Monday, December 07, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman, 1949 Chapters 7-10

Continuing our recap of 1949's "Batman and Robin," starring Robert Lowery and John Duncan. This is a long one, but I'm just trying to get it over with. In our last installment, what I can remember from my drunken stupor after playing the drinking game for realz, the Wizard's henchmen were trying to global-warm the Dynamic Duo to death by filling a chamber with deadly CO2 gas.

Chapter 7, "The Fatal Blast," opens with Batman handing Robin a thin glass pipette to breathe through and then pulling a freaking acetylene torch out of his utility belt to cut through the door. WTF?

The next morning, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson visit Commissioner Gordon, who speculates that Barry Brown is the Wizard. Drink! (In theory only, thank you). At that moment, Barry Brown walks in, and within a minute, a police officer walks in with an important message from the Wizard. Double-co-yay FTW! Double theory drink!

The Wizard demands that you play this film as loud as possible!* Sorry, the Wizard demands an unspecified sum of money from the railroad, or else he'll shut down all train traffic. BTW, as much as I snark about this serial, I actually like that the Wizard's plans have followed a logical progression: steal a machine, steal the diamonds needed to operate the machine, steal a power source for the machine, and now use the machine to make money.

Meanwhile, Hammil uses his chair to walk like Christopher Reeve in that old commercial. Theory drink! Moments later, the Wizard uses his remote control machine to shut down all train traffic around Gotham for five minutes to demonstrate his power.

But Winslow Harrison, president of the railroad, is not cowed. He refuses to bow to blackmail and is coming to Gotham to meet with Commissioner Gordon. Bruce is concerned for his safety.

The next day, Batman and Robin are on the way to escort Harrison when they realize they're being followed. They ambush the car following them to discover that it's Vicki Vale. Batman rips off Vicki's hat for no discernible reason other than that her hats suck. I mean, it's not like it's hiding her face or anything.

BTW, in most of the series, Vicki's round face and horrendous wardrobe--goofy berets and shapeless mid-calf skirts--make her look like a bit of a gargoyle, not sexy at all...

But with her hat off and wearing a leather jacket, she looks kind of hot in this scene. Plus, there's just something in her eyes and the way she holds her mouth--I frankly think she got some the night before this scene was shot. Or maybe she's just turned on by the masterful way Batman ripped off her hat.

Anyway, Vicki's hot on the trail of the story. Also she speculates that Barry Brown might be the Wizard. Drink! Then she asks the question that's been bugging all of us for seven chapters. "Does Bruce Wayne know that you're driving his car?"


Because the biggest complaint I read from other fans who've written about these serials is that there's no Batmobile. They just didn't have the budget for it. But at least in the first serial, Batman was rocking the huge chauffeur-driven Cadillac.

It's at least an impressive car, powerful-looking and dark. But in this one, Batman just drives this standard dinky Mercury convertible. It's not even black!

Seriously, Bats, you can afford better. Anyway, Batman blows off the question, then takes Vicki's keys to keep her from following. He says he'll call Bruce Wayne to come get her (how, since you've got his car, genius?). He and Robin take off, then Vicki smiles and pulls out a spare set of keys and takes off after.

Meanwhile, the Wizard's men are holed up in a cabin along Harrison's route. The Wizard uses the remote control to stop Harrison's car right there. When the Wizard's men try to grab Harrison, his chauffeur suddenly goes all Kato and starts beating up on the crooks. Batman and Robin arrive during the fight and promptly... hide behind a bush, where Batman adjusts his mask. Drink!

Batman sends Robin to help the chauffeur while he rushes off to save Harrison. He leaps off a rock on top of the henchmen, and such is the power of his leap that he actually begins to knock the men down before he touches them!

Batman decides to take refuge with Harrison in a handy cabin nearby, because there's no way that could be the thugs' hideout or anything, could it? The one thug left behind in the cabin sets a bomb and sneaks out the back way as Batman and Harrison enter (Harrison pronounces Batman as "BAT-mun," though he doesn't seem British). Batman peeks out the window to see brave, brave Sir Robin bravely running away from a couple of thugs.

Batman magnanimously decides to help the kid out, but gunmen are covering both exits from the cabin to make sure he doesn't escape the bomb. And I'm not sure why, but Lowery sometimes holds his arms in this really weird posture when he's in the bat costume.

Harrison at this moment is noticing a clock that has suddenly started running super-fast. Then he notices his watch is going crazy. Then the curtains burst into flames, followed by a random piece of paper. Then the building blows up. Weirdest bomb ever.

Title check: there is a blast, although (SPOILER) as we'll find out next paragraph, it wasn't fatal. What the hell, drink!

In chapter 8, "Robin Meets the Wizard," we learn that the blast wasn't fatal. Batman and Harrison hid in a secret cellar. Also, Robin tries the siren trick again, but the thugs know it's a trick (because Bruce Wayne told them about it while posing as Mac Lacey--good job, Bruce). But they decide to leave anyway because Robin? "Forget him." After a while, you start to feel sorry for the kid.

A couple of the thugs ride the secret sub and of course, speculate on where it's going. Drink! The Wizard, having gotten both Batman and Harrison out of the way, plans to specify his unspecified amount of cash. Gordon tells Batman and Harrison that the Wizard has demanded five million dollars. Batman plans to foil him with "strategy," starting with a news leak. Barry Brown announces that the railroad will pay the ransom.

And now we have Bruce describing the stupidest plan in the history of stupid plans. Batman has managed to coordinate with the Treasury department to use five million in old bills that were slated to be destroyed. The bills will be coated in a special radioactive substance, then packed into a metal box and thrown off a train at a designated point along the train's route. Batman and Robin will then track the money by using a Geiger counter to detect the radiation.

So okay, a solid plan, if a bit doubtful on the science as far as them being able to track radioactive money that's locked inside a metal box and being carried in a car. "But," Dick asks, "what if the Wizard gets away with all that money?"

No problem, Bruce explains. When the package is opened and the money is exposed to the air, it will burst into flame. Got that? Why not just give him a box full of newspaper clippings, or cow patties, or plastic explosive? Why go to all the trouble of using real currency if the crooks will never know it's real until it's actually burning their fingers?

And if you think the plan's concept is bad, the execution is even worse. The crooks are using Jimmy Vale in the Wizard's plane to spot from the sky and give them the all clear. Turns out, Batman and Robin are in another plane, circling about 5,000 feet higher. Through his binoculars, Robin sees the crooks getting ready to pick up the money. Now, you'd think if they can see so well from up there, that they might as well just track the car from the air.

But no. Batman tells Robin to land the plane and fetch the car. He's going to parachute down. Now, you'd also think the crooks might have Jimmy Vale flying aerial observation the entire way. But no. As soon as he gives the all clear, he takes off, so Batman floats down completely unobserved from ground or air. WTF? Then he hides in the crooks' trunk while they're fetching the strongbox.

The crooks then switch cars and push the one Batman's in off a cliff. But since the chapter's only three-quarters over, this doesn't merit a cliff-hanger. Batman jumps clear just before a Model T (not even close to the same car) smashes through a guard rail and falls off the cliff. BTW, it's really obvious in this and other scenes that for most exterior shots of Batman without dialogue, it's his stunt double being shot by the second unit, not just the stunt scenes.

So now Batman's stranded, but Robin pulls up to a stop within moments. So really, what was all that rigamarole with the airplane and the parachute for, other than risking detection? They follow the radioactive trail to a warehouse (on South Street--drink!), where the Wizard's men are opening the strongbox. Over the radio, the Wizard says he's coming to the warehouse.

Meanwhile Batman and Robin arrive at the warehouse. Robin is to wait outside while Batman goes in. Batman climbs to the roof and sneaks into the building to see the thugs working at unwrapping the tight bundles of money. He sneaks around behind some boxes that say they're from the "Phoenix Chair Company" (there really was a Phoenix Chair Company in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, that made chairs from the late 1800's to the early 1930's--if authentic, that would mean those boxes were in the Columbia prop warehouse for at least 15 years before this serial was shot).

Meanwhile, outside, the Wizard sneaks up on Robin and saps him.

Inside, Batman decides to start a fight with the Wizard's men. Remember, the purpose of the plan, as far as I can tell, was to use the money to trace the Wizard to his lair and catch him. But the Wizard still hasn't shown his face. Anyway, a fight breaks out, a shot rings out, and the Wizard runs away. After pausing to straighten out his mask (drink!)...

Batman knocks one of the thugs into the table holding the money, knocking it onto some packing straw nearby. The money bursts into flame, and now the warehouse full of cardboard boxes is on fire. One of the thugs throws a hammer and clocks Batman in the head with it. He falls unconscious amid the flames. The thugs leave (in a nice touch, they happen to pass right under a "No Smoking" sign as they head for the door). So Batman's trapped in a raging inferno, set off by his prematurely starting a fight with the thugs instead of waiting for the real villain to show up, and igniting the money that he himself rigged to burn. Great job, genius. Oh, and drink! for Batman screwing up his own plan.

Title check! Robin did technically meet the Wizard, though it was more like the back of his head meeting the Wizard's sap, so no drink.

Chapter 9, "The Wizard Strikes Back!," opens with Batman merely getting up and running out of the warehouse before the fire spreads much. I say again, lame cliffhangers in this one. Batman finds Robin just getting up off the ground. Robin asks what started the fire, and Batman says it was the radioactive money, lamenting that the Wizard will probably cause more trouble now that he has no ransom. Should have thought of that before, hadn't you? God, Batman's an idiot. Those multiple blows to the head have apparently taken their toll.

At that moment, they spot private detective Dunne wandering around near the warehouse--co-yay!--where he runs into Barry Brown, broadcaster--double-co-yay! Drink! Our heroes speculate that either man could be the Wizard, and Batman adds his suspicion of Professor Hammil, despite Robin's objection that Hammil is a "wheelchair invalid." Drink again! And of course, in the next scene, we're in Hammil's house. Drink for the trifecta? No. Hammil locks the door, the way we've seen him do every other time he's used the chair, but then the scene dissolves to the Wizard's lair. Trifectus interruptus!

The Wizard is pissed that Batman double-crossed him, so he decides to shut down all traffic in the entire city. He fires up his machine, but it overloads and he has to shut it down. He claims that he has burned out the "diamond bearings" (oh, so the diamonds weren't fuel, after all--good to know, finally). But I thought diamonds were forever.

The city rejoices that the threat of the Wizard has abated. Traffic once more flows freely and everyone's happy.

But the Wizard has discovered that our old friends the Electronic Research Council have developed a new kind of synthetic diamond that resists heat and friction better than real ones. He plans to steal some right away. Meanwhile, as Bruce and Dick drop Vicki off at her apartment, she gets a call from Jimmy. Co-yay! Drink! He needs her help to get away from the Wizard. She sneaks out through a secret exit in her darkroom. Damn, does everybody in Gotham have secret panels? I want to go to there.

Bruce and Dick figure out that Vicki's headed to the Harbor Club. Re-used set! Drink! Vicki sneaks in and unties Jimmy, but as they're escaping, they are chased by one of the thugs standing guard. Batman and Robin pull to a stop with an especially violent bounce of the Mercury's front end, and Batman disables the thug with a thrown trash barrel. Oh, and marked on the bottom? It's our old friend, Solox! Thug is captured.

Jimmy tells Commissioner Gordon that the Wizard plans to steal the synthetic diamonds. So Commissioner Gordon orders them moved to a place with higher security. Which is apparently just what the Wizard wanted, because as soon as he is alone in Vicki's apartment, Jimmy calls Neil, the Wizard's new head thug, and tells him the diamonds are being moved.

Later, Commissioner Gordon calls Bruce Wayne to tell him that the guard Batman captured had blanks in his gun. Why tell millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne? Maybe Gordon suspects that Wayne is Batman because he always drives Bruce's car. Or maybe he just suspects Bruce and Batman are gay lovers. Either way, Batman and Robin go screaming off after the thieves stealing the synthetic diamonds.

But the Wizard uses his remote control to burn out the engine in Batman's car. You know, the remote control that doesn't work because it has no diamond bearings? That one. Batman flags down a passing motorist and commandeers his car (which looks remarkably like the car in whose trunk Batman hid in the previous chapter). "If anything happens to it, the police will buy you a new one," says Batman.

"Tell 'em to get me one with a red light and a siren on it, will ya?" I quote this line only because it may be the only actual joke anyone tells in all fifteen chapters. For a ridiculous comic book serial, it is deadly serious all the way through.

So the Wizard remote-controls that car right off a cliff. Oh, you know what's coming don't you? Oh, and title check sez--no drink.

Let's squeeze in one more chapter before calling it a day, shall we? Chapter 10, "Batman's Last Chance!" (oh, if only it were true) opens with the standard "jump out of the car before it goes over the cliff" moment. Although it's kind of funny, because after Batman tells Robin to jump, Robin for some reason tries to jump out the driver's side after Batman, and Batman slams the door in his face. Robin, you get no respect from anyone, do you?

So Jimmy calls Neil and is told to report to "Rendezvous D." He runs outside and tells the cabbie to take him to "the Markham Building." Unknown to him, Vicki follows. When she gets there, she tries calling Bruce but he's not home. So she goes into the Markham Building alone.

The thugs are holed up in a room on the ninth floor. They have the hallway rigged to alert them when someone's in the corridor, and a nifty little X-ray gadget that lets them see who's at the door. Jimmy arrives and they tell him to wait for further instructions.

Then they investigate another arrival in the hall and capture Vicki. When Jimmy protests, they knock him out and lock Vicki in a small room with a telephone. The cord's ripped out from the wall, but she hooks it back easily enough and calls for Bruce again. Before she can tell Alfred where she's being held, though, one of the thugs comes in and hangs up the phone.

Just at that moment, Batman and Robin pull into the driveway of stately Wayne Manor and get out of the car in full costume. Batman's a bigger idiot than I thought.

Alfred tells him Vicki is being held prisoner, but she didn't say where. Now if you recall, when Vicki was faced with this situation back in chapter 5, she just had the operator trace the call after the fact. Whether or not you can do that in real life, it is established as possible in the serial. So does Batman do that?

No, he arranges a fake escape for Jason, the thug he bowled over with the barrel last episode. Then he stows away in the vehicle as Jason's driving away. So he is able to follow Jason into the Norton Building.

Wait a second. Weren't the thugs holed up in the Markham Building?

Yep. So is Batman in the wrong building? No, just a continuity error. Nothing to see here. Move along. Besides, it's not the worst one in the episode.

When the thugs realize that Jason has been tailed by someone, Neil throws a switch on the wall that will zap anyone who touches any metal in the hallway. Then the thugs all go out into the hall to track down the intruder. As they leave, Jimmy sits up; he has been faking unconsciousness. He tells Vicki he'll free her as soon as he can, then he also leaves.

Batman, hearing the thugs coming, tries to duck into a room and gets zapped by the doorknob. But then, a gloved hand turns off the power switch. Whose hand? We never find out. Jimmy and all the thugs are in the hallway, and Vicki's locked in the little room, and none of them are wearing light leather gloves. It's an unsolved mystery that is never answered.

Jimmy discovers Batman out cold on the floor and looks under his mask. "Mac Lacey!" he says.

No, he says, "Bruce Wayne," then drags him into a nearby room. and shuts the door. Moments later, Batman is running through the halls. He runs into Neil and drops him with one punch. He digs the keys out of Neil's pocket and runs back to the thugs' room to free Vicki. But two more thugs come in, and he beats the crap out of them while Vicki makes her escape. Hmmm. Something's suspicious here. Batman has won two fistfights in a row and hasn't adjusted his mask once.

He runs out of the office, and the three thugs revive and chase him up to the tenth floor. He runs to a window to try to escape, but there's no fire escape. Cornered, he fights all three thugs, and looks like he's well on the way to beating them when one gets in a lucky punch and knocks him out the window. Batman falls ten stories to hit the sidewalk next to the truck where Robin's waiting for him. Bat-pizza!

Title check! "Batman's Last Chance!" Your guess is as good as mine if it actually had anything to do with the episode. Drink if you feel like it, I guess.

See you next week for the exciting conclusion. Well, exciting in the sense that it'll be over anyway.

Read the recap for chapters 1-3 here.

And read the recap for chapters 4-6 here.
And finally, the recap of chapters 11-15 is here.

*Back when Stephen King made his directorial debut in 1986 with "Maximum Overdrive," a movie which used just about every AC/DC song ever recorded on the soundtrack, I heard a rumor that prints of the film were shipped with a sticker that said, "Stephen King demands that you play this film as loud as possible."

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