REVIEW: "Death in Slow Motion/ The Riddler’s False Notion" (S1/E31 & 32)
Author: Robert Reineke
Date: January 31, 2016
SYNOPSIS PART 1: The Riddler steals box office receipts and Batman & Robin trace him to a bakery. With only the riddles that are given, Batman and Robin track the Riddler down only to be separated with Robin on the splitting block.
PART 2: The Riddler steals box office receipts and Batman & Robin trace him to a bakery. With only the riddles that are given, Batman and Robin track the Riddler down only to be separated with Robin on the splitting block.
“Death in Slow Motion / The Riddler’s False Notion” was written by Dick Carr and directed by Charles R. Rondeau. They were first broadcast, respectively, on April 27 & 28, 1966 on the ABC television network.
The first season of BATMAN kicked out 34 episodes in about 4 months, a breakneck pace by any standard. With planning for a feature film already in place, and much of the major talent behind the show already concentrating on that, you can see the season starting to run out of gas in “Death in Slow Motion / The Riddler’s False Notion” as it doesn’t quite have the snap of the better episodes of Season 1. If the show has settled into a comfortable formula, this pair of episodes would be prime examples.
The plot is a fairly standard comic book plot. The Riddler is committing a string of silent film inspired crimes, and creating a film of those crimes along with Batman and Robin in action for an owner of a collection of priceless silent films. The crimes include a box office robbery via Charlie Chaplin / Keystone Cops, a bakery payroll robbery involving “whipped sleeping cream” pies, a temperance party that turns into a slapstick free for all courtesy of spiked lemonade, Robin being threatened by a buzzsaw with Riddler sporting a handlebar mustache, Robin being pushed off a building ledge (a nod to Safety Last! perhaps?), and a Great Train Robbery inspired final holdup as Riddler tries to steal the films of his patron, a twist I expect everybody saw coming a mile away. If you’ve watched the show previously, I think you can see how this all fits together.
Frank Gorshin as The Riddler in "Death in Slow Motion"
In theory there’s nothing wrong with the basic plot of the story, but it lacks inspiration. There’s little in the way of memorable dialogue or images, although a falling Robin catching a Batarang in his teeth is exactly the kind of comic book inspired silliness that the show was great at using to appeal to kids and adults. The story’s biggest running gag is that the Riddler’s cameraman is named Von Bloheim, a punning play on director Erich Von Stroheim, which is indicative of the show taking the easiest and most obvious route without adding anything extra.
Still, what the story does have going for it is that Frank Gorshin is in fine form and adds a lot of energy that the story was otherwise lacking. Frank Gorshin was the MVP villain of the first season of BATMAN appearing in four stories in total and he inserted both menace and energy into all of them. This pair of episodes is a fairly good showcase and any episode which has an extended bit of Frank Gorshin doing a Charlie Chaplin impression has to be worthwhile on some level.
The 60s BATMAN 50th Anniversary BOF Podcast!
It’s perhaps relevant to note that the 1960s were perhaps the low point of public knowledge of the silent films. Two whole generations had grown up without them and the home video market hadn’t yet emerged, let alone Turner Classic Movies, to give them a viable outlet. You might see some clips and some silly Keystone Cops shorts, but to most viewers, and apparently the writers, they were an obscure subject. Hence, the Riddler’s crime spree features the most shallow understanding of silent films and how complex they could truly be. A version of this story 50 years later would almost certainly dig deeper than this one, much closer to the silent era, does.
Oh, and clearly the Riddler’s film shows multiple angles that he couldn’t possibly get with his single camera setup. That’s just part of the fun as far as I’m concerned. Now, Batman calling “The Great Train Robbery” “The Great Train Hold-Up” is totally out of character. Someone didn’t do their homework.
Overall, this is a somewhat mixed bag of episodes although the latter episode is the stronger of the two. A punch-up of the script by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and some stronger direction could have made it a stronger episode, but as it is, average isn’t bad. - Robert Reineke
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: April 27, 1966 & April 28, 1966
SCREENWRITER: Dick Carr
DIRECTOR: Charles R. Rondeau
BEST BAT-GADGET: Batarang and the Boy Wonder’s teeth
BEST BAT-LINE: “You’re an ignorant oaf Chief O’Hara, I wonder why I keep you in my department.”
LAST BAT-TIME: "The Bookworm Turns/While Gotham City Burns"
NEXT BAT-TIME: "The Curse of Tut/The Pharaoh's in a Rut"