Sunday, October 05, 2014

Cult-TV Flashback: Batman: "Hot off the Griddle" / "The Cat and the Fiddle" (1966)

The second season two-part Batman story "Hot off the Griddle"/"The Cat and the Fiddle" -- which aired in September of 1966 -- reveals the pop-art comic-book series in all its counter-culture, colorful 1960s glory. 

The story involves Catwoman, a criminal played by the sexiest woman of the 1960s, Julie Newmar, stealing a variety of "cat"-themed objects before Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) set a trap for her at Gotham's Museum of Natural History.

Catwoman double crosses the Caped Crusaders and then, using Cat Darts, poisons the heroes and and places the unconscious Dynamic Duo on giant hibachi ovens(!), under over-sized magnifying glasses...where they will be burned to a crisp. 

A combination of calculus and happenstance (a convenient solar eclipse) help Batman and Robin escape this danger from the "Hateful Hussy." 

It is in this sequence that, in a self-reflexive joke, Robin asks Batman why these cliffhanging traps always threaten them, but never seem to succeed. 

An in-joke about the structure of the series ("same Bat-time; same Bat-station" and all...), this comment acknowledges the absurdity of the format and even of television as an art form to an extent. But Batman -- about to break the fourth wall -- comments that he and his ward keep surviving because...they have "pure hearts." 

This episode is filled with small, delicious moments just like that, which parody the form, and will likely infuriate the modern-minded who want their costumed heroes served up with ABSOLUTE SERIOUSNESS. 

For instance, on his way to stop Catwoman at the Gotham State Building, Batman pauses to pay the parking meter. "Good citizenship, you know," he says. 

At another point, Batman looks skyward to see what Catwoman is doing on the roof of the building and his cohorts ask (of the criminals): "Are they birds? Are they planes?..." 

Again, supremely silly, but that was mission assignment for 1966. And don't even get me started on the visual pun about "turning the tables" on Catwoman at her "front" restaurant, The Pink Sandbox.

A generation -- my generation -- grew up with Adam West's Batman and Burt Ward's Robin. As youngsters, the "camp" aspects of the show didn't really register for us, and the series was merely a great adventure featuring noble heroes, colorful villains and the most awesome set of gadgets and vehicles anyone had ever seen on television. 

But as adults, we found that this Batman -- played for laughs -- was worth a second look because the series is clever, irreverent, witty and utterly ridiculous. 

Again, these aren't the virtues of today -- especially with The Dark Knight interpretation in vogue. 

Still, you can enjoy this program thoroughly if only you remember it is a product of the 1960s and not the 21st century.

Ultimately, there may be as many interpretations of Batman as there have been of Hamlet (or in terms of genre: Dracula). 

We had pure, straight-faced innocence in the form of Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan's 1943 Batman

We had colorful, over-the-top camp in the Adam West version of the 1960s. 

We had an "Outsider" vision of Batman in a rotting, post-Reagan urban blight; from Tim Burton's 1989 feature. 

We even had a fetishist interpretation in Schumacher's 1995 and 1997 franchise entires (Batman Forever and Batman and Robin). 

Now, we have entered the Age of the Ultra-Real and have The Dark Knight Trilogy

The characters, situations and locations remain the same, but with each new writer, each new director, each new lead actor, the interpretation of this legend evolves. In forty years, I wonder how the Bat-fans of that time will gaze upon Nolan's work?

I know this: I'm excited to re-visit the Adam West Batman, which will be released on DVD and blu-ray for the first time next month.

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