“The Purr-fect Crime/Better Luck Next Time” (S1/E19 & 20) Author: Robert Reineke
Date: February 21, 2015
SYNOPSIS PART 1: Catwoman steals some priceless art and Batman & Robin take chase. Robin is separated from Batman who has to choose between 2 doors to find his chum. Which one will he choose?
PART 2: Batman escapes and rescues Robin from further danger while Catwoman searches for her treasure. The Dynamic Duo finally catch up to her in but at what cost?
“The Purr-fect Crime/Better Luck Next Time” was written by Stanley Ralph Ross & Lee Orgel and directed by James Sheldon. They were first broadcast, respectively, on March 16 & 17, 1966 on the ABC television network.
Catwoman was the last of the big four to make her debut. No doubt they needed some time to figure out how to adapt the character to live action in an effective way. Evidence of them tinkering with the concept can be seen in the opening credits where a Catwoman appears that looks nothing like either the comics or the show. Catwoman was mentioned previously as well in the Zelda the Great story as they ran down possible female villains. Whatever the process they struggled with, the final product was a home run.
Undoubtedly, you have to give a large amount of credit to Julie Newmar who made the part her own. I expect a lot of boys, myself included, took notice of the inherent sex appeal of Julie Newmar for the first time. She was well aware of the effect she was striving for, even convincing the costume designers to move the belt from her waist to her hips, further emphasizing her curves – curves that look every bit as great today courtesy of high definition Blu-ray.
But, it’s more than just her curves that make Julie Newmar’s Catwoman so memorable. Or “The Catwoman” as she’s consistently referred to in these episodes. She’s clearly having fun, but there’s also a natural dancer’s grace to her character. Newmar was a dancer, appearing in The Band Wagon and as one of the brides in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and that grace serves the character of Catwoman well. Newmar was also strikingly tall and that physicality made her a believable match for Adam West. Heck, the statuesque Julie Newmar with a cat o’ nine tails actually is a more intimidating image than most of Batman’s foes. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect package for Catwoman.
The plot of the two-parter is fairly simple. There are very little false pretenses for Batman to see through, only that Catwoman is after a pair of cat statues and Batman and Robin have to try to stop her. The Dynamic Duo accomplish this by spraying one of the statues with a radioactive mist so that they can track it. It turns out that the statues are a map to the lost treasure of pirate Captain Manx, but that’s the only real twist to the plot. Most Batman plots have plans within plans and this is no exception, but this is pretty basic by those measures. Perhaps they needed to be a bit frugal on the budget at this point in the season, they clearly are recycling the cat statue and sarcophagus props from “Zelda the Great,” and felt that keeping the story simple would be best.
But, if the budget is thin and the plot is simple, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t terrific character beats and set pieces within it. The best of them occurs when Batman and Robin enter the Gato and Chat Fur Co. warehouse, naturally, and wind up in the catacombs for Catwoman to toy with them, naturally, in a series of apparent deathtraps. The show even references the earlier serials that were an inspiration with a spiked, closing walls deathtrap.
Julie Newmar as "The Catwoman" in BATMAN
It’s a very fun sequence and it goes with the show actually working as an action adventure show instead of only as a spoof. The closing walls can be played straight, the trash compactor in STAR WARS being an example, and the fact that they end it on something of a gag works great. It’s a bit of misdirection for the audience too as it turns out to not be the final cliffhanger of the episode. The final cliffhanger is one of the more memorable ones for the show as well, as Batman is given the classical “lady or the tiger” dilemma of choosing between two doors. He, of course, chooses the tiger door and the episode ends with a real tiger apparently leaping towards Batman. For a show with so many outrageous and improbable cliffhangers, this is perhaps the most straightforward, serious, and deadly. The first season of BATMAN generally deferred in the direction of having real stakes and this is a fine example of how the show works on levels of camp and straight forward action adventure.
And Batman has to work to escape this cliffhanger, although the Blu-ray fully reveals that the scenes with the tiger and “Batman” are between the tiger and his trainer with a gray mustache. In fact, between the escape from the tiger, Batman navigating the maze of catacombs to find Robin, and Batman saving Robin from dropping into a pit of tigers, and subsequent fight with Catwoman’s henchmen, over half the second episode is spent in Catwoman’s lair. That doesn’t leave much time to figure out that the cat statues are a map and then to speed to a final confrontation with Catwoman in the caves where she’s uncovered the treasure.
The story ends with Catwoman fleeing alone, she’s knocked out her lone henchmen with the apt phrase “There’s never enough for two”, through the caves where she eventually falls into a “bottomless” pit unable to release the treasure to grab a saving rope. We’re still in a world where death is still a possibility, although as Batman himself notes a cat is supposed to have nine lives, so Catwoman’s return is hardly ruled out.
The review continues after the jump!
Good thing too, as Catwoman would turn out to be one of the most beloved of Adam West’s foes. And there was certainly more to do with her. “The Purr-fect Crime/Better Luck Next Time” is a fine introduction to Catwoman as a formidable foe. She certainly appears to have The Dynamic Duo on the ropes on several occasions. And the writers certainly have fun with the cat puns, as well as having Catwoman drive a Jaguar around. It’s an episode that’s fairly light on the camp, save perhaps Neal Hamilton’s delight as Commissioner Gordon at receiving a kitten as a way of Catwoman announcing her crime spree. Although the plot is thin, there aren’t any major holes in it, save perhaps how she manages to sneak into a sarcophagus with Batman and Robin on guard, and it generally makes sense. And it has a memorable cliffhanger. But, what it doesn’t have is the flirtation between Catwoman and Batman that would make up so much of their relationship.
That flirtation is the biggest thing missing at this point and the thing holding this back from perhaps being the best Catwoman story. That relationship adds to the characterization of Batman. It doesn’t make him a three dimensional character, the two dimensionality of all the characters is part of the point of the show, but it adds some interesting color and makes Batman more relatable. That Adam West’s Batman might have a thing for “bad girls” adds an interesting bit of color and humanity to his character. And it’s something that no character other than Catwoman could really add to the series at the time. The relationship between Adam West and Julie Newmar, who would prove to have great chemistry, is one of the enduring legacies of the series and perhaps the one running plotline.
Still, it’s overall a very solid pair of episodes that play almost like a straight action adventure story. The first season would be balanced between more straight forward stories and campier ones and this helps give the show balance. It’s not the same thing every time out in tone, even if it does adhere to formula. Subsequent seasons would lose that balance, but at this point it’s still something that keeps the show fresh and surprising. It’s certainly an essential episode, if for no other reason that it lays the groundwork for all following appearances of Catwoman. - Robert Reineke
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: March 16 & 17, 1966
SCREENWRITER: Stanley Ralph Ross & Lee Orgel
DIRECTOR: James Sheldon
BAT-FIRSTS: 1st live-action appearance of Catwoman
BEST BAT-GADGET: Climbing Bat-Claws
BEST BAT-LINE: "I’ve heard that song before Catwoman and the last few bars are always the same. And the criminal is always behind them,"