Batman - Holy Batmania! is a two-disc package of documentaries and miscellanea of all things Batman -- the 1966-68 TV series, that is. It's virtually identical in format to Image/Kevin Burns' The Munsters: America's First Family of Fright, the excellent package of materials relating to that show but unfortunately cancelled just prior to its release. Holy Batmania!, on the other hand, is already out and safely in the hands of consumers.
The first disc includes an hour-long (i.e., 43 minutes minus the nearly 20 minutes[!] of commercials) documentary on the cult TV series, and one each on star Adam West, Cesar Romero (The Joker), and Julie Newmar (The Catwoman).
Holy Batmania! (2002) is a good overview of the show, whose camp approach to Bob Kane's long-running comic book series was (and pretty much still is) unique to American network television. The deadpan heroics of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West) and Dick Grayson/Robin (Burt Ward) against a "rogue's gallery" of villains, including The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), was unusual in other respects, too. For most of its run it aired as two-part shows broken up over over two consecutive nights (though it was originally conceived, and its pilot shot, as a one-hour show), Wednesdays and Thursdays. The show's instant popularity -- and this truly was an instantly popular one -- drew guest stars that didn't necessarily do a lot of TV, including Anne Baxter and Edward G. Robinson.
The documentary is somewhat misleading, given that the "batmania" is limited to the series. The show's comic book origins and the two Columbia serials, The Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949) are virtually ignored, as are the high concept Warner Bros. blockbusters of the eighties and nineties, even though both West and Ward found themselves at odds with that studio when the first movie was in pre-production.
Holy Batmania! is, however, stuffed with series highlights; the documentary was produced in conjunction with 20th Century-Fox, the studio behind the TV show. (There are legal reasons the show hasn't yet made it to DVD -- something to do with the whole D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., and Fox relationship to the characters -- but clip use is apparently okay.) Included are West and Ward's screen test, along with another one featuring Lyle Waggoner as Batman (if he had been cast, would all of Hollywood be using Star West trailers?) and Peter Deyell as Robin. There's also some truly bizarre material here, including the strange-looking Legends of the Superheroes, a 1979 made-for-TV movie that brought back West and Ward (as well as Frank Gorshin) in a new live-action spoof produced by Hanna-Barbera.
Both West and Ward are interviewed at length, as well as Gorshin, Newmar, Romero, and series co-creators Charles FitzSimons and William Dozier (who was also the show's portentous narrator), in interviews recorded shortly before their respective deaths. Most of the interviews date from 1989, and the show may have been a 2002 reworking of older material.
Adam West: The Man Behind the Cowl (2000) annoying uses the same clips from Holy Batmania! for its middle third, with virtually no new material. (Curiously, Yvonne Craig, Batgirl in the series, is conspicuously absent from the first show but present here). The 43-minute bio is generally uninspired, with nothing much to say about West's early career, and it leans heavily on Batman to fill out the program. This was not an issue with the biographies on Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, and Yvonne De Carlo on the Munsters discs, but the West show feels padded.
Fortunately, things get interesting when the actor's career plummets after Batman's three-season run, a typecasting nightmare of alarming magnitude. West is reduced to appearing in costume at a car show in Kansas City (He actually says, "Hi everyone! Remember me?"). And, in a fate worse than anything in This is Spinal Tap, he reluctantly agrees to be shot out of a cannon at a county fair. Even the billing is humiliating: "Starring BATMAN (Adam West)."
Happily, his career did recover. His iconic status keeps him busy (including an appearance at a convention in Argentina, where Batman remains hugely popular). He was a frequent guest on Politically Incorrect and starred in a tantalizing unsold pilot, something like Police Squad!, written by Conan O'Brien.
Is Adam West really 76 years old?
As an A&E-type Biography, Cesar Romero: In a Class by Himself (2000) plays much better than the Adam West show, partly because of the full access to wide range of film clips, as Romero spent the lion's share of his film career at Fox.
Featuring interviews with Jane Wyman, Ruta Lee, and Alice Faye, the series goes into considerable detail on the actor's early days as a dancer, as The Cisco Kid in six films and as a staple in Fox's wartime Technicolor musicals. The show more or less acknowledges his homosexuality, referring to rumors that Tyrone Power (his co-star in Captain from Castile) was perhaps something more than his best friend. Thankfully, though, there's no sign of Boze Hadleigh.
Julie Newmar: The Cat's Meow is bolstered by lots of home movie footage (in color and 16mm) of Newmar as a child, teen and young adult, as well as footage from such films as The Rookie (1960) and Li'l Abner (1959, including Jerry Lewis's cameo) and TV appearances on Adventures in Paradise, My Living Doll (on which she starred with Bob Cummings) and McCloud.
This is perhaps the most interesting of the three biographies. Newmar had it all: beauty, brains, and talent, and an admirably unceasing devotion to her only child, a son with Down's Syndrome born when Newmar was nearly 50.
As evidenced through clips from her earliest days as an uncredited dancer on such films as The Band Wagon (1953) and Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), through her Catwoman years, and late-period work as a runway model and black leather icon in a George Michael video, Newmar is one sexy woman who only got better with age. Defying all logic, she managed to look even better in her mid-60s that she did in her early-twenties.
Video & Audio
Batman: Holy Batmania! looks as one would suspect. The full frame shows are up to standard TV documentary standards. The new interviews look just fine, the film clips provided by Fox look good, the public domain acquisitions less so. The audio, mostly mono, is okay; there are no subtitles.
Once again, Batmania! is a let-down after all the goodies accorded Image's aborted Munsters DVD. Disc 2 is composed almost entirely of promo material, much of it repetitive, which gets mighty wearying after only a short while. Batman Screen Tests offer complete versions of the tests highlighted in two of the documentaries. Presentations and Promos include a 9-minute 1966 Network Presentation, ABC Network promos for all three seasons, syndication promotions used from 1968-83, and eight generic promos running between 10 and 30 seconds. The quality is variable.
Also included are 12 Batman Spots; these are obviously more recent, but their use is not clear. Batman Wrap Arounds feature West and Ward, in short, somewhat amusing segments for the series' run on Fox's cable channel. Batman Trivia is more of the same, with West and Ward using clips to quiz television audiences. Batman the Movie is a collection of trailers and even TV syndication promos for Batman, the 1966 theatrical feature spawned of the TV show. Most of these feature West, Ward, Romero, Meredith, Gorshin, and Lee Meriwether (she played Catwoman in the movie) addressing the audience directly in footage not in the movie.
Fans of the Batman TV series will definitely want to pick this up, especially since the actual show may be several years away from a legitimate DVD release.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.