Theatrical release poster with title stylized:
|Directed by||Lambert Hillyer|
|Produced by||Rudolph C. Flothow|
|Written by||Victor McLeod
Harry L. Fraser
by Bob Kane
|Music by||Lee Zahler|
|Cinematography||James S. Brown Jr.|
|Edited by||Dwight Caldwell
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|15 chapters (260 minutes)|
Batman is a 15-chapter serial, released in 1943 by Columbia Pictures. It is based on the DC Comics character Batman, introduced May 1939 in Detective Comics issue 27. The serial starred Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin. J. Carrol Naish played the villain, an original character named Dr. Daka. Rounding out the cast were Shirley Patterson as Linda Page (Bruce Wayne's love interest) and William Austin as Alfred the butler. The plot involved Batman—as a U.S. government agent—attempting to defeat the Japanese agent Dr. Daka at the height of World War II.
The film is notable for being the first filmed appearance of Batman, and for debuting story details that became permanent parts of the Batman mythos. It introduced the Bat's Cave and its secret entrance through a grandfather clock inside Wayne Manor. Both departures subsequently appeared in the comics. The serial also changed the course of how Alfred Pennyworth's physical appearance would be depicted in later Batman works. At the time it was released in theaters, Alfred was overweight in Batman comics. After William Austin's portrayal in this chapter play, subsequent issues of the comics portrayed him as Austin had: trim and sporting a thin mustache. The serial was commercially successful and spawned another, Batman and Robin, in 1949. It was re-released in 1965. The re-released version, called An Evening with Batman and Robin, proved very popular, and its success inspired the action-comedy lampoon series Batman (and its 1966 theatrical feature film spin-off) starring Adam West and Burt Ward.
The film serial was broadcast on Turner Classic Movies from March to June 2015, followed by the 1949 serial from June to November.
Batman and Robin struggle against Dr. Daka, a Japanese scientist and agent of Hirohito who has invented a device that turns people into pseudo-zombies and has a base in a funhouse of horrors in a Japanese area of the city. Daka makes several attempts to defeat the Dynamic Duo before finally falling to his death when Robin hits the wrong switch, opening a trapdoor to a pit of crocodiles.
- Lewis Wilson as Batman/Bruce Wayne
- Douglas Croft as Robin/Richard 'Dick' Grayson
- J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Tito Daka/Prince Daka
- Shirley Patterson as Linda Page
- William Austin as Alfred Pennyworth
- Robert Fiske as Foster
The film was made at the height of World War II and, like numerous works of popular American fiction of the time, contains anti-German and, in this case, anti-Japanese ethnic slurs and comments (in one scene, one of Daka's henchmen turns on him, saying, "That's the kind of answer that fits the color of your skin."). Early narration in the first chapter (minute 9:20-9:30), referencing the U.S. government policy of Japanese American internment to explain the abandoned neighborhood of Daka's headquarters, sets the racial tone for the serial: "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."
The film also suffered from a low budget, just like many other contemporary serials. No attempt was made to create a bona fide Batmobile, so a black Cadillac was used by Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson as well as Batman and Robin. Alfred chauffeured the Dynamic Duo in both identities.
While many serials made changes during adaptation, to the extent that they were "often 'improved' almost out of recognition," Batman "fared better than most" and the changes were minor. A normal limousine replaced the Batmobile, the utility belts are present but unused, and Batman is a secret government agent in this serial instead of an independent vigilante. This last change was due to the film censors, who would not allow the hero to be seen taking the law into his own hands.
Several continuity errors occur in the serial, such as Batman losing his cape in a fight but wearing it again after the film only briefly cut away.
Press releases announced it as a "Super Serial" and it was Columbia's largest-scale serial production to date. The studio gave it publicity campaign equivalent to a feature film.
Batman was first released in theaters on July 16, 1943. In 1965, the serial was re-released in theaters as An Evening with Batman and Robin in one complete marathon showing. This re-release was successful enough to inspire the development for television, by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., under the auspices of producers William Dozier and Howard "Howie" Horwitz, of the 1960s television series Batman, mentioned above, which starred Adam West and Burt Ward and, as also described above, was produced as a lampoon, being villain-driven and heavy on action-comedy.
The serial was released on home video in the late '80s in a heavily edited format that removed the offensive racial content. David Scapperotti, a reviewer for the magazine Cinefantastique, commented: "The revisions aren't surprising when you consider that Columbia is now owned by Japan's Sony Corporation. It appears that some of Daka's operatives escaped Batman's justice and were rewarded with positions at the new George Orwell department at Columbia. No doubt we can expect to see David Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai reissued as the story of a joyous Anglo-Japanese cooperative construction job interrupted by imperialistic American terrorists." In 1989, however, the cable network The Comedy Channel aired the serial uncut and uncensored. The cable network American Movie Classics did the same in the early '90s on Saturday mornings. Sony released the serial on DVD in October 2005 in an unedited version, with the exception of Chapter 2, which is missing its "Next Chapter" sequence and a shot of the villains listening to Bruce and Linda's conversation instead of Robin being angry.
The image and sound quality of Columbia's two-disc set is varied. The first episode is an upscale of the previous VHS transfer: very grainy, slightly cropped off, and with too high contrast in some scenes, such as the first establishing shot of Batman sitting at a desk amid a bunch of bats in the Bat Cave. The rest of the episodes were restored as much as possible, with the result being solid pictures and good sound.
The serial was also released on home movie formats in the 1960s and 1970s:
- The 1960s: A silent abridged version. The complete serial was edited into six chapters (available in 8mm and Super-8) running 10 minutes each. A seventh three-minute reel titled "Batman's Last Chance" with action scenes was also issued.
- The 1970s: The complete 15-chapter serial (in its original unaltered format) was released in a Super-8 Sound edition.
Stedman notes that the serial "gained good press notices" but "scarcely deserves them," going on to describe it as an "unintentional farce." Harmon and Glut describe Batman as "one of the most ludicrous serials ever made" despite its "forthright simplicity." It was, nevertheless, popular enough for a sequel (Batman and Robin (1949)) to be approved.
Some elements of the serial that have drawn particular attention from these critics are the casting of Lewis Wilson as Batman: While his face resembled that of Bruce Wayne and he played his part with sincerity, they found his physique to be unathletic and "thick about the middle" and his voice was both too high and had a Boston accent; both the actors and their stunt doubles lacked the "style and grace" of either the comic characters they were portraying or their equivalents at Republic Pictures; both costumes are considered to be unconvincing in execution, and although the Batman costume was based on his first appearance, it draws special criticism for being too baggy and "topped by pair of devils horns."
Will Brooker points out in Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon that, though the depiction of the Japanese characters is undoubtedly racist, Batman himself has little direct contact with them. However, when Batman does in fact finally meet Daka in the final episode (minute 10 of chapter 15), he immediately exclaims a racial slur ("Oh, a Jap!"). He soon after calls Daka "Jap murderer" and "Jap devil" and finally discusses a "Jap spy ring." Brooker surmises that these elements are likely to have been added as an afterthought in order to make the film more appealing to audiences of the time, and that the making of a nationalistic or patriotic film was not the filmmakers' original intent.
An Evening with Batman and Robin was especially popular in college towns, where theaters were booked solid. The success of this led to the creation of the Batman series. The breathless opening and closing narration of each chapter in this and other Columbia serials was to some extent the model that was parodied in the series.
The success of both the re-release and the subsequent TV series prompted the production of The Green Hornet. Originally a radio series from 1936 to 1953, it was also the basis of two movie serials in 1940. The 1966-67 TV series was played as a straight action mystery series, "in the tradition of its former presentations," and was also very popular with audiences but lasted only one season owing to significantly higher production costs. The failure of The Green Hornet led to the belief that similar revivals of serial properties were not possible in the television market of the time, and no further series were produced.
Turner Classic Movies began airing Batman every Saturday morning beginning in March 2015. Following the conclusion of the last episode, the channel continued the weekly slot with the 1949 Batman & Robin serial which (following an August hiatus) concluded in November.
- The Electrical Brain (Broadcast March 7, 2015 on TCM)
- The Bat's Cave (Broadcast March 14, 2015)
- The Mark of the Zombies (Broadcast March 21, 2015 on TCM)
- Slaves of the Rising Sun (Broadcast March 28, 2015 on TCM)
- The Living Corpse (Broadcast April 4, 2015 on TCM)
- Poison Peril (Broadcast April 11, 2015 on TCM)
- The Phoney Doctor (Broadcast April 18, 2015 on TCM)
- Lured by Radium (Broadcast April 25, 2015 on TCM)
- The Sign of the Sphinx (Broadcast May 2, 2015 on TCM)
- Flying Spies (Broadcast May 9, 2015 on TCM)
- A Nipponese Trap (Broadcast May 16, 2015 on TCM)
- Embers of Evil (Broadcast May 30, 2015 on TCM)
- Eight Steps Down (Broadcast June 6, 2015 on TCM)
- The Executioner Strikes (Broadcast June 13, 2015 on TCM)
- The Doom of the Rising Sun (Broadcast June 20, 2015 on TCM)
- Cline, William C. (1984). "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 235–236. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
- Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "15. Last Chapter "The Final Chapter"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. p. 368. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
- Cline, William C. (1984). "2. In Search of Ammunition". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 14–15, 25. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
- Schoell, William (1991). Comic Book Heroes of the Screen. Carol Pub. Group. p. 71. ISBN 0-8065-1252-0.
- Stedman, Raymond William (1971). "5. Shazam and Good-by". The Serials: Suspense and Drama By Instalment. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-8061-0927-5.
- Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "10. The Long-Underwear Boys "You've Met Me, Now Meet My Fist!"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 235–240, 243. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
- Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "9. The Superheroes "Could Superman Knock Out Captain Marvel"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. p. 222. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
- Brooker, Will (2001) Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon, Continuum
- Batman at the Internet Movie Database
- Batman at AllMovie
- Batman Serials & Interviews @ Legions Of Gotham
- Serials @ Batman: Yesterday, Today, & Beyond
- "BATMAN ON FILM" – The 40s Serials
The Valley of Vanishing Men (1942)
The Phantom (1943)