REVIEW: "The Bookworm Turns" / "Gotham City Burns" (S1/E29 & 30)
Author: Bill "Jett" Ramey (@BATMANONFILM)
Date: February 7, 2016
In Part 1, The Bookworm stages a phoney assassination on the Commissioner and leaves a clue for them to solve. With the help of his moll Lydia, The Bookworm captures Robin who is tied to the Wayne Memorial Tower. In Part 2, Batman must save Robin with only a cryptic clue to help, while Bookworm begins the final steps of his scheme.
"The Bookworm Turns"/"Gotham City Burns" was written by Rik Vollaerts and directed by Larry Peerce. They were first broadcast, respectively, on April 20 & 21, 1966 on the ABC television network.
In "The Bookworm Turns" / "Gotham City Burns", Roddy McDowall makes his first – and only – appearance as the villain The Bookworm. The plot consists of Bookworm staging the fake assassination of Commissioner Gordon in an attempt to lure Batman onto the scene so he can really kill the Caped Crusader.
Later, Gordon alerts Batman that Bookworm and his gang are threatening to “blow up” a bridge. This leads the Dynamic Duo to a warehouse where they discover an image of the bridge projected onto one of the warehouse’s walls. See what the writers did there? The bridge was indeed blown up, but not “blown up!” A fight between Batman and Robin and the Bookworm’s gang commences; after Batman orders the gang members to remove their glasses as Batman knows you should never hit a guy in glasses!
After The Bookworm’s men end up escaping through a trapdoor, Batman and Robin search Bookworm’s ride – the Bookmobile – and discover Bookworm’s female companion, Lydia Limpet, tied up and gagged inside. Batman knocks her unconscious with Bat-Gas and brings her to the Batcave for interrogation. (Was this inspiration for Vicki Vale and Rachel Dawes being gassed and brought to the Batcave in BATMAN ’89 and BATMAN BEGINS, respectively? Probably not.) While being hooked up to the “Hypermetric Lie-Detector,” Lydia reveals Bookworm’s new nefarious plan: stealing the original DECLARTION OF INDEPENDENCE. Batman races off to stop Bookworm, leaving Robin alone (doh!) in the Cave with Lydia. Robin is then gassed himself, brought to the Wane Memorial Clock Tower, and tied to the hammer in the bell. When the clock strikes midnight, the bell will ring twelve times and it’ll be curtains for the Boy Wonder!
Roddy McDowall as "The Bookworm"
In Part 2, Batman prevents the bell from ringing and saves Robin – because, well, that’s just what Batman does! Bookworm continues doing bad things in the name of books and eventually traps Batman and Robin inside a giant cookbook. They are able to escape via a manhole under the book, again take on Bookworm’s gang, and win the day.
Like I said, McDowall’s turn as Bookworm was excellent. In fact, I’m not sure why he never returned to the show to reprise his role. Pity. Regrettably, McDowall is the best thing about “The Bookworm Turns/Gotham City Burns.” Things start off rather promising – and surprisingly dark – with Gordon’s “assassination.” (Was this inspiration for Gordon being “shot” by The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT? Probably not.) But once we learn that Gordon really wasn’t killed, the reason for the ruse served no purpose plot-wise for the remainder of the storyline. Heck, just about everything that happened up to Batman and Robin getting trapped in that giant book has nothing to do with the remaining story.
Jerry Lewis on BATMAN
While “The Bookworm Turns/Gotham City Burns” is far from horrible, it’s clear that the camp aspect of this series really begins to ramp up in this episode. A perfect example of this is that this episode features the very first “celebrity in the window during a wall climb” cameo with the comedian Jerry Lewis. On one hand, this is an example of how cool, hip and successful BATMAN had become. On the other, it’s an example of how the over-the-top silliness would soon come to dominate the tone of BATMAN. - Bill "Jett" Ramey
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: April 20, 1966 & April 21, 1966
SCREENWRITER: Rik Vollaerts
DIRECTOR: Larry Peerce
BEST BAT-GADGET: The "Hypermetric Lie-Detector"
BEST BAT-LINE: “This guy's almost as annoying as Batman! - The Bookworm after meeting Bruce Wayne
LAST BAT-TIME: "The Curse of Tut" / "The Pharaoh's in a Rut"
NEXT BAT-TIME: "Death in Slow Motion" / "The Riddler's False Notion"