Batman is a 15-chapter serial, released in 1943 by Columbia Pictures. The serial starred Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin. J. Carrol Naish played the villain, an original character named Dr. Daka. Rounding out the cast were Shirley Patterson as Linda Page (Bruce Wayne's love interest), and William Austin as Alfred the butler. The plot involved Batman—as a U.S. government agent—attempting to defeat the Japanese agent Dr. Daka, at the height of World War II.
The film is notable for being the first filmed appearance of Batman, and for debuting story details that became permanent parts of the Batman mythos. It introduced "The Bat's Cave", and its secret entrance through a grandfather clock inside Wayne Manor. Both departures subsequently appeared in the comics. The serial also changed the course of how Alfred Pennyworth's physical appearance would be depicted in later Batman works. At the time it was released in theaters, Alfred was overweight in Batman comics. After William Austin's portrayal in these chapter plays, however, subsequent issues of the comics portrayed him as Austin had: trim, and sporting a thin mustache. The serial was commercially successful, and spawned another, Batman and Robin, in 1949. It was re-released in 1965. The re-released version, called An Evening with Batman and Robin, proved very popular, and its success inspired the intentionally campy Batman television series (and its 1966 feature film spin-off) starring Adam West and Burt Ward.
Batman and Robin struggle against Dr. Daka, a Japanese scientist and agent of Hirohito who has invented a device that turns people into pseudo-zombies, and has a base in a Funhouse of horrors, in a Japanese area of the city. Daka makes several attempts to defeat the Dynamic Duo before finally falling to his death when Robin hits the wrong switch, opening a trapdoor to a pit of crocodiles.
The film was made at the height of World War II, and like numerous works of popular American fiction of the time, contains anti-German and, in this case, anti-Japanese ethnic slurs and comments (in one scene, one of Daka's henchmen turns on him, saying, "That's the kind of answer that fits the color of your skin."). The film also suffered from a low budget, just like other contemporary serials. No attempt was made to create a bona fide Batmobile, so a black Cadillac was used by Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, as well as Batman and Robin. Alfred chauffeured the Dynamic Duo in both identities.
While many serials made changes during adaptation, to the extent that they were "often 'improved' almost out of recognition", Batman "fared better than most" and the changes were minor. A normal limousine replaced the Batmobile, the utility belts are present but unused and Batman is a secret government agent in this serial instead of an independent vigilante. This last change was due to the film censors, who would not allow the hero to be seen taking the law into his own hands.
Several continuity errors occur in the serial, such as Batman losing his cape in a fight but wearing it again after the film only briefly cut away.
Press releases announced it as a "Super Serial" and it was Columbia's largest-scale serial production to date. The studio gave it publicity campaign equivalent to a feature film.
The quality of the cliffhangers varies according to episode. Chapter ten ends with Batman in a plane crash. In the resolution, Batman simply staggers out of the wreckage, slightly dazed but otherwise unhurt. In the words of Jim Harmon and Donald Glut, this "might as well have been a silent comedy."
Batman was first released in theaters on July 16, 1943. In 1965, the serial was re-released in theaters as An Evening with Batman and Robin, in one complete marathon showing. This re-release was successful enough that it inspired the creation of the 1960s television series Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward.
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