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Video Reviews: Holy DVD, Batman! Adam West goes high-tech with the campy, low-tech 1966 movie

Friday, August 24, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The phone connection is less than ideal. Downright dismal, in fact.

"Maybe that's the problem with hearing me," Adam West says, "because I'm in the Idaho branch of the Batcave. It's huge, it runs under several states." The actor long linked to his role as Bruce Wayne, a Gotham City millionaire who donned cape and cowl to fight crime as Batman, still has that sly sense of humor and silky voice.

Speaking from Ketchum, Idaho, his home for the past 15 years, West is putting both to good use to promote the 35th anniversary DVD of "Batman: The Movie," new this week from Fox Home Entertainment. It's a film West cannot avoid, not that he wants to. "When I'm checking into a hotel and I turn on the TV, it will be there. You can't escape it. You can't escape the movie or the series."

Or the comic books, for that matter.

A 72-year-old native of Wala Wala, Wash., the actor had read Batman comics as a child and, he insists, preferred Batman to Superman or other costumed crime-fighters. "He seemed more real, more human, more of this world and more mysterious and wacky. You got to be a wacko to fight crime 24 hours a day in cape and cowl. But that made it fun."

Even today, fans love to repeat favorite lines from the movie such as "Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb" or "You give me curious stirrings in my utility belt."

The DVD ($22.98) includes the 105-minute movie, interviews and commentary from West and Burt Ward, who played Robin; a tour of the original Batmobile; stills from West's private archives; and original theatrical trailers. You also can buy the movie on VHS ($9.98), which includes only the movie and Batmobile tour.

How does West think "Batman" the TV series and movie hold up today, in a world wedded to expensive computer-generated effects?

"When you were a kid, you saw things that you were caught up, swept away with, and then as you get older, you see the absurdities and the gags and the puns and the more adult kind of content. That really sort of keeps it fresh, and you know if you have good memories of something when you're growing up, it becomes important."

Batman and baby boomers go hand in hand or, as the Boy Wonder might enthuse, holy nostalgia! Many a middle-aged adult spent time with the dynamic duo as they battled villains such as Mr. Freeze, Egghead, King Tut, The Black Widow, Lola Lasagne and Lucky Pierre.

The show was campy and colorful in every way. It was one of the first to be filmed in color, and it featured a series of phrases designating "sounds" that appeared during fight scenes. Among them: "Ker-plop, Urkkk, Ker-splash, Pow, Whap, Twack, Swoosh, Biff, Bop, Zwapp, Eeyow, Plop and Kconk!"

In the 1966 movie, Batman and Robin must contend with an evil alliance among four of their fiercest enemies: The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether). Meriwether was one of three women who slithered into the catsuit. The others were Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt.

West wasn't worried that such a foursome, who have stolen a dehydrator machine and are trying to take over the world, might crowd out the good guys and the ostensible stars.

"That kind of ensemble playing or grouping is the best thing. Also, we worked it out so I would be out of the cowl a lot in the movie, as the character Bruce Wayne. I thought that was pretty good. That was a definite positive for me because I felt I was getting buried in that mask."

The movie was released in July 1966, roughly a half-year after the show successfully debuted on ABC as a mid-season replacement. It aired twice a week and immediately vaulted to the top of the ratings. It also spawned a line of successful merchandise.

Ward, who played Robin, had been cast because of his unvarnished, unbridled enthusiasm. West quips that it was his "varnished enthusiasm" that landed him the role. "I heard a couple of years later that it was because they saw me on a series of commercials in which I did a spoof of James Bond, playing a character named Capt. Quik for Nestle Quik. ... They said, this is the turkey who might work for this role," he says.

He was no stranger to series television, having appeared in "The Detectives" starring Robert Taylor, among other projects. "They called me out to Fox, and I read that script, that first pilot script by Lorenzo Semple Jr., and I thought it was absolutely great as theater of the absurd."

The series, which was costly to produce, ended in March 1968 with 120 episodes (enough for syndication) in the can. The ratings and investment in the show had both dropped. "NBC wanted it. I think that was the story, but our standing sets, expensive stuff, had already been destroyed to make room for other things. It was too expensive to retool."

West, however, found himself uncomfortably tethered to the role of Batman.

"There were several years where it was painful. Doors were painfully closed in my face because of that. That was mostly the Hollywood old guard that didn't understand or get it and thought it was a big accident and that I was hopelessly typecast. I had to fight that for years."

In recent years, he's kept busy with Batman conventions and signings along with work in movies, such as "Drop Dead Gorgeous" in which he played himself, animated TV shows and other projects.

"The thing is now, because of the longevity of the show and, hopefully of myself, I've got about three generations who come out" at appearances. "It's wonderful because of the way people look at the show and the funny things they say about it and the warmth for it, so that helps when I didn't get $20 million for the features."

"Pow!" as the animated sound effect might proclaim.

The movies, West suggests, depended "too much on those quick MTV-like cuts and special effects and explosions." The franchise has been diminished. "They totally need me to come in as Uncle Batman."

He still owns the suit, along with plenty of other memorabilia. West got on famously with the folks who worked in wardrobe and special effects and laughs, "I was able to smuggle out in the trunk of my car some stuff. I got a warehouse full of that stuff."

Including the suit? "Oh, yeah. So I can maybe wear it occasionally and get lucky." And, yes, it still fits. "It amazes me. I think it's the scotch."

"Batman" reruns may find a new home on TV Land, and the show continues to air in many places around the world. "So, I was sort of having fun with it, but you really can't get away from it, the show has become part of popular culture, hasn't it? And it's nice for me to be associated with a classic."

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