1943 THE BATMAN
Released July 16, 1943 by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Lambert Hillyer 240 mins 15 Chapters
Originally it was Republic Pictures that expressed interest in producing a BAT-MAN serial around the same time they had begun pre-production on SUPERMAN. Negotiations with DC/National Comics broke down when Republic took too many liberties and refused to come up with a higher license fee for Superman and the serial was abandoned with much of the script used for MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR SATAN (1940) and the effects planned for Superman's flying scenes were used in ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941). With Superman off the table plans for a BAT MAN serial were dropped as well.
Over at Paramount Pictures they released a series of highly regarded animated shorts featuring Superman. These 17 cartoon adventures represent a pinnacle in Golden Age Animation and plans were put in place for Batman to follow. When the episodes proved much too expensive to continue the cartoon series was finished with Famous Studios and released through Paramount but Batman's animated debut would have to wait.
On May 29, 1943 the Los Angeles Times announced "Serial called BAT-MAN projected at Columbia." They also broke the news that 23 year old Lewis Wilson was cast in the lead which would be a sort of "dual-role" with much of his performance to be concealed under a mask. The serial would be handled by veteran director Lambert Hillyer who was only a few years off of another Bat-Man project with DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936) for Universal.
Child actor Douglas Croft was cast as his ward and crimefighting aid Robin the Boy Wonder. Columbia's publicity department announced that Croft signed the contract for THE BATMAN on his 12th birthday, in reality Croft was 16 years old but his slight stature and slim frame allowed him to pass as much younger.
The first actor actually cast for the serial was Shirley Patterson, a former beauty queen and a contract player for Columbia who had appeared in several films and even a short with The Three Stooges. Patterson would play Bruce Wayne's fiance Linda Page who had been introduced in a 1941 issue of BATMAN comics.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the United States into World War II Anti-Japanese sentiment was high and Hollywood did it's patriotic part to rally the country. Rumors persist that The Joker was the original intended villain and that he was changed at the last minute to the Japanese Spy Leader. Here are some thoughts on it.
The serial bypassed Commissioner Gordon and introduced Police Captain Arnold played by veteran character actor Charles Wilson (no relation to Lewis).
Captain Arnold looked and behaved very much like Police Commissioner Gordon in the comics; he was a friend of Bruce Wayne's and often provided him information not knowing he was talking to Batman.
In the comics of the period Batman was a deputized member of the Gotham Police, but the serial looked towards the earlier days of Batman's comic career (just four years earlier) to go with a hunted vigilante theme;
|(c) DC Comics All Rights Reserved|
In the above, from Batman's first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) we see Bruce Wayne tagging along with his good friend Commissioner Gordon as they examine a murder scene.
|(c) DC Comics All Rights Reserved|
From later in the same issue, our first look at The Bat Man and Commissioner Gordon's order to his men to "get him" as they open fire while he makes his escape.
There's no apparent reason for the change in the lead Police character except perhaps the film-makers wanted to make him the butt of many of the jokes and it's possible DC Comics wanted their character to be treated with more respect.
Rounding out the main cast is William Austin as Alfred the Butler. Bruce Wayne's confident and in this serial he is almost a third member of the crimefighting team often coming along or being sent on subversive missions. Alfred is played mostly as comedy relief and the actor's performance was so endearing that the comics soon changed the look of the portly Alfred to the leaner look of the serial Alfred.
The serial combines elements from many genres, Batman has a habit of leaving a bat emblazoned on the foreheads of the criminals he's left for the police, something The Spider often did in his pulp magazine adventures, and the headquarters for Dr Daka's spy group is in a creepy sideshow carnival giving an air of horror to the adventure. Daka's "Zombie Machine" in which he can turn anyone into a mindless slave, is another nod to the mad scientists of the period on film.
While the serial used the comics as a guideline many of the new ideas introduced have continued to the present day. The serial introduced The Batcave (called the Bat's Cave) as Batman's secret headquarters under Wayne Manor and Batman adopted the identity of Chuck White, a gangster who could infiltrate other criminal enterprises represented the first time in the character's history he'd done such a thing.
As with most serials the plot is overly complex and often convoluted but essentially Daka and his minions are intent on creating havoc and terror attacks against the American mainland in the cause of the war with Japan.
He develops a ray gun capable of some serious destruction and spends most of the serial either trying to get it back or finding the needed Radium to power it. Daka uses his zombie machine to create an army of mindless soldiers (three actually) and enlists the aid of some of Gotham City's underworld in his cause, and Batman plans to stop him.
Lastly a note on serials; it's a disservice to watch them one after the other, serials as they were made were designed to be watched once a week along with a feature film, cartoons and newsreels, when watched all together they are often overly tedious with their repeated nature of recapping the previous episode. To get the full enjoyment watch them one episode a week!
A Fan put together feature length versions of both serials, you can check them out here. They're pretty well done but don't watch them until you've watched the full serials.
Chapter 1: THE ELECTRICAL BRAIN
We open our serial introducing Batman and Robin and we follow them as they hunt down criminals and leave them for the police tied to light poles after pasting a Bat symbol on their forehead and leaving a note in their pocket. In one of the first inconsistencies in the serial story as Batman ties up one of the hoods they have this conversation;
1st Crook: I'm warnin' you-- Dr Daka will make you regret this!
2nd Crook: (warningly) Shut up!...
Bruce (as Batman): Dr Daka? Who's that?
1st Crook: Never mind-- you'll find out.
Shortly we'll learn that Batman has been on Daka's trail for some time, so is he playing with the guy? It could be that at this point he doesn't know the name of the spy ring leader, or it could just be lazy writing.
Batman calls the cops and tells them where they can find this latest captured pair of crooks.
The Police, in the form of Police Captain Arnold both love and hate Batman. In some scenes he's ordering his men to go round him up and in other's he wants to put him on the force.
|Wilson's Wayne rests after "getting up at the crack of Noon"|
We are then introduced to Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Wayne's girlfriend Linda Page who works as a lab assistant for Dr Borden who is doing something so important in downtown Gotham it requires him to keep Radium in his safe. Radium is highly radioactive, and as we'll soon see, highly sought after.
Linda is a pretty girl but she's got worries, her dear Uncle Martin Warren has been thrown in the clink and she's relieved when Bruce agrees to go with her to meet him the following day as he's to be released. As they leave her office they run into a paperboy who gives them the latest extra about Batman. Linda is a fan of Batman, Bruce thinks he's a show off.
Uncle Martin, we soon learn, isn't the brightest bulb in the jukebox because as he's released he's met by two surly looking middle aged gangsters who introduce themselves as friends of his niece who asked them to come meet him for her, and he buys it.
Lewis Wilson gives us a Don Diego type of performance for Bruce Wayne-- he does the lazy playboy act pretty well, too well according to his young ward Dick Grayson who warns him he's going to overplay his hand. Wayne assures him he knows what he's doing and he has to keep Linda off the track that he's Batman because of their secret assignment from Washington, whatever that means.
|"Geez, who wouldn't believe we's is pals wit' your 20 year old niece!"|
Bruce, Linda, Dick and Alfred the Butler go to meet Uncle Martin at the prison but he's just left with two men in a black sedan that just drove away. They take off hot on the trail of the gangster car but as it rounds a corner the gangsters pull the first of several notable serial trapping in that with the flick of a switch the car releases a gas which changes from a black sedan to a gray (probably yellow) taxi cab. The driver pulls a quick U-Turn and passes the Wayne car without them even "giving them a tumble".
Uncle Martin is brought to a seedy Carnival Sideshow that hides the secret headquarters of the vile leader of a Japanese spy ring, Prince Doctor Tito Daka. Dr Prince Daka needs Martin because his circle of evil needs an industrialist to round them out.
Serial trapping Number Two-- when you enter the carnival sideshow and get to the proper exhibit to get into Daka's HQ members of his organization press a hidden button and then place their hands on a small rock on the wall. Inside Daka's joint he can then turn on a little TV screen and see an X-Ray of the person's hand which apparently has had a disc with a number five printed on it surgically implanted, apparently so they can be identified as members of a spy ring (fifth columnists). It would have been much simpler to install a peephole.
Interesting to note that in the screenplay dated late May 1943 the scene plays a bit differently than what was filmed.
76. INSERT-- TELEVISION SCANNING SCREEN (PROCESS)
As it lights up and the figures of Foster and Warren (Martin) are seen against the 'rock
background' of Cave of Horrors.
This concept would be used exactly this way in the 1949 sequel, but for some reason the creators thought this would be more interesting (and it is). We have the full script for Chapters 1-7 posted as a PDF if you'd like to compare it to what was filmed.
Back to the scene, Martin refuses Prince Daka's offer of joining his band of evil merry men, so Daka introduces him to a former colleague who has been turned into a zombie and threatens to do the same to Martin, but he still refuses.
Martin is dragged down to Daka's even more super secret laboratory where he's placed in the zombie making device but Daka rethinks erasing his brain because he realizes that he would be unable to gather the needed information if he were to do so. Instead he injects Martin with truth serum getting him to cough up the news that there is a supply of Radium at the aforementioned office of Dr Borden in downtown Gotham where his niece works.
They lock up Martin and Daka reveals why he's so desperate for more Radium; he's developed a powerful ray gun that can blow stuff to smithereens but it runs on Radium, and if he were to get more he could not only refuel this one, but he could make a much bigger gun to destroy all of America.
Daka sends two of his men and a zombie to go get the Radium. The zombie is along for the ride because he's stronger than a normal man and Daka can watch what they're doing via the zombie's head piece.
Batman and Robin arrive just as the crooks are making their escape and the zombie has killed Dr Borden, they drop the Radium they stole down a laundry shoot and pull the wool over Batman's eyes as an innocent looking laundry truck drives off with the stuff and they are tied up fighting the crooks up on the roof.
It's a back and forth battle but the zombie is too much for Batman and he's just about to finish him off on the edge of the roof the crook in the laundry truck radios Daka that he's got the stuff and he's heading back. Daka radios the zombie to leave the roof so he stops short of killing Batman and throws himself off the roof. Not sure if that's what Daka meant but he did as he was told.
Batman is about to recover when the two remaining hoods charge at him, get the upper hand and hurl him off the roof where he seems to be plummeting to his death in one of the least dignified falls from a high place in the history of cinema.
TO BE CONTINUED!
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|Theater showing BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949)|
THE SERIALS RECEPTION
What limited information there is shows the serial was successful for Columbia but not enough so to warrant a sequel until they would release SUPERMAN in 1948 which would prove to be such a hit that they would dive back into the Batman world for NEW ADVENTURES OF BATMAN AND ROBIN in 1949.
Reviews of the time called it entertaining and were mostly favorable.
The serial is available on DVD through SONY and on a budge release from Mill Creek paired with BATMAN AND ROBIN.
|A better shot of the theater.|
BUDGET DVD on Amazon
OFFICIAL SONY RELEASE on Amazon
We'll be posting the Batman Pressbook contents here on the site, but if you want a print edition we have put one together through Lulu;
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