Tag Archives: serial

Batman Returns, more or less.

Batman and Robin - The Complete 1949 Movie Serial (DVD)I finished up the 1949 Batman and Robin serial over the weekend, and I must retract something I said about it in a previous post. See, I asserted that the 1949 version of Batman had no utility belt. Boy, was I wrong. He may not use any bat-gadgets in the first half-dozen or so installments, but when he finally does, it’s a doozy.

Minions of the fiendish Wizard lure The Dark Knight and The Boy Wonder into a trap, seal them in an airtight room and pump CO2 (that’s carbon dioxide, kids!) in through the vents. Robin, whose job description apparently reads “fall unconscious at the first hint of danger,” collapses in a heap on the floor. In classic cliffhanger fashion, the episode ends with Batman slumping to the floor as well. Is this the end of the Dynamic Duo?

Of course not. You only think you saw Batman fall face-down beside Robin last week. In reality, Batman knelt next to his sidekick and instructed Robin to breathe through a special device. A device he retrieved from his utility belt. Turns out that big old belt has both function and form. In fact, there’s a full-sized, fully functional acetylene torch on Batman’s hip, complete with ignitor and hoses that lead… well, let’s not think about that. Batman wasn’t really into miniaturization in those days, I guess. After cutting a hole in the door, Batman tucks the torch back into the ridiculously huge holster on his utility belt. How is it that I didn’t notice that thing before? It boggles the mind, really.

You know what? That’s why I love those old serials. The sheer audacity employed in getting the heroes out of one seemingly fatal scrape after another entertains me. I chuckle to imagine the audience going to the theatre week after week to find out how Batman and Robin (or Flash Gordon) managed to escape certain doom. Would there be any cries of “That’s impossible! They were both aboard the plane when it exploded last week!” or “They didn’t have time to get to the trapdoor!” or did the audience simply accept that they didn’t really see the Caped Crusader fall into the pit a week ago?

Even the revelation of the Wizard’s identity in Chapter 15 is a big cheat, but there’s no reason to spoil it for future viewers, is there? I don’t know what the official moratorium on spoilers is (probably less than fifty-six years), but I’m not telling you who the Wizard really is. You’ll just have to find out for yourself.

Batman: Old School

Batman Disc 2 MenuPart of what has made Batman such a popular superhero over the years is the fact that he has no super powers. He’s just an ordinary millionaire playboy who has trained to the peak of physical perfection and used his seemingly limitless funds to build an astounding array of gadgets and gizmos to aid him in his battle against crime. Just like you or me.

Nowhere is the fact that Batman is just an ordinary Joe more evident than in the 1949 movie serial, Batman and Robin. The Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder drive around not in the Batmobile, but in Bruce Wayne’s car. They defeat criminals with fisticuffs worthy of a barroom brawl. No fancy martial arts, no swinging from rooftops, and nary a Batgizmo in sight. That’s right, the utility belt that saved Adam West’s Batbacon on so many occasions in the 1960’s does little more than hold up Robert Lowery’s Battights in the 1940’s.

Well, so far. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the 15-installment serial. The depths of The Wizard’s fiendish plot have yet to be revealed, but at the core of the masked madman’s machinations is a device that can remotely control any vehicle (be it plane, train, automobile or … tire iron?) within its range. The clever contraption can even cause a controlled car to combust. The malevolent machine runs on diamonds, and apparently requires a steady flow of the stones to operate. Thus, The Wizard dispatches his henchmen to pilfer the precious pretties from a variety of vendors, only to see them thwarted by the Dynamic Duo.

As with all serials, each episode ends with Batman and/or Robin in dire peril, and the following installment reveals how they escaped certain death, usually by cheating. Yes, the plane exploded, but … oops! … we forgot to show that crucial cut where Batman and Robin exited the aircraft with plenty of time to spare. Hell, they could have sat down for tea and biscuits after disembarking. They had that much time.

Such is the way of the movie serial of yesteryear. When Batman and Robin cheat death, they really cheat. It’s fun to watch, nonetheless. When the Captain America serial is eventually released on DVD, I’ll snatch that one, too. Yeah, I’ve already got it on VHS, but I’m a sucker for Captain America.