Thursday, February 17, 2011

Before Adam West's Batman Was, It Was

Recently, I watched the first (1943) Batman serial.

To say that it was somewhat... cracked is an understatement.

Not entirely in a bad way, though. (FYI, "Batman's ray gun" was actually a stolen piece of villain's equipment which he just happened to be using because it was convenient.)

According to Wikipedia, this serial introduced the "Batcave proper" (although they called it the "Bat's Cave") and also strongly influenced later depictions of Alfred, and additionally was an enormous influence on major parody fodder for the "Adam West Batman" series.

Although I don't recall ever seeing a desk in the Batcave.

Yes, really. A desk. I guess they wouldn't have come up with a computer for him to sit at just yet.

Incidentally, not only is this one of the smallest and least cavernous Batcaves I've ever seen, it also apparently has one really stupid bat that can't fly in a straight line-it keeps going backwards. (I know I shouldn't pick on the "special effects," but I can't help it.)

Batman and an incredibly curly-haired Robin are actually supposedly secret agents for the government in this, reason being that '40s to '50s era censorship didn't permit depiction of flouting authority without said flouters being punished in some way. (If you've ever read The Ox-Bow Incident and then watched the film adaptation from that time period [or vice versa], the significant plot changes are a direct result of similar censorship.)

Batman calling the police on a police callbox frankly made me smile, if only because it made me think of the TARDIS (even if it had no resemblance to the TARDIS at all).

His calling card, folks:

The plot of the main story opens when Bruce Wayne and his girlfriend (who, in one of the last episodes of the serial, inexplicably is suddenly his fiance and probably knows his identity even though before she was completely clueless about it) go to pick up her uncle from jail.

Her uncle was supposedly wrongly imprisoned, but nobody who matters (i.e. the judge and jury) believes him on this point, even though everybody else takes his statements of innocence at face value. He's a rather harmless-seeming old man, which makes this even more incongruous. (Incidentally, it was a corporate crime he was accused of.)

Before they get to the prison, a couple of suspicious looking guys pick him up and drive off with him. When Bruce and company notice and pursue, they manage to get out of sight for a minute, spin around on the road...

...and cause their car to change color via the magic of incredible special effects pulling a tarp blocking a bright light out of the way and swapping license plates (and disguising the driver with a hat while having the others hide beneath the view of the windows).

Having lost their pursuers, the villains return to their headquarters in "Little Tokyo," which has been abandoned because, as the narrator cheerily relates, all the "sneaky Japs" have been rounded up and carted off.

All of them except for the villain, Doctor Prince Tito Daka.

(He's the one wearing bad makeup that's supposed to make him look Japanese and smoking a cigarette.) When I call him "Doctor Prince Tito Daka," it's because he was generally referred to as "Dr. Daka," his name was also established as "Tito Daka" (yes, really), and he was often called "Prince Daka" as well. It's possible that "Prince" was supposed to replicate the impression of the honorific "-sama," but I'm not sure I want to give them that much credit.

Anyway, Dr. Daka's evil plot involves mind-controlling people as "zombies" with incredible strength and using a "radium gun" (the aforementioned ray gun) to commit acts of sabotage, recruiting disgraced former businessmen and the like as minions.

And pretty much all of this is established in the first chapter.

This serial is an amusing artifact of its time period, and I think that people interested in comic book characters might be interested to watch it purely for its historical amusement value.

That's not even going into the increasingly ludicrous cliffhangers, which in the serial's climax involves about three or four scenes being added that changed what happened when the final cliffhanger resolved. (I'll probably save talking about some aspects of this for later posts.) To give you an idea of it, the "Batman's ray gun" scene takes place around when the cliffhanger of the previous episode appears, and in the cliffhanger, they conveniently omit Batman falling out of the armored car just before it flies over the literal cliff.

I would talk more, but I think that's enough for one post.

-Signing off.

No comments: