On 30 , March 1966, Frank Gorshin‘s Riddler returned for “Ring of Wax” (directed by James Clark, written by Jack Paritz and Bob Rodger). The local wax museum is supposed to be unveiling a wax figure of Batman. To the crowd’s horror, that loathsome lithe Riddler is on display instead, and up to his usual atrocious anarchy with a stupendous squirter, spewing crimson crud all over the Gotham gang. Of course, he leaves a pair of baffling riddles behind. In his cauldron of corruption, Riddler concocts a wax that burn its way through any vault in the world, sending him to the local library (!), where he is accompanied by a striped dayglo duo and a purple leather-clad villainess named Moth (Linda Gaye Scott). She’s one in a series of Gorshin’s increasingly bizarre disciples (in “A Riddle A Day,” Riddler was followed by a girl who talks like a mouse and a trio of henchmen wearing a rainbow of primary colored hoodies, one of whom is the yellowed bug-eyed cheese munching stooge). The Riddler’s inexplicable entourage makes him all the more absurdly frightening. We get such a kick watching Gorshin’s bouncing, blithesome histrionics that the only disappointment is NOT getting to see him lay waste to the Dynamic Duo. However, he does get to stop them in place with “Dr. Riddler’s Instant Forever-Stick Invisible Wax Emulsion,” AKA spray-on superglue. Escaping with a book on a lost treasure of the Incas, Riddler and his gang head back to their candle factory, where Batman and the Boy Wonder are tied up and lowered into an enormous cauldron. “Will Batman wax serious? For the sake of our heroes, let’s think positively!!! But it looks bad! Very bad! How can we wait until tomorrow night.. same bat-time… same bat-channel !!?”
Their escape in Part Two (“Give ’em the Axe”) is among the series’ most preposterous, and the battle with henchmen hits a garish high, all of which translates into camp delight. When Moth tries to flirt her way out of jail, Batman waxes chaste: “A moth that plays with fire is bound to be burned.” Needless to say, Gorshin owns both episodes.
“The Curse of Tut/Pharaoh’s in a Rut” (directed by Charles Rondeau, written by Robert Dennis and Earl Barret) aired on the 13th and 14th of April, 1966. “A giant Sphinx is uttering demented threats in Gotham Central Park in a woman’s voice!” “Holy hieroglyphics, this might mean a battle royal” with King Tut (Victor Buono), of course. “Maybe this sphinx will give us a clue!” Tut surrounds himself with 1960s Egyptian babes (including Zoda Rodann as a coney dog eating Nefertiti) and henchmen (including busy character actor and B-Western regular Don Berry), whom Tut dismisses as twits. Chasing the deluded creature Nefertiti in the park, Batman and Robin engaged in a hilarious QUNCKKK of a sword fight, but even that’s topped by a bonked Bruce rolling down a hill on gurney and heading for a cliff—which has to be the sexiest update on a serial cliffhanger to date.
The previous episode is one of the most nonsensical of season one. It looks downright linear compared to Part Two. Nefertiti swoons amorously, and Tut blows his top. Alfred gets bonked. Batman gets gassed. Batman and Nefertiti, tortured with pebbles (!) are taunted with a chorus of “Twinkle, twinkle little bat, how I wonder where you’re at.” While Alfred drives Robin to the exhibit, BATMAN RETURNS WITH THE BATUSI; he tops his previous version with such flair that I swear Tut’s in love. Oh, but isn’t it just like Batman to burst the poor man’s beard with a “BIFF!”? After another duel (Errol and Basil they ain’t), the heartbroken Tut heads for the hills, but “that’s life—full of ups and downs.” Buono’s a different kind of villain; underrated, and his buffoonery fits the refreshing absurdity.
Roddy McDowall turns up as another unique, one-time-only nerd villain in “The Bookworm Turns/While Gotham City Burns” (directed by Larry Peerce and written by Hedrick Vollaerts, airing on April 20 and 21, 1966). McDowell is such a delight that one laments it’s his only appearance. “Holy Homicide!” Bookworm has infiltrated a bridge dedication by assassinating Commissioner Gordon live on TV (using stock black and white footage of a man falling from a bridge). “This is one time we don’t wait for the batphone.”
A buxom bookworm henchwoman (inconspicuously dressed from head to toe in a body-hugging bright red body suit) drops a copy of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in the Batmobile, but “holy reincarnation!” Gordon is alive! It was only a body double and a “typical twisted bookworm joke.” The Batmobile is literally book bombed, and the Dynamic Duo darts to deduce dastardly designs by a failed novelist turned super bookworm. Wait, he’s gonna blow the bridge, which means time for a Bat-U-turn, and a call to the Batmobile parachute pickup service.
“Holy human flies!” Jerry Lewis shows up for the Batclimb cameo. “Holy headache!” There’s a Robin the belfry. “Holy Midnight, the first minute of the new day… the everlasting end for Robin! Stick merciful cotton in your ears…! The death-knell sounds tomorrow…same bat-time…same bat-channel!”
Where’s Robin? It’s time for Bat-meditation. “But Batman,” pleads Chief O’Hara. “Don’t interrupt! I’m trying to fathom the subconscious of a deadly criminal!”
“Ohh,” the disappointed henchman moan in unison when the Boy Wonder is saved. The bookworms are dressed like ice cream men and wear glasses, echoing the big worm himself, who drops a giant cookbook in the middle of Gotham City. Luckily, Batman has a neon pink and yellow super-powered bat magnet. Okay boys, take off your glasses, it’s time for… “Thunk!”
I’m showing bat-bias for Gorshin, but his perfect Charlie Chaplin impersonation alone justifies it in “Death in Slow Motion/Riddler’s False Notion” (directed by Charles Rondeau and written by Richard Carr, airing 27th and 28th of April, 1966). A silent film theme takes flight with Keystone Kops, pie fights, a damsel in distress named Pauline (Sherry Jackson), explosive eclairs, a vixen Bo Peep, Gorshin (briefly channeling Tom Mix) overdosing on Folgers, and one of the best dialogue exchanges of the entire series. “Holy molars, am I ever glad I take care of my teeth,” Robin says after catching the batarang with his teeth. “You owe your life to dental hygiene,” says Batman. In true silent film spirit, a hogtied Robin nearly gets split into two by a buzzsaw in one of the series most memorable cliffhangers. Ben Hur‘s Francis X. Bushman plays a small part as Mr. Van Jones, and Riddler prophecies, “this is your last reel.” Indeed it was; Bushman died a mere three months later.
Vincent Price takes cheese to a new level in Season Two’s “An Egg Grows in Gotham/The Yegg Foes in Gotham” (directed by Universal horror’s George Waggner, written by Stanley Ross, and Edwin Self, and aptly airing during the Halloween season, 1966).
Egghead is easily the best villain created specifically for the series, and it would never have worked with anyone other than Price, who makes his entrance at City Hall, stealing the Gotham City Charter from the eggsperts and eggsiting stage left with the loot. Egghead’s lair is eggsquisite (with eggdesks, eggchairs, and eggclocks) and populated by chrome-domed henchman: Benedict (Gene Dynakrski), Foo Young (Ben Welden) and eggsecutive secretary Miss Bacon (Gail Hire). It’s downright surreal slapstick, missing only Edith Massey. Egghead finds a loophole in the town charter—Gotham City must pay nine raccoon pelts to Chief Screaming Chicken (Edward Everett Horton)—that can make the city his! Stereotypes are as abundant as puns, with Egghead delighted with the eggstravagant eggshibition in Screaming Chicken’s tepee. Egghead wants an eggsclusive lease.
“You have egg on your face,” Robin announces on barging into the villain’s chicken coop. “Thwack!” “You put all your eggs in one basket,” says Batman. ”
Prepare yourself for an eggspeditious defeat!”
“That’s very apt, Robin.”
Egghead may have just broken the shell of Bruce Wayne’s secret. How diabolical!!! How inhuman!!! How eggscrutiating!!! Will the world’s greatest criminal mind eggstract the true identity of Batman??? The eggsplanation to these and other eggscentric questions tomorrow!!! Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel!!!
If Egghead doesn’t give you a batgasm, then Liberace will surely be the batviagra you need in “The Devil’s Fingers/The Dead Ringers” (directed by Larry Peerce, written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr, airing October 26th and 27th, 1966). The Dead Ringers are twin brothers Chandell and Harry (Liberace x 2!). Cigar-chomping, tommygun-toting Harry is blackmailing Chandell into a life of crime. The virtuoso has a wee bonnie trio (a blonde, a redhead, and a brunette) of miniskirted henchwomen (you didn’t really expect Liberace to be hanging out with macho thugs, did you?) From afar, Bruce Wayne hears Chandell make a mistake in a C-minor chord. “Holy impossibility!”
Liberace a ladies’ man? Seducing Aunt Harriet?
That’s only topped by Liberace’s Jimmy Cagney impersonation, which makes him the most delightfully awful villain of the series.
Will the music end?