"Fine Feathered Finks/The Penguin's A Jink" (S1/E3 & 4) Author: Ryan Hoss
Date: November 14, 2014
1) Awaiting release from prison, The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) schemes to get Batman to plan his crimes for him. Batman and Robin investigate the alias K.G. Bird. Batman as Bruce Wayne plants a bug at the umbrella store and is captured by The Penguin. Bruce is set for doom as he head to the furnace. 2) Bruce Wayne escapes his fiery demise. Batman and Robin stake-out Dawn Robbins' place awaiting for The Penguin but he magnetizes them to the door with a giant magnet and escapes.
"Fine Feathered Finks/The Penguin's A Jinx" was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and directed by Robert Butler. They were first broadcast on Wednesday January 19 and Thursday January 20, 1966, respectively, on the ABC television network.
The 75th anniversary of Batman has been an incredible year-long celebration. Although each of us has our “ideal” version of the Dark Knight, one of the reasons the character has had such longevity and popularity is because of how malleable he is. At this moment, Batman is thriving in virtually every form of media. In addition to the comics and feature films, Batman is showing up in video games (of the Arkham and LEGO variety), animation (Beware the Batman, DCU Original Movies), and television (Gotham). In each case, as long as the core aspects of the character remain, Batman just kind of – works -- no matter what situation you put him in.
The same could be said for the classic 1960s Batman television series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Popular opinion seems to go up and down dramatically over the years, but there’s no denying the influence the show had on pop culture. In fact, the biggest reason I’m excited to be a part of this “Team BOF” review series is to see what everyone’s take on the show is. What did you think of the show then? How about now? And where exactly does the series fit in with how you feel about the character?
Here’s where I’m coming from: I was 3 years old in 1990. Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) reigned supreme, but I was a little too young to fully experience it. Fortunately, the Family Channel (now ABC Family) cashed in on the latest wave of Bat-mania by airing weekday reruns of the 1960s TV series. I was instantly obsessed with the character and (obviously) I still am. Looking back on it now, I feel lucky that the 60s Batman was my first exposure to the character. Part of the appeal of the show was that kids would take it seriously while adults could take it at face value. Now that I’ve experienced the series from both sides, I don’t find it any less enchanting.
With only vague recollections of my favorite episodes as a child, I couldn’t wait to jump back into the show. I actually started a full series re-watch earlier this year, but very shortly after that the Complete Series Blu-Ray set was announced and I put it on hold. Now that the time is right, there isn’t one moment to lose – and that brings us to this week’s review of “Fine Feathered Finks” and “The Penguin’s a Jinx.”
Just like the show’s inaugural pair of episodes, this batch is also based upon an actual comic story: “Partners in Plunder,” from BATMAN #169. Printed in February 1965, the story featured the first appearance of the Penguin since the “New Look” Batman made his debut a year prior. And just like Riddler story, much of the look and characterization of the villain translates quite well onto television. And that’s not all – in the episode, Commissioner Gordon refers to the Penguin as a “pompous, waddling, master of foul play.” That’s not the 60s camp talking – that’s a line lifted straight from the comics! It’s delightful to discover how connected some of these early BATMAN episodes are to their source material. People who’ve put the show down over the years for being “unfaithful” need to take another look at the comics from that time period.
It’s worth noting that many of these early episodes use comic stories as a base because the production was under a huge time crunch. The show was originally scheduled for the Fall of 1966, but ABC had some shows fail in late 1965 and as a result, they bumped BATMAN up to its now-historic January 1966 debut. However, the fact that so many comics were used for story ideas only helped the show. Especially in these introductory episodes, it gives the show a grounded basis in the Batman universe. Something I’m noticing while I’ve been watching the first season of the show is that it’s pretty balanced. It’s serious when needed. Campy when needed. The characters rarely betray their core characterizations for the sake of a pun or a story beat. Like Robert said in his first review – when the show misses in one of those categories, it just doesn’t work as well.
And even though this is the second week of episodes, it’s abundantly clear that BATMAN has already warmed up to including more campy elements. There are some silly jokes. “Secret” elevators are clearly labeled. The Batcave’s atomic pile had a blatant safety lock installed after last week’s “incident.” Electronic bugging devices are modeled to look like…actual bugs. So far though, none of those elements have made the show distracting or unbalanced.
No, the biggest unknown this episode faced was its introduction of a new villain – The Penguin. Frank Gorshin’s manic and energetic portrayal of The Riddler was a tough act to follow, but Burgess Meredith manages to accomplish something no less iconic. His Penguin rips the character straight out of the comics and onto television in a performance that seems almost effortless in its execution. The tuxedo and hat, the nose, the cigarette, the monocle, the umbrellas, and that devilish glint in his eye – it’s all there, and it works perfectly. By the time the series ends, only Cesar Romero’s Joker will have as many appearances as Meredith’s Penguin.
In a nutshell, the plot of these two episodes focuses on The Penguin’s attempt at pulling off his biggest caper yet. The only problem is, he’s out of ideas! But then, he comes up with a brilliant plan: set up a bunch of harmless, umbrella-related events that look like robberies so the rational thinking of Batman and Robin will provide him with an actual end game.
One of the more redeeming qualities of BATMAN in general is its enhanced focus on Batman and Robin’s detective work to solve crimes. In this episode, the dynamic duo works closely with the police to track down Penguin’s hideout. They discover and analyze clues in the Batcave. And when Batman reaches a roadblock trying to deduce Penguin’s plot, he tries a different angle and does some investigation as Bruce Wayne!
Unfortunately, Bruce’s plan backfires when the bug he tries to plant in the Umbrella Shop is detected by an “automatic anti-bugging machine” that Penguin just happened to have installed. Sure, it’s more than a bit hokey, but it demonstrates an important character trait for the Penguin that future episodes take to heart. In many cases, Penguin has a pretty vast knowledge of Batman’s gadgets and gizmos and continually tries to nullify this technological disadvantage.
This concept carries on into the second episode. After an unconscious Bruce Wayne wakes up and finds a way out of the umbrella store’s furnace, he heads back to the Batcave to keep analyzing Penguin’s clues. Penguin actually succeeds where Batman fails – he had planted a bugged radio transmitter into the umbrella they’re analyzing so he can hear everything that’s going on inside the Batcave!
All of this elaborate setup was done so The Penguin could hear Batman and Robin’s theories on what a possible crime could be – and then actually commit the crime with an upper hand. In the following scene, Penguin attempts to kidnap a famous actress from her penthouse terrace. Again, Penguin tries to outdo Batman’s Batzooka gadget with his own umbrella-centric version. He’s ultimately successful in the kidnapping thanks to a patented Penguin Magnet that’s attracted to Batman and Robin’s utility belt contents, keeping them detained until he’s gone. It’s a story beat that’s straight from the comic source material I mentioned earlier, and you’ll see the Penguin use this same trick again in the 1966 Batman feature film.
Eventually, Batman and Robin are able to figure out how Penguin is getting the upper hand, and turn the tables against him. When the scheme is foiled, the traditional “BIFF! WHAM! POW!” fight scene commences – this time featuring an umbrella “sword fight” between Batman and Penguin. And finally – as is the case with most episodes of this show – the story gets wrapped up neatly at the end, with the villain put back in his cage and The Dynamic Duo living to fight another day.
Before I wrap this review up, I’d like to highlight a number of standout moments that popped up throughout my viewing. While describing his dastardly plot to his henchman, Penguin actually refers to the Caped Crusader as “The Batman” a number of times. There are scenes that actually take place at nighttime, and they look cool! And finally, at the end of the second episode, Commissioner Gordon explains the origins and meaning of Batman’s costume to a group of partygoers. As campy and silly as the show can be, it was a great surprise to see moments like this that pay homage to the history of the character.
Overall, these episodes did a marvelous job of introducing the Penguin into this brave new world of Batman on television. Although we’re only a couple of episodes in, you can see the show really figuring out what it is and it manages to keep the camp balanced with the seriousness. I know these comic-inspired episodes that have lots of nods to Batman’s history won’t last forever. I know that the series has its fair share of ups and downs. But for now, I’m happy to enjoy the ride. - Ryan Hoss
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: January 19 & 20, 1966
SCREENWRITER: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
DIRECTOR: Robert Butler
BAT-FIRSTS: 1st live-action appearance of The Penguin
BEST BAT-GADGET: The Batzooka
LINE OF THE EPISODE: “Spread your wings, Mister K.G. Bird! We’re flying you to headquarters!”