Monday, October 12, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman, 1943

So I finally decided to take the plunge here and start documenting all the movie Batman versions. First up, the Columbia serial Batman, which came out in 1943, just 4 years after Batman's first appearance in Detective Comics. Batman and Robin were played in this first serial by Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft.

The serial consists of 15 chapters. Chapter 1, "The Electric Brain," opens with a shot of Batman sitting by himself in the Batcave, looking as lonely as the Maytag Repairman. Is a clean desk a sign of a well-ordered mind, or just a guy with nothing to do?

We see a montage of Batman and Robin fighting various bad guys before we see a car pull up to a police call box. Batman and Robin get out and use the box to call, not Commissioner Gordon, but "Captain Ah-nold." Apparently slavish dedication to the comic was not an issue. They leave two thugs handcuffed to a light pole with a very special calling card...

but not before receiving an ominous warning about Dr. Daka. Later, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson go to meet Bruce's girlfriend Linda Page. Bruce plays up the lazy playboy angle a little too much for Linda's liking, leading Dick to ask Bruce why he doesn't confide in her. Bruce says, "On account of our special assignment from Uncle Sam, our success depends on our keeping our identity a secret." Which seems to imply that Bruce has become the Batman at the behest of the government, not in reaction to the death of his parents. Apparently even casual fidelity to the comic was not an issue.

Linda asks Bruce to take her to meet her uncle the next day. Her uncle, Martin Warren, has been in prison on what may have been a trumped-up charge, and he is being released after completing his sentence. However, before Linda arrives, Warren's old cellmate meets him and takes him away. Linda and Bruce give chase in Bruce's car, but the bad guys get away, thanks to a special gas that changes the color of their car.

The bad guys take Warren to a House of Horrors in Little Tokyo, which the narrator tells us is now practically a ghost town "since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs." Oh yeah, this wasn't just released a few years after the comic debuted, but also during the height of World War II. Did I forget to mention?

The bad guys take a ride through the House of Horrors, which features wax figures of Japanese soldiers torturing white men and menacing demure white women. Their car stops halfway through and they enter a secret door, which takes them into the secret headquarters of Dr. Daka (played by J. Carroll Naish). Daka is a spy for Hirohito, and introduces Warren to a group of fellow ex-cons/traitors to their country. Daka needs an industrialist, so he has recruited Warren.

However, Warren replies, "I'm an American, first and always, and no amount of torture conceived by your twisted Oriental brain will make me change my mind."

Daka, however, does not believe in torture and instead says he will turn Warren into an electro-zombie. But first he uses truth serum to determine the location of radium used by the Gotham City Foundation.

He needs the radium to power a ray gun. With the large amount of radium from the Foundation, he can construct a large enough ray gun to bring the U.S. to its knees. But first, his thugs must use the small ray gun to blow open the safe holding the radium.

Before they can make their escape, however, they are intercepted by Batman and Robin. There is a huge fight, and Batman is thrown off the roof of the building. Bad!

In Chapter 2, "The Bat's Cave," Batman lands on a handy painters' scaffold and climbs back up to the roof, just in time to capture one of the thugs as he is leaving with the ray gun. Batman and Robin bring him back to the Batcave. They threaten to leave him alone with the bats unless he talks, which he instantly does (cowardliest crook EVERRRR!).

Then they head up to the mansion, where they use the ray gun to scare the crap out of Alfred.

Because you know what radium-powered disintegrator beams are good for? Pranks!

Meanwhile, Dr. Daka (identified as Prince Daka in the previouslies) dismisses the Batman as a "bungling amateur" and is furious that the radium gun has been lost. It doesn't occur to him for a second, though, that Batman might have laid hands on it. Instead, he sends his thugs to capture Linda Page (who works at the Foundation) to see if she knows where the radium gun is. Bruce and Dick try to keep an eye on Linda, but she is captured as Dick is looking the other way.

So they follow up their only other lead, a boarding house named by their prisoner as a place where one of Daka's other thugs hangs out. Luckily, this is where Linda is being held. They attempt a rescue, but during the scuffle, a jar of acid is broken, and they must walk a tightwire to escape the fumes. Daka's thugs swing down a live electrical wire, causng the tightwire to burst into sparks as Batman is walking it. He falls.

See you next week with Chapter 3, "The Mark of the Zombies!"

(Read a summary of chapters 3-6 here)

(Read the summary of chapter 7-10 here)

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