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Film / The Batman (Serial)

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The Batman (or simply Batman) was a 15-chapter serial released in 1943 by Columbia Pictures. The serial starred Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin. J. Carrol Naish played the villain, an original character named Dr. Daka. Also starring Shirley Patterson as Linda Page (Bruce Wayne's love interest), and William Austin as Alfred.

The plot is based on Batman, a US government agent, attempting to defeat the Japanese agent Dr. Daka, at the height of World War II, with Dr. Daka possessing a dangerous device able to turn people into Zombie-like creatures. It also features an insanely ornate office-type Batdesk.

The film is noteworthy as Batman's first live-action (and theatrically released) depiction as well as being the inspiration for the 1960s TV show that popularized the comic book character even further. In addition, this film marked the first appearance, film or print, of the Batcave. It also spawned a sequel serial called Batman and Robin.

Not to be confused with the animated series of the same name, nor the 2022 film.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Despite being one of the character's most well known traits, Batman does not use any gadgets in the entire series. The only tools he and Robin use are an occasional grappling hook, a flashlight that creates a Bat Signal on a wall, and a Radium Gun that Batman takes from the villains.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Tito Daka is...not a Japanese name. As a matter of fact, it can't even be pronounced or written in Japanese, because the phonetic alphabet doesn't have a 'ti' sound.
  • Back from the Dead: Daka's superiors send him an important message by sending a casket with a dead comrade inside it. Daka then uses a device that can bring a dead person back to life for a handful of seconds so the officer can give him the instructions and intel.
  • Bad Guy Bar: When Daka's minions aren't meeting in his amusement park hideout, they meet in a seedy bar called the Sphinx Club.
  • Batman Gambit: Fittingly. Batman runs out of leads on Daka's organization, so he locks a mook in the Bat's cave. The mook eventually tries to make a phone call using a phone in the Cave. Batman has the phone rigged so the call not only doesn't go out, but he sees the number dialed and gets a location to investigate.
  • Canon Foreigner: The villain, Tito Daka, who is a Yellowface Expy of The Joker.
  • Canon Immigrant: Several (surprising) examples:
    • The idea of the Batcave (called the Bat's Cave in the serial), with an entrance through the grandfather clock, originated in this serial before moving over the comic books.
    • The visual appearance of Alfred in the comic books was changed to match that of the actor in the serial, as prior to this, Alfred was portrayed as a portly, clean-shaven butler.
    • Tito Daka is a wholly original character meant to cash-in on American wartime fears of the Japanese, though he would eventually make an appearance in comic book form almost 40 years later in All-Star Squadron#43 in 1983 and later in ''DC's Crimes of Passion'' #1.
  • Cheap Costume: The ears on the Batman Costume are sometimes not rigid, as they are in other film incarnations of the character, and the ears flop around as Batman moves except for scenes where they suddenly appear as rigid and rounded as devil horns. They and the short cape make it seem much more like a Halloween costume than anything.note 
  • Cliffhanger Copout: Continuity is tweaked for nearly every chapter ending, recapped at the beginning of a following chapter. For instance, Chapter 13, "Eight Steps Down," ends with Batman stuck in a Death Trap in which spiked walls are closing in on him, which is cut away from just before the walls are about to crush our hero with no hope in sight for rescue. Then, the beginning of Chapter 14, "The Executioner Strikes," shows Robin appearing much earlier during the same scene with more than enough time to slip Batman a crowbar to brace the walls moving in. In turn, the conclusion of Chapter 14 shows Batman locked in a box and dropped in an alligator pit only for the next chapter to show that Robin managed to break Batman free in secret much earlier and replace him with a hapless mook.
  • The Commissioner Gordon: Batman's contact on the force is Captain Arnold rather than the Commissioner Gordon.
  • Creator Cameo: That's Bob Kane himself as the newsboy hawking papers, saying "Read about the Batman!", in the first episode.
  • Descending Ceiling: The episode 7 cliffhanger has Batman knocked out at the bottom of a freight elevator as the elevator descends upon him.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Notably averted with Batman. Dr. Daka has developed a Radium Gun that can blast through anything. Batman steals it early in the series and uses it several times, though never on a person as he only uses it when he needs to cut through something, such as the roof of the villains' armored getaway vehicle.
  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Bruce does this, apparently in an effort to add to his bad guy persona, when he's pretending to be mobster Chuck White in episode 9 and infiltrating the Bad Guy Bar. In episode 12, the mook holding Linda Page captive does this, presumably to look more intimidating.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: In episode 10, Dr. Daka, observing the way Batman keeps turning up despite his mooks repeatedly "killing" him, entertains the suspicion that maybe "Batman" is a Collective Identity for several agents.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The cliffhanger for episode 10 involves Batman's car exploding into flames after Batman veers off the road into a ravine, the bad guys having shot out his tire.
  • Expy: J. Carrol Naish was hired to play The Joker, and early press materials advertise his role as such. The Joker was evidently changed to Canon Foreigner Daka late in production to accommodate wartime propaganda, though his characterization is still basically a Yellowface Joker.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: In the first episode, a newspaper boy (played by Bob Kane himself) is hawking an extra with a headline about Batman, establishing that Batman is a public hero.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Batman smokes as he hunts down the Japanese. At one point, you can see the pack of cigarettes fall out of his cape during an attempted stunt!
  • Heel–Face Turn: Attempted by one of Daka's higher-ups. He then finds out Daka has an alligator pit, the hard way.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Dr. Daka meets his end by falling into his own alligator pit.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Batman locks a Mook in a room full of bats to try and loosen his tongue.
  • Lovable Coward: Unlike other versions of the story in which Alfred is usually either a Deadpan Snarker or a helpful assistant in derring-do, this Alfred is a lovable coward, as well as being vaguely effete. When Batman and Robin are fighting some mooks in episode 3, Alfred hides under a desk and calls the cops, saying "I'm being murdered here!" Then he picks up a loose gun and starts shooting at random...with his eyes closed.
  • Mind Rape: Dr. Daka has a machine that can transform people into "zombies", though not in the traditional sense; they don't die, they just obey his every command without thought or question and gain sizable strength.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: Daka's headquarters are reached through a carnival ride portraying Japanese war atrocities. Immediately outside the secret entrance is a guard, who poses as one of the waxworks on the ride until he's required to stop people entering or leaving without permission.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Once his various underlings have been dealt with, Daka himself isn't even a match for Robin in combat.
  • Plunger Detonator: Colton rigs up one to blow up the mine in episode 8, which becomes a problem when Batman and Robin come charging in after the bad guys. Someone even yells "Plunger!" right before someone indeed falls on the Plunger Detonator for the cliffhanger to end the episode.
  • Police Are Useless: Batman and Robin apprehend a lot of criminals with absolutely zero police assistance. If police do show up, it's long after there's anything useful to be done. Lampshaded when Captain Arnold scolds his policemen by telling them they'd be useless without Batman's aid.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: Dr. Daka uses one to observe "Chuck White" while screening him as a potential employee.
  • Shark Pool: Daka has an alligator pit.
  • Tainted Tobacco: In "Embers of Evil", Daka kills Marshall in jail by having Bernie deliver a pack of poisoned cigarettes to him. Bruce finds a half-smoked cigarette on the floor and makes off with it. He determines that the cigarette was poisoned and calls Captain Arnold as Batman to tell him about the cigarettes and Bernie's involvement. Just in time, too, because Captain Arnold apparently routinely helps himself to the personal effects of dead prisoners and was just about to light up one of those Medusa cigarettes himself.
  • Thememobile: Averted, in that the low budget of the serial prevented the studio from building or procuring a Batmobile for Batman and Robin. Rather, Batman and Robin ride around in Bruce Wayne's limo - with Alfred driving!
  • Underestimating Badassery: In the early episodes, Daka insists that Batman is an "amateur" unworthy of comparison with his organization. Several thwarted plots later, he's forced to change that opinion.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: One of the cliffhanger death traps between Chapters 13 and 14, with Batman between two walls festooned with spikes.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The serial takes place in Gotham City, but Wayne Manor's address is stated to be in Los Angeles, California.
  • Yellow Peril:
    • The villain, Dr. Daka, is a stock WWII era Japanese villain.
    • The narration and dialogue in the serial makes very clear who was fighting whom in WWII. The opening narration describes how "a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs" to explain the abandoned Little Tokyo in which Daka operates.
  • Yellowface: The Japanese Tito Daka is played by Irishman J. Carroll Naish.
  • You No Take Candle: Some more racism in episode 8 with Steve, operator of an "Indian Trading Post" on the way to the radium mine. He says stuff like "Me know Colton. Me no see Colton."
  • Your Costume Needs Work: Two mechanics mistake Daka for one of the actors in his carnival ride and tell him that while his makeup's fine, his accent needs work.

Alternative Title(s): The Batman 1943