Caped crimefighters Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) are in reality millionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne and his young ward Dick Grayson, and they have just received word about something fishy going on off the coast of Gotham City. They change into their costumes, take the Batmobile to the airport and climb aboard the Batcopter, flying out to the ocean and the ship that contains a top secret device. However, once the ship is in range and Batman has climbed down the Batladder to get a closer look, the craft suddenly disappears and he is left stranded with a shark attaching itself to his leg!
In the sixties, one of the most popular television shows was the adaptation of Batman as a comic (as in ha ha funny) comic (as in D.C. Comics), with bright colours, off-kilter camera angles, blaring music, and of course, the delightfully insincere tone that raised many laughs. This contemporary film, written by Lorenzo Semple Jr, was meant as a publicity push for the series that had already been running for a season on U.S. T.V. and with that intent it worked very well, showcasing much of what made the show a success. Chief among these was the excellent casting, with the bad guys hamming it up for all they were worth and the good guys keeping commendably straight faced throughout.
As a result, this Batman appealed to both adults and children alike, who could watch it on what level they so desired. With the four later Batman films of 1989 to 1997, the villains outhsone the hero for the most part, but here the detective is as much fun in his own way as his antagonists, amusingly moral and unwavering in his attempts to see justice served. This time he and Robin have to contend with four of their most intimidating foes; we first meet Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, not Julie Newmar as she was on TV) in disguise as Miss Kitka, a Russian journalist, who Bruce Wayne takes an immediate hands-across-the-Iron-Curtain liking to.
She is joined in her plotting by The Joker (Cesar Romero - did he really think we wouldn't notice his moustache under his makeup?), the Clown Prince of Crime, The Penguin (Burgess Meredith is probably the funniest), whose submarine they are using, and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin, as usual seeming to take it far more seriously than everyone else), who sends out clues in a rather foolhardy fashion, providing more of a help to their adversaries than a hindrance. Their wicked plan is to use the top secret Dehydrator and initially put paid to Batman and Robin - you'll lose count of the number of times they think they've killed them - and then to disrupt international peace talks.
If anything, this film doesn't look cinematic at all: take away the odd action scene with the Batvehicles and this could easily be an overextended television episode. The knowing humour is there, and welcome, with our heroes being saved from a torpedo by a porpoise throwing itself in the way (offscreen, naturally), or Catwoman's Morse code taking the form of miaows, or Batman running around with a fizzing bomb and being confronted with nuns, the Salvation Army and a baby carriage as he tries to dispose of it. Unfortunately what happily fits into half an hour seems more drawn out the longer the film gets, and despite the light touch of the actors tends to drag after the first hour. Nevertheless, it's a valuable record of a pop culture phenomenon worth remembering. Music by Nelson Riddle, with the theme, in some fashion or another (no chorus of "Batman!" at any rate), by Neal Hefti.