While everybody and their mother is probably rewatching the Nolan Batman films in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, I decided it was high time I turned on the 1943 Batman serial DVD set that's been sitting on my shelf for the past few years. I think I picked it up at the grocery store, of all places. I don't know why I never watched it; I think I forgot that I even had it. Man, I've been missing out. Fuck the Joker; fuck the Penguin; fuck Catwoman. In the first film version of Batman, he goes up against the sinister Jap, Dr. Daka, and his zombie minions. Yes, that sentence is correct, and yes, the things it points to are hilarious, if you couldn't already tell by that picture up there.
The first thing you need to know about this serial is that Batman isn't a vigilante. He's actually a secret government agent (!). I believe the reason for this was the film censors at the time didn't want anything to glorify taking the law into your own hands. Fair enough, but there are some issues with how that problem is resolved (more on that later). For now, let's just have some introductions.
Batman sits alone in The Bat's Cave, pondering his hasty choice of decor.
Here's Robin, contemplating his hasty choice of haircuts.
This is Dr. Daka, the crazy
white Jap mastermind.
The 1943 serial was made only four years after the original Batman comics came out, and it's the first appearance of the character in film. The plot goes like this: A nefarious Japanese patriot living in Gotham has invented a ray gun that can blow shit up good. Batman and Robin have to stop him.
Oh, sorry, that was the whole plot. I've only seen the first three episodes.
Right off the bat (no pun intended), it gets hilarious with all the anti-Japanese war propaganda. Obviously, since it was made in 1943, the ethnic slurs are to be expected. But check out the introduction of Little Tokyo, the Japanese house of horrors, and Dr. Daka:
Good thing our internment camps were ready for all those "shifty-eyed Japs."
Later on, I shit you not, he says "So sorry."
I mentioned before that Batman is a secret government agent. Yea, that's just dumb. They're asking me to believe our government sanctioned a man dressing up as a giant bat in order to fight crime? Without any police assistance? Was everybody high back then? The second problem is the reaction of the police force. Every time Batman handcuffs more criminals to a lamp post with a signed note attached, the only thing the chief says is something like "I wish you guys did your jobs like the Batman." It seems like the entire police force is comprised of two schmucks and the chief. I bet if he would hire the proper amount of help, they wouldn't need Batman, would they?
So, back to Dr. Daka's ray gun. It runs on something called radium, which is conveniently stored in the safe where Bruce Wayne's girlfriend works. Daka already has the gun; he just needs more ammo.
Dr. Daka, futzing around with what he thinks is the stun setting.
When Batman and Robin show up to foil the lackeys charged with stealing the radium, an all-out rooftop brawl ensues. If I had to briefly describe their performance in the fight, I'd probably call it "What the fuck are you doing?"
Guys, you did learn some self-defense skills before putting on the tights...right?
Here's a random scene of Robin getting hit on the head like a dumbass by the guy he was trying to follow.
I'm not really asking for either of them to be the ass-kicking harbinger of doom that Christian Bale's character is, but Christ, at least make it look like they can fight someone over the age of 12. Speaking of 12-year-olds, that's about how old Robin looks, which leads me to wonder: Why would a grown-ass man encourage someone of Robin's age to engage in fist fights with other grown-ass men? Hell, even in Schumacher's debacles, Robin was at least in his early '20s.
Batman shows Robin how to break into buildings by using a fire escape. Note: this is not a vigilante act. It's government-sanctioned.
Like I said, I've only seen the first three episodes, but I'm going to watch some more in a few hours. Already, though, I've found a scene where Batman's cape falls off only to mysteriously re-appear after a cut, and one where Bruce scares the shit out of Alfred by purposefully aiming and firing a gun capable of destroying granite about two feet away from his head. You stay classy, Bruce Wayne.
I think the guy punching Batman tried to help by getting the cape out of his face.
Nice one, Wayne! Hahahaha, that was hilarious! Aim for his glasses next time! Who's up for a keg stand!
Well, that about sums up where I'm at with this serial. The last thing I saw was Batman slumped over a train track after someone hit him on the back of the head. I guess that's all you have to do to beat these guys: billy club them to death. It kind of takes away from the legend, but whatever.