Saturday, July 26, 2014

BATMAN, Chapter 2 (July 23, 1943)

"The Bat's Cave"
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Last Time: Daka tried to steal radium from the Gotham Foundation, but Batman and Robin show up to stop them! While fighting on the rooftop, two of Daka's thugs grab Batman and toss him off the roof!
Synopsis: Our hero's surely deadly fall is broken by landing on a window washer's platform! How convenient! He climbs back up to the roof as the cops show up. Foster and his accomplice try to beat feet, but when said accomplice stops to grab the radium gun that was dropped in the scuffle, Robin tackles him!
Foster makes it out and escapes but Batman and Robin take the other guy captive, along with the radium gun, and take him to the Bat's Cave!
"The Bat's Cave" in this, it's first major appearance, is very simple. Apparently candlelit, it features a big wooden desk for Batman, a ton of rubber bats on fishing lines flying around, a big Bat-logo on one of the cave walls, and... well, that's it. Batman sits his captive down and basically threatens to feed him to the bats, and that's enough to break him down and spill his guts.
The hoodlum says they were going to deliver the radium to "The House of the Open Door" - a "fluff joint" (which I assume is 1940s slang for a house of ill repute? Someone wanna take a stab at this?). He says he was working for a man named "Smith", describing Foster. Batman believes most of the story, although he figures "Smith" is a phoney name, then the Dynamic Duo head upstairs and leave the poor guy alone, locked in the cave.
Coming up through the secret entrance in the grandfather clock in Wayne Manor (another invention of this serial), Bruce and Dick use the radium gun to explode a vase and scare the shit out of Alfred - because fuck servants, we're rich, I guess? 
Alfred, of course, has been reading his pulp magazines and detective novels again, but is interrupted so he can drive the Batman's captive to a police station and dump him on the curb.
Some patrol boys bring him in to Captain Arnold, with a note explaining that Linda Page can identify him and charge him in connection with the "radium robbery and hospital murder" -- hospital murder? Who was murdered? Is that referring to the zombie that Daka had walk off the roof to his death for no reason last week??
Back at Dr. Daka's Secret Giant Buddha Spy Headquarters, Daka admonishes his men for losing the radium gun. Daka figures since it was left behind at the Gotham Foundation that one of the employees might have it. Of course he might have had a better idea what had happened if he hadn't ordered his remote control zombie to off himself, but I guess hindsight is 20/20 after all. Daka figures that since Martin Warren's niece worked in the office where the radium was, it's likely either she has the gun or knows who does.
So Foster calls Linda, pretending to be Warren, and tells her to meet him at The Blue Parrot (in Casablanca?)... and come alone! Linda calls Bruce to tell him what's up, but also not to come. So of course Bruce and Dick are gonna pay a visit to the Blue Parrot as well to keep an eye on Linda!
At the club, Linda is called away to the telephone booth and Bruce sends Dick to keep an eye on her. Dick goes over, sees that yep she's on the phone, and reports back to Bruce, who's all "I told you to keep an eye on her, stupid!", and when they rush over to see what's up, she's gone! Because the phone booth was rigged with gas and a trick door, so Foster has kidnapped Linda.
So Bruce and Dick use their only clue and head to the House of the Open Door, with Bruce putting on a sort've prototype Matches Malone disguise, and Dick dressing up like a "Daily Record" newspaperboy, complete with accurate outfit, t-shirt, newspapers, etc. Dick serves as a lookout in front of the building as Bruce goes in, each wearing 2-way radios to communicate with each other. Very smart.
Foster comes into the building, and Bruce shadows him upstairs, keeping note of which room he goes into. There's a trick door in the back of the room, leading to another room filled with radio equipment and hazardous chemicals (??) where some hoodlums are interrogating Linda. She doesn't tell them anything, because she doesn't know anything, but the hoods aren't buying it.
As Batman and Robin (with Batman wearing a much improved costume), the Dynamic Duo climb up to the window by throwing their grappling hook up onto a power line and then walking across the power line to the windowsill. Now, I'm no electrician, but I figure that at least sometime in there they should've been fried.
Anyways, they burst into the window as is their custom, and we get an all out brawl, which feels just as uncoordinated as the one last week, just guys throwing haymakers left and right (at one point, Batman's cape falls off, but it's back after the next cut). So of course those hazardous chemicals (acid, apparently) that are in there are spilled and so there's deadly gas spewing everywhere. Foster and the boys escape and lock Batman and Robin in the room. Robin heads out the window and across the power line, Batman following while carrying Linda.
But Foster has them spotted from the roof, and grabs some wire from another power line and swings it down to the line Batman is standing on, short-circuiting it.
Now, again, I'm no electrician, but I'm pretty sure the dangerous electrical fire wouldn't just slowly make it's way up the line behind Batman like a lit bomb fuse or something - but that's what happens here. Robin makes it down to ground level, but the electrical fire catches up to Batman just as he reaches the grappling line, and he and Linda fall off the line.... to their inevitable deaths!
Thoughts and Review: Chapter 2 of Batman is a big improvement over Chapter 1. Part of this is that it doesn't have to set up the story and characters, so the pacing is much better. Even with a shorter running time it balances story, action, and character quite nicely. But mostly I think it just has the best mix of elements. It might be my favourite chapter in the serial overall, which yes, means we're peaking quite early.
For one thing, you've got Batman and Robin being a lot more competent and awesome then they were in the last chapter. First, capturing and interrogating that guy in the Batcave - and I love Lewis Wilson's performance in this scene, a kind of gleeful meaness. Then, tailing Linda from the Blue Parrot to the House of the Open Door, and again Wilson does a great job of switching personas from Bruce to Batman to his disguise and back again. The bit with the radios and the newspaperboy lookout feels like a regular routine, like they've been doing this a while and have certain favoured maneuvers, which increases the feeling that we're seeing the comic book characters with their history, translated onto the silver screen. Scaling the building with their grappling hook, smashing through the window, fighting off thugs, carrying Linda out of there -- our heroes do a lot of fun, cool things in this chapter, things that feel like what Batman and Robin do in their comic book adventures.
Significantly, this chapter gives us our first good looks at the two additions the serial made to the Bat mythos: the Batcave, and Alfred. The Batcave is very prototype, just a simple one room affair. It seems connected to another room, a secret crime laboratory which had already been featured in the comics, but the two are definitely seperate locations rather than unified under the "cave" stylings. But what's really cool is the entrance to the Batcave is through a grandfather clock in Wayne Manor - which, once the Batcave made it's migration to the comics, is where the secret entrance would be depicted as well. In the comics they will add the detail that the door is opened by changing the time on the clock to the time Bruce's parents were killed - but oddly, other than the Bruce Timm animated series, no other Bat-adaptation would use the grandfather clock entrance - the '66 show used the Shakespeare bust and sliding poles, Burton's films had an Iron Maiden trapdoor, the Schumacher films had a hidden door in the silver closet, and the Nolan films had it activated by a trick piano.
Alfred, meanwhile, is fantastic. I mean, yeah, this isn't the super competant dry wit Alfred of the modern day, but William Austin is giving a great comic performance here. While he's much the same character as the comic book Alfred - a little bumbling, but eager to help - it somehow work's a lot better with Austin's performance. He's thin, high-strung, very upper crust -- it's a little reminescent of what Anthony Daniel's would do with C-3PO for Star Wars! Austin's performance was such a popular element of this serial that Alfred's character would be reworked to resemble Austin more, especially physically, which is why in the comics for 70 years afterwords Alfred would be thin, balding, and with a moustache!
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of the grandfather clock entrance to the Batcave

1 comment:

  1. This is great! I know nothing about this serial other than having a vague idea that it happened, so I'm learning a lot and it's really fun to read about. Glad to have you back posting again--keep it up!