Welcome to the latest installment in our continuing effort to get through the 1943 Columbia serial The Batman, one episode per week, the way it was intended to be seen, and to make you all suffer along with me.
Chapter 7: The Phony Doctor
When we last left our hero, he’d turned into a chunky stuntman who’d doubled over and collapsed after getting punched right in the Bat-fat. Meanwhile, hydrochloric acid pours out of a bullet-riddled Doughboy Pool and washes over the live wires writhing on the floor, touching off an explosion. The entire ceiling collapses, and the Batman is simultaneously crushed, electrocuted, and asphyxiated by chemical fumes while his corpse is hideously disfigured by the spreading puddle of acid.
Robin runs out of the cardboard vault screaming “Bruce! Bruce!” at the top of his lungs. Really, Dick, do you even care about the secret identities anymore? Admit it, this whole thing is just an excuse for you to put on a cape and run around without pants on.
Anyway, they come upon the burnt, crushed, rapidly dissolving body of Bruce, but before anyone can puke, the Batman just shakes it off.
“Boy, you were lucky,” Robin says. “Those beams formed an arch to protect you.” Yeah. Actually, I think what protected him was the writers’ need to throw together some lame solution to last week’s cliffhanger so they could punch out and start pounding whiskey sours at Formosa.
In all the excitement, Alfred’s fake beard has come unglued, prompting the Batman to pat his butler’s bare cheek and teasingly murmur, “You think that half a beard is better than none at all, Alfred?” The fey factotum responds by making a moué and squeaking, “Ooh! Ooh!” I don’t know what kind of cuisine Alfred is serving Bruce and Dick at Wayne Manor, but I’m pretty sure it’s heavily seasoned with soy.
Back in mufti, Bruce phones Miner Ming to say the villains are probably on their way back to his hotel. Ming doesn’t appear concerned, as he stuffs a .45 Colt Peacemaker down his pants and declares, ‘I’ve handled tougher hombres than them before,” which sounds like really cool, authentic frontier gibberish, except that he pronounces the “H” in “hombre.” Ming hangs up, then dons a special rig under his coat that delivers a Derringer into his hand with the flick of a wrist. Okay, The Batman doesn’t have a Batmobile, he doesn’t have Batarangs, and so far the only thing he’s pulled out of his utility belt is a pack of smokes, but this grizzled old hardscrabble prospector has cool, James Bondian gadgets? WTF?
The Batman drops a pack of Lucky Strikes as he climbs down a fire escape (h/t to Happenstance)
Suddenly, a doctor shows up. Apparently, the studio’s insurance company requires that Ming have a physical before he’s allowed to participate in a fight sequence. For a miner, however, Ming seems surprisingly delicate, because he passes out at the first whiff of a chloroform-soaked handkerchief shoved into his face. The Phony Doctor signals for a Phony Ambulance, which we can tell is phony because on the front of the vehicle, “Ambulance” is spelled “Ambulance” instead of “ecnalubmA.”
In keeping with tradition, Bruce and Dick arrive too late, and the bad guys get away, but not without leaving a clue behind. Bruce instantly recognizes the all-too-familiar smell of chloroform in the air, then he locates the doctor’s discarded handkerchief, and he and Dick take turns sniffing it. Call me a prude, but it seems a bit frivolous to indulge your chloroform fetish when a man’s life is in danger. But then, it’s pretty clear by now that the Batman and Robin’s whole crime-fighting crusade is just an elaborate excuse for their cos-play, and other pervy shenanigans. After trading increasingly deep snorts, Bruce giddily snatches the handkerchief away and they chase each other out the door.
Back at the Bat Lab, Bruce gazes at the captured handkerchief under a blacklight, because he is so high right now. “See that mark in the corner?” Bruce asks. “That’s a Japanese laundry mark.”
Dick scoffs, “I’ve never heard of a Japanese laundry.” Yeah, why can’t these ethnic types keep their stereotypical occupations straight? The next thing you know, we’ll have the Quaker Oats guy show up as a Pullman porter
However, Bruce just happens to know of a Japanese laundry in the warehouse district, and they make plans to go there later that night. But first they eat a bag of Bugles, then Bruce shows Dick how cat urine glows under the blacklight, and they totally get the giggles.
Back at the lair, Dr. Daka’s minions bring in Ming on a stretcher, and the string tie-sporting superspy interrogates him about the location of his radium mine. But not only is Ming merciless, he’s stubborn, too. Daka changes tactics and uses his Mr. Microphone to summon Uncle Martin – Ming’s old friend and benefactor. The middle-aged zombie shambles in, and a stunned Ming seizes him by the arms and shouts, “Marty! Marty! Don’t ya know me?” Suddenly, It’s A Wonderful Bat-Life.
Daka can’t resist showing off how strong his flabby, dew-lapped, above-draft-age zombies are, and orders Martin to strangle Ming, then signals that he’s laughing by slowly, painstakingly annunciating the words, “Hee! Hee! Hee!” Ming can’t stand Daka’s affected chortling, however, and before the supervillain has a chance to laboriously over-pronounce the words, “Har-de-har-har,” Ming pulls the ol’ Derringer up the sleeve trick. He takes Daka hostage and tries to escape through the Japanese Cave of Horrors, but he gets clubbed senseless by one of the exhibits. This struck a chord, since I was once beaten to a pulp by the dolls in It’s A Small World.
Back to our heroes. The Batman and Robin drop through a skylight into the Japanese laundry and start hitting people, who obligingly smack them in return. I understand, and even admire the Batman’s refusal to use firearms, but I have to say, I’m even more impressed by the way Gotham’s criminal underworld respects his scruples and refrains from pulling a gun whenever he shows up and starts punching them in the face. Anyway, the Batman and Robin have their usual fight scene, which consists of sloppy haymakers punctuated by the Batman’s efforts to disentangle himself from his own cape.
Suddenly, one of the thugs charges the Batman from behind. The caped crusader turns and delivers an uppercut, and the thug goes into premature rigor mortis, and slowly does the Nestea Plunge into a pile of laundry.
Well, we’re almost at the end of the chapter…about time for Batman to fall to his death. His options are limited, since he’s indoors, so he takes what he can get and falls down an elevator shaft. And this time, we actually get to see him land – face-first, right on the concrete floor of the shaft, with an impact so terrific it almost knocks the horsehair stuffing out of the dummy. Well, that seems like a sufficiently crappy end to a crappy day, but the thugs are apparently aspiring screenwriters who’ve taken Robert McKee’s seminar, and they “up the ante” by sending the elevator down to crush what’s left of the Batmannequin.
Well, this is where we left off last time, so next Sunday we’ll be heading into terra incognita with Chapter 8: Lured By Radium! (The sluttiest of all isotopes!)Posted by scott on Sunday, February 17th, 2008 at 7:48 pm.