Batman - The 1940s Serials

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by Agent Richard07, Jul 10, 2012.

  1. Agent Richard07

    Agent Richard07 Admiral Admiral

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    [​IMG]

    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...

    [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stCRTgmto4w[/yt]

    And here's a sample of the show...

    [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJLYtWx5Clo[/yt]

    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...

    [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDXM9jwf7uU[/yt]

    If you want to see some early Batman on film, check these out, especially the 1949 serial.
     
  2. Samurai8472

    Samurai8472 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The 1960s show did this once or twice
     
  3. Admiral James Kirk

    Admiral James Kirk Writer Admiral

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    Those serials were a lot of fun. Batman more so than Batman and Robin.
     
  4. RandyS

    RandyS Vice Admiral Admiral

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    They were both great I've got both on DVD, along with both Supermans, Buck Rogers, and all the Flash Gordons.

    I love those old serials, and have most of them either on VHS or DVD, and am in the process of converting my old VHS to DVD (or DVD-R, depending on the serial's avabiliity.)
     
  5. Admiral James Kirk

    Admiral James Kirk Writer Admiral

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    I have the Superman serials as well, though for some reason I've never gotten around to watching the second one. I'm going to have to remedy that one of these days.
     
  6. Agent Richard07

    Agent Richard07 Admiral Admiral

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    I have a few observations and questions about the 1949 serial...

    <<<SPOILERS>>>

    - It looked like the Wizard had a teleportation device. Henchmen would appear to materialize outside his lair just before entering, but I guess those shots were supposed to be him just looking through the wall using some sort of x-ray. It's just how the effect looked.

    - Did Vicki Vale have any reaction to her brother's death? Haven't gone back to check.

    - Why did Vicki go into the closet in her office?

    I wouldn't mind checking all of those out along with The Phantom. The Green Hornet is on TCM on Saturdays right now.
     
  7. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    I recorded the first batch of Green Hornet episodes and have been watching one a night before I go to bed . . . ..
     
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^Come to think of it, it's probably better to watch them spaced out like that than all at once. Then it's not quite so obvious how repetitive they are.


    Ohh, that '43 serial. (Shakes head) So very, very racist. Don't forget that intro in the beginning talking about how the American government had "wisely" interned innocent Japanese-Americans in concentration camps because you can't trust them funny-lookin' furriners. And J. Carroll Naish giving the "Japanese" prince/doctor (with a first name that isn't even phonetically possible in Japanese) an accent that's more like a cross between a Brooklyn gangster and a Chinese dialect I heard once.

    And of course Batman had to be a government agent, since everyone in wartime movies had to be a direct supporter of the war effort, and being an extralegal vigilante would've been too subversive.

    The '49 serial is better and less offensive -- I quite like its music by Mischa Bakaleinikoff, which was also used in the Superman serials -- but it's somehow less memorable.
     
  9. davejames

    davejames Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Yeah the casual racism that existed back then is just bizarre to see now.

    And I always love the idea of these old serials, with the retro costumes, bombastic music, and corny dialogue. But the dull stories and long stretches without any action can make them awfully hard to sit through at times.

    Although I'm sure if I was a kid back then, I'd be eating up every second of it.
     
  10. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Commodore Commodore

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    The best way to watch serials is definitely one at a time, or a few at most.

    Chapters really don't have self contained plots. Even the overall structure of complete serials is more of a theme than a plot. While one event leads to the other, each has little barring on previous ones once the cliffhanger is resolved.

    Serials were very similar to early television shows and older comics. There was no real continuity, once a chapter or episode is done things are reset and repeated in a slightly different way. The constant elements being the heroes fighting the same villain for weeks until it ends.
     
  11. Kirkman1987

    Kirkman1987 Commodore Commodore

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    I like the Batman and Superman serials, but they've got nothing on Captain Marvel. Unlike the lame animated superman used in the serials (yes, lame even back then), Captain Marvel actually flew.

    [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn8PJ4AEhmY&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLD17679D8E57F8BCA[/yt]
     
  12. ClayinCA

    ClayinCA Commodore Commodore

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    That Captain Marvel series was and is amazing. Tom Tyler was just perfect, and the flying sequence (especially for the time) was really well done.
     
  13. Admiral James Kirk

    Admiral James Kirk Writer Admiral

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    Wow! He actually flew! Kirk Alyn eat your heart out!
     
  14. Shazam!

    Shazam! Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Fun fact! In the early 90s, my mate bought Ghostbusters on VHS and for no reason whatsoever there was a Batman serial before the film.
     
  15. Set Harth

    Set Harth Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    RUN ROBIN RUN!!!!! HE'S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!!
     
  16. RandyS

    RandyS Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I complete forgot about the Phantom. I'm off to Amazon now.

    Thanks for the reminder.
     
  17. A beaker full of death

    A beaker full of death Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Now just a damn minute. I think they integrated it into the action beautifully.

    As for the Bats serials... I tried watching one once, I forget which. I normally love serials, but the acting was so awful I just couldn't get too far.
     
  18. Kirkman1987

    Kirkman1987 Commodore Commodore

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    It reminds me a bit of the animation used in some of the Universal Dracula films for the vampire/bat transformations.

    It's a clever cost cutting measure, but not very effective for me personally. Even for a serial it's cheap. In a live action superman adaptation you should see a live action superman flying imo. The fact is Columbia didn't put as much money into their serials as Republic did and it shows.

    I will say the animation is at least good animation.
     
  19. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    But Superman Returns used a CGI Superman for the flying scenes, and the Spider-Man movies use a CGI Spidey, and the Matrix movies used a CGI Neo, etc. The animated Superman in the '40s serials was the exact same principle, just with less photorealistic technology. Back then, people weren't as nitpicky about the realism of their visual effects as we've become. Images that look blatantly fake to us were impressive and convincing to them.

    The "flying" Captain Marvel in the serials was just a motionless life-size dummy sliding on a wire in a straight line. The animated Superman of the serials flew with much more speed, dynamism, and fluidity. I think the latter did a better job of conveying the idea of what the hero was capable of, and that's more important to me than whether it was live-action.

    And what makes you think it's cheap? Animation is a laborious, time-consuming process. And good animation, as you acknowledge this was, takes even more time and talent -- and therefore more money -- than bad animation. Not to mention the added complexity (and therefore cost) of compositing cel animation with live-action footage. It was probably a lot more expensive to animate those flying sequences in the Superman serials than it was to make a dummy and slide it down a pair of wires.
     
  20. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    Considering what had been done with stunt work in the Douglas Fairbanks' Zorro films it's fun to imagine what a more serious Batman could have been like back then with the resources of a decent feature film.

    A "fixed" image of the Batman using Photoshop.
    [​IMG]

    From The Man Who Laughs (1928).
    [​IMG]

    In a way it whets my appetite to see a retro Batman film. Something like what was done showing Captain America set in the '40s, which I thought was awesome.
     

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