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There is not a better example of a typical 40's/50's cliffhanger
matinée serial than this underbudgeted Batman entry. And, you're either
going to embrace all it's flawed charms or not. There's no in between.
First,let me tell you where I'm coming from. I loved the Batman 60's TV program for all it's campiness, and I am still amazed at Burton's first Warner Bros. Batman blockbuster with Keaton/Nicholson which incredibly and masterfully convinced us to suspend disbelief and take the masked crusader seriously. The '49 Batman serial, while closer to the TV version, than the high budgeted movie spectacular, for me, is somewhere in between. The reason is, that I saw this serial for the first time as an 8 year old matinée movie goer in Florida during it's first release.
It was much different then, and I'm not convinced that in spite of the advancements in production values and special effects that it was any more fun or magical to be a movie kid today as it was in the 50's. We all see movies through our own set of filters and if your's are the Matrix and video games, you will probably not be a fan of Batman '49.
We were not blind or stupid, we saw the flaws and didn't care. We also saw the adventure and embraced it. For all it's lack of high production, this Batman and Robin was a whole lot of fun. And in running the VHS or DVD versions, I'm transported back to a simpler time, and, more importantly, am convinced that this example of matinée fare is typical of what my generation of baby boomers learned from the movies about right from wrong and good from evil.
With the end of World War II, there was a marked change of tone and
settings in the film world. This was especially true in that staple of
the Saturday Matinée, the Serial. After all,Nazi Germany,Fascist Italy
and Imperial Japan had now been defeated. There were no Nazi U Boats,
Imperial Japanese soldiers, nor any Axis Spies or 5th Column Traitors
to deal with. Now the bad guys would either have to be of the domestic
variety of crook. Or, if by chance the baddies were of the
international espionage set, their Nationality would have to be kept a
secret. Just as before the United States got into the War, the villains
country could be implied, but not specifically stated.
The second Batman chapter-play did follow all of the above mentioned, using a large number of common underworld types and a secret leader of unknown origin and identity (until the end), who was bent on, what else, world domination.
The cast and production team changed as Columbia had Sam Katzman produce it. Mr. Katzman's Production Company, called ESKAY, was known for the frugality of its productions. Much of its output was done at and released by Monogram Pictures. The best known of these would probably be the EAST SIDE KIDS series, one branch of the DEAD END Family Tree.
This was the second serial for a comic character;but it was not the first time that it was done. Flash Gordon, Don Winslow, The Spider, Tailspin Tommy, Jungle Jim,The Green Hornet and Secret Agent X9, had all had 2 or more.DICK TRACY leads the pack with four serials. But unlike these others, which may have had one or two changes in cast, the 1949 Batman film cleaned house, leaving no one from the original.
Veteran Robert Lowery, who referred to himself as "the King of the B's", was a good choice for Bruce Wayne/Batman. His dead panning of Wayne's dialog contrasted with the so-serious speech of Batman. He possessed the build and obvious athleticism to bring a certain authenticity to the role.
John Duncan* had been around doing juvenile roles for several years (including the previously mentioned EAST SIDE KIDS series), and now had matured some, giving him both the youthful appearance and the gymnast-like musculature that Robin would have.
Additionally, we have all characters and elements taken directly from the comics feature. News Photographer,Vicki Vale (Jane Adams), Alfred the Butler(Eric Wilton) and Police Commissioner James Gordon(Lyle Talbot) were all characters out of the comic book adventures. They reprised the Bat Cave from the '43 version and added The Bat Signal(the bat emblemed searchlight,Batman summoner of Gotham City's sky), albeit in a sort of vest pocket size.
Like many serials, they did employ a hooded mystery man villain as the "brains" heavy you know, unknown but having several on screen suspects to keep the audience guessing for 15 chapters.This was okay, or at least adequate, but begs the question: Why not use one of the great colorful villains from the comics pages? The Batman TV of 2 decades later did so, making the series so memorable.
As for THE NEW ADVENTURES of BATMAN and ROBIN, it ranks far above most serials of its Post World War II period. As well as common crooks and masked super villains, it confronted the Super Nova Explosion of Technological Advancement, a phenomenon of which we still have a lot of apprehension.
NOTE* John Duncan, now a man in his 80's, still makes appearances a various Film Fan conventions around the country. We met him in a Bud & Sharon Courts promoted event, here in Chicago about 2 years ago. He was most energetic and gracious to the fans (including this writer).
I was fumbling through the DVD section in Wal-Mart, and what do I find? The 1949 Batman and Robin complete serial!!! Newly released by Columbia! Being a true fan of the caped crusader, how could I NOT want to watch it??!! OK, folks, let's get real, don't watch this if you are looking for high-tech special effects, brilliant dialogue, women (there's only one and she's a main character, Vicki Vale...who is always "getting in trouble", with Batman having to save her!), a Batmobile or any Bat-gadget! This serial was made at a time when studios spared all expense in making "fluff" to appeal to kids when they went to the movies on Saturday mornings. (Don't scoff, all you baby boomers....cartoon makers of the 1970s did the same thing...with the same bad dialogue and bad acting...witness "Superfriends", (which I also liked!), they just did it for Television!) I started watching this serial having never seen it...only saw a little of it in the special features of the 1966 Batman movie DVD. The costume is silly...looks like Bruce Wayne's grandmother sewed it together...Robin's costume isn't much better....there is no Batmobile, (although Batman and Robin do ride around in a Mercury convertible, and even change costumes in it..hmmmm..homo erotica? NAH!!), and no Bat-gadgets, although there is a neat scene where Bruce Wayne uses a device in the Batcave to "retore" a burned photo-negative. (I also giggle at all the shadows of flying bats in the cave....but you NEVER see a bat!) What there is is a good story! A super-villain..namely "The Wizard", whom the episodes lead you to think is an old, wheelchair bound scientist, who, when he sits in a chair that looks like it was stolen from the state penitentiary's execution room, regains the use ofhis legs...and puts on a black costume, shrouding his entire body, and, using a stolen bit of technology he created, can remotely control all motor vehicles...but not only that, he can make them explode as well, and the pies de resistance....he can make himself INVISIBLE!! He also has the ability to project his image and hypnotize victims with flashing eyes. Truly creepy!!! However, there is a GREAT plot twist at the end to prove who the Wizard REALLY is! As far as the acting is concerned.......there isn't any. I am reminded of Ed Wood flicks like Plan 9 from Outer Space when I watch it...but why not? George S. Plympton was one of the writers...wasn't he a friend of Ed's??? There is little emotion portrayed by the actors...everyone says their lines in a manner-of-fact way, however, the story is so good and action so fast-paced, you really don't notice it. What I DID notice and what made me giggle, was that EVERY male performer, except the Wizard so far, wears a Fedora!!! They all look like they were in some old gangster movie!! I originally wrote this review after seeing only 6 of the 15 episodes...it was difficult to turn the DVD player off after the 6th episode...but, I wanted something fun to watch tomorrow!! I came back and corrected some incorrect information I gave AFTER finishing the series. If you're a die-hard Batman fan, you should like this, unless you get upset by movies not following the comic's story lines! Those of you who like to get a glimpse of a time gone by, you'll LOVE this! It's not possible for me to give this serial 10 out 10 stars, mainly because of the bad acting....however, it certainly earns at least 7! By the way, it is very easy to tell that this is what the 1966 Batman TV series was based on!
Wow this movie is great and quite exciting.The costumes looks funny and many jokes about Batman started probably out of this.Furthermore a great movie even for younger Batman fans like me.Personally Batman is my favourite hero because he is just a normal bloke with nice gadgets,some muscle and a brain.The action is superb and storyline for me gets an A.Great plot and fighting too.Just don't mention the Batmobile but alas any comicbook fan will tell you that the Batmobile appeared much later detective comics # 27. You will be watching episode after episode and wonder how on earth can batman survive this.The only problem I have with this movie is once you start watching it believe me you won't stop.I give this Movie 7.9 out of 10.
I remember this being shown in serial version as a black & white
fill-in for a 70s youth culture show in Australia. It was actually a
music and pop culture show, and this was done as a novelty bit; but I
thoroughly loved it; and avidly followed the adventure every week. I
wish some younger kids shows of today had the guts to try something
like that, and reinvent the classic stories.
I especially remember the submarine going to the hidden lair of the villain.
And also Batman and Robin riding around in the standard convertible. For a while, I started to doubt this version existed, since it never got mentioned in any discussion of Batman.
It's this version that caused me to be rather dismissive of the more campy over-the-top TV series (starring Adam West and Burt Ward) that everyone is so fond of now.
When I was a small boy of 7, I saw a few Batman and Robin chapters at the local theater because my parents took me along as they wanted to see the feature and this serial happened to be playing. The look of the Wizard scared hell out of me and I never forgot that memory. To this day I think that it was the most terrifying looking serial villan. I bought the VHS tape about 10 years ago and it was fun the see it in it's entirety as I had not seen most of it the first time. I thought that Robert Lowery was a very good Batman as he was a big man with a determined voice and John Duncan was fine as he as not treated like a comic sidekick. The funny part was Lyle Talbot as Comm. Gordon who would see Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson a lot and never associate them as Batman and Robin who he would also see a lot. The same goes for Vicki Vale played by Jane Adams. No one also associated the fact that Batman and Wayne both drove 1949 Mercury convertibles. In any event it was fun to see again this week and if any of the surviving cast reads this I want to thank them for some great memories.
If you are expecting the campy 1960's Batman, then this isn't the show for you. However, if you are looking for an exciting action adventure serial, then this is for you. This show plays more like the comic book version of Batman that came out in the 1940's which was a very straightforward comic. The plot is okay but there are some plot holes, which probably owe more to the low budget. Also, the cast is very solid, especially veteran character actor Lyle Talbot as Commisioner Gordon.
This set of serials was incredibly low budget as were all the serials. The dialogue was sort of stilted, but this film was truly Batman Begins. I mean think about it, its the first version with Vicky Vale of Picture Magazine, The first Bat signal, first commissioner Gordon. It wasn't the campy cheese product of the 1960s. It wasn't the far fetched plots of the 1990s movies. Lets face it this serial was incredibly low budget but somehow its still better than every movie 1990s batman live action movie except Batman (1989). The remote control machine is a bit dated, but I'm thinking that the idea has something to do with the fact that TV-the televiewer- and the remote control machine- your remote- were new items in the households of millions and so even the idea of radio waves stopping transportation and electricity isn't that far off. Its far more believable for instance then that horrible mind reader that was on Batman Forever. So if you want ****ty batman flicks watch the dreadful returns, forever, and robin flicks. If you want a good evening of entertainment and good fun watch the New Adventures of Batman and Robin.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I only saw this series once or twice as a child and thought it no longer existed, however I managed to track it down a couple of years ago on video. Though it is not as good as the 1943 series, it is still a great production. It has better visual effects (most notably The Wizard becoming invisible),which must have been amazing in 1949. There was also more intrigue than the 1943 series, the question about The wizards true identity was well written. William Fawcett was wonderful as the eccentric Profeser Hamill, my favorite character from the series. Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan were superb as Batman and Robin. Johnny Duncan was not as "in your face" as the 60's Robin, which I really admire. The ending was not greatly acted, however the series was low budget even for the 1940's so It might have been filmed quickly. I really like the car Batman Drives as well, it was just a normal car, allowing Bruce wayne to be drive it as himself and Batman. The fact that it was filmed in Black and White makes it more dramatic. It has the same effect as Tim Burtons dark films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are different ways in which to do a comic book movie. The style
which this film goes for is a campy comic style. And by that, I mean it
does not try to be literary gem. It just has a solid story with
memorable characters, and some great action sequences. At least one
really solid action sequence can be found in each episode. And the
ending has cool twist.
First off, Batman and Robin are both done perfectly. Robert Lowery and John Duncan play off of each otehr perfectly. There is a sway of personalities between Batman and Bruce Wayne and for Robin and Dick Grayson which this film has the right look on. They make Bruce and Dick very charming characters with distinct personalities that are contrary enough to Batman and Robin. Then there is Vikki Vale. Here, the writers could have truly given into Hollywood writing and had more of a love story between Bruce and Vikki, but instead they focused more the main story. Good idea. They also tie Vikki well into the story, having her brother as a villain you sometimes do; sometimes don't root for. The villainy is excellent. I love the Wizard. He is so creepy and diabolical. He is vulnerable, but exceptionally intelligent as well. And really his intelligence it his greatest ally. He makes good use of the machines he steals especially when he uses the neutralizer and the beaming machine to make himself invisible. But Batamn is also realistically capable of catching onto his plans.
I have heard this film compared to the campy Adam West stuff of the 1960's. Do not expect to see Adam West and Burt Ward in different colored tights, using the most far-fetched gadgets imaginable, and solving the most far-fetched puzzles. I love that Batman version, but this is not the same. This film is campy, but nowhere near that campy. I think theses serials are better off being compared to the Spiderman movies. In that, they are both meant to be viewed for fun and little if anything else, but are not nearly as over-the-top as the 1960's Batman stuff. MINOR SPOILER There is one scene in the film in which Batman and Robin and running out of air. Batman pulls out two oxygen pipes and gives one of them to Robin. Yeah, that's a little far-fetched, but at least he uses it again later. And from that, you can honestly believe that Batman and Robin figured they may need an oxygen pipe and they find uses for it throughout the serial. As opposed to some absolutely chessy gadgets from the 60's Batman like shark-repellent Bat Spray, or the Batcave's nuclear power source.
This serial has a neat twist revealing the Wizard's identity. It seems completely obvious that Professor Hamill is the Wizard. In fact, watching it the first time, I just thought you were supposed to know that. I did not even realize that it was meant to be a mystery. But then, once I realized it was Carter, I saw how all the pieces fit. And it gave a completely different look on sll the scenes with the minor character Carter seemed to be. I thought the thing about his twin-brother getting shot was kind of cheesy. It would have made more sense if I knew that Carter had a twin brother, but short of that, it was a neat literary twist.
END OF SPOILER
As a whole though, this is just a really good serial to sit back and enjoy. If you like Batman (particulalry the comics) this is very much for you. I highly recommend it.
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