Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Batman and Robin: The Complete 1949 Movie Serial Collection (1949)
"Now if you'll excuse me, I must go take my vitamins. Your news has upset me."- Bruce Wayne (Robert Lowery)
Stars: Robert Lowery, John Duncan, Jane Adams, Lyle Talbot
Other Stars: Ralph Graves, Don Harvey, William Fawcett, Leonard Penn, Rick Vallin, Michael Whalen, Greg McClure, House Peters Jr., Jim Diehl, Rusty Wescoat
Director: Spencer Bennet
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence and gunplay)
Run Time: 04h:24m:03s
Release Date: 2005-03-22
DVD ReviewThe character of Batman has proven adaptable to the times over the years since he was first depicted in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. While the Tim Burton films delved into the darkness and the 1960s television series joyously celebrated the high camp aspects of the character, earlier efforts pretty much just played the character straight. The second serial version of the comic book was this 1949 effort from Columbia.
Batman/Bruce Wayne (Robert Lowery) and sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson (John Duncan) are called into action by Gotham City police commissioner Gordon (Lyle Talbot) when the remote control device of Professor Hammill (William Fawcett) is stolen by a masked villain calling himself the Wizard. The Wizard can use this device to control any vehicle within its range of effect. Through the 15 episodes of this serial, Batman and Robin foil the Wizard on occasion, but for the most part the Wizard gets the better of the caped crusaders. No sooner does a device surface to neutralize the remote control device than the Wizard steals it and uses it to become invisible (don't ask). That leads his reign of terror to new heights and only Batman and Robin can stop him.
There are few serials that don't suffer from significant padding, and Batman and Robin is no exception. On the other hand, the cliffhangers are fairly honest, with the resolution sometimes involving something we didn't see before but almost never cheating to completely contradict the prior week's finale. The whole flows fairly well, if it does take a long time to get where it's going. Less satisfying is the completely goofy science, with such silliness as radioactivity causing things to burst into flames. The titles of each episode are hype-heavy, and seldom justified by the action in the two-reel segment. For instance, the second episode, Tunnel of Terror is nothing more than a train going into a tunnel as Batman tussles with one of the Wizard's thugs on top.
Robert Lowery captures a stern no-nonsense Batman pretty well, though his effeminate Bruce Wayne frequently goes way over the top. This may be a nod to the Zorro model for Batman, since his portrayal of Wayne owes a lot to Fairbanks' prissy depiction of Don Diego Vega. He's not helped any, however, by the baggy and poorly-designed Batman costume he has to wear. That's made worse by the use of Batman, a character intended for darkness to terrify criminals, being depicted consistently in broad daylight. He's not imposing in that excessive light, but just a slightly paunchy guy in ill-fitting tights. One doubts criminals would be very terrified by this image. John Howard's Robin is decent enough, though he's a bit old and bulky for the part; he hardly fits the image of an agile trapeze artist. Lyle Talbot, who would go on to Ed Wood films such as Plan Nine from Outer Space, makes for a reasonably good commissioner Gordon. The portrayals in this serial seem to be the clear launching pad for the over-the-top portrayals in the 1966 series, with the slightly stiff but very earnest line readings feeling like a clear antecedent to that program.
There are some nice touches to the silliness. Shadows of fluttering bats (though poorly-executed) give some character to the Bat Cave. On the other hand, the Batmobile is nothing more than an ordinary convertible, which will surely be a disappointment to fans used to the more technically elaborate character (though this Batman does somehow manage to carry a full acetylene torch outfit in his utility belt). The mystery of who exactly is the Wizard is pretty well done, with plenty of red herrings pushed forward. Director Spencer Bennet uses suggestive cuts to highlight a variety of suspects from time to time; just when you think you have it figured out, the most recent sure-thing suspect turns up dead. The final disclosure doesn't make a whole lot of sense, leading one to suspect that it was being made up as the crew went along. While that may be the case, it's a mildly entertaining little trip.
Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture looks quite nice, although there's the expected speckling from a cheaply-made picture that's 55 years old. There's also a fair amount of flickering and the expected graininess of a cheap production. However, greyscale is excellent and fine detail and texture are reasonably good, with decent crispness except during the copious stock footage. Edge enhancement is hardly noticeable. There are a couple of moments of gatefloat and a few episodes are a little splicey, but short of a major restoration that would make no economic sense this looks as good as one can resonably expect.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono sounds very good. It's crisp and clear, and Mischa Bakaleinikoff's score with its rousing theme music sounds very nice. Just don't expect a huge range. There's mild hiss and noise but it's hardly noticeable and never distracting.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Japanese; plus English closed captioning with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Spider-Man 2, Hellboy
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Extras Review: Other than a couple of trailers for comic-book adaptations, there are no extras. Each of the two discs does have a Play All button, however. The first chapter, clocking in just under half an hour, has four chapter stops. The other 16- or 17-minute episodes have two stops only, with the second one coming just after the opening credits. That's a bit thin, but at least you don't have to sit through the credits 15 times if you don't want to.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsScientific ineptitude and a puzzling fascination with depicting Batman in the daytime weaken a pretty decent little mystery story. Nothing significant for extras, but it's an acceptable enough transfer short of a full restoration.
Mark Zimmer 2005-03-21