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HISTORY OF THE BATMAN

“Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.
So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.
I must be a creature of the night.
Black. Terrible.
I shall become A BAT!”
--
Bruce Wayne, DETECTIVE COMICS #33 (November 1939)

"BATMAN ON FILM" -- The 40s Serials
Author: Jett

(EDITOR’S NOTE: While we aspire to be historically as accurate as possible, rumor is used at times when it is of historical significance. There also may be an element of the author’s opinion found at times in these articles.)

Since The Batman was created in 1939, he has graced the silver screen a total of eight times (and counting). There are basically four eras of Batman on film: The 40s serials; The 60s feature film (based on the hit TV show); The Warner Bros. Burton/Schumacher series; and the current Warner Bros. Nolan series. Let’s take a look at the cinematic history of The Batman and we'll start at the beginning -- The 1940s Serials.

THE BATMAN (1943)

Just four years after his creation, Batman made his way to the big screen in the 1943 Columbia Pictures serial BATMAN. This 15 chapter serial starred Lewis Wilson as The Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin. In fact, The Batman was the first DC Comics character to hit the big screen in serial form.

This cheaply made picture pitted Batman and Robin against Dr. Daka (J. Carrol Naish), a Japanese spy who invented a device that turns people into pseudo-zombies. The movie was made during World War II, so like many of the films from that era, it served as a piece of anti-Japanese propaganda (BATMAN contains many anti-Japanese slurs and comments).

The importance of BATMAN (besides the fact it is the very first live-action BATMAN) is that it introduced The Batcave (“The Bat’s Cave” as it was called in the serial) and its grandfather clock entrance into Batman lore as it was a total invention of the screenwriters. It quickly became part of the Batman mythos in the comic books.

Also, as author Mark S. Reinhart points out in THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY, the inclusion of Alfred in the comic books most likely is a result of the character being in BATMAN. Reinhart speculates that BATMAN‘s writers probably informed Bob Kane and company that they had created Alfred for the serial, and Alfred was then written into the comics several months before the premiere of the serial. Also of importance is that the comic book version of Alfred was altered to look like William Austin, the actor who portrayed him in the serial. The comic book Alfred was originally short, bald, and fat. He was changed to be tall, thin, and mustached as we know him today.

(Read the OFFICIAL BOF REVIEW of THE BATMAN by Mark S. Reinhart.)

BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949)

The “sequel,” if you will, to BATMAN was yet another Columbia serial titled BATMAN AND ROBIN. Released in 1949, this picture recast the two main roles: Batman was played by Robert Lowery, while Robin was portrayed by Johnny Duncan.

The plot this time around pitted The Dynamic Duo against “The Wizard,” a hooded villain whose identify remained unknown until the very end of the 15 episode serial.

B&R ‘49 had a lower budget than THE BATMAN, so it comes off even cheaper and cheesier looking than the 1943 BATMAN.

Like in BATMAN, there was no Batmobile for The Batman in B&R. In the former, he tooled around town in a black Cadillac. In ‘49, he was given a Mercury convertible. What is even more preposterous is that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson drove the same vehicles as Batman and Robin! I guess no one in Gotham back in the 40s could put 2 and 2 together.

Commissioner Gordon, played by actor Lyle Talbot, made his first appearance in a Batman film. In addition, the Batsignal, albeit a very cheap looking one, flashed across the sky of Gotham for the first time on the big screen.

The bottom line with both THE BATMAN and BATMAN AND ROBIN is that they are two poorly made Bat-flicks. They are so bad and so cheap-looking, that they come off as a comedy! But it was the 40s and how "serious" did anyone take "comic book movies?" However, the significance of both these serials is not the quality of each (or lack thereof), but the fact that they were the first two live-action depictions of The Batman on film. They should not be overlooked when one studies the great history of The Batman.

(Read OFFICIAL BOF REVIEW of B&R '49 by Mark S. Reinhart.)

NEXT: BATMAN (1966)

"Jett" is the editor-in-chief of BATMAN ON FILM.

RESOURCES

1. Daniels, Les. BATMAN: THE COMPLETE HISTORY.
2. Reinhart, Mark S. THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY.
3. Jimenez, Phil THE DC COMICS ENCYCLOPEDIA.
4. "BATMAN SERIALS," Wikipedia.com, accessed on January 1st thru 26th, 2006.
5. Ramey, William E. BATMAN ON FILM (website).
6. INTERNET MOVIE DATABASE, accessed on January 27th and 28th, 2006.

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