The Summer of Batman ’66 rages on and this time we’ve got two villains created just for the TV show. Luckily, one of them is King Tut, who is the best of the original villains. The other is the Minstrel, who is, well, he’s better than the Archer. Let’s get to it!
I don’t have any real preamble this week except that you can really see the signs of budget cuts. A lot of reused props (including the “Sphinx” from King Tut’s first appearance) and repeated insert shots make it look like the bean counters were having their way. There’s one close-up in the King Tut episodes that’s used several times even though a character who leaves the scene is clearly visible.
“The Minstrel’s Shakedown” / “Barbecued Batman?”
Yes, we have a pair of episodes without rhyming names. Even though “Takedown” or “Breakdown” are just sitting there, waiting for the call. Our villain this time is the new creation, the Minstrel. Van Johnson plays a guy who dresses like, well, a minstrel. The singing kind, not the racist kind. He’s also said to be an expert in electronics and sound in all its forms. That manages to make him a little more of a threat.
I should note that Van Johnson is in his fifties despite everybody referring to him as a “young man”. Also, he could not be bothered to do any fighting because he honestly just stands there when Batman and Robin beat on his henchmen. We’ve seen older or heftier actors abstain from fight scenes before. George Saunders and Victor Buono spring to mind. But they either had a reason to escape the scene or did something to justify their presence. The Minstrel honestly just stands there and watches.
Also, well, I think there’s a reason he didn’t come back. I get the feeling Van Johnson didn’t give half a crap by the end of filming. In the first episode, he sings his threats to Batman while playing his mandolin and by the second episode, he just speaks them while occasionally plucking a single string. But everybody acts like he’s singing. It’s very weird.
And it’s too bad because the plot is pretty decent – the Minstrel manipulates the stock market as a show of strength and then holds the exchange hostage unless Gotham’s wealthiest pay him a ransom. And in a rare move for this show, Batman and Robin are unaware of him. Other than Zelda the Great last year, every villain has been presented as returning. Anyway, the Minstrel keeps appearing on TV to taunt the heroes. And there’s a genuinely bizarre moment where Gordon and Chief O’Hara have a furious argument about how much they need Batman and it kind of ends with Gordon telling O’Hara that the cops are never going to be able to get the job done without them. It seems like O’Hara is being downgraded to a boob, maybe to make sure he and Gordon have different personalities. But I really liked Season One O’Hara who was kind of a working class hero and occasionally had open contempt for Bruce Wayne.
For the second cliffhanger in a row, Batman and Robin are almost roasted. And then the Minstrel threatens to destroy the world, which seems like a bit much. But apparently his sound expertise allows him to isolate the frequencies that will allow him to, say, collapse a building. But apparently it doesn’t work if they shut off the electricity in said building. Look, I’m not a supervillain. But anyway, the Minstrel puts on regular clothes to infiltrate the stockbrokers and uses a taped TV threat to throw off suspicion. This means that when they get to the final fight scene, there are some random millionaires plus Gordon and O’Hara. O’Hara gets taken out by the first punch, for the record. And then at the end, Aunt Harriet still has a thing for the Minstrel.
The idea of manipulating the stock market is interesting for this show, but it’s sort of let down by an uninspired villain and an iffy performance. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with it but it’s not one I’ll remember fondly at the end of the summer. At least we get a James Bond reference when the Minstrel gives his account number as “Double-oh-seven, Broccoli Bank”. (Named for longtime producer Albert Broccoli.)
“The Spell of Tut” / “Tut’s Case is Shut”
Oh, this is more like it. I’m a big fan of Victor Buono as King Tut and I still think it’s amazing that he was twenty-eight years old in this episode. That is an old twenty-eight. Still, it’s a really fun performance and I like that he has a day job and only becomes Tut if he hits his head. It seems very dangerous to have him teaching college if he could become a villain at any moment, though. Also, they keep insisting that he thinks Gotham is “ancient Thebes” but he shows no sign of thinking he’s actually in the past. He should be freaking out all the time at all the modern conveniences.
Also, Tut’s henchwoman (“Cleo Patrick”) is posing as Gordon’s temporary secretary. Not to be that guy, but every once in a while they cast somebody on this show who is just life-threateningly attractive, and that was the deal here. And despite her showing a soft spot for Batman, she doesn’t get the standard rehabilitation scene at the end. That was kind of a bummer.
This time, Tut steals a bunch of preserved scarabs from Ancient Egypt and they manage to bring them back to life. Hilariously, he’s working with an apothecary henchman who runs an apothecary shop while still in costume. This dude committed to the gimmick. Batman figures Tut will want his Sphinx back. Two things are great about this. First, it is so not a Sphinx. It’s a man with a goat head. That would not be a hard thing to research. They’ve had a year since they goofed it up the first time. I understand that they can’t afford a new prop but, man, at least call it something else. Also, it’s very funny to me that they’ve already built recycled props into the plot.
So they put the Sphinx out at Wayne Manor and Robin hides inside. So when they come to steal it, he can listen in. But when Robin drops his radio, they find him and put him on a walkway over some hungry crocodiles who are clearly plastic with hinged jaws. There is also stock footage of crocodiles in an entirely different location. Tut and company head out for the next phase of their plan while Robin is dangling. Batman tracks him with a Geiger counter because he snuck radioactive isotopes into this friend’s belt. This show refuses to learn how radiation and Egyptian iconography work. It’s a decent cliffhanger that’s ruined by Batman using a laser gun.
Regardless, Tut turns his scarabs into a mind control potion and has Cleo slip Chief O’Hara a pill. See, Gordon left before she could get a pill in him, so this was another chance to crap on O’Hara. Batman drinks a buttload of buttermilk and when he’s seemingly infected by poisoned lemonade, he plays along even though the buttermilk lined his stomach and prevented the mind control from taking effect. Still, it’s enough for Tut to bring him back to his hideout and prepare to feed him to the crocodiles. That’s when Batman reveals his ruse. The henchmen get beat and Tut gets exposed to his own poison and then reverts back to his college professor personality. And they figure, sure, he’s fit to be around young people.
Sphinx and bad props aside, this was a good two-parter. I don’t like the laser, but at this point that’s just going to show up to resolve cliffhangers. We also get our second window cameo, and this time it’s the Green Hornet and Kato. They also had a show produced by William Dozier, so that was a natural move. They’ll appear as actual guest stars later this season, so we’ll talk about them then.
Man, I like King Tut. I had really strong memories of this two-parter and I know I haven’t seen it in thirty years at least – I remembered the buttermilk and the crocodiles and some of the weirder images. Maybe this one was in heavy rotation when I was a kid.
Next week, it’s Ma Parker and the Clock King. I’m kind of burned out on villains created for the show already, but Clock King is a comic character and I have no memory of his appearance. I don’t even know which version of the character they’re using. So that’s going to be fun!