The creators of the 1960s Batman TV show originally planned for a feature-length film to precede the television series. A film, they thought, would build hype that would enable them to sell the show to TV networks more easily. This did not end up being the case; a film was not made until production was almost completed on the first season. It was released in 1966.
Most of the main cast from the series returned for the film, including Adam West, Burt Ward, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp, Alan Napier and Madge Blake. Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith also reprise their series roles as supervillains the Riddler, the Joker and the Penguin. Lee Meriwether appears as Catwoman, as Julie Newmar was making another movie when this film went into production.
Story (um, I'd warn you about spoilers here, but we all know the bad guys lose)
(I was going to call this section "plot," but can we really use the word plot to describe the clasically campy '60s Batman?) Bruce Wayne and his "youthful ward," Dick Grayson, speed into stately Wayne Manor, through to the study, down the Batpoles and into the Batcave. They speed off in the Batmobile towards the stationed Batcopter. While flying over the ocean, Batman disembarks to try to board a nearby yacht, where Commodore Schmidlapp (seriously) is reported to be in danger. Just as he gets close to the deck with the Batladder, the yacht suddenly disappears, and the Caped Crusader finds himself being lowered into the ocean. Robin pulls the ladder up to reveal that a shark has latched itself on to his leg. Fortunately, this is no situation that the dynamic duo's Bat Spray Shark Repellant can't fix. The shark falls back into the ocean, where it promptly blows up.
Batman and Robin return to Commissioner Gordon's office, where they brief the press on the incident with the yacht -- without confirming that the yacht really did seem to disappear. To do so would create meaningless panic in the hearts and minds of good, honest citizens, Batman says. The press briefing is more or less routine, except for when a young journalist from the Moscow Bugle asks Batman and Robin to take off their masks so she can take their picture. Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara respond with all kinds of "HOW DARE YOU?" righteous indignation.
The journalists leave, and the two wildly dressed crimefighters, along with their tightless (though remarkably inept) police counterparts, try to figure out who or what could be behind this. They view a report about which of Gotham City's supercriminals are not in jail and learn that The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin and Catwoman are all on the loose. Which of them could possibly be behind it? The foursome then realizes that perhaps the plot is the brainchild of more than one supercriminal, and then conclude that they all must be involved using the most convoluted logic ever:
Gordon: Could be any one of them, but which one? W— which ones? O'Hara: (gasps) Batman: Pretty fishy what happened to me on that ladder. Gordon: You mean, where there's a fish, there could be a Penguin. Robin: But wait! It happened at sea! See? "C" for Catwoman! Batman: Yet... an exploding shark was pulling my leg! Gordon: The Joker! O'Hara: It all adds up to a sinister riddle. Riddle-er. Riddler? Gordon: Oh! A thought strikes me! So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance. Batman: The four of them. Their forces combined... Robin: Holy nightmare!
Batman then surmises that, if four supercriminals really are in on this together, their objective must be to take over the entire world.
Batman and Robin head back out to sea to try to find out how and why the yacht disappeared. They find a buoy in the water and try to determine why it's there. After removing one of the panels, they find a projector! The yacht was a projection! This, of course, wass also a trap; the four supercriminals are lurking below in the army surplus submarine that the Penguin bought from the Pentagon. They turn on the magnetic force inside the buoy, trapping Batman and Robin to it through the metal in their utility belts. They then fire torpedos at the Dynamic Duo; Batman is able to redirect the first three using his Batpolarizer. Then the battery dies. The pair is saved from the final torpedo by a noble, "almost-human" porpoise. Awww.
The four crooks, meanwhile, meet in their secret lair. They have kidnapped Commodore Schmidlapp and stolen his latest invention, a device that removes every last drop of water from a human being, leaving only a pile of dust. Catwoman explains that the United World Organization headquarters are in Gotham City, thus making it even easier for them to dehydrate a whole whack of diplomats and take over the world. Since their aim is not only to take over the world but also to get rid of Batman and Robin (the latter being a key requirement of accomplishing the former), they start planning to entice them into a trap. They also test the dehydration device on some of their henchmen, turning them into small piles of dust and filtering them into separate test tubes.
Catwoman, who was disguising herself as the Moscow Bugle reporter mentioned earlier, plans to lure one of Gotham City's (apparently numerous) millionaire bachelors into a date, where they will be kidnapped by the other supercriminals and inadvertantly leave clues for Batman and Robin pointing straight to the trap. Their plan hits a snag when the millionaire bachelor she chooses is Bruce Wayne, who, you know, kind of is Batman. She requests an appointment with Mr. Wayne and tells him that she received two threatening riddles written on Wayne Foundation stationary. He promises to look into it. Somehow, this leads to plans dinner and dancing. (Seriously.)
Batman arranges for Robin and his faithful butler Alfred to sit in the Batmobile near their date location and make sure nothing goes wrong and/or foil it if it does. They have dinner, then they go dancing, then they wind up at "Miss Kitka's" apartment. They're just about to get down but are suddenly interrupted by the other three criminals and their henchmen. Robin, meanwhile, has turned off the monitor in the Batmobile because he didn't think it decent to watch Bruce Wayne make out with his date. Or maybe he just wasn't comfortable watching what could easily have led into softcore porn with Alfred right next to him. Nonetheless, when he turns the monitor back on to check in, the apartment is empty and the Penguin, the Riddler and the Joker are whisking Bruce Wayne and Kitka/Catwoman back to their lair.
On arrival, they start to wonder why Batman hasn't shown up yet. Bruce Wayne threatens to kill anyone who lays a hand on Miss Kitka, with whom he suddenly fancies himself in love. There's a fight scene, of course, and the henchmen wind up wasting the traps they've set for Batman and Robin on themselves. After some regrouping, Batman and Robin receive an "anonymous" tip pointing them towards a local tavern near the docks (incidentally, where the four fiends have their headquarters). They find a large bomb just about to go off. Batman grabs it and attempts to dispose of it, but there are innocent drunks/Salvation Army bands/nuns/teenagers making out/women pushing baby strollers/baby ducks at every turn! He runs circles around the dock, unable to find a proper disposing place and then makes a most astute observation:
"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"
Robin runs after Batman, eventually hearing an explosion. Batman's not dead, however, having hidden behind some sturdy iron pipes just in time. The pair is then approached by the Penguin, disguised as Commodore Schmidlapp. They see through his disguise, but he refuses to give up the act and even offers to submit to a retinal scan -- but the equipment is in the Batcave. They Bat-gas him, knocking him unconscious so he won't see the entrance to the Batcave, and bring him there. Once they arrive, the Penguin rehydrates the five dehydrated henchmen, and a classic Batfight scene ensues. The dehydration and rehydration has messed with their physical constitutions, however, and as soon as Batman and Robin touch them, they turn into antimatter and disappear.
Thanks to two more riddles from the Riddler, Batman and Robin figure out that the criminals' ultimate target is the United World Organization -- but it's too late. They make it into the security council chamber and dehydrate the representatives from each of the security council members. Much like they did earlier, they put each into its own test tube. Batman and Robin are on the case, however, and the confrontation reaches its climax on a boat. After shelling out just enough humble pie to the male villains to render them harmless and prepare them for their stay in the greybar hotel, our heroes rush into the boat to confront Catwoman. Catwoman trips, her mask falls off, and she is revealed to be Miss Kitka! Batman is sad.
The real Commodore Schmidlapp emerges from his room and accidentally knocks over the test tubes carrying the dehydrated remains of the world leaders, mixing the dusts and dashing all hope for rehydration. Holy mixup, Batman!
Batman, being a scientist (as Homer Simpson would later go on to remind his wife), somehow manages to sort out which dust is which leader! The world holds its breath as they rehydrate the leaders, causing them all to appear back at the United World Organization security council chamber. Unfortunately, Batman didn't do a good enough job sorting out the dust and the leaders have become mixed up with each other. They speak in each other's languages, use each other's colloquialisms, and so on. One leader who is from some country other than the Soviet Union is seen banging his shoe on the table.
Batman and Robin inconspicuously exit through the window and scale down the building using their Batropes. And scene.
The movie apparently did moderately well despite mediocre reviews. Some sites note that Batmania (see what I did there?) had already begun to die down by the time the movie was released, which may have impacted critics' perception of it.
As for the present day, it is sporadically played on TV and has been released on DVD with a handful of...
Among the features included on the DVD are running commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward, a photo gallery featuring snapshots from behind the scenes, a tour of the many gadgets featured in the Batmobile and a short featurette about the series and film. The commentary is probably the most worthwhile thing, mostly because both West and Ward still much like they did in the 1960s, and it's kind of funny to hear them playfully mock the film. They also sporadically come up with lines they wish had been in the movie, provide insider information (Jack Lalane is in one scene!) and share stories about their castmates.
Among other tidbits revealed in the commentary, we learn that Lee Meriwether, despite having been a former Miss America and longtime performer, was extremely nervous about performing alongside the likes of Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith. Despite the nastiness of their on-screen characters, all three actors were supposedly very professional and went out of their way to put her at ease.
Amazon offers the DVD as a package with the DVD "Back to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt," an equally campy TV special in which the two actors team up to find the Batmobile when it goes missing right before a charity event while also telling the story of the original series through flashbacks.
Suspension of misbelief
Yes, the series is deliberately campy, but can someone please explain to me why Batman -- who's seen Catwoman without her eye mask during the series -- doesn't recognize her at all in the movie while she's posing as Miss Kitka? And don't say it's because she suddenly looks like Lee Meriwether. I'm still trying to figure out how Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether turned into Eartha Kitt.
Also, if Bruce Wayne is such a well-traveled and learned philanthropist, wouldn't he know a little bit more about Russian history and therefore know that a real Russian woman's name would not be Katyana Irenya Tatyna Karina Alisoff -- that her "middle name" would be based on her father's first name? (Yes, yes, it's fiction. I'm just nerdy.)
Nonetheless, it's fun.
Batman. 1966. 20th Century Fox.