance would be
depicted in later Batman works. At the time it was released in
theaters, Alfred was overweight in Batman comics. After William
Austin's portrayal in these chapter plays, however, subsequent issues
of the comics portrayed him as Austin had: trim, and sporting a thin
mustache. The serial was commercially successful, and spawned
another, Batman and Robin, in 1949.
The film was made at the
height of World War II, and like numerous works of popular American
fiction of the time, contains anti-German and, in this case, anti-Japanese
ethnic slurs and comments (in one scene, one of Daka's henchmen
turns on him, saying, "That's the kind of answer that fits the
color of your skin."). Early narration in the first chapter,
referencing the U.S. government policy of Japanese American
internment to explain the abandoned neighborhood of Daka's
headquarters, sets the racial tone for the serial: "This was
part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America and known as
little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed
Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street."
film also suffered from a low budget, just like other contemporary
serials. No attempt was made to create a bona fide Batmobile, so a
black Cadillac was used by Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, as well as
Batman and Robin. Alfred chauffeured the Dynamic Duo in both identities.
Several continuity errors
occur in the serial, such as Batman losing his cape in a fight but
wearing it again after the film only briefly cut away.
Press releases announced it
as a "Super Serial" and it was Columbia's largest-scale
serial production to date. The studio gave it publicity campaign
equivalent to a feature film and was released in theaters on July
16th, 1943. The serial "gained good press notices" but some
critics said it "scarcely deserves them." Others describe
it as an "unintentional farce" or as "one of the most
ludicrous serials ever made" despite these bad reviews it was,
nevertheless, popular enough for a sequel, Batman and Robin (1949) to
Some elements of the serial
that have drawn particular attention from these critics are the
casting of Lewis Wilson as Batman, while his face resembled that of
Bruce Wayne and he played his part with sincerity they found his
physique to be unathletic and "thick about the middle" and
his voice was both too high and had a Boston accent; both the actors
and their stunt doubles lacked the "style and grace" of
either the comic characters they were portraying or their equivalents
at Republic Pictures. Both costumes are considered to be unconvincing
in execution, and, although the Batman costume was based on his first
appearance, it draws special criticism for being too baggy and
"topped by pair of devils horns."
Will Brooker points out in
Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon that, though the depiction
of the Japanese characters is undoubtedly racist, Batman himself has
little direct contact with them. However, when Batman does in fact
finally meet Daka in the final episode (minute 10 of chapter 15), he
immediately exclaims a racial slur ("Oh, a Jap!"). He soon
after calls Daka "Jap murderer" and "Jap devil,"
and finally discusses a "Jap spy ring." Brooker surmises
that these elements are likely to have been added as an afterthought
in order to make the film more appealing to audiences of the time,
and that the making of a nationalistic or patriotic film was not the
filmmakers' original intent.
In the 1960s a silent
abridged version of the serial was released. It was edited into six
chapters (available in 8mm and Super-8) running 10 minutes each. A
seventh three-minute reel titled "Batman's Last Chance"
with action scenes was also issued. In the 1970s the complete 15
chapter serial (in its original unaltered format) was released in a
Super-8 Sound edition. The serial was released on home video in the
late 1980s in a heavily edited format that removed the offensive
racial content. However, in 1989, the cable network The Comedy
Channel aired the serial uncut and uncensored. The cable network
American Movie Classics did the same in the early 1990s on Saturday
mornings. Sony released the serial on DVD in October 2005 in an
unedited version, with the exception of Chapter 2, which is missing
its "Next Chapter" sequence.
In 1965, the serial was
re-released in theaters as An Evening with Batman and Robin, in one
complete marathon showing. This re-release was successful enough that
it inspired the creation of the 1960s television series Batman,
starring Adam West and Burt Ward.
CLUB FEATURETTE DEPARTMENT
The Batman Serial edited together as one movie. One very long movie. You can purchase the whole Serial HERE
and Robin is a 15-chapter serial released in 1949 by Columbia
Pictures. Robert Lowery played Batman, while Johnny Duncan played
Robin. Supporting players included Jane Adams as Vicki Vale and
veteran character actor Lyle Talbot as Commissioner Gordon. The
serial was directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and produced by Sam
Katzman. The plot features the Dynamic Duo as they face off against
the Wizard, a hooded villain with an electrical device which controls
cars and a desire to set challenges for the Dynamic Duo. The Wizard's
identity remains a mystery throughout until the end.
As usual on a Katzman production, the low
budget showed everywhere in money-saving shortcuts, and inadequacies.
The Batman costume had a poorly fitting cowl and the Robin costume
added pink tights to cover the "hairy-legs" of both the
actor and stuntman. The Batmobile is again excluded, but instead of a
limousine, as in the first serial, the duo drive around in a 1949
Mercury convertible, but, in one instance, when the need arises,
Robin shows up in a 1949 Mercury four-door sedan. Meanwhile, the
Wizard drives a 1949 Mercury two-door sedan; Winslow Harrison drives
a 1949 four-door Lincoln sedan; and the cops use a number of 1949
Fords. With all the Ford Motor Company products in the serial, could
this be an early example of product placement in the movies? The
Wizard's henchmen make a lot of use out of a 1941 Lincoln 8 passenger
sedan, while Vicki Vale must make the best of it with a 1939 Plymouth convertible.
Vale (Jane Adams left) would become a common character in the Batman
comics after this film. Vale first appeared in Batman #49 (Oct/Nov
1948), in a 12-page story entitled "Scoop of the Century!",
written by Bill Finger, with art by Bob Kane and Lew Schwartz. Her
look is said to have been modelled by Kane on that of young model
Norma Jean Mortensen, who would later become known as Marilyn Monroe.
She was frequently romantically attracted to Batman (and Bruce Wayne
on occasion also), and repeatedly suspected they were the same person.
Robert Lowery's Batman costume seemed a
bit ill-fitting and it's because it was originally tailored for Kirk
Alyn, a bigger man. Alyn starred as Superman in both of Columbia's
Several mistakes and failures of logic
occur in the serial. One example of this is that the film shows the
Bat-Signal working in broad daylight. Another occurs when, despite
the fact that the heroes' utility belts had been replaced by normal
belts with no pockets or pouches for this serial, in order to escape
from a vault, Batman pulls the nozzle and hose of an oxy-acetylene
torch from his belt to cut through a steel door (the tanks for the
torch are not shown); to compound this mistake, it is a full-sized
oxy-acetylene torch that would have been impossible to carry unseen
on his person. This was probably scripted to be a miniaturised 3-inch
torch, as used in the comics, but the film-makers improvised in
following the directions for a "blowtorch". They also got
Robin's cape wrong. In the serial it is black (or, at least, a dark
color) as opposed to the yellow of the comic books. The serial was
released on DVD in 2005, timed to coincide with the theatrical
release of Batman Begins.
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