Saturday, October 31, 2015

How has the 'Batman' TV series influenced the Burton-Schumacher movies?

Batman fans have a love-hate relationship with the 1960s TV series. I know I did and have.

Without it, Batman likely wouldn't be as popular of a character as he is now. But many people — usually those who only have a working knowledge of the Caped Crusader — first think of Adam West's Batman when they think of the name.

There's nothing wrong with that; the wacky series was my first exposure to the superhero. Some fans might wish the show never existed and/or wish the series doesn't loom as large as it does.

I was one of those fans for many years.

When friends or acquaintances would learn I love Batman they would sing the catchy Neil Hefti theme song. And my response was automatic, not to mention impassioned: "That's the wrong Batman."

But then recently I started re-watching the TV series again. Maybe time and distance reconciled me with one of my first experiences with my favorite fictional character. It also helped me that not every part of "Batman" was detrimental to the hero.

Lately, I started realizing the show has influenced the feature films directed by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher (and to a lesser extent, Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy"). And it's not just through homages such as the close-up of the muffler of the Batmobile spewing out flames, as seen in Burton's 1989 movie or the exhaust of the Tumbler in "Batman Begins."

Here's where I've seen the influences:

Music: John Williams' "Star Wars" score popularized a theme for each character, but I bet you didn't realize that in "Batman" there was a specific, catchy melody for each villain.

Listen carefully every time a member of the Rogues Gallery is on-screen; his or her appearance is accompanied by very specific musical themes. I bet once you hear the theme for Cesar Romero's Joker, it will get stuck in your head!

Costumes: Frank Gorshin's Riddler stays close to the Batman comic books; that much is to be expected. Especially prevalent is the Riddler's one-piece suit -- and the series is the first place I remember seeing that iconic costume with the big questions mark on the chest. Jim Carrey wore something similar in "Batman Forever" as well as the question-mark suit like Gorshin wore. In "Batman Forever, each time Carrey's Riddler costume became that much more outrageous it was supposed to symbolize how much more the sanity of Edward Nigma (spelled Nygma in the film) slipped away.

Any hot-blooded male will remember Julie Newmar and how hot she looked as Catwoman in the body-hugging catsuit. Remember the black mask she and Lee Meriwether wore? Check out how Anne Hathaway is dressed in "The Dark Knight Rises" for a similar costume.

Women, get your sexy on: Aside from having all the right parts and curves in all the right places, Newmar exuded sex appeal. That's a Captain Obvious statement. But she also showed that there was more to being a femme fatale than just being a sex kitten (pardon the pun) and seductive.

Newmar sold her sultriness in the way she moved. Every movement she made oozed sex and gracefulness.

Do you remember how Newmar walked as Catwoman? She didn't just purr her lines; she slinked and strutted her stuff. Each TV and movie Catwoman after her moved the same way. Michelle Pfieffer walked with the similar slinkiness in "Batman Returns" -- as did Hathaway in "The Dark Knight Rises." And don't forget how Uma Thurman got her vamp on as Poison Ivy in "Batman & Robin."

It partially may be the heels they wore with the costumes and I'm certain their costumes empowered them, but all these lovely ladies know sex appeal sells.

Gorshin's Riddler: There's a reason the Riddler was in four of Season 1's 17 two-parters; nobody owned the camera like Gorshin.

Call it overacting or even scene-chewing, but Gorshin gave it his all as the Riddler. His exuberance came through with the way he delivered dialogue and certainly in his animated movements.

We've seen similar, hammy performances in Batman films, starting off with Jack Nihcolson's Joker. Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Carrey's Riddler in "Batman Forever" are just as animated. Carrey became so adept at twirling the Riddler's question-mark, it took on a life of its own -- yet another nod to the brillance of the showmanship that Gorshin brought to the villain.

I'm pretty sure if push came to shove, each of those actors saw what Gorshin did onscreen (and in every single scene) and decided they wanted to give an equally powerful performance.

Animated Gorshin and Meredith's Penguin waddle: Nicholson once told Michael Keaton to let the makeup do the acting. I hate to disagree with such a veteran actor, but I'd say Gorshin and Meredith made their villains memorable by the mannerisms.

Much like Newmar's Catwoman, Gorshin's Riddler and Meredith's Penguin had distinctive ways they moved. Meredith mimics the waddling bird for which the Penguin is named. Gorshin is a uncorked bottle of energy as the Riddler.
Screen shot and meme by CARY ASHBY/CARY'S COMICS CRAZE

As I said earlier in this op-ed, there's no doubt, Nicholson, Carrey and Jones were taking notes in their predecessors' master class. Gorshin's decision to go broad and big with his acting and body obviously made a big impression on how villains were portayed in the Burton-Schumacher films. Actors playing villains in "Arrow" and "Gotham" also have gone with a similar go-big-or-go-home philosophy to their acting. But none of them have beeen as convincing, much less iconic as Gorshin, Meredith, Newmar and Romero.

And the most lasting influence ...

Nail a unique laugh: How else do you get audiences to remember a villain? How do you make him or her a character we'll never forget? It's all in the laugh.

There's nothing like Gorshin's Riddler going into hysterics.

Romero's Joker-laugh is just as maniacal -- and just as unique. The Joker's laughter is jovial and just like Gorshin's, it includes more than a bit of lunacy.

Nicholson's Joker-laugh gave audiences a chill. And honestly, it still does. The 1989 Joker's laugh put audiences on notice that his Clown Prince of Crime isn't just disturbed; he's a psychopath and certifiably insane. You gotta bet Jared Leto worked hard on his laugh before filming his first scene as the newest Joker in "Suicide Squad."

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