When the four greatest super-criminals ever to plague Gotham City join forces, their only objective can only be the entire world! Armed with Penguin-personalized a pre-atomic submarine, an army of ruthless pirates, exploding sharks and octopi, and an arsenal of polaris missiles, the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler and the Catwoman have set their sights on the United World Security Council! Can the dynamic duo, Batman and Robin, stop the United Underworld before its too late? Will they save the Security Council from almost certain dehydration? Can they possibly save the free world from the four most powerful arch-villains it has ever seen? One hint: The worst is yet to come...!
Directed by: Leslie H. Martinson
. Starring: Adam West
, Burt Ward
, Lee Meriwether
, Cesar Romero
, Burgess Meredith
, Frank Gorshin
, Alan Napier
, Neil Hamilton
, Stafford Repp
, Madge Blake
, Reginald Denny
, Milton Frome
, Gil Perkins
. Music by: Nelson Riddle
Incredible as it may seem, it was fifty years ago today that this movie originally premiered at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas on 30 July 1966. It's a substantially different entity from the TV series, to which frankly it doesn't really do justice. The series looks better with each passing year with its clean lines and pristine, saturated colours which more resemble the dynamism and visual clarity of an actual comic strip than the murky recent big screen offerings. Despite the supposedly juvenile demographic of this 'Batman', it has more literate dialogue than any modern superhero movie: could you imagine Christian Bale's Batman possessing the vocabulary to employ a phrase like "human jetsam"?
But at 105 minutes the movie feels overstretched and rambling, and I miss the narration by producer William Dozier that was so much part of the TV series. The bigger budget meant the producers could splash out on The Penguin's submarine along with the Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle; which came in handy as embellishments to seasons Two & Three, but which for me slow the action down (I find The Penguin's sub very confining during the latter half of the movie, and staging the final punch-up on it's narrow deck feels more cramped than similar showdowns in the TV series; especially as it's obviously shot on the studio tank in front of a painted backdrop of the sky). On the plus side there are none of those endless back stories for each villain that take up so much of more recent Batman movies; although the fact that The Catwoman is already a "known supercriminal" with a long career in larceny already behind her, yet Batman doesn't immediately recognise her at a press conference masquerading as Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karenska Alisoff of the 'Moscow Bugle' really does strain credibility, even by the standards of an unabashed piece of hokum like this.
An incidental advantage the 1966 movie has over both the TV series and the later movies is in the characterisations. In one of the Tim Burton movies Batman casually turns a flamethrower on a few goons; which is really not acceptable conduct for the guy who's supposed to be the Good Guy. This Batman risks his own life to spare a family of ducks; which is as it should be. Adam West spends much more time as Bruce Wayne in the movie than he usually does in the TV series, and as Wayne is permitted a more fiery temperament than Batman ever displays; as when he loses his temper and attempts to head-butt The Riddler. All those narcissistic egos cooped up together on Penguin's submarine also generate friction: I particularly liked The Joker's admonition when it falls to The Riddler to post a ransom demand: "And none of your stupid riddles, do you understand? Make those messages plain!", and the droll nautical exchange between Penguin and two of his goons (probably ad libbed by Meredith), "Yo Ho!" - "Yo Ho What?" - "SIR!".
And then there's Lee Meriwether's Catwoman.
Julie Newmar being unavailable, Ms Meriwether stepped into Newmar's ankle boots (minus the gold chain and medallion around her neck that Newmar always wore) at the very last minute, and director Leslie Martinson (now 101 years old, by the way) initially had to shoot around her; yet another reason why she actually has so disappointingly little screen time as The Catwoman compared to the interminable Kitka footage. But from this liability a special strength inadvertently derives, and the movie's take on The Catwoman is both unique and closer to the comic strip; never to be repeated.
When the movie was made Julie Newmar had so far made only one isolated appearance in Season One; so this represents only The Catwoman's second appearance among the premier league baddies (whereas Gorshin's appearance as The Riddler is almost a swansong. After being nominated for an Emmy he fell out with the producers over money and made only one more appearance in the series in Season Three). Because all the usual lovey-dovey stuff between Batman and The Catwoman that Julie Newmar found so boring is reserved for the Miss Kitka scenes, for the first and last time The Catwoman herself is portrayed purely as a ruthless career criminal with her mind firmly on her work and a belligerence far from the flirtatiousness and playful good humour of Newmar and Kitt. (More like a genuine cat in fact.) To this day many people don't get it that the BruceKitka 'romance' is just a ruse by The Catwoman to lure the Caped Crusader into a trap. Furthermore, Newmar deliciously played The Catwoman with the light of madness forever dancing in her eyes, which perfectly complemented that sensational costume she wears; whereas Meriwether by contrast seems superficially more 'normal' - a selfish, humourless cow, but 'normal'. Both Newmar and Kitt seem authentically to have clawed their way from the wrong side of the tracks; but Meriwether has the insolent air of entitlement of a prom queen gone bad, thus cutting a more incongruous figure as a grown woman in the fetish gear Newmar and Kitt seemed born to wear (as worn by them, wet-look black stretch lamé isn't a fabric it's a weapon!), in which Meriwether marches about rather than slinks. Of the three, Meriwether also most resembles those coldly handsome, high-cheekboned harpies that women in comic strips tend to look like.
Gorshin's Riddler is obviously headed for an asylum rather than jail when this is all over, with Meriwether's Catwoman the least flamboyantly crazy of the four: just another nasty baddie who belongs in jail. When Bruce Wayne warns the assembled baddies that "I swear by heaven. If you've harmed that girl. I'll kill you all!", unusually for a female adversary The Catwoman is obviously included in this threat. And when finally unmasked and batcuffed, Meriwether's Catwoman displays not the slightest flicker of remorse as she is led away pouting to the slammer. Way to Go, Lee!!
Review by Richard Chatten from the Internet Movie Database.