It's hard to believe, but one of the pioneering superhero TV shows is now half a century old. Batman: The Movie is of course the feature-length version of the 1960's Batman series and it was released 50 years ago. The series was extraordinarily popular and was described on the PBS television show Science Fiction as "the biggest TV phenomenon of the mid-1960s." It might not be to everyone's tastes, particularly in an age where we have so many excellent superhero films and TV shows to enjoy, but the show certainly has a lasting legacy.
Batman was first broadcast in January of 1966 and ran until March 1968. The series aired a total of 120 episodes, many of which were two-parters that all followed a similar format (more on that later). The series focussed on Batman and Robin battling a variety of villains and starred Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin, the Boy Wonder. It is safe to say that the two actors certainly made the roles their own and certainly gave unique portrayals of the characters.
West won the role of Batman after a producer, William Dozier, had seen him performing in a Nestlé Quik commercial. He screen tested and ultimately won the role after Dozier stated West was the only one who could deliver the lines with a straight face. West's take on the role was much more comedic than many people expect of the caped crusader today. Because of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy, modern audiences expect Batman to be dark and brooding. The 1960s Batman series was anything but — it was bright and colorful and didn't take itself too seriously, as detailed in the video below:
As alluded to earlier, each two-part episode followed a strict format. We began each episode by being introduced to the villain of the piece stealing something key to their plans. The scene would then change to Commissioner Gordon's office with Gordon and the Chief of Police, Chief O'Hara learning of the crime. After generally making a bad pun, the men would decide to contact Batman via the red Bat-Phone in the office. Cut to "stately Wayne Manor," where we find Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson talking to Dick's Aunt Harriet about something totally unrelated to the crime. It is only when faithful butler, Alfred, enters to inform the dynamic duo that their services are needed. They discreetly excuse themselves and take the Bat-Call.
After learning of the villain's crimes Bruce and Dick then enter the Batcave via their hidden Bat-Poles (which have the magic ability to change their clothes into their superhero costumes!). They then enter the Batmobile and speed off to the scene of the crime, after putting on their seat belts of course. After arriving at the scene, the dynamic duo begin to investigate and find a clue to the villain's current whereabouts. They then head to confront the villain and after a short fight sequence, are usually captured in some way. This would be the end of the first episode of the two-parter and would always end with the announcer posing the viewer a number of questions, before signing off in his usual style (taken from episode 57, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds):
Mr. and Mrs. Batman?
The Dynamic Duo May become a Trio!!
The Queen of Diamonds aims high!
Find out tomorrow whether she misses or Mrs.!
Same Bat-time, Same Bat-Channel!
And hang on to your rice!
This cliffhanger would usually be very quickly resolved in the second part of the story thanks to some gadget that Batman had in his utility belt. Then, following this death-defying escape, the episodes follow a similar format with Batman investigating and confronting the villain once more. Only this time, he manages to defeat the villain. Batman usually defeats the villain by seemingly following their plan, only to thwart them using his wit or another ridiculous gadget from his utility belt.
To help defeat his rogues gallery, Adam West's Batman had to rely on more than just his wit or his fists. Though he had an astute mind capable of effective deduction, this was not always enough to defeat the villains. However, Bruce Wayne did have one advantage over his enemies: He is a millionaire. As such, he was able to create a wide range of gadgets to hide in his utility belt in order to defeat his foes. Thankfully, in 1960s Gotham City EVERYTHING has a label, so there was never the risk of mixing up his Bat-Gadgets.
Batman featured a huge number of gadgets, all of which were supposedly built by the caped crusader. From the legendary Shark Repellent Bat-Spray to the highly useful Bat-Computer, Batman had something for any situation (and some not so useful ones too). Some of the gadgets included:
- Bat-Sleep (for putting people to sleep)
- Bat-Wake (to counteract the effects of Bat-Sleep)
- Bat-Respirators (allows Batman to breathe underwater)
- Bat-Cuffs (for handcuffing villains)
- Batarangs (including a special exploding Batarang — not to be thrown at the good guys)
- Bat-rope (for traversing up the sides of buildings)
- Super Special Thermal B Long Underwear (maybe for when it's cold?)
- Bat-Key (the morally ambiguous key to every door in Gotham)
- Universal Drug Antidote Pill
- Counter Hypnosis Bat-Pellets (to counteract the effects of hypnosis)
And many, many more — click here if you'd like a full list.
Batman and Batman: The Movie have a lasting legacy, with the show being loved to this day. Adam West and Burt Ward were typecast following the series and even now find it impossible to escape from the shadow of the dynamic duo. Adam West has taken this brilliantly and is never afraid to make fun of himself. From his appearances in Johnny Bravo and The Fairly Odd Parents, to his role as the Mayor of Quahog in Family Guy, he always embraces his role as Batman. He recently appeared in the 200th episode of The Big Bang Theory and during this appearance the characters argued about which Batman was best:
The final bonus level of Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham was based on the 1966 incarnation of Batman and featured Adam West and Burt Ward voicing Batman and Robin once more. The credit sequence of the game features a recreation of the recurring Batclimb sequences, which often featured cameos from stars who were visiting Gotham City.
Later Batman films have also been influenced by Batman '66, but not necessarily in the way you would expect. Speaking on Channel 4's Britain's Favorite Superhero, Michael Uslan, producer of the Tim Burton Batman film, said that it was because Batman '66 made fun of Batman that he felt compelled to show the REAL Batman on screen. It could be argued that it is thanks to Tim Burton's film that we have the Dark Knight Trilogy, so it is thanks to the more comedic depiction of that character that we now have the true Batman on screen. Batman Forever even referenced Batman '66 by parodying Robin's catchphrase "Holy [something], Batman!" Robin would often say this after being startled by something, a full list of Season 1's Holy's can be found here.
It might be radically different to any other Batman show, but it is certainly a show that will be fondly remembered. From making Adam West a star to introducing a whole generation to the dynamic duo, we certainly have a lot to thank Batman '66 for. Holy half-century, Batman!