The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: Batman and Robin

Quick Facts
Released in 1949
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet
Written by George Plympton, Joseph Poland, Royal Cole
Starring Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan, Jane Adam

Basic Story Line
Batman and Robin try to stop a villain named The Wizard, who has stolen a machine that can control the vehicles of Gotham City.

There is something about the title Batman and Robin on a film that doesn’t bode well. Like the much ridiculed Joel Schumacher film, the 1949 Batman and Robin is also a mess of smelly cheese.

Serial star Linda Sterling once said in an interview that she would never read a full script when she got it. First off, each script was the size of three movie scripts. But she also commented that the dialogue in the serials seemed like it was ripped right out of a comic strip, that the plots made little sense and were full of contradictions. She had nothing to do with the Batman and Robin serial, but those comments could have been tailor made for it.

The poor quality of writing in this serial is strange, because the writing team was strong. Two of these writers have written some of my favourite serials. George Plympton was a writer on the original Flash Gordon and The Green Hornet, while Joseph Poland wrote for Adventures of Captain Marvel and Zorro’s Black Whip. I don’t know if they were constrained by deadlines, or if the director and producers insisted on changes at the last minute but the script is filled with the most basic of mistakes. The eccentric professor, that everyone believes to be confined to a wheelchair, is walking around in front of Batman, Robin and Commissioner Gordon. Nobody even makes a comment on the professor’s mysterious new found mobility. They also have ideas that they drop into the story, without taking the time to set them up or let them play out properly. SPOILER ALERT! The villain is revealed to be the eccentric scientist’s attendant. The next scene shows the attendant getting killed and the mysterious Wizard carrying on. It is revealed at the end that the attendant had a twin brother that he was working with and it was the brother that was shot. As far as serials go, that’s not bad. Unfortunately they cram all of that into the last two chapters. Another problem with the script is the science. It’s not only bad science, it is ridiculous science. The writers have no idea what the machine that The Wizard uses actually does. It is mainly able to control vehicles, but it also seems to be able to control any moving object, cause cars to break down or burst into flames, it was said to be able to even control a human being, it can apparently also dematerialize objects and when coupled with another machine it is also able to turn someone invisible, and, oh, yes, it runs on diamonds. (A design flaw and one that was dropped after two or three episodes.) All of these problems, with a little time and thought, could have been avoided.

But poor writing is not the only issue with this serial. The costumes look silly. The fight scenes are laughable. Robert Lowery, as Batman, looks like he is more at home on a couch with a beer than engaging a group of thugs in hand to hand combat. Wayne Manor is a rather ordinary looking house in the suburbs. There is a news broadcaster named Barry Brown who is an important character, unfortunately it is hard to take him seriously when he is, apparently, broadcasting from his living room. Batman and Robin is a decided step down from the 1943 Batman serial.

I don’t like to completely trash a serial. I can usually find one or two positive things to say about what I am reviewing. There are a few decent things that I could point out, but in this case, it is what happened after its release that is worth mentioning. In the 1950s, Batman and Robin was edited down to a campy feature length movie and re-released. The story goes that the success of the movie version inspired 1960s Batman television series staring Adam West.

Things to watch for
-A balding Robin stunt double.
-Batman pulls a large blowtorch, that wasn’t there before, out of his belt.
-A fight scene in a warehouse full of empty cardboard boxes.

The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (Note: Yes, completely nonsensical science counts.)
Odds of getting sloshed: High


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