There are other early entries I could look at when it comes to Batman and Superman movies, but my first two blog posts pretty much sum up what came before today’s subject. First, I looked at the 1943 Batman serials, and mentioned its sequel series and a couple of Superman serials from the same era. Then I looked at Superman and the Mole Men, which as far as I can tell, is the first ever superhero feature film. At the very least it’s the earliest DC superhero feature. Today, we’re looking at a movie that shares a number of similarities to Superman and the Mole Men, but of the two, this is the one people generally remember.
As with Superman and the Mole Men, Batman 1966 is strongly connected to a TV series. The movie stars Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, who both also starred in all three seasons of the series. The show itself was created and run by William Dozer, who wanted to make a theatrical film to help boost the show’s popularity. He originally wanted the movie to release while they were filming the show, but 20th Century Fox refused. They didn’t want to cover the full cost of a movie and a show at the same time, and would rather just cover the cost of the show. Instead, the movie ended up releasing two months after the first season concluded.
The movie features most of the major cast members from the show, with Cesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, and Alan Napier as Alfred. The main exception is Catwoman who saw several cast changes throughout the series. In the movie, she’s played by Lee Meriwether, and this is her only appearance as Catwoman. While most of the movie’s cast members have since passed away, both Ward and Meriwether are still around, and they’re both still acting in the occasional roles.
There isn’t too much else to say about the behind the scenes without digging further into the show, and I’m not planning on doing that. The movie released in July of 1966, and was moderately successful, earning $3.9 million on a $1.5 million budget. While there aren’t too many reviews from back in the day, it’s enjoyed generally positive reviews since. Variety praised the movie’s balance between the over-the-top acting from the villains with the generally calm portrayal of Batman and Robin. Filmcritic.com gave it 3 out of 5, noting that “Unlike other attempts at bringing these characters to life … the TV cast really captures the inherent insanity of the roles.”
This is the kind of movie that you’ll either love or hate, and even if you enjoy it, you need to be in the right mood. It’s campy, never takes itself too seriously, and the villains are intentionally over-the-top and cliché. It’s got a generally lighthearted, fun tone with a good balance between some genuinely intelligent writing and lines that would never work in a more serious movie. You can tell everyone in the cast is having a blast making this movie, and in the right mindset, it’s hard not to have fun with them.
One could view this movie as a parody of both the Batman franchise and 1960’s culture in general. The show, and by extension the movie, even takes inspiration from the 1940’s Batman serials. Yet at the same time, this movie does have some more serious moments. The plot involves the villains turning members of an international Security Council into piles of dust. While they are returned to normal in a scene that’s probably a bit too long for its own good, the movie does explore themes of the cold war a bit. It questions whether or not peace is possible. It shows this security council in an unfavorable light, which was the show’s first attempt at poking fun at politics. There’s also a mildly dramatic subplot about Bruce Wayne falling in love with a woman who isn’t who he thinks. These don’t make this movie dark or depressing by any means, but they do help balance the movie out from the sillier moments. At the same time, the cast generally take the absurd situations seriously, which only adds to the comedy.
Saying much more would ruin the fun of this movie. Whether you enjoy campy batman or you much prefer his more serious, darker movies, one must acknowledge how important this show is. Over the years the movie, and by extension the show, popularized Batman. In 2016, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz ranked Batman as the 82nd greatest American show of all-time. West and Ward would reunite many times over the years to celebrate the show, including appearances in animated shows, a special celebrity edition of Family Feud.
There are three noteworthy follow-ups that are worth mentioning. First, there’s 2003’s Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt. From what I’ve heard, this TV special isn’t that great. There are also two official, animated sequels to the movie. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusader released in 2016, on the 50th anniversary of the show. Julie Newmar, the actress for Catwoman in the first two seasons of the show, also appeared in the animated movie. She was injured between the two seasons, hence why she’s not in the 1966 movie.
About a year later, Batman vs. Tw-Face released, with William Shatner voicing Two-Face. That just sounds awesome. West died from leukemia before this movie released, but he did complete his voiceover work. Both animated movies were received very well, with IGN describing vs. Two Face as “a worthy entry in the 1966 canon and a fine send-off for the late Adam West.”
Next up is Superman, starring Christopher Reeves. In fact, the next five movies will be the Reeves Superman movies, along with the Supergirl movie that released between Superman III and Superman IV. I’ve been meaning to rewatch the Christopher Reeves Superman movies for a while, so I’m glad to have finally gotten to them.