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Batman: The 1949 Motion Picture Serial

— by CHAS BLANKENSHIP —

Antisocial Prof. Hammil’s Remote Control device, which enables the user to take over any motor vehicle within 50 miles, is stolen by The Wizard. Batman and Robin must now prevent the Wizard from obtaining diamonds, needed as fuel for the device, and also rescue magazine photographer Vicki Vale.

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Following the immediate success of the original ’43 serial, Columbia made quick work of jumping back onto the Super Hero bandwagon.

After the first “Superman” motion picture serial starring Kirk Alyn in 1948, the studio saw fit to bring their initial success back to screens in the form of 1949’s “Batman & Robin.”

This time around, thanks to the end of the war, Batman and Robin are sent on a blazing case unabridged by the presence of Axis forces.

Batman (Robert Lowery) and his sidekick (John Duncan) come across a bizarre wheelchair bound professor named Hamill (William Fawcett) who has developed a Remote Device capable to seizing control over any car or motor-powered vehicle within a certain distance of the device’s location.

At first the dynamic duo think nothing of it…until the device is stolen by a masked evil-doer calling himself the Wizard.

Using the device to take control over Gotham City, the Wizard seeks to steal vast amounts of diamonds…the material used to power the device…to continue his stronghold over the city.

Now, with the aid of Police Commissioner Gordon (Lyle Talbot) and beautiful photojournalist Vicki Vale (Jane Adams), Batman and Robin must fight to reclaim the device, unmask their foe and put an end to the Wizard’s reign of terror once and for all.

“Batman & Robin,” for me personally, is a tad more enjoyable than the original serial out of the mere fact that it includes more of the Batman lexicon into its vocabulary. Unlike the first serial (despite the fact that it introduced audiences to the Batcave), here we’ve got the flesh and blood introductions of Commissioner Gordon, the Bat-Signal AND Vicki Vale.

With the war over, the story also plays a bit more within the realm of comics than being manipulated into propaganda.

This was the second serial for a comic character but it was not the first time that it was done. Flash Gordon, Don Winslow, The Spider, Tailspin Tommy, Jungle Jim, The Green Hornet and Secret Agent X9, had all had 2 or more. Dick Tracy leads the pack with four serials.

But unlike these others, which may have had one or two changes in cast, “Batman & Robin” cleaned house, leaving no one from the original.

Veteran Robert Lowery, who referred to himself as “the King of the Bs”, was a fairly good choice for Bruce Wayne/Batman. His dead panning of Wayne’s dialog contrasted with the so-serious speech of Batman. He possessed the build and obvious athleticism to bring a certain authenticity to the role, maybe even more so than Lewis Wilson.

John Duncan had been around doing juvenile roles for several years (including the “East Side Kids” series), and now had matured some, giving him both the youthful appearance and the gymnast-like musculature that Robin would have. As the Chapter Titles suggest, I might add, Robin gets a bit more attention this time around (also thanks in large part to being a title character now).

The most welcome addition to the cast, for me personally, is Lyle Talbot’s authoritative yet warm take on Jim Gordon. He’s a step up from “BATMAN”s Captain Arnold and it’s a great performance.

Like many serials, they did employ a hooded mystery man villain as the “brains” heavy you know, unknown but having several on screen suspects to keep the audience guessing for 15 chapters. This was okay, or at least adequate, but begs the question: Why not use one of the great colorful villains from the comics pages?

Interesting enough, the ‘Superman’ serial sequel “Atom Man vs. Superman” DID feature Luthor (also played by Lyle Talbot) so it’s odd that Batman’s rogues, which have always blown Superman’s out of the water, weren’t utilized.

In terms of the actual production, “Batman & Robin” is along the same lines as its ’43 predecessor. Inevitably cheap in appearance, what with its stock musical score and cliché set pieces, the serial at least catches the spirit of the comics it’s trying to emulate.

All in all, “Batman & Robin” is a fun watch here and there. In a lot of ways it improves upon “BATMAN” and, on that basis alone, fans should find it quite entertaining.

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“Batman & Robin: The Complete Motion Picture Serial” (1949)

Chapter Titles:

1: Batman Takes Over
2: Tunnel of Terror
3: Robin’s Wild Ride
4: Batman Trapped
5: Robin Rescues Batman
6: Target – Robin!
7: The Fatal Blast
8: Robin Meets the Wizard
9: The Wizard Strikes Back
10: Batman’s Last Chance
11: Robin’s Ruse
12: Robin Rides the Wind
13: The Wizard’s Challenge
14: Batman vs. Wizard
15: Batman Victorious

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Directed by … Spencer Gordon Bennet
Screenplay by … George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland and Royal K. Cole
Based on the DC Comics Character Created by … Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Produced by … Sam Katzman
Cinematography by … Ira H. Morgan
Art Direction by … Paul Palmentola
Set Decoration by … Sidney Clifford
Editing by … Dwight Caldwell and Earl Turner
Musical Direction by … Mischa Bakateinikoff

Robert Lowery Jr. … Bruce Wayne/Batman
John Duncan … Richard ‘Dick’ Grayson/Robin
Jane Adams … Vicki Vale
Lyle Talbot … Police Commissioner James Gordon
Eric Wilton/Alfred Pennyworth
Ralph Graves … Winslow Harrison
Lyle Talbot … The Wizard
Don C. Harvey … Henchman Nolan
William Fawcett … Prof. Hammil
Leonard Penn … Carter – Hammil’s valet
Rick Vallin … Barry Brown
Michael Whalen … Private Investigator Dunne
Greg McClure … Henchman Evans
House Peters Jr. … Henchman Earl
Jim Diehl … Henchman Jason
Rusty Wescoatt … Henchman Ives
Knox Manning … Narrator (voice)

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4 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    Great series, Chas.

  2. annielicious14 #
    2

    It so weird I’m trying to remember where but I’d heard that the 43 serial was better … but the the acting was better in this the 49, version…… either way the consensus was BATMAN ROCKED….. um and so did Robin! Sorry Boy Wonder!

    I was wondering how the end of the war would affect the Batman idea ….. It’s like you’re answering my questions before I even ask……..

    “With the war over, the story also plays a bit more within the realm of comics than being manipulated into propaganda.”

    p.s. Superman is not 1/2 the man Batman is! Smirk!

  3. 3

    another cool article chas.

  4. Batman Fan #1 #
    4

    Great story!



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