A ‘pre-quipping’ era, clearly.
Masters of Ridicule Rifftrax have sharpened their skewers for none other than the Dark Knight himself! Unbeknownst to most, Batman appeared on the big screen starting in the 1940’s with a series of half-hour shorts. Now we at Caped Crusades are proud to bring you exclusive reviews of the RiffTrax lampoon of Batman and Robin: The Serials!
We’re excited to present Batman Takes Over, the first installment in one of the earliest screen depictions of Batman ever made, the 1949 serial Batman and Robin! This is where we’d joke that we finally found a version of Batman and Robin worse than the Joel Schumacher Batman & Robin, but that is physically impossible according to Newton’s Law of Schumacherian Bat-Nipplage.
In this thrilling opening episode, Batman Takes Over…an hour to arrive at the crime scene, because he drives an ordinary car instead of a Batmobile. And, standing in for stately Wayne Manor, a slightly-less-stately suburban home. Batman and thirty-something boy wonder Robin are hot on the trail of The Wizard, so named for his lack of magic powers or costume resembling a wizard’s in any way. Speaking of costumes, Batman & Robin store theirs in a drawer in a FILING CABINET. And, and, and…well there’s too much great Bat-wrongness to tell here, you really just need to see this.
These serials are, on one hand, fascinating in that this incarnation of Batman barely exists in our collective nostalgia. It pre-dates Adam West by nearly 20 years, so it carries almost none of the baggage that accompanies later versions have dealt with. It was, in fact, innovative. For instance, the Batcave was first portrayed beneath Wayne Manor in this series, accessible through his living room grandfather clock. That doesn’t mean, however, that these films are ‘good’ by any stretch of the imagination.
Rigidly formulaic, the Batman serials might has well be Commando Cody or Buck Rogers shorts. They follow the same cookie-cutter plots that similar action/adventure films of the era cranked out, and rarely did anything that couldn’t be written by that little paperclip character that used to guide you through writing Microsoft Word documents. They were Batman adventures in name only.
‘Gotham’ seemed to be somewhere in southern California, boasting bluffs, fields, and strangely, palm trees. The Rifftrax crew made note of the poor staging right away, pointing out that and the oddly suburban looking Wayne Manor. It appeared to have only one floor, cheap Pier One-ish furniture and just a couple rooms, so I’d hesitate to call it ‘stately’.
This Batman didn’t learn combat from the League of Shadows, just one old Irish drunk.
The action is pretty laughable with or without commentary. Both Caped Crusaders seemed sadly out of shape and flailed wildly when ‘fighting’ the ubiquitous be-suited gangsters that crawled out of the wood work as if it were a side-scrolling video game. Their capes and masks were more detrimental to their safety than helpful, as Robin was being strangled by his during one fight in an alley with the Wizard’s thugs.
Batman Takes Over by Rifftrax certainly has more laughs than plot advancements, as Batman and Robin don’t seem to really make any headway in recovering the Remote Control Device they sought to keep out of the wrong hands. Like a Dragonball Z episode, the film just sort of ends without anything really happening and the end title screen begs the audience to come back to that particular theater the next week. I’m holding out hope ‘plot’ actually happens in the next one.
Though Mystery Science Theater 3000 is over and their sister project Cinematic Titanic has run aground, Rifftrax keeps the feel and tone of MST3K for all of us that miss it. The Batman Serials are fun, easy and accessible, so if you’re thinking about jumping back on or had never experienced those iconic older projects, these are a great taste of what to expect. Each short can be downloaded on Rifftrax.com and from iTunes for $1.99 in all sorts of formats.
Next time we’ll look at episode 2, Batman: Tunnel of Terror!
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