Welcome to the final installment of Mister Cinecal Reviews Batman 1943, my unwieldy-titled series which looks back at the very first Batman film and asks the important questions, like ‘Why does the new Batmobile need to be a grimdarm, gun-toting tank when this Batman gets along just fine in a Cadillac?', 'I'm not thick enough to do the other Batman serial of the 1940s, am I?' Today is the final chapter in the 15 part serial: The Doom of the Rising Sun!
Now I have given these serials a lot of shit for their cliffhanger resolutions. It seems like every chapter begins with the thing that was certain to kill Batman at the end of last week just...not. He just moves slightly out of the way, or else it just doesn't hurt him that badly. He was in a plane that was shot out of the sky and it just didn't hurt him very badly. If nothing else, the final chapter makes slightly more of an effort than that, showing how the box that was thrown to Daka's crocodiles that he was seemingly inside actually contained one of Daka's goons.
Batman is trapped in the box that is due to be brought to Daka and manages to use a device to send a morse code message to Robin and Alfred, who are waiting in the car outside. Alfred, my MVP for this chapter and really for this serial in general, wants to rush in and save his master, but Robin says he'll go alone, while Alfred waits to call the police if they take too long. Alfred gives Robin...a wrench? "All right" Robin says, in the tone of a child taking a jacket on advice of a worrywort parent.
The adult gives the child an ordinary item with which he should commit violence. You can see how all those kids ended up jumping off roofs after watching George Reeves' Superman, clearly 'Don't try this at home' was low on the agenda.
So Robin bashes in the brains of the guy guarding Batman, rescues him and they stuff the gangster in the box instead. I'm trying to think back but I don't think Batman ever saves Robin in this serial, but the opposite happens every week. It really underlines, as I've mentioned before, the wish fulfillment of the Robin character, Batman's best friend who is always getting him out of trouble and just so happens to be the same age as the target audience watching every week. Funny to think how he ended up being seen as "The Boy Hostage" later on. Anyway, men come in to take the box with the gangster inside to Daka and Batman and Robin follow them, finally finding Daka's Secret Hideout of Internalised Racism. Nobody questions where the gangster guarding the box went, because who cares.
Batman tells Alfred to cause a distraction at the entrance to the hideout, so he and Robin can sneak in unnoticed. "Splendid sir, may I say, now you're cooking with gas!" says Alfred. He's very keen this week, he must be as eager for this to end as I am. Inside Daka's hideout, the gangster Batman and Robin hid in the box is eaten alive, beginning a fine, long-standing Batman cinematic tradition: Indirect Murder. Daka doesn't really care when they notice it isn't Batman being eaten, saying the guy deserved it for being crap. In as many words.
While Batman and Robin battle their way through his hideout, Daka sits and plots. He wants to come up with "an infallible means of destroying Batman". For fuck's sake. YOU HAVE A RADIUM GUN DAKA, YOU HAVE A GUN THAT MAKES PEOPLE DISINTEGRATE. The answer is right in front of his stupid caked-in-racist-make-up face. And, spoiler alert, that radium gun does not come up at all. Over half of the chapters in this serial are about Daka getting radium. There's radium on a train, there's radium on that plane, there's radium in a mine, we've got to get a radium gun, and then it has nothing to do with the end of the movie. The ending does end up being basically perfect for this serial, but still, that's ridiculous.
Batman and Robin beat up the last of Daka's goons, and Batman sends Robin off to get them tied up so they can be delivered to the police. Bad idea Batman. Clearly you need to stick to your ward at all times to ensure your safety. Case in point, Batman just knocks on Daka's door, goes in and is seized by zombies. And so finally, he and Daka come face to face, and Batman gets racist.
He is all over calling Daka a 'Jap'. It's unfortunate. At one point he yells at Daka "Call off these [something something] you Jap murderer!" and for the life of me I cannot make out what he is calling the zombies. It kind of sounds like he's saying robots, or...Roberts? My brother thought he might have been saying "rub-outs", as in murderers, but it's very unclear. I turned to Youtube's captioning for help and this is their best guesstimate:
Jack metre, you know you online actress men attack!
Daka plans to turn Batman himself into a zombie, but before he does, he brings in zombified Linda and Uncle Martin to taunt him. Zombie Linda slaps Batman in the face, which is pretty well deserved. I can't say this finale isn't giving me closure. Unfortunately I can't get everything I want though, as just before Batman's brain is turned to mush forever, Robin shows up to save him. Again. Meanwhile, Alfred is being brought in by the police for loitering. If this whole thing was just "The Bumbling Adventures of Alfred Penniworth" it would have been my favourite thing I've seen all year.
As Alfred Our Lord And Saviour convinces the police that Batman is in danger and they have to go help them, Batman, having capitalised on Robin's success, has resumed his position as World's Finest Dickhead. He tells Daka that he has to de-zombify Linda Page, or else Batman will just turn Daka himself into a zombie. The Hero is threatening to brainwash and enslave his captive, just so we're clear. Everyone is put back to normal again, Batman and Robin are going through Daka's files and getting enough evidence to put down his entire operation, the police are on their way and it seems like everything's hunky dory. There's just one problem though: Nobody's bothering to keep an eye on Daka. And so, after weeks of being kidnapped, knocked out, letting goons get away, not finding Daka and slowly climbing up the sides of buildings, the 1943 Batman serial concludes perfectly for this not-so-dynamic duo.
Daka gets up, pulls a gun and takes Linda hostage, attempting to make his escape. Batman yells at Robin to push one of the button's on Daka's desk to close the door and stop him from getting away. Robin accidentally pushes the button for the crocodile pit, Daka falls in and is eaten. So in the end. Robin did all the work and they succeeded because of their incompetence. It's so appropriate for these rubbish superheroes to succeed accidentally (and commit Indirect Murder, again) that you'd almost think they did it on purpose. The police show up, Batman allows Captain Arnold to take credit for everything (Crap game recognise crap game) before running off. Coincidentally, Bruce and Dick walk into the room seconds later to take Linda away. "Well there's no use trying to do anything, the Batman always gets there ahead of me" Bruce says, essentially winking at the audience. I essentially give him the finger in return.
And so, that is the end of the original Batman film. It was...not very good. Certainly limitations of the time period contribute to a number of its problems, like the repetitiveness and the very basic look of it. The time period also obviously contributes to the gross "Intern Japs or they'll turn our women into zombies stuff". I don't think the time period can be used to blame other problems, like the plot inconsistencies, which lead to the radium gun being dropped completely and things like Uncle Warren becoming Uncle Martin Warren or Daka being called a prince or a doctor every other week, unless maybe writers were just more forgetful back then. If nothing else, it was interesting to be given context for a lot of what Batman 66 was lampooning. But yeah, not great. Oh well, at least Batman has always been put in the hands of filmmakers who actually know what they're doing ever since. Filmmakers who understand the characters they adapt, tell consistent stories, and make films with likable characters.