Batman and Robin (1949, Spencer Gordon Bennet), Chapter 1: Batman Takes Over

Batman and Robin gets off to a surprisingly reasonable start, even after a spectacularly absurd opening montage sequence. Gotham City is facing an unexplained crime wave; the footage they start with is a dairy hold-up. Then there are some clips from the previous Batman serial, which might be why the chapter, Batman Takes Over, impresses so much (within reason).

The chapter starts with an introduction to the good guys–Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan play Batman and Robin. Both their performances are utterly lacking, but Lowery’s so much better in costume and not trying to emote, the costumed scenes uptick the quality. Then there’s photojournalist Vicki Vale (Jane Adams). She hangs out around Lowery for some reason, even though all he does is yawn at her. Lyle Talbot plays Commissioner Gordon. In this chapter he manages to be too late to save the day but does get to turn on the “Batman signal.” An uncredited Eric Wilton plays Alfred.

George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland, and Royal K. Cole’s script is procedural with all the introductions, which keeps up after the good guy introductions. There’s an action sequence interrupting Lowery yawning at Adams–Adams’s performance seems affable but thin; it’s mostly a car chase, with Ira H. Morgan’s day-for-night photography bringing some charm. After that sequence, which has Lowery and Duncan hanging out in costume with Talbot (this scene is where it’s clear how much better Lowery’s going to be without visible expression), mad scientist William Fawcett gets introduced. He’s wheelchair-bound, but it turns out he’s got some machine to give him back use of his legs and make him into an all-around superman.

Is he the mysterious, masked villain, The Wizard (who gets introduced right after Fawcett reveals he can walk)? Or maybe the Wizard is radio announcer Rick Vallin, who runs his news show from his living room. Actually Takes Over doesn’t hint at Vallin, it just suggestively cuts to him.

The serial’s locations are somewhat amusing. Lowery, Duncan, and Wilton live in suburban home. They go down under to the Batcave, but when they need to get in the car, it’s parked in the driveway. They use the same car crimefighting as they do out of costume. Apparently photog Adams doesn’t pay close attention to visual hints.

Fawcett gets to live in a mansion, however, and the Wizard has his own underground liar filled with electronic equipment.

Lowery and Duncan don’t get much to do on their own. They listen to exposition, they get into a fistfight (winning this one, unlike the previous serial’s caped crusaders), they hang out with Adams. Duncan probably gets six lines. It’s all action, which director Bennet handles okay, usually involving the Wizard’s henchmen. Don C. Harvey plays one of the main ones; he’s good.

The cliffhanger’s okay too.

And the serial has a lot of fun with the Wizard’s remote control device; he can control any vehicle, no matter what size, and maybe even people. If they steal enough diamonds. Because the remote control runs on diamonds.

It’s nowhere near as bad as I was expecting.

CREDITS

Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet; screenplay by George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland, and Royal K. Cole, based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Robert Lowery (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Johnny Duncan (Robin / Dick Grayson), Jane Adams (Vicki Vale), Lyle Talbot (Commissioner Jim Gordon), Don C. Harvey (Henchman Nolan), Lee Roberts (Henchman Neal), William Fawcett (Prof. Hammil), Leonard Penn (Carter), Rick Vallin (Barry Brown), Michael Whalen (Private Investigator Dunne), George Offerman Jr. (Henchman Jimmy), and Eric Wilton (Alfred Beagle).


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