Two Cents Fires Up the Bat-Signal One Last Time for Adam West and BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

The world bid a sad farewell to the legendary Adam West this week, as the much-beloved icon passed away at age 88.

West was not the first actor to portray the Caped Crusader (movie serials had brought the character to live action in the 1940’s) but for millions and millions of young children, West was their introduction the world of Batman and the entire multi-color world of Gotham and its bizarrely theatrical group of villains.

West’s Batman was a ratings hit (for a time) but it was roundly rejected by comic book fans, many of whom were infuriated by the light-hearted roasting with which the show treated the character, and many still hold Batman responsible for the struggle to get comic books and superheroes taken seriously over the years. With the rise of the grim’n’gritty graphic novels from the likes of Frank Miller and Alan Moore, featuring a tortured, tormented Dark Knight, the cheery days of Bat Shark Repellent were chased away.

But something has been happening in the past few years. The ubiquity of ‘Gritty Batman’ has begun to fade, creating room for the goofier and livelier incarnations of the character. Instead of an embarrassing footnote, Batman: The Series and Batman: The Movie are embraced as a crucial part of Bats’ legacy.

So we decided to sit down and revisit Batman: The Movie and celebrate the special, pop art beauty that was Adam West’s Batman, Burt Ward’s Robin, Cesar Romero’s Joker, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman, and the whole rest of the comically crooked crowd.

Join us as we say goodbye to a man and celebrate a legend.

Next Week’s Pick:

At the recommendation of our friend Adrianna Gober, next week we are spotlighting the noir classic Laura.

Available to stream on Netflix Instant, Laura details the investigation into the murder of Laura (Gene Tierney), who continues to haunt the lives of suitors like Vincent Price and Clifton Webb. Her memory even begins to weigh down on the detective investigating her death.

Laura, from director Otto Preminger, has long entranced viewers with its twisting narrative and beguiling femme fatale. But can it enthrall us today as it did them then? We’ll find out!

Submissions can be sent to [email protected] anytime before midnight on Thursday.

Our Guests

Trey Lawson:

I am thankful that Adam West lived long enough to see people come around on just how brilliant and his version of Batman really was. When I was little, there were two versions of Batman — the brand-new Tim Burton/Michael Keaton version, and reruns of the 1966 TV series (and accompanying movie, which I definitely rented on VHS more than once). But for me the distinction wasn’t important — Batman was Batman. And when playing Batman my inspiration primarily came from the 60s version. Pretend fights included shouts of “Pow!,” “Bam!,” and “Zonk!,” and the variety of memorable villains offered more fodder for my young imagination than the limited roster of “Joker” and “Bob.” While other high-quality versions have been produced since — from the Animated Series to the Nolan trilogy and beyond — they all owe something to the 1966 series/film that established an enduring shared cultural understanding of the Batman characters. Ultimately, the emotional and stylistic core of Batman ’66 was Adam West. He will be missed, and I am glad that we should get one more Batman performance from him, since from what I have heard he already completed recording for the animated sequel to Return of the Caped Crusaders.

With all of that said, I think I should spend some time actually discussing Batman. It is a delightful film. While in a lot of ways it plays like a feature-length version of the TV series, the stakes are increased by including the four most well-known villains instead of the one or two usually seen in a given episode. This means we get the joy of Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin onscreen at the same time, plus Lee Merriwether (taking over from Julie Newmar as Catwoman). The pacing is slow compared to contemporary superhero movies, but this isn’t an action-driven film in the traditional sense. Besides, between action/fight scenes are some all-time great comedy bits which make me laugh out loud every single time I watch the film. It’s a delightfully charming slapstick action comedy, but West and company are smart enough to avoid making Batman the butt of the joke. There’s certainly nothing wrong with more serious takes on superhero cinema, but for me it is always refreshing to take a break and revisit the Bright Knight who started it all. (@T_Lawson)

Shawn Gordon:

It’s with great sadness that we revisit the most colorful and fun of all Batman movies, the 1966 feature film version of the popular prime-time television series starring the late Adam West as the caped crusader. Now, it isn’t fair to look through our modern lenses at the 60’s version of the dark knight, but one must take a step back to a previous time, one where entertainment at least, was more innocent. This is a colorful and campy romp, Gotham City is a vibrant and lively place, not dark and grungy. The villains are colorful eccentrics not the embodiment of evil. How much you enjoy it, will depend much on how much you can get with the spirit of the times in which it was made.

It seems kind of weird to think this wasn’t just a kid’s show in it’s time, but something adults could appreciate, as well. It’s most appropriate that this viewing comes the same week that The Lego Batman Movie arrives on blu-ray as it is something of a kindred spirit to the 60’s Batman, at least in spirit and enjoyment, even more so than the much maligned Joel Schumacher 90’s live-action misfires.

The movie exists on a level of not whether it’s good or bad, it’s more about how much fun one has with it, the level of escapism that it off.

Brendan Agnew

You never forget your first Batman.

As a kid, I didn’t get most of the endless parade of gags that parade through Batman: The Movie, I didn’t appreciate the hilariously outlandish puns, or understand the quiet brilliance of some of its story turns (how great is everything involving the kidnapping plot?). I just really enjoyed seeing Batman as a real live dude wearing a Batman suit and doing Batman stuff.

Because Adam West was very good at that.

You have to admire a guy who can pretty much invent the punchline of the joke that’s both kinda at his own expense but that he’s also in on. Like, the guy drinks milk FROM A BRANDY SNIFTER. And even though 1966’s Batman: The Movie plays more like a greatest hits collection from the even-better show, it still manages the rare trick of being a thing adults could watch while pretending it was just to entertain the kids. While also being genuinely wholesome and often (especially for its time) forward-thinking entertainment for said kids.

As that’s…well, like the man said, “pure West.”(@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Frank Calvillo:

This week’s Two Cents is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I am sad that we are saying goodbye to the legend that was Adam West. On the other hand, I love that in the age of Snyder and Nolan, we get to celebrate the Batman who started it all. I have such strong, fond memories of watching the Batman movie (one of the first VHS titles I ever owned) and the TV series from which it spawned as a child. At such a young age, I was drawn to the sheer theatricality of it all. The way Batman and Robin made fighting crime look like an adrenaline-charged adventure, the over-the-top nature of the villains and the way they were creatively executed, had me hooked from the start. As I got older, I appreciated the film and the TV series for their 60s sensibilities in terms of their pop visuals and sneaky political undertones. Now squarely thought of as pure nostalgia, 1960s Batman provided the quintessential blueprint for bringing a comic book to life.

Needless to say, the film and the series wouldn’t have scored with audiences without the participation of West. No other actor could have played the caped crusader quite like him. The genius of West’s performance was that he always treated the character and the project with the utmost respect and played it not for campy laughs, but rather with the same kind of conviction which had been present in the character from his early comic book days. West may have been typecast to a degree in his post-Batman years, but he always found something interesting to do. The actor’s turn as one-half of a gay decorating couple (with hilariously bad taste) on The Drew Carey Show and his extended cameo in Drop Dead Gorgeous (in which he poked fun at his own celebrity) are highlights. Keaton, Kilmer, Bale and Affleck may have donned the cape in the decades since, but for legions and legions of fans, Adam West will always be THE Batman. (@FrankFilmGeek)

Brendan Foley:

The thing that rarely gets appreciated about Adam West is the absolute killer fucking deadpan that he brings to the role of Batman. It was easy, in the years after the show ended when it was relegated to the dustbins of pop culture history, to mock his inflections and distinctive speech patterns in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. But seen in context, West is actually delivering a perfect straight man turn. The squarer-than-square Batman is the perfect foil to the giddy camp excess of the villains and the rambunctious Robin. Through every cackling bit of craziness, West maintains his stoicism while also projecting a paternal warmth that makes his Batman every bit the hyper-competent Boy Scout that any kid could want from a father figure. He’s great and this movie is great and I will reach through this screen and slap anyone who tries to disagree. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Justin Harlan

I’m distraught. Losing great actors seems to be happening at an exponential rate. However, Adam West wasn’t a young pup, so the sting is a bit less than when someone like Anton Yelchin passes. But even so, I remember Adam West’s Batman as an everpresent fact in my life.

As an avid Batman fan who even has a Batman tattoo, the love of the Caped Crusader begins with West’s campy portrayal. With each new iteration, I still return to West’s as the true and original Batman.

Last night, I rewatched this film for what seems like the 1000th time; yet, it felt as fresh as ever. This is the very definition of campy fun. Earnest and honest, while still goofy and absurd. Nothing beats the bomb disposal scene or the “Shark Repellent Batspray” and nothing ever will.

I think it was Benjamin Franklin that said, “The existence of this film is proof that there is a God and that He loves us.” I agree with Ben and if you want even more takes on this film, we are covering it over at The Farsighted, too. (@ThePaintedMan)

Austin Vashaw

While I don’t have major nostalgia for the 60s Batman series the way many Bat-fans do, it was a part of my childhood that I remember fondly, mostly for the catchy theme song and colorful characters and onomatopoeia.

Watching Batman: The Movie again was my first revisit of the 60s Batman iteration in perhaps 20 years. The biggest thing that struck me was how intentionally comedic the tone is. As a kid I never picked up on that, simply enjoying Batman as a superhero. I came to assume the show’s cheesiness was simply the natural artifact of aging, like so much classic entertainment that now plays as camp. Watching this now, it’s very obviously on the nose with its many goofball gags that it’s a wonder I never picked up on it.

Star Adam West is a national treasure. His influential commitment to playing the material straight is a precursor to the kind of comedy that Leslie Nielsen would eventually adopt in Airplane and The Naked Gun, but to me it’s his more modern persona that I really latch onto: a beloved icon, always willing to poke fun at himself and have a great laugh. (@VforVashaw)

Watch it on Netflix:

Next week’s pick:

Previous post THE ASSIGNMENT: Walter Hill’s Gender Bending Contract Killer Thriller is a Trip