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Batman 1943 serial

   

Batman 1943 movie serial, starring Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft

Review

In many ways, Batman is an interesting, but unremarkable, movie serial from the 1940’s. It’s noteworthy for being the very first Batman movie. Batman/Bruce Wayne and Robin/Dick Grayson are government agents, fighting against Japanese saboteurs.

The villain, Prince Daka, has the normal supervillain arsenal: radium-powered ray gun, pit of hungry alligators, advanced technology to turn captives into mind-controlled zombies, etc. It frankly made me think of Ming the Merciless from the Flash Gordon serials. Oddly, Charles Middleton (who played Ming) actually shows up here.

Positives

  • Douglas Croft, as Dick Grayson, is actually 16 years old. He portrays the youngest Robin ever.
  • Likewise, Lewis Wilson is only 23. Batman (in the 1940’s) was supposed to be a young man.
  • Girlfriend Linda is a likable young woman. She’s also genuinely concerned for her kidnapped uncle throughout. And repeatedly kidnapped herself.

Negatives

  • Anti-Japanese racism. Lots of it. Yes, the U.S.A. was at war with Japan at the time …. But that doesn’t excuse it. Especially the racism against Japanese Americans. Citizens forced into internment camps. Quoting the narrator:

“This was part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street”

Editor’s note: referring to the internment of American Citizens in this way makes my blood boil.

  • Linda despises Bruce Wayne’s apparent laziness. However, she keeps coming back to him.

Notes

  • First, Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, was created for this movie. The comics added him before the film’s release for continuity. In both, he’s likable comedy relief. It took some time for the writers to make him into a more serious character. He’s now portrayed as skilled. Both a combat medic and stage actor/makeup artist. As well as world-class butler.
  • In the comics, Gotham City is an expy of New York City. Here, it’s Los Angeles. Since that’s where it was filmed.
  • Several things that have become integral to the Batman mythos appear here:
    • Alfred, obviously.
    • The bat cave connecting to Wayne Manor via the grandfather clock.
    • Actual bats in the bat cave.
    • Bruce Wayne disguising himself to infiltrate criminals. Here, the alias is Chuck White. In the comics it’s Matches Malone.

Cast of characters

  • Lewis WilsonBatman / Bruce Wayne. Secretly a government agent. He’s fighting saboteurs on the home front during World War II. Bruce is officially 4-F.
  • Douglas CroftRobin / Dick Grayson. Bruce’s ward, Batman’s crime fighting partner. Despite his youth, he actually rescues Batman multiple times from various cliffhangers.
  • J. Carrol Naish (Sahara, House of Frankenstein) … Dr. Daka. The evil villain. The Japanese genius mad scientist.
  • Shirley Patterson (The Land Unknown, It! The Terror from Beyond Space) … Linda Page. Bruce’s girlfriend. A nice young lady, who doesn’t see through Batman’s disguise. Despite being rescued by him on multiple occassions.
  • William Austin (The Gay Divorcee, The Return of the Vampire) … Alfred Beagle. Not a typo. Alfred’s last name didn’t become Pennyworth until the 1960’s. Reliable, faithful, likable comedy relief.

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