A while back, I purchased the 1943 and 1949 Batman serials on DVD and finally got around to watching them over the last couple of weeks. It was fun to see how Batman was done in these early years.
The 1943 serial, titled Batman
, is a single story with 15 chapters and ran for over 4 hours. It was about a Japanese agent named Tito Daka who runs a sabotage ring, and it's up to Batman and Robin to stop him.
The story wasn't all that clear or focussed and it didn't delve too deeply into the lives of Bruce and Dick. Maybe that's to be expected though, since it was probably intended to be an action fest for a kids' matinee. There was also a bit of racism. Batman lashed out at Daka with a couple of comments along the lines of "You Jap Devil!" It was a sign of the times.
As for more details, Alfred is there as a butler and chauffeur, not only to Bruce and Dick, but to their alter egos Batman and Robin as well. They didn't have a proper batmobile and would often change in the car. We also see Wayne Manor and the batcave, but with the low budget, neither look all that sprawling or remarkable. It's my understanding that this serial introduced the batcave to Batman lore. Also, none of the familiar rogues gallery is there and neither is Commissioner Gordon. Bruce does have a love interest though, named Linda Page.
Here's the intro for the 1943 serial...
And here's a sample of the show...
Now onto the 1949 serial, titled Batman and Robin
. This one also has 15 chapters and runs for over 4 hours. It also looks a lot better. It looked like it had a bigger budget, more location shooting, some added music and a sharper story. This time around, a villain called The Wizard has a device that can control any moving vehicle, and it's up to Batman and Robin to stop him. The dynamic duo is played by different actors and there's lots of action and some pretty good plot twists. At one point, Bruce Wayne is captured and Alfred has to pose as Batman. I don't think I've ever seen that before.
Again, none of the familiar rogues gallery is present, but we do have Commissioner Gordon and Vicki Vale added to the cast. And still no proper batmobile. Batman and Robin drive around in Bruce's car, which Vicki points out to Batman. There's also no real Wayne Manor. Instead, they live in a large house in an affluent neighborhood. The batcave is there though and it's more expansive than the one from the first serial. I also found it funny that there was a character named "Nolan".
Here's a sample of the show...
If you want to see some early Batman on film, check these out, especially the 1949 serial.