A heartfelt thanks to all who participated in Customer Appreciation Day, by suggesting motion pictures deserving of the Better Living Through Bad Movies treatment. While s.z. is still winnowing down the finalists, a painstaking process that involves taking the list of four or five crappy movies I gave her and seeing what’s on the shelf at Blockbuster the next time she drops by, I am prepared to announce my own selection:
It’s The Batman, a 1943 Columbia serial suggested by Happenstance (the Wo’C reader, not the synonym for coincidence). I propose to do one episode a week of this groundbreaking chapterplay until we’re all sick of it. And why, I hear you ask? Because we’re at WAR, that’s why! Our leaders, from the Secretary of Defense all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief himself have declared that we are facing an enemy every bit as deadly, cunning, and dangerous as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Some may scoff at this analogy, claiming disingenuously that during the Second World War, we were facing expansionist states organized for war on a national level, and possessing formidable militaries with manpower resources numbering in the millions, rather than a few thousand loosely organized extremists with no permanent address.
But these are mere details, and as our performance in the Iraq War has demonstrated, execution is far less important thanintention. While the tools employed by the Axis (tanks, battleships, bombers, massed infantry, etc.) differed from those of Al Qaeda (box cutters), their motivations were identical: Just like Osama bin Laden, the Nazis and the Japanese hated us for our freedoms. They detested America for our free and open democratic institutions, like, oh, say, the Poll Tax. They hated Britain for the traditional rights and liberties enjoyed by her subjects, except for the ones who lived in her vast colonial possessions. And of course, the way Stalin handed out freedom in the Soviet Union like Rockefeller passing out dimes to urchins really got them steamed. So it’s clear we’re fighting the exact same enemies our grandparents faced in the 1940s. Back then, we had universal conscription, industrial mobilization, tax increases, war bonds, rationing, and a President who could kindle within our breasts a spirit of unanimity and self-sacrifice. Today we have a guy who tells us to shut up and shop, so clearly, we’re getting the better part of the deal (I think back to my grandparents saving bacon grease and planting victory gardens and can’t believe what saps they were). But there is one vital fascist-fighting weapon from the 1940s that we lack: Superheroes. Back in World War II, the U.S. was awash in patriotic, Axis-bashing freaks: Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and of course, The Batman. It is our hope that by carefully examining this docudrama, made during the height of the war, President Bush may be inspired to call upon America’s confirmed bachelors to don union suits and ill-fitting felt hoods, and gad about with downy-cheeked teen boys in the cause of freedom. The War Against Islamofascism deserves no less.
The Batman (1943)
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Written by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser (screenplay) Bob Kane (character)
We open in a subterranean chamber, “hewn from the living rock of the mountain” below Wayne Manor. The Batman is “clad in the somber costume that has struck terror in the hearts of many a swaggering denizen of the underworld,” although it looks like his ears weren’t taped up properly, and is sitting at a nice executive-style desk, with a guest chair off to the side (last used when Robin was called in for his annual review). The Batman sits with his elbows on the desk, his chin cradled in his hands, just dreamin’. Meanwhile, one of those collapsible crepe bats you get at Target around Halloween has gotten tangled in the ceiling fan, and is lethargically circling the Dark Knight’s head.Cut to scenes of the Batman engaging in fisticuffs with men in business suits. Far from striking terror, however, his more outré ensemble seems to prove that when roughhousing with dapper thugs, a cape just gets in the way. It’s like trying to perform open-heart surgery on a man who stubbornly refuses to remove his lobster bib.The Dynamic Duo call the Gotham City police to pick up a couple of mobsters they’ve just nabbed. When the cops arrive, they find the pair handcuffed to a lamppost, with tiny bats drawn on their foreheads. The detectives are baffled, but Captain Arnold deduces that the Batman is either secretly Charles Manson, or the mark is just there to let any Indian Flying Foxes know that the thugs are already married.
Cut to Batman and Robin driving away from the scene at high speed in Bruce’s Cadillac, grinning crazily at each other as they begin to strip. Cut to the Gotham Foundation, where Bruce’sbeard girlfriend, Linda Page works. Linda is quite dishy (the actress playing her represented California in the 1940 Miss America pageant), but her coiffure rises so astonishingly high into the air that she makes Marge Simpson look like H.R. Haldeman. It’s like she’s wearing a turban made of human hair and yeast. Linda conveniently leaves the room so Bruce can explain to Dick Grayson that he’s not in the Army because of “our special arrangement from Uncle Sam.” Yes, the country is mobilized, the world is at war, but Batman has “other priorities.” Linda comes back in so she can browbeat Bruce into picking up her Uncle Martin when he’s released from prison tomorrow.
Cut to an elderly convict stepping outside the penitentiary walls, drawing his first sweet breath of freedom, and then getting promptly abducted by a bunch of thugs. Bruce, Dick, and Linda give chase, but as soon as the fleeing car gets around the bend, the head crook orders the driver to “release the gas and make the change!” The car breaks wind, and the paint magically changes from black to white. Of course, it’s still a big sedan full of gangsters and a struggling hostage, so this isn’t likely to fool The Batman! Except, at the last instant, the driver fiendishly changes his hat! Their disguise is now foolproof!
Cut to a desolate-looking street, full of empty shops with Japanese signage. Our Narrator helpfully explains: “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, where only one business survives,” the Japanese Cave of Horrors. This is a carnival-like Tunnel of Love, except it’s full of mannequins dressed as Imperial Japanese soldiers who are threatening Margaret Dumont with a bayonet.
The thugs arrive and take Uncle Martin for a ride, but they fail to keep their hands and arms inside the car at all times, and wind up backstage, where they are received by J. Carroll Naish, who is attempting pass himself off as an evil Japanese doctor named Tito Daka. It’s quickly apparent that this smooth Japanese criminal will not be easy to beat, for even if Batman does manage to capture him, he can quickly be replaced by Jermaine or LaToya Daka. Although, come to think of it, with his pencil mustache, Colonel Sanders-style string tie, and perpetual squint, Dr. Daka looks less like an Asian supervillain, and more like Tennessee Ernie Ford with conjunctivitis.
Anyway, Dr. Daka is here to “free the enslaved people of America” by instituting regime change, and he’s enlisting the help of various “dishonored men,” middle-aged white felons who are bitter about not being offered Elliot Abrams job in the Bush Administration. But Uncle Martin refuses to join the Project for a New American Century, declaring, “I’m an American, first and always, and no amount of torture conceived by your twisted Oriental brain will make me change my mind!”
“You are laboring under a misapprehension,” the good doctor replies. “I do not believe in anything so barbaric as torture.” From the perspective of our current political climate, you have to admire, however grudgingly, the basic decency of Daka’s statement. Or you would, if it wasn’t delivered in Mickey Rooney’s accent from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Dr. Daka reveals that he has transformed Uncle Martin’s former business partner into a zombie, by making him wear a colander topped with an Epilady. But still Martin refuses to cooperate, and Daka shouts, “Take him to my electronic laboratory!” Inside, we see the full horror of Daka’s handiwork – an entire army of zombies (which is to say, we see a room filled with flabby, middle-aged men milling about in colanders and clingy mock turtlenecks). Daka administers a truth serum to Uncle Martin, forcing him to reveal that there’s radium inside the Gothan Foundation! At last, Linda’s obelisk-like hair is explained!
It turns out that Dr. Daka needs radium to fuel his ultimate weapon, “a forerunner to the atom-smasher” which can destroy anything on earth with a single shot! (At this performance, the role of the Ultimate Weapon, normally played by something that looks like a weapon, will be played by a dismantled slide projector.) Telling his men to stand back, Daka loads up a radium BB and demonstrates that his gun has the awesome power to make cement scream. It doesn’t really do much more than that, but you got to admit, that’s pretty weird. Probably going to put a lot of people off their food.
Daka’s thugs use the slide projector to blow the door off the safe at the Gotham Foundation, where they carefully collect the hazardous radioactive material in a pillow case. But, just as they’re making their escape, The Batman appears, sporting a pair of saggy longjohns that leak. Sure, the zombies get tight knit tops that hug their pot bellies like a second skin, but our hero gets a costume that fits the contours of his figure about as neatly as Bill O’Reilly’s dewlap fits his neck. Oh well.
The thugs flee, and the Batman and Robin pursue them. Since the set is tiny and they really don’t have a lot of room to run around, the director creates the illusion of a chase scene by hilariously speeding up the film, although he does spare our heroes the indignity of blaring “Yakety Sax” on the soundtrack as they run.
Anyway, Robin gets his ass kicked, and Batman is beaten to a pulp by a zombified Mr. Drysdale, then thrown off the roof by the other thugs. When last seen, the Batman is plunging to his death, and plainly annoyed at how he can’t seem to keep his flapping cape out of his face.
Will our hero survive? Well, not to give it away, but the next chapter is entitled “The Bat’s Cave of Batman,” and unless it’s an estate sale, or a Century 21 open house, he’s probably going to be there.
So what have we learned from this living docudrama ripped fresh and steaming from the pages of history? Well, first of all, if you’re fighting against Japan for the cause of American freedom and you intern all the Americans of Japanese ancestry, then the first time you need somebody to play a shifty-eyed Jap with a twisted Oriental brain, you’re going to have to make do with some Irish guy from New York. (“J. Carroll Naish is Slim Whitman as Sessue Hayakawa in The Colonel Sanders Story!”) Michelle Malkin might want to keep that conundrum in mind if she plans on pitching any anti-Islamofascist flicks to the Liberty Film Festival.
Second of all, if you’re running a charitable foundation, don’t keep radioactive materials in your front office, because it’ll just attract criminals and mutate your secretary’s hairdo.Third, despite the ruthless nature of total warfare, even Japanese supervillains would not stoop to torture, which explains how we won the war. They’re pussies. And finally, while technology has advanced, the fundamental things apply. During World War II, Japanese spies fashioned crude electronics from kitchen utensils and depilatory devices that were capable of forcing loyal Americans to mindlessly follow orders, even to the point of committing treason and enabling war crimes. Nowadays, the same thing can be achieved more quickly and efficiently by hiring someone from NPR to work as a Fox News analyst. Join us next week. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Blog.
Posted by scott on Thursday, September 21st, 2006 at 9:22 pm
26 Responses to “And The Envelope, Please…”
I remember seeing pictures from this serial. Glad I’m not the only one who thought his bat”ears” looked like a bad ear taping on a doberman!
Left by maryc on September 22nd, 2006
You, sir, are a true American patriot, and I salute your sacrifices in the name of, uh, sacrifice.
Left by D. Sidhe on September 22nd, 2006
OH MY GOD. I’M AN INTERNETS STAR NOW!
*farts a couple of times*
*comes TO, you smartasses*
…So, whatta I wins?
…Oh. Well, $#!%.
Left by Happenstance on September 22nd, 2006
Ah, a fine choice. This is the serial that is most famous today for its bald-faced racism and low-rent production values. Chapter 2-Batman calls the dirty Japs “macacas!”
Left by Marq on September 22nd, 2006
“Leslie Swabacker?” Really? “Leslie Swabacker?” That is just great. I’m going to buy a dog just so I can name it “Leslie Swabacker.”
Left by jpj on September 22nd, 2006
Did someone say “lesbian swashbuckler”?
Left by FlipYrWhig on September 22nd, 2006
We’re at war? And that’s why you’re doing this?
I FUCKING SURRENDER!
Left by actor212 on September 22nd, 2006
The Batman … is sitting at a nice executive-style desk, with a guest chair off to the side
From my exposure to serials, this was a leitmotif of villains. “Mr. Big” usually sat at such a desk, waiting for his henchmen to come in and give him plot recap.
It was odd to see Batman at the villain desk. I guess it was the set designer’s way of saying, “What’s in a Batcave? Ya got me.”
Left by Cubby on September 22nd, 2006
Robin/Dick (I assume that is supposed to be Bruce, big haired girlfriend and Dick on the bottom of the cover) appears to be about 10 years old.
Left by A cranny mint on September 22nd, 2006
Scott, you have once again amused me.
cranny, I looked their ages-according to the Internet Movie Database, the guy playing Robin was 17 at the time and the guy playing The Batman was 23. The girl playing the beard, uh, Linda, was 21.
Left by Bill S on September 22nd, 2006
Lord knows, these serials were cheap–fun, but cheap–and “Batman” is full of bats on wires, dummies plunging to their doom, and other grotty gimmicks (not to mention how the actor has to constantly readjust his bat-hat during fights)…but watch for a special moment from Chapter 6 (“Poison Peril”), when Batman, climbing down a fire escape ladder, spills a full pack’s worth of cigarettes out of his costume.
No wonder Bats likes beating the crap out people. He’s a nicotine fiend.
Left by Happenstance on September 23rd, 2006
What fun! Wonderful as always, Scott.
In a related note, imagine James Cagney as The Riddler, Basil Rathbone as The Joker, Marlene Dietrich as Catwoman, and George Raft as Two-Face (Bogart turned it down).
Yes, it’s Orson Welles’ Batman.
Left by Chris Vosburg on September 23rd, 2006
Scott Writes: During World War II, Japanese spies fashioned crude electronics from kitchen utensils and depilatory devices that were capable of forcing loyal Americans to mindlessly follow orders…
And in a memorable scene from a “Private SNAFU” short animation, a radio transmitting antenna from an underwire bra. So help me.
Left by Chris Vosburg on September 23rd, 2006
And Welles himself wanted to play Batman (according to the article Chris linked to.) The studio wanted Gregory Peck. Either of them woulda been fine by me. Anybody see what Peck looked like in the ’40′s? I got a copy of “Gentlemen’s Agreement”*, and when I started watching it, my jaw dropped. Day-um, he was kinda hot back then.
*It was part of a four-disc box set that also had “Sunrise”, “How Green Was My Valley” and “All About Eve” that was on sale for $25. Not a bad deal-ever see those “bargain” twin pack DVD’s in department stores? It’s almost always one really good movie, and one you’d NEVER watch, isn’t it?
Left by Bill S on September 23rd, 2006
All About Eve: One of Bette Davis’ best and with one fabulous wisecrack after another. One when Margo says “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” and another when she says, “I admit I’ve seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.” Ah, movie heaven!
Left by BeginningToWonder on September 23rd, 2006
Possibly not the place for this, but I wanted everyone to know that the new blood tests are in, and my older kitty seems to be doing a great deal better. Her liver enzymes are nearly back to normal, and while now there’s some other “slightly elevated” result to do with her kidneys, I’m informed that it’s just because she’s an older cat and sometimes these things fluctuate.
They’ve got a new canned food to give her, which should be hugely expensive, but she’s worth it and we really can afford it, considering what we spend on food for us humans. They also gave me a tube of tuna flavored something or other that should help with hairballs, which may have been why she wasn’t eating much in the first place.
So, they tell me she’s okay, but to finish giving her the protein supplements. This does mean I’m not going to Hawaii, since I don’t trust the remaining housemate to feed her right or to notice if she gets sick. But that’s okay-ish, since it means I don’t have to freak out about making a bad impression on my partner’s family.
So my, and Cypress’, sincere thanks for the good wishes from all of you and for letting me freak out at you. She in particular will be delighted when she realizes it means no more cramming pills down her.
Left by D. Sidhe on September 23rd, 2006
Very happy to hear that news, D. (Sorry about the Hawaii thing, but saving yourself the stress of meeting the family will probably add years to both yours and the kitty’s lives.
And in the spirit of our film, may I just say that you have struck a blow for American ideals and freedoms, and against, um…rogue, and…uh…unpatriotic feline liver enzymes. The Batman would be proud.
Catwoman would be prouder.
Left by scott on September 23rd, 2006
I just found this in a plot summary for a Columbia serial:
. The best line in the film, both in delivery and circumstances, comes when head henchie Flint (Jack Ingram) advises his hapless,clueless but always-game cohorts that “The Black Tiger IS REALLY mad this time.
Victor Jory was the boxing and wrestling champion of the Coast Guard during his military hitch, and never lost his big, burly physique. His sinister looks and distinctive voice typed him as a heavy, at which he excelled, but he did occasionally play sympathetic leads, one of which was, oddly enough, the sci-fi cult classic Cat-Women of the Moon (1953).
Left by The Dark Avenger on September 23rd, 2006
Well, D. Sidhe, as long as we’re allowed to go off-topic, I’m happy to report that my sister returned home from the hospital after three weeks. She had to be put in a chemically induced coma to fight an infection, and had difficulty breathing on her own. It looks like her recovery process will be a slow one, but she is up and walking, and I got to talk to her on the phone this afternoon. According to her it was more serious than my mom and nephew let on-she actually died, and came back, three times. I couldn’t talk too long-she told me the phone was starting to get heavy.
But she’s alive, and likely to recover fully (as far as I know-my mom plans to stay in Colorado for a couple more weeks.)
I know this will sound crazy, but a week ago, out of nowhere, I just had a sudden feeling that she’d be alright. It wasn’t some psychic vision or anything. Just some gut feeling, out of nowhere. I don’t know if anybody else has had that happen, or what, if anything, it means.
I just wish I’d get that intuition when picking a lotto number.
Left by Bill S on September 23rd, 2006
Wow–everything seems to be turning out OK for everyone. How did that happen?
Left by Marq on September 24th, 2006
Holy God, Bill. That’s… awful. I’m glad she’s doing better, geez. Makes me want to kiss my doctor the next time I see her. They do some good damned work now and again, don’t they.
And no, it doesn’t sound crazy, but then I’m paganish.
I really hope the rest of her recovery is uneventful, and you and your family can settle into a lot less stress on all of you.
Left by D. Sidhe on September 24th, 2006
Your excellent review somehow managed to miss the fact that he’s a Vampire Batman (thanks, Harvey Kurtzman!), and that isn’t a cape, it’s a mobster bib.
Left by Kip W on September 24th, 2006
The review got me all psyched to watch this mess again, and a couple of things came to mind which potential viewers and reviewers should know about:
In the recently-released DVD, the visual quality of Chapter One is vastly inferior to the others. So don’t worry, it gets better.
However, there’s ALSO a moment in Chapter Two when a conversation between Bruce and Linda suddenly cuts to one of Daka’s henchmen on a phone, as if he were listening in. He’s not. This isn’t a flaw of the original film, but a DVD-transfer screw-up that reverts to a previous scene for a second or two. (It doesn’t affect the audio.)
The cliffhanger ending of one chapter (Chapter Five? Maybe?) is complete, but it promptly fades out without the standard hysterically-narrated preview of “next week’s” chapter.
Now I’m just quibbling.
Funny you should mention a “beard,” Scott. Remember that when Bruce forces Alfred (whose amusing performance as the serial’s OCR–Odious Comic Relief–would be considered “flaming” by today’s standards) to go undercover in Chapters Six and Seven…
Left by Happenstance on September 24th, 2006
Bill S. and D. Sidhe, I’m so glad for both of you.
Left by BeginningToWonder on September 25th, 2006
Thanx to D. Sidhe and Beginning To Wonder (and Marq, who posted a comment a couple weeks ago when it happened.)
Left by Bill S on September 25th, 2006
I love Scott’s contributions, but DANG, I sure miss S.Z.! I hope she’s allright…
Left by BeginningToWonder on September 27th, 2006