“True or False Face/Holy Rat Race” (S1/E17 & 18) Author: John Bierly (Follow @JOHNBIERLY)
Date of Review: February 28, 2015
SYNOPSIS PART 1: He's the devil in disguise, and treachery appears to triumph as False Face (Malachi Throne) steals the Mergenberg Crown and sets the trap. Batman and Robin find themselves in a sticky situation facing a speeding train!
PART 2: Batman and Robin get back on track to foil False Face, who intends to swap counterfeit bills for the real thing. A series of phony fronts and false disguises has our heroes in hot pursuit!
“True or False Face?/Holy Rat Race!” were written by Stephen Kandel and directed by William A. Graham. They were originally broadcast on March 9 and 10, 1966, on the ABC Television Network.
It's another glorious, sun-drenched day in Gotham City. A fitting day for nuptials, exhibits, or grand theft at the Gotham City Exhibit Hall! Chief O'Hara and a fellow Gotham cop confer with the curator over a threatening letter left by that infamous criminal mastery of trickery and disguise, False Face! As they ponder his plan to purloin the precious Mergenrberg crown, in saunters the impossibly pretty and impressively preening Princess Mergenberg, who demands to know what protections are in place to prevent her crown from being "schtolen."
The princess provides O'Hara with a letter she received. "All that glitters is gone," it reads, signed by "F.F."
The curators knows it's supposed to be "gold" rather than "gone," but the Chief recognizes the trademark of False Face: a false quote.
Unfortunately, no one recognizes that a peculiar patron with a hilariously conspicuous wax mask hiding his true features has wandered into the room. One exploding faux beard later and False Face is on the run, the "Schtop, thief!"-screaming Princess in pursuit, as the cops struggle to remove all 0.7 pounds of the inflatable cape False Face has used to block the door.
With a leisurely leap and a click of his heels, False Face is soon cruising away in the Gotham City paddy wagon... along with the princess, whose accent is suddenly absent! For she is, in reality, False Face's incendiary accomplice, Blaze!
The Trick-Truck's "QUICK CHANGE CONTROLS" convert the fleeing machine into a "Mother Ffolliet's Baked Goods" truck, causing the cops to zip by with nary a suspicion.
In the Commissioner's office, O'Hara and Gordon wonder who can stop this master of devilish disguises as they discover not only a false top on the crown's case but also a crown itself that's fake.
"Our only hope," Gordon exclaims as his eyes fall on the ruby-red phone we've all come to know, "is that towering power for right and justice, the Caped Crusader!"
Meanwhile, at Stately Wayne Manor, Dick Grayson speaks of trees. "Pine. Elm. Hickory. Gosh, botany is tough!" he says, further lamenting, "I'll never learn to recognize all these trees!"
But Bruce Wayne doesn't see it that way. "Part of our heritage is the lore of living things, the storybook of nature."
Moved by his mentor's words, Dick reconsiders. "That's true, Bruce. I'll learn to read that book of nature yet."
But you won't have time to read it today, Dick, because Batman and Robin are about to be called to action! Aunt Harriet arrives just in time to be politely postponed by Bruce, who, in keeping with the previous conversation's pastoral poetics, assures her that he and Dick must depart upon "a ramble in the woods, nature in the raw, so to speak."
As if all the details in costumes and clothes and the handsome, accurate colors and skin tones hadn't already made enough of an impression, the true power of Warner Bros.' Blu-ray transfer comes alive amid the blinking lights, bubbling beakers, and batty baubles in the Batcave. And the master audio track simply and effectively captures the nuclear whine of Batmobile whirring to life.
After advising Gordon that the crown theft is only "the first droplet in a virtual wave of crime," a courier is allowed to waltz right into Gordon's office -- regardless of the fact that a noted master of disguise is on the loose. (But look at Adam West's body language as Batman initially regards the courier. It's amazing, because he's obviously suspicious.)
Malachi Throne as "False Face"
When the courier was revealed not to be False Face but rather Blaze, I laughed so hard that I had to pause the disc, because her disguise was so many light years beyond any of False Face's in the realism and details departments. As soon as Batman grabs her wrist, she's already falling for him as she compliments his grip.
"A sound mind and a sound body," he replies. "A necessity in the relentless war on crime."
See the intricacy of the language? Not "necessities," but "a necessity," because Batman knows that a sound mind and a sound body are one and the same. Yes, the show has its silly moments, and yes, it can certainly be campy, but the writing is never less than absolutely impressive -- and often damn nearly poetic.
Blaze quickly proves herself as elusive as a flickering flame, flipping out of the window and landing on a giant inflatable adorned with False Face's initials. While Batman and Robin leave to warn the Ladd Armored Car Company of False Face's nefarious intentions, Blaze reveals to False Face's Counterfeit Crew that the real Mergenberg crown has been hiding beneath her wig all along.
False Face unveils step two of his plan "to double-dizzy Batman and Robin until the dexterous duo is duped, decoyed, and diabolically destroyed," leading me to another moment where I had to stop the disc until I could stop laughing. After False Face's goons give him three cheers, he says, "Thanks, men. I know you didn't mean it. But back to business. Batman and Robin must go."
When Batman tells Mr. Ladd that one of his biggest trucks of money bags is late, Mr. Ladd isn't overly concerned. You don't think...
As Batman departs, Mr. Ladd tells him that every Gotham citizen goes with him in spirit, causing his lusty secretary to say, "And if it were possible, in body!"
False Face might have gotten away with his big heist if he hadn't parked the truck front of a fire hydrant, which catches the Caped Crusader's attention. "It's always the little things," False Face laments. One exploding money bag and a killer gag with a false-fronted armored truck later and Batman and Robin are engaged in magnificent melee with the Counterfeit Crew.
It's enough of a distraction for yet another deft escape by the master of disguise and deceit, and he accomplishes it by becoming none other than Chief O'Hara!
"Saints alive!" the real Chief exclaims when duped by his doppelganger. "It's False Face disguised as me-self!"
Much credit is due to makeup supervisor Ben Nye for applying a supremely small amount of makeup to Stafford Repp, making him look mostly like himself but just barely, barely off. As for Repp himself, his "False Face as O'Hara" comes across as a harder O'Hara, giving us a glimpse of how the actor might have played the character in a non-campy version of the show.
And that's why I love it so much! For something that's so often silly, the way it's put together is superbly smart.
Back at the Batcave, Robin's observation that False Face's latest message is printed on unusually strong paper inspires Batman to "focus ultraviolet light and apply the principles of controlled Fluorescent diffraction" to "readily discern" that False Face is printing his correspondence on "the kind of paper they use to make money!"
The review continues after the jump!
And, yet again, smart. Batman's use of science adds a nice bit of intelligence to the proceedings. It's appreciated. It actually reminded me of what Scott Snyder is doing in the current monthly BATMAN book; it's fun, and it's fantasy, but great care is taken to make sure there's at least a little realism driving the big ideas.
The amber eyes of the Batmobile come alive particularly well on Blu-ray as our heroes pursue the villains yet again, leading to a showdown at "the banknote paper room" where Batman blows Blaze's knockout dust right back in her face, which is about as Batman as it gets. Elsewhere, Gordon chalks up the fake Chief's relative silence to a toothache, while Stafford Repp has even more fun playing the false version of his character.
Blaze offers to help Batman and Robin by taking them to what she tells them is False Face's centrally located subway hideaway, leading Batman to wonder if she can truly be trusted. He reminds her that fresh fruit is a healthier choice than a candy bar when she asks him for one, but his chivalrous eyes spy a candy machine that nearly seals his fate.
As Robin gets a face full of knockout dust from Blaze, cinematographer Jack Marta sets up what has to be the most terrifying shot in all of the series. Batman gets gas instead of a candy bar when he pulls the lever, followed by an awesomely framed (and truly frightful) shot of False Face approaching him from inside the fake candy machine. It's downright hellish, and West really sells it by contorting (and possibly flipping his foe the bird) and exclaiming, "FALLLLLLLLLLLSE FAAAAAAAACE!"
Bound to the subway tracks with a train inbound, will the Dynamic Duo become Disintegrated Debris? Even in the face of imminent death, Batman takes the time to remind Blaze that it's never too late to be better than all of this bad, bad business.
"True or False Face" is a massively entertaining first chapter that pays off with even more adventure and deception in "Holy Rat Race." Stephen Kandel's nimble script gives the actors plenty of fun material to work with, while director William A. Graham's penchant for dramatic Dutch angles brings extra excitement to fight scenes. He and Marta match the macabre of the first part's nightmarish candy machine sequence with a scene near a mirror where False Face's men are seen in reflection as the villain ponders Blaze's true allegiance. The team truly wrote and shot the hell out of these episodes.
Learn the fate of the real Chief O'Hara! Witness the crafty way in which the art department suggests a speeding train! Can Batman fight falsehood with falsehood by proving himself capable of out-falsing False Face?
Big thrills happen in a chase through a Wild West town (including howitzers and a fun stunt in which a motorcycle drives down a flight of stairs), while big laughs arrive from brilliant bits such as Chief O'Hara grappling with a midget (played by Hollywood mainstay Billy Curtis) or False Face reacting to the word "true" as a vampire would recoil from a clove of garlic.
And in the witty coda that has Bruce and Dick wondering which criminal Aunt Harriet has invited to Wayne Manor as part of Bruce's rehabilitation program, we get a nicely played (and pleasantly positive) resolution to the Blaze/Batman flirtations.
"I would think that somehow he knows of your redemption," Bruce tells her when she wonders aloud if Batman knows she's sorry, "and somewhere, he is glad."
I was glad, too, to have had the opportunity to enjoy such a fabulously fun pair of episodes. When we were kids, this show was deadly serious. As we got older, we realized it was kind of campy. But now I'm gaining a whole new respect for how smart and sophisticated it truly was, thanks in no small part to the staggering restoration Warner Bros. has given it for this Blu-ray release. Having it preserved in this kind of quality is a gift that will never stop giving. - John Bierly
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: March 9 & 10, 1966
SCREENWRITER: Stephen Kandel
DIRECTOR: William A. Graham
BAT-FIRSTS: An inflatable decoy Batmobile
BEST BAT-QUOTE: "A sound mind and a sound body, a necessity in the relentless war against crime."