Saturday, 10 June 2017

Holy Hallucination, Batman!

Robin: "You can’t get away from Batman that easy!"
Batman: "Easily."
Robin: "Easily."
Batman: "Good grammar is essential, Robin."
Robin: "Thank you."
Batman: "You’re welcome."

From an article by critic Zaki Hasan in The Huffington Post:
...let us cast our minds back to a time when Batman’s pop culture ubiquity came not from how dark of a knight he was, but rather the exact opposite.
For many people of my vintage and older, our first conception of who Batman was and how he operated came about almost exclusively from daily exposure to syndicated reruns of Batman, the 1966-1968 series that aired on ABC and near-singlehandedly made the term “camp” a part of our collective vernacular. Thanks to the distinctive theme song by Neal Hefti, as well as its day-glo color scheme and regular deployment of “Biff!” “Pow” “Bam!” sound effects cards, the ‘60s Batman was then and probably remains today the most literal translation of the comic book medium ever committed to the screen.... Every week, the surprisingly celibate millionaire playboy and his *ahem* “youthful ward” would answer the Batphone, then suit up in their tights as they slid down the Batpole into the Batcave on their way to the Batmobile. Ah yes, the show that launched a thousand double entendres.

And how camp it was, indeed! With a roster of villains played with extreme layers of ham - Burgess Meredith as "The Penguin", Cesar Romero as "The Joker", Frank Gorshin as "The Riddler", Julie Newmar/Eartha Kitt/Lee Meriwether as "Catwoman" - sets and backdrops of eye-wateringly lurid colours, the ubiquitous labelling of everything from secret passageways to "bat shark repellent", and the "Biffs", "Pows" and "Ka-booms" that made small children (like me) scream with delight, Batman was never a series that took itself seriously, that's for certain... For example:

The Contaminated Cowl:

The Mad Hatter has escaped from prison, and is on a quest to add Batman's cowl to his collection of hats. He attends Gotham City's annual headdress ball disguised as the Three-tailed Pasha Of Panchagorum, and snatches a large ruby off of columnist Hattie Hatfield's headdress. The villain makes a getaway, but not before turning Batman's cowl pink with a radioactive spray. He trails Batman to the Atomic Energy Laboratory, knowing he will have a chance to snatch his cowl when it is removed for decontamination.
The Minstrel's Shakedown:

When Batman and Robin try to plant a bug to catch "The Minstrel" (Van Johnson), who is blackmailing the Gotham Stock Exchange, " first, their mic only picks up a cleaning lady whistling [a cameo (uncredited) by none other than Phyllis Diller!], then the Minstrel ambushes them with a sparkler, fancy lights, and a riff on Goodnight Ladies... They bat-climb to the top of an abandoned warehouse and into a store room full of musical instruments - and also Minstrel’s henchmen waiting in ambush. Fisticuffs ensue, and while the Dynamic Duo are initially successful, they burst into a room that two thugs ran into, only to be trapped, er, somehow off-camera. Minstrel then ties them to a spit and starts rotating and roasting them while making fun of them to the tune of Rock-a-Bye Baby.
The show's guest stars were a roll-call of campery, including...

Ethel Merman as "Lola Lasagne":

Vincent Price as "Egghead":

Joan Collins as "The Siren":

Tallulah Bankhead as "The Black Widow":

Anne Baxter as "Olga the Queen of Cossacks":

...and, of course, Liberace as "Chandell":

From The Hooded Utilitarian blog:
Liberace’s presence is not just a camp display in itself; it infects everyone and everything around it; with Chandell nearby, Bruce and Dick rushing into a closet can’t help but have a double meaning. Then there’s the scene where Dick is sitting and sighing with a high school sweetie - and suddenly he gets a call from Batman, and instantly dumps ice cream in his girl’s lap so he can talk to his true love. A crime fighter has to make sacrifices, he sighs - but his eagerness to drop that dessert suggests that maybe he’s protesting too much. The message of the camping here isn’t just “Batman and Robin are gay!” Rather, it’s that heroism is a pantomime of masculinity, linked to and comparable to Liberace’s multiple pantomimes, and dependent on a deferred sensuality, in which the fetishisation of women is rerouted into a fetishisation of masculinity. Thus, the show suggests, it is Liberace, with his double identity, his capes, his colourful costumes, and his virtuoso mastery, who is the greatest superhero of them all.
Nevertheless, it wasn't Liberace, nor Señor Romero, nor "Commissioner Gordon", nor "Alfred the Butler", nor Eartha Kitt, nor even "The Boy Wonder" who held all this madness together - no, it was the man who played the definitive Batman (with the most spectacular example of tongue-firmly-in-cheek this side of William Shatner) who made this whole remarkable exercise really work...

RIP, Mr Adam West (born William West Anderson, 19th September 1928 – 9th June 2017)


  1. WOOF! spouse and I met adam west in april 2016; a real, warm, intelligent, fascinating gentleman he was.

  2. Adam West was my Batman. The Bright Knight indeed, as I believe his family commented after his death.

    1. I have very fond memories of the series - and am still at a loss as to why there appears to be so little humour (camp or otherwise) in his more recent big-screen adaptations. What I wouldn't give to have seen Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale or Ben Affleck with a "bat shark repellent" or a pink cowl... Jx


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