May 13, 2015

Review: Batman and Robin (1949)


Batman (1943) may have been the first screen adaptation ever for Batman, but as we all know it's far from the only one. As the second serial for the famed character, Batman and Robin throws in some new actors for all the roles and cuts down pretty heavily on the humour. Well, it tries to anyway. That inadvertent-type comedy is still alive and well which is good news.

I slowly digested Batman and Robin over two days. I mean can you blame me? Tackling 260 minutes of old school Batman isn't necessarily the easiest of things to do if you ask me, even as a fan. It's split over fifteen parts just like Batman was and all of these "episodes" except the first one fall into the 16-18 minute range. They're almost over before you know it though which is why it was crucial for me to keep notes on each episode so I wouldn't lose track of what was going on. It's not like the titles can help you out much either since they hardly even correspond with what happens in the story.

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At a Glance


Genre: action, adventure, crime
Directed by: Spencer Gordon Bennet
Produced by: Sam Katzman
Written by: George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland, Royal K. Cole
Music by: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Running time: 264 minutes
Production company: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan, Jane Adams, Lyle Talbot, Ralph Graves, Don C. Harvey, William Fawcett, Leonard Penn, Rick Vallin, Michael Whalen, Greg McClure, House Peters, Jr., Jim Diehl, Rusty Wescoatt, Eric Wilton, George Offerman Jr.

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Synopsis


Professor Hammil (William Fawcett) has invented a machine that is able to remotely control any kind of vehicle within a range of 50 miles. That machine gets stolen however and is now under the control of a mysterious hooded and cloaked man who calls himself the Wizard (Leonard Penn). Hiding in a secret lair with henchmen running around Gotham doing his bidding, only Batman (Robert Lowery) and his trusty sidekick Robin (Johnny Duncan) can stop him.


Review


This is only my second experience with a serial series and overall I'd say that Batman and Robin is an improvement over Batman. The cliffhangers don't feel quite as comically forced this time and the music doesn't feel as repetitive even if it probably is. It just happens to sound a little less recognizable I guess. The overall production itself seems to be of higher quality actually. Just like Batman though, the narrator (Knox Manning) hints at Robin having to continue Batman's fight without him at the end-of-episode narration, but it's pretty hard to believe even if it ends with Batman seemingly dying. Even the titles do that which I'll list now: 
  1. Batman Takes Over
  2. Tunnel of Terror
  3. Robin's Wild Ride
  4. Batman Trapped!
  5. Robin Rescues Batman!
  6. Target - Robin!
  7. The Fatal Blast
  8. Robin Meets the Wizard!
  9. The Wizard Strikes Back!
  10. Batman's Last Chance!
  11. Robin's Ruse
  12. Robin Rides the Wind
  13. The Wizard's Challenge
  14. Batman vs. Wizard
  15. Batman Victorious              
Robert Lowery is Batman. Is he any good though? Well as Bruce Wayne, I actually think he's a bit of a step down from Lewis Wilson. He lacks screen presence and seems a bit bored as he delivers his poorly written lines. I suppose he brings a certain maturity to the role, but it just feels a whole lot less fun compared to when Lewis Wilson was around as Bruce.

Once he dons the Batman suit though, I definitely give the edge to Lowery here. He looks to be in slightly better shape than Lewis Wilson was, but we're definitely worlds away from the buff Batman that we're familiar with today. The costume is slightly better as well. The ears don't look quite as sewed on and there's better detailing for things like Batman's boots for example. The utility belt from Batman has become a regular belt, but Batman will somehow still produce certain gadgets from time to time as if he still had his pouches. Maybe he has pockets big enough to hold a blowtorch?

I'm happy to say though that Robin is much less of a joke this time. Johnny Duncan is a big improvement over Douglas Croft mainly for the reason that he's not quite as fragile looking and he actually looks like he could throw a punch that would result in at least a little bit of pain for whoever the recipient is. His role in Batman and Robin is to play the distraction a lot of the time instead of going head to head with the Wizard's henchmen. He still does from time to time, but not as much as he did in Batman.

The action of Batman and Robin is also a big improvement over Batman which is a huge relief. The reason why is because it actually looks like the fight scenes were choreographed beforehand. Batman makes me think that the director just told the actors what the end result of each fight was supposed to be without giving any instruction of how to get there. "Do your best guys, I don't know this stuff any better than you do." As a result, the fights ended up looking like dry mashed potatoes. It's funny the first few times, but it does get tiresome before long.

While the fights in Batman and Robin are far from masterpieces, they actually resemble something with a bit of thought put into them. Batman perhaps uses his "drop down from above" attack a little too much maybe and it's honestly astounding how no one in Batman and Robin seems like they'd be able to hit the side of a barn with their guns. But what do you expect? This is a low-budget serial from 1949 and all of these little problems are part of the charm. 

Batman and Robin ends up reminding me of a storyline you'd find in a Scooby-Doo episode. You never know who the Wizard is until the final episode and I'll admit that it's a pretty ridiculous twist. The Wizard himself is actually pretty scary looking to me though. He reminds me of those Zodiac Killer depictions you see of him in his all-black disguise. That's something that has haunted me ever since I saw a crime TV special on the subject many years age, so good costume design there for sure.

The Wizard's remote control machine which plays a central part in the story is a little hard to take seriously though. It's never really explained how the machine is able to individually target a car or a train from a distance. The "televiewer" that the allows the Wizard to see the vehicle as he's controlling it is even more ridiculous though. It's something that reminds me of Dr. Tito Daka's monitors that allow him to magically see anything he wants from Batman. I guess all villains of Gotham have tiny little camera drones running around the city or something. It's possible right?


For all the improvements over Batman, Batman and Robin is still a very flawed adaptation. The dialogue is quite poor, overacting is a common occurrence and it's amazing just how ungraceful Robert Lowery looks as he's running around in his Batman costume. Finishing up as a ridiculous whodunit, I can't imagine that Batman and Robin is what creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger had in mind for their character. Batman still boasts a little more fun though overall because of how bad it really is and I can't help but get a real kick out of the casual racism that's all over the place. Because of that, I'd actually place Batman and Robin on par with Batman even if it is a superior production.

Rating

6/10

Related Reviews:

Batman (1943)
Batman: The Movie (1966) 
Batman (1989) 
Batman Returns (1992)