You can’t stop summer, and you can’t stop Batman ’66. Except ABC, who stopped it by canceling it fifty years ago. The point is, we’ve got two brand new villains this week, and that has not worked out for us yet this season. But I persist and we end up with some pretty enjoyable, if flawed episodes. Let’s get to Egghead and Chandell!
“An Egg Grows in Gotham” / “The Yegg Foes in Gotham“
This two-parter gives us something rare – an enjoyable villain created for the show! Congratulations, Egghead! Take your seat over with King Tut and Bookworm. So, before I get into the meat of these episodes, which I mostly really liked, there’s a big fat turd in the pool to address here. These episodes are just crazy racist. Yeah, I know. It was a different time. But that still doesn’t make it pleasant to watch in the Year of our Lord 2018. Also, this particular racism is really childish and excessive. We’re still not great in the way we treat Native Americans. Witness the logo of Cleveland’s baseball team or everything about Washington’s football team. And here, in 1966, the show takes a nice long time to point and laugh at a Native American. Chief Screaming Chicken (sigh) is played by the usually delightful Edward Everett Horton. Horton is white and appears to be made up in what I can only call “redface”. It’s a reference to his F Troop character, but that doesn’t make it OK. It kinda makes it worse because F Troop…. yikes.
We get all the hits here. “How”. “Boy, is my face red”. The Chief talks like Bizarro, using “Me” instead of “I”. There are jokes about blankets and some overall nasty stuff about pelts. It’s really just a gross stain on some pretty fun episodes. There is an almost nice moment where Batman has taken the time to learn the traditional Mohican greeting and it almost gets to something about respecting other cultures, but that greeting is just a series of stereotypes. This show does a better job of casting African-American actors in (admittedly minor) speaking roles than a lot of other series at the time, so it’s disappointing to see it maybe wasn’t as progressive as I gave it credit for.
Putting that aside, there’s some good stuff here. Vincent Price plays Egghead, an egg-themed villain. And unlike some of the guest starts we’ve seen this year, Price just goes for it. He seems to be having a blast. My one nit is that they write in a bunch of egg jokes where he was clearly meant to pronounce, say, “explosive” as “eggsplosive”, and he remembers to do this about half the time.
Egghead steals the City Charter and we learn that three of the wealthiest families in Gotham have to pay Chief Screaming Chicken nine raccoon pelts a year to renew the lease. (Yeah. It’s not OK.) Egghead plans to prevent the transaction so he can renegotiate the deal and own Gotham City. He also determines, with his egg-based intellect, that one of the millionaires involved in this transaction must really be Batman. With a series of observations, he figures it must be Bruce Wayne and hooks him up to a memory transference machine. Which is silly, but it’s basically how Hugo Strange learned Batman’s identity in the comics and in the animated series. Bruce Wayne manages to short out the machine by overloading it with trivia, which is really funny.
By the way, you’d think Egghead would put together that only one of the tree millionaires hangs out with a teenage boy and that would really put a pin in who Batman and Robin must be.
There’s some good stuff with Bruce Wayne and the millionaires having to escape, but they’re too late and Egghead leases the city and turns it into the Purge 24/7. There’s a little bit of Penguin’s “crime licenses” from Season Four of Gotham here. Anyway, he also outlaws Batman, so Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson have to steal the charter back and find a loophole. Turns out, no criminal can lease any property in Gotham City, so Egghead’s contract is null and void. There’s a fight at an egg farm that treats eggs as much more threatening weapons than is at all reasonable, and that wraps up Egghead.
Put aside the racism, and these episodes are super fun. Egghead is a solid villain, his plan is unique, and we get lots of Bruce Wayne action. You don’t see Bruce Wayne doing much on this show, but Adam West hits this one like it’s his audition for the James Bond franchise and he nails it. There’s a world where Adam West got to play Felix Leiter, and I want to visit that world for long enough to watch a couple of movies. There’s also a wonderful Will Ferrell moment where the heroes are exposed to laughing gasp and at one point Adam West just straight out says “I’m laughing!” I really enjoyed that.
In keeping with the theme of racism, Bill Dana is the window guest this time, in character as (sigh) Jose Jimenez. And just a weird thing to note – the director is George Waggner, who in most of his projects is credited as “george waGGner”. Nobody knows why, but it looks weird in the credits.
These episodes were really fun aside from the parts that made me want to die, and I’m looking forward to more Egghead episodes.
“The Devil’s Fingers” / “The Dead Ringers”
I was dreading these episodes and it’s partly the reason why I didn’t review any episodes last week. I just couldn’t steel myself to watch another new villain, this one played by Liberace. That didn’t seem especially fun. I had some sour memories of this one, though it’s probably been twenty years. To my surprise, this one was just full of gimmicks and I ended up enjoying despite Chandell / Harry never really materializing as a threat.
There’s not much reason to even try and explain the plot on this one, so I’ll just cover the basics, because they’re nuts. Chandell (Liberace) is a world-renowned pianist even though he used a player piano when he performed for the President. That potential scandal is used as leverage by his identical twin brother, Harry, who forces Chandell to carry out his criminal plans and then takes 95% of the proceeds.
Hey, let’s talk about Liberace for a second. He’s actually pretty fun in the role and he tries really hard to make Harry a tough guy, though he slips often enough that I sometimes thought Chandell was posing as Harry when he wasn’t. I’m kind of fascinated by Liberace, and I went to his museum years ago and found there was no mention of AIDS or his sexuality. It’s been a long time, but I believe the official timeline said he died of “an incurable illness”. Here, they play Chandell as quite the ladies’ man. He has three sexy assistants who get incredibly jealous of his relationship with Aunt Harriet (who he’s attempting to marry so he can control the Wayne fortune after Bruce and Dick die in a darkroom explosion). And it’s really not clear to me to what extent Liberace’s sexuality was known – is Chandell’s womanizing supposed to be a gag or was that Liberace’s actual image at the time? I feel like it was blindingly obvious but I don’t think he ever acknowledged his sexuality. I mean, I watched The Match Game religiously and never realized Charles Nelson Reilly was gay despite him alluding to it, like, all the time. Basically, Liberace as a cultural figure is perplexing to me.
Anyway, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are on trips when this happens, so officially, Batman and Robin are on vacation. I kind of like that idea, but I sort of wish they’d been dealing with another villain. Within the logic of the show, it doesn’t make much sense that Batman would just peace out occasionally. Still, the results are funny as Gordon and O’Hara realize they have to stop a crimewave themselves. First, they miraculously don’t crap on Chief O’Hara at all. Second, the crimes are non-violent but the cops set up machine gun nests at Chandell’s concert. So many people would get shot on this show without Batman.
I also like that once they decide they need to return to Gotham, Dick is not excited about the prospect. We see him actually on a date and you get the sense that teenage hormones are very nearly outpacing his sense of duty. It’s a nice side of him that we rarely get to see.
Along the way, we learn that there’s a notorious criminal named “Fingers” who’s looking to take over Harry’s operation, but Fingers is really Chandell. Batman and Robin uncover a clue by remembering two musical performances note for note. One of the henchwomen can knock people out by playing a bagpipe. Harry is actually brought into the GCPD for questioning and lawyers up and we get a surprisingly funny performance for his criminal attorney (who is both a criminal and an attorney). There’s a slightly more funny than it is sexist fight scene where Chandell’s women keep distracting Batman and Robin. All in all, surprisingly fun. There’s so much nonsense that it just goes straight over the top and by the end of part two, you have Aunt Harriet pulling a gun on Chandell and you just go with it.
To be sure, Chandell and Harry are pretty limited as villains and I didn’t walk away hoping Liberace would make another appearance, but these episodes were just gloriously silly. I ended up having a lot of fun watching these episodes when I was expecting to them be a slog. Good job, Batman!
Hey, next time we’ve got some recognizable villains with Penguin and Mr. Freeze!