Batman Movie Month | Batman (1943)

by Chad Polenz
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batman-movie-poster-1943-1Welcome to the first installment of “Batman Movie Month” in which I’m going to review all ten theatrical-released live-action Batman films (though “discuss” might be a more accurate description of how these blogs work). We’re going to look at them all in chronological order: Batman (1943); Batman and Robin (1949); Batman: The Movie (1966); Batman (1989); Batman Returns (1992); Batman Forever (1995); Batman & Robin (1997); Batman Begins (2005); The Dark Knight (2008); The Dark Knight Rises (2012). I’m not including any of the TV shows or animated films as part of this project (I do plan on reviewing them later this year, though). So let’s get started by looking at The Caped Crusader’s first-ever appearance on film: the 1943 15-chapter serial simply titled Batman.

Batman Serial 2

This premise is rather interesting in that it’s a combination of science fiction and action, rather than pulp-style crime and mystery stories like in the comics. Though Batman is still millionaire Bruce Wayne, complete with Robin, Alfred, Wayne Manor (with a secret entrance to the Batcave), Gotham City (which is clearly set in California), and a Batmobile car, he’s also a wholly different character since he’s not a vigilante fighting crime but a secret agent working for the government. He’s been assigned to foil the nefarious plots (and I do mean plots) of “Dr. Daka” – a Japanese mad scientist who has a small army of Caucasian goons to do his bidding (how and why he convinced them to work for him is never explained).

Batman Serial 6

Batman is probably even more cartoony than the comic book was at the time. At least it comes across that way since it transplants the character from the page to the screen verbatim without accounting for any difference in the mediums. The central plot involves Daka’s schemes to sabotage the United States from within. He’s able to turn anyone into a brain dead “zombie” through a Frankenstein-like contraption. He also built a gun that’s powered by radium that can destroy pretty much any form of matter. But Batman and Robin never actually fight Daka directly; rather, they encounter his henchmen time and time again and manage to somehow win out despite always being outnumbered. Much like cartoons, the goons tell their boss that this time they killed the Batman for sure, but when he appears again, Daka is annoyed by their incompetence.

Batman Serial 8

But is it fun to watch? Is this a quality film? Yes and no. It’s the kind of work that we watch today as a way of looking at a pop culture artifact. The same could be said of any comparable serial such as one featuring Zorro or Superman or Flash Gordon. It’s cute what passed for entertainment in the early days of cinema. When viewed in episodic format, Batman is easily watchable; but more than two chapters at a time is a little grating. I wouldn’t recommend a 4 1/2 hour marathon viewing. There’s a lot of repetitiveness, predictable stories, bad acting, cheap sets, and the fight scenes are hilarious because they’re so uncoordinated. Additionally, the costumes are hideous; they demonstrate that what is totally plausible within the context of a comic book would look foolish in reality.


My Halloween costume from 1980 wasn’t all that different than Batman’s in 1943.

Batman Serial 4

If you consider yourself a hardcore Batman fan, then you owe it to yourself to read the old Golden Age comics as well as watch the two serials that featured him back in the 1940s. Both the comics and the serials have been re-packaged for modern times and are remarkably affordable these days. For the comics, I highly recommend The Batman Chronicles trade paperback series, and for the serials I recommend Gotham City Serials which collects the 1943 and 1949 films on two DVDs (and is dirt cheap on Amazon right now).

Batman Serial 9

Some random observations and trivia:

  • At age 23 and 13, Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft were by far the youngest actors ever to play Batman and Robin, respectively. Though neither looks their age. Wilson appears to be about 44 and Croft looks closer to 18 (he also bears a striking resemblance to David Faustino).
  • For whatever reason, Batman has 13-year-old Robin drive the car most of the time!
  • Wilson definitely has the face of Bruce Wayne, but does not have the physique of Batman. In his skin-tight costume, his lack of muscle definition is clearly visible (see photos above).
  • Bruce Wayne’s sweetheart, Linda Page, is kidnapped no less than three times throughout the series! Imagine the trauma she must’ve suffered from constantly being accosted by criminals. In reality, she would probably have a nervous breakdown after the second kidnapping.
  • When Dick asks Bruce why he doesn’t just tell Linda he’s Batman, Bruce responds with “I don’t want her to worry.”
  • Some of the sci-fi technology back then is real technology today. For example, Daka’s lair is rigged with CCTV security cameras he can monitor from a central hub. Additionally, all the goons have some kind of biometric security device Daka scans with an x-ray whenever they buzz into the lab. Batman Serial 7
  • The serial was clearly shot in California and little attempt is made to skirt this issue. In fact, at one point Bruce Wayne receives a letter bearing an address of Los Angeles!Batman Serial 3
  • Bruce is shown doing actual forensics work – silly sci-fi forensics – but forensics nonetheless.
  • Alfred is constantly chauffeuring around Batman and Robin, even going undercover a few times, and more often than not he finds himself getting clobbered by the goons. Bruce apparently has no qualms about putting his surrogate father into jeopardy. For that matter, he has no problem with putting 13-year-old Robin into these situations either (doesn’t this kid ever go to school?).
  • Nearly every fight or chase scene ends with Batman getting knocked out only to revive at the last minute and escape danger. Robin rescues Batman many times throughout the serial, yet Batman never has to rescue Robin once! I think Robin might actually be the superior crime fighter.
  • This Batman serial introduced the Batcave (just a dark room with a table and chairs); Alfred as a tall thin butler (he had been a short, fat butler in the comics, previously); the secret entrance to the Batcave through the grandfather clock in Wayne Manor;
  • Every villain has a pencil mustache.

There are so many cliches I’ve seen in cartoons from Looney Tunes to Family Guy over the years that I never thought were real, but they are here, including:

  • Alligator pits
  • Newspaper boys hawking the papers with cries of “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”
  • eyes in the painting
  • goons sitting around playing cards all the time
  • the villain’s refusal to believe that Bruce Wayne could be Batman: “That simpering idiot could never be the Batman!”
  • Speakeasies
  • Indiana Jones-like elaborate death traps
  • “Fast Talking High Trousers” with quips like “you mugs!” and “so long, suckers!”


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