Batman

Batman

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It's easy to forget Batman's modest early outings, but any dedicated film fan would be poorer for overlooking this comic gem. In broad daylight and vivid colour, Sixties TV series stars Adam West (the caped crusader himself) and Burt Ward (his sidekick Robin) bring the story to life. With a carefully labelled batcave, an assortment of exciting bat vehicles and a special license from Gotham City police department, they really seem to have got what it takes.

But up against them are four equally creative supervillains: Cesar Romero's capering Joker, Burgess Meredith's squawking Penguin, Frank Gorshin's somewhat ineffectual Riddler, and Lee Meriwether's sultry Catwoman. Julie Newmar she ain't, but she throws herself into the role with real enthusiasm, and it's clear there'll be romantic complications for our hero before the story's done.

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The story, such as it is, centres on a plot to kidnap world leaders for ransom using a special dehydrating gun. What our dastardly villains actually end up spending most of their time doing is trying to get Batman and Robin out of the way first. In the lead roles, West and Ward are both practiced and confident, able to utter the silliest of lines without flinching. Their elaborate costumes seem so natural on them that one is easily able to become entwined in the strange logic of their environment, whereby the script spares no blushes in its merciless parody of the comics' more pretentious moments. There is sharp comic timing throughout, though our heroes remain resiliently straight-faced.

This Batman is, naturally, rather different in tone from the modern films. High-energy camp comedy is not to everyone's taste, and there are places where the jokes are stretched too thin. The film's real saving grace is that everyone involved seems to believe in it completely, and the fun they clearly had in making it is infectious. There are some classic comic moments on offer, notably when Batman has to try and get rid of a bomb on a waterfront suddenly packed with nuns, babies, romantic lovers and brass bands.

Made on a visibly low budget, Batman rises above its humble origins by virtue of some really striking design work and inventive direction, transferring the style of the comics and the energy of the television show onto the big screen. Simple sets are inventively decorated, even if they do wobble a bit, and the lighting work is inspired. Ocean-going scenes clearly filmed in a tank charm rather than annoy. Plus there are pirates, an exploding octopus, an irresistably cute penguin submarine, and Batman hanging off a ladder with a rubber shark attached to his leg. They don't make 'em like they used to.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2009
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Batman packshot
Catwoman, The Joker, The Penguin and The Riddler hatch a dastardly plot. Hand me the bat-villain-repellant!
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Director: Leslie H Martinson

Writer: Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on the characters by Bob Kane.

Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp, Madge Blake

Year: 1966

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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