Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman, 1949 Chapters 11-15

So here we are, finally, presenting the conclusion to the 1949 Columbia serial, "Batman and Robin."

When we left off last week, Batman had mysteriously grown a fighting ability just before being knocked out a window. And as an aside, the scenes inside the Markham/Norton Building are pretty funny, because they keep reusing the same hallway set, but pretending it's different corridors by throwing in props like water fountains and radiators (and in the climactic fight, changing out the far wall for one with a window). And I suspect, but am too lazy to check, that the hallways in this scene are the same hallway sets used in Chapter 4, the one where Batman gats not-electrocuted.

So anyway, Batman falls to his death, just as Bruce Wayne is walking out the door of the Markham Building dressed in Jimmy Vale's clothes. Kinky.

Turns out, it was Jimmy in the Batman costume. No wonder he was suddenly able to fight so well. Robin is so shocked that he rips off his mask in the streets as he talks to Bruce about the situation. And no one notices, of course, because NO ONE CARES ABOUT ROBIN!

Of course, Batman's worse than that. He doesn't care about anybody. For instance, after noting that Vicki doesn't know about her brother's death, Bruce shrugs and says, "Well, there's nothing we can do for him now. Come on, let's go."

While they're driving, Bruce describes how Jimmy dragged his helpless body into a room and began removing his clothes. "I remained motionless, wondering what he was up to," Bruce says. Well, we know what Bruce hoped he was up to, don't we? Damn it, they make the gay jokes too easy.

Meanwhile back at the Wizard's cave, the thugs rejoice at the fact that they've killed Jimmy Vale/Batman until they realize Jimmy Vale was present at times when Batman was also. Then one of the thugs (a very familiar face who had a long career as a character actor, but who I just can't place yet) mentions that he saw Bruce Wayne outside the building talking to Robin. Head thug Nolan says no way Bruce could be Batman, but the Wizard demonstrates sudden intelligence by speculating that Bruce Wayne's playboy act may be just a pose. Man, just when I've given up on this thing, they have a decent moment.

Meanwhile, if I were playing the drinking game, I'd be in serious trouble about now. First, Bruce and Dick speculate (again) about the Wizard's identity--P.I. Dunne, broadcaster Brown, scientist Hammil--then Bruce goes to see Hammil, inquiring about a way to counteract the remote control machine. Hammil pooh-pooh's the idea, then invites Bruce to stay for dinner, but Bruce busts out the double generic names, saying he's meeting Vicki Vale of Picture Magazine at the French Cafe for dinner. Then Hammil locks his door, and moments later, the Wizard is radioing his men to pick up Bruce Wayne when he arrives at the cafe that evening.

The crooks nab Wayne and force him back into his car. Vicki pulls up just as he's driving away. She starts to chase him, but gives up when she sees he's with two other guys. She's apparently had her suspicions about him, too.

Bruce clicks the headlight dimmer on the floor to activate a hidden radio in his car. In the Batcave, Dick is at a microscope, working on more homework, when he hears Bruce describing where the crooks are taking him. The thugs take him to a warehouse at 52 Commercial Street. Really good thing I'm not playing the drinking game. I'm just sorta drinking straight through, now, anyway. Dick changes into his Robin outfit and takes Batman's costume along with him as he heads out to the rescue.

The thugs play cards while waiting for the Wizard to show up. Robin meanwhile, knowing that nobody has bothered to watch all the previous chapters, pulls the Batsignal trick on the wall again, then hides behind some Phoenix Chair Company boxes. The thugs rush outside, see Batman running away and chase after him, leaving one thug to guard Bruce Wayne.

Robin uses his cape to upend the thug's chair and helps Bruce escape. As they run outside, they see the Wizard talking with Nolan. The Wizard leaves, and Bruce follows, after making sure Alfred (in the Batman costume) is safely away. The Wizard notices the car following and releases a smokescreen, which causes Robin to crash.

Chapter 12 is titled "Robin Rides the Wind." Besides sounding like the setup to a fart joke, that makes the second episode in a row to use Robin's name in the title. Not only that, but fully half the episode titles so far have featured Robin's name ("Robin's Wild Ride," "Robin Rescues Batman," "Target--Robin," "Robin Meets the Wizard," "Robin's Ruse," "Robin Rides the Wind"), as opposed to only a third for Batman ("Batman Takes Over," "Batman Trapped," "Robin Rescues Batman," "Batman's Last Chance!"). The serial should be titled "Robin and Batman," really.

Anyway, in the tradition of this serial's lame cliffhangers, Robin manages to stop the car before it wrecks too seriously (they hit a rock wall, but not hard enough to even dent the bumper). Then Batman realizes that they're close to the spot where they've lost the Wizard's men at least twice before. And sure enough, the Wizard and Nolan ride the secret submarine (which seems to be auto-piloted rather than remote-controlled, since the Wizard is riding along this time). And no, "ride the secret submarine" is not a euphemism for anything, although it totally should be. Batman decides to pay Professor Hammil a call, since he lives nearby.

As the Dynamic Duo prowl around the grounds of Hammil's estate, Hammil's butler Carter takes a shot at them! He's up to no good! They disarm Carter, then catch Dunne using the old schoolyard trick of Robin getting on all fours behind Dunne so Batman can knock him ass-over-teakettle. This will be significant in a couple of weeks.

In Hammil's house, Hammil accuses Dunne of thievery while Dunne accuses Hammil of having a secret agenda. Batman searches Dunne, and after Dunne tries the clumsiest tactic to foil a search ever, discovers a roll of microfilm inside a cigar. The microfilm contains plans for a Neutralizer that can block the Remote Control machine. Hammil invented the Neutralizer and stole the plans from the Research Council.

Batman returns the plans to the Council the next morning and sets up a ruse with Commissioner Gordon to dupe Barry Brown into broadcasting that a working model of the Neutralizer will be transported to a test area in an armored car (yes, the same armored car again).

The thugs stop the armored car along the route and toss in a gas grenade. Robin, riding in the back of the armored car, resists the gas thanks to his Veidt Enterprises pipette.

Now comes the silliness. Now as I understand it, the plan here is to track down the Wizard by having him steal the "Neutralizer." Catching the thugs in the act won't do much good, but letting them take the device to the Wizard's hideout might lead them to it. So what does Robin do?

He immediately tries to get away in the armored car, of course. And when one of the thugs tries to stop him, he hits the guy, hard. Batman never hit anybody this hard. Hell, even Jimmy Vale never hit anyone this hard.

But who cares, cause it's Robin, right? He drives away in the armored car, chased by the spotter plane piloted by Jimmy Vale's zombie. No, although that would be cool. Turns out, one of the other thugs just happens to know how to fly a plane. And how to drop bombs out of it. Yow! Robin goes over a cliff!

Again? Man, the cliffs around Gotham are just littered with smoking wrecks, aren't they? I'm surprised there's any room left for the cars to hit the ground anymore.

Chapter 13, "The Wizard's Challenge," starts with Robin diving out of the cockadoody armored car (of course). The Wizard's men search the wreckage, but there's no Neutralizer. Later, Hammil sends his butler Carter off to the Research Council with his own Neutralizer, which he has built in his "secret workshop." However, the Wizard's men have been tipped off (at the same payphone Vicki used to call Bruce, two doors down from the Markham/Norton building).

Vicki stops by Hammil's house, intending to take pictures. She's apparently done with snooping around outside windows. She is turned away. Then the Wizard's men jump Carter as he is carrying the box with the Neutralizer, but in a stunning coincidence, the Dynamic Duo, who just happen to be passing by, stop in response to Carter's cries for help. The Wizard's men are forced to flee without the Neutralizer.

Only not, because it turns out the box is empty. The Neutralizer has been stolen!

In his secret cave, the Wizard demonstrates the Neutralizer (which looks like a big radio on its side with the bottom facing the camera) to Nolan. The Remote Control, he says, causes disintegration, while the Neutralizer stops it. And he intends to stand where the two energies meet. He dons a special disk. ZOMFG, the Wizard is Flava Flav!

His theory is that the point where the beam cross, where disintegration is halted, will make things invisible, He of course tests it on himself right away, because you wouldn't want to waste invisibility on a rabbit or something, plus "disintegration" is apparently a euphemism for "mild discomfort." Because I certainly wouldn't be standing in the path of a disintegration ray without testing it on, like, the entire Lincoln Park Zoo first. Plus, if the Remote Control really disintegrated things, why didn't the Wizard just hit Batman and Robin with that instead of going through all the "burn out the car engine" rigamarole.

Anyway, the inviso-test is a success, so the Wizard declares that he will now announce his plans to Batman and the Commissioner and dare them to stop him. Because that always works out so well for bad guys.

The Wizard's new plan? Steal the plans to a super jet plane from the Research Council vault. Yes, another reused set! Batman has himself locked in the vault as Commissioner Gordon makes some inspection rounds.

Meanwhile, the invisible Wizard sneaks into the office, where Robin doesn't notice the door opening because he's busy playing with a toy truck. Really.

So the Inviso-Wizard knocks Robin out--again--but how to get into the vault? Well, if I were an executive for a huge research corporation, I would decorate my office with stuff we made. Like, say, a block of super-powerful X-90 explosive and detonator. Really. You can barely make it out behind Robin's head, on the table just beyond the door.

The safe explodes! Bye-bye, Batman!

Hello, Batman! It's chapter 14, "Batman vs. Wizard." Batman had stepped from the outer vault to the inner vault to inhale some oxygen from a handy bottle on his belt, so he is shielded from the ultra-powerful blast, unlike, say, Robin, who was in the same room with the explosive when it went off. But Robin's not hurt either, so oh well.

Not so with the Wizard, who has headed way outside the building to be safe from the blast, and so is obviously ripe for the catching when he suddenly becomes visible (the machines overheated). A guard shoots at him and nicks his right hand. The Wizard momentarily evades pursuit and pulls his glove off to examine the wound, then leaves the glove behind as he runs away again. And I'm not sure why, but it looks as if he has a fake hand stuffed into his shirt sleeve in this shot, maybe just because his hand doesn't twitch at all.

The guards, along with Commissioner Gordon, Batman, and Robin, catch P.I. Dunne hiding in one of the buildings on the compound. And he has a wound matching the Wizard's, right where the guard swears he shot the villain. It looks pretty bad for Dunne.

But this is "Batman and Robin," where coincidence reigns supreme. Because as it turns out, broadcaster Barry Brown has an identical wound (What are the odds? Don't answer yet).

Which doesn't matter because the fingerprints inside the glove turn out to belong to Carter, Hammil's butler. But Gordon and Batman arrive to find Carter shot dead, which is when Professor Hammil walks into the room without his wheelchair (which nobody comments on) and with a bandage on his right hand in the EXACT SAME SPOT!

That's right, all three major suspects have identical wounds. And the fingerprints belong to a dead man without a wound. And there's still a chapter and a half to go. God, this serial makes me tired. If only we could start eliminating some suspects.

Oh good. Someone killed Barry Brown. Strangled him invisibly while he was on the air about to reveal the Wizard's true identity. But not before he could broadcast a warning that the Wizard plans to kill Commissioner Gordon in his office at 2 p.m.

Shit, Brown's not dead, just unconscious. But his throat hemorrhage will keep him from being able to talk for some time.

So Batman calls Vicki Vale to Gordon's office and gives her a special infrared flashbulb to use in her camera. With this bulb, she should be able to photograph the Inviso-Wiz (although he wears a mask even when invisible--a real belt and suspenders-type guy, our Wizard). At 2:00, a rope descends outside the window and a gun floats down. Yes, luckily whatever force makes Flava-Wiz invisible doesn't work on firearms. Handy. Vicki shouts a warning, a shot rings out, and Gordon falls to the floor. And Vicki just sits there clutching her useless camera.

Until chapter 15, "Batman Victorious," when we slip into a parallel universe where Vicki remembers to take the picture before the shot is fired. The cops canvass the area and arrest Jason from Chapter 10, waiting with the getaway car. Batman reasons that the Wizard might call for help, so he has the phone company tap all the phones in the area.

The Wizard calls Nolan to tell him not to turn off the invisibility rays, no matter how they overheat. The cops trace the call and rush there immediately, providing the Wizard with a handy getaway car, one with red lights and a siren. Meanwhile, Vicki shows up with her special photograph, which has not only photgraphed the invisible Wizard, but penetrated his mask to reveal his face to be...Carter! (And luckily, it doesn't penetrate any other clothed areas). Batman sends Robin out to 17 Mile Drive to keep watch for the Wizard's men and see if he can spot where they're disappearing.

The Wizard busts through a police roadblock and turns visible as his machines overheat catastrophically. He evades the cops on foot, then gets picked up by a few of his men. Robin sets up his stakeout, but Vicki, following, gets caught. The Wizard orders her to be killed. So they, guess what, tie her up and put her in a car that they send over a cliff, duh.

But Batman shows up at the last second and pulls the emergency brake on Vicki's car just a few feet from the cliff's edge. Then Robin shows Batman the entrance to the secret sub base. They catch one of the Wizard's thugs as he's exiting the sub and force him to take them back to the Wizard's secret base. Once in the base, they fight a couple of thugs, but the Wizard gets away. They chase him and end up...

In Professor Hammil's study, where he's sitting at a desk with Carter! Hammil admits to being the Wizard and killing Carter's twin brother. Batman accepts Hammil's confession, then grabs Carter, disarming him. Carter had a pistol on Hammil, forcing the confession.

Later, Batman explains to Gordon how the submarine, based right next to Hammil's house, would make an almost circular trip, dropping the men off in a grotto attached to Hammil's basement, which is where the Wizard apparently had his secret lab. Hammil apparently never noticed the secret lab in his basement, because he was too busy in the secret lab behind his fireplace. A house with two secret labs! Only in Gotham! I think I just orgasmed a little.

Of course, you realize what else this means. It means that out of the three suspects with identical wounds on their right hands, NONE OF THEM was the real Wizard. It was a fourth guy who hurt his right hand in the same place on the same day. I think my coincidence meter broke trying to measure that one.

So the bad guy is caught, and in celebration, Vicki invites Batman to dinner with her and Bruce Wayne (no, of course she doesn't invite Robin--NO ONE CARES ABOUT ROBIN). But then, the phone rings . It's a call for Vicki. Alfred holds the phone down next to a record player playing the most boring album ever--a recording of Bruce Wayne canceling dinner.

Wait, when did Batman record that? Did he know Vicki would invite him to dinner, or does he just have an all-purpose date-canceling record sitting around just in case (maybe I need one of those, if I ever start dating again)? But if that's the case, how did he signal Alfred that it was time to use it? So many unanswered questions in the last twenty seconds, and I don't care, because IT'S FINALLY OVER!

Thank God.

Wrap-up and comments next week.

Read the recap for chapters 1-3 here.

And read the recap for chapters 4-6 here.

Chapters 7-10 here.

1 comment:

Charles Neslon said...

I had no idea that the Batman and Robin series went back this far! You can really see how much it has evolved over the last 50 years or so. It is really neat that so many generations can share this kind of a connection.