Yes, it's Batman and Robin circa 1949, in 15 original cinema-serial episodes of nonstop action, mayhem and madcap madness.
Robert Lowery gives us a tall but slightly pudgy Batman, though with a suitably deep voice, who sports a baggy suit with a very nice hand-sewn Bat motif.
This Batman looks like a slightly slimmed-down Victor Mature, and Robert acts just as convincingly as that great Hollywood ham. When Robert changes from Batman into his Bruce Wayne gear, he suddenly looks quite languid and effete - only the artificially-wide shoulders stay the same.
The other star of the show is his euphemistically-dubbed 'ward', Dick. Compared to Bruce Wayne, this Dick or Robin is distinctly down-market -- he's trailer-trash rough trade dragged from a Reform School. It seems a very strange relationship, even for 1949.
This Batman has a proper Bat Cave, fully fitted out with swooping rubber bats. But strangely enough, he can't afford a Batmobile. He and Robin have to make do with tearing around town in their Mercury convertible -- which they use during the day as well, and leave conveniently parked outside playboy Wayne's Gotham City home. Fortunately, no-one seems to notice that Batman and Bruce share a car.
This Batman and Robin can't really change their appearance; it should be clear to everyone who they really are. Yet photographer Vicki Vale (played by Jane Adams) can't seem to see the resemblance -- nor does she seem at all concerned about the strange relationship which seems to exist between Bruce and his little Dick. Just listen to Bruce and Dick laugh at the end of the final episode when Vicki confesses that for a while she did suspect them of being our Batpeople. Ho ho ho, they laugh. Or, rather, Dick laughs and Bruce titters.
Police Commissioner Gordon (a very familiar B-grade actor, Lyle Talbot) is also very close to the Caped Crusader and his pal, but he also fails to spot their likeness to the odd couple, Bruce and Dick. He's a clever one, that Gordon. He has a special Bat spotlight to shine on clouds at night to alert Batman that he's needed -- and somehow he makes that spotlight work by day as well. That was possible in 1949 -- it's something we just couldn't duplicate today.
The story concerns an elderly invalid inventor who, courtesy of special rejuvenating rays, is able to turn himself into Batman's most feared foe of all time, the dreaded and evil Wizard.
The Wizard has invented a Remote Control Machine which can control planes, trains and automobiles all over Gotham City. It does however have a slight hitch -- it needs to refuel on diamonds, which don't grow on trees. Can Batman stop this terrible crime-wave which is sweeping Gotham City as the crims seek to snap up every atom of compounded carbon?
We have here, on two discs, the complete 15 episodes of Batman's most terrifying cinema serial, directed at a spanking pace by the very famous Spencer Gordon Bennett, who directed my very favourite cinema serial of all, Superman from 1948, with Kirk Aleyn battling an even more fearsome foe than the Wizard, the nightmare-inducing Spider Lady. I'm sure you'll also remember Spencer's immortal Purple Monster (in black-and-white) and Voodoo Tiger.
There was one earlier cinema serial version, with different cast, which I doubt we'll ever see issued. It was made in 1943, and featured a now-politically-incorrect nasty Japanese villain of the worst kind. Well, those were war years, and you'd have to expect Batman to do his bit.
Though we may never see that one, this release is just too good. Watch just once a week, as in the old cinema days. That way you'll forget how, at the end of each episode, we find Batman and Robin in a situation in which they're sure to be destroyed. Come the following week, and that situation is .. well... slightly different. The building they're toppling to their death from is suddenly two stories high instead of 15. The exploding airplane fails to explode quite so quickly, giving time for our pals to finish their airplane snack-pack, and exit.
Yes, the time-gap between episodes is needed to lend some credibility. Luckily, the time-gap between 1949 and now doesn't seem so great by comparison -- this is still great b-grade comic-strip entertainment. It's totally, utterly unreal.
This is a good transfer, given that the original material probably doesn't exist in the best of shape. There's some ageing of elements, but nothing that detracts from viewing pleasure.
Perhaps this edition originates from Region Two Japan, as it appears to be in NTSC, and features Japanese subtitles as the only subtitle option. Wherever it comes from, I hope they follow up soon with the other killer-serial of the time, Superman.
And keep an eye out for the possible future release by Warners of the slightly later and even better version of Superman, the television series from the early-1950s starring George Reeves. There's never been a better Superman than George. Warners is believed to have finished working on remastered transfers of the complete Series One; it's being held up while some rights issues are dealt with -- most probably over soundtrack music rights. Up Up and Away!