The serial, in 15 chapters over two discs, is an entertaining romp into Batman's cinematic past. The fight scenes are well-staged, but some of the cliffhangers cheat. For example, in one chapter, Batman and Vicky Vale are thrown into the water which has just had gasoline tossed into it and set on fire! In the following chapter, they just swim around the fire and escape! I found the costume Batman wore kind of funny, with his pointed bunny-like ears and his poor excuse for a utility belt ( a yellow sash tied around his waist with some pockets) I also found it funny that their car becomes "The Batmobile" simply by putting the hood down while they change into their costumes, which are kept in a drawer in the Batcave! Although the Wizard has more, Batman and Robin do have some gadgets in this serial. There was a bat flashlight that Robin uses to divert one crook's attention, Batman has a sort of Air Pipe that he gives Robin to allow him to breathe fresh air when they're trapped in a smoke-filled warehouse, and the Dynamic Duo have a police siren installed in "The Batmobile" (actually a 1949 Mercury Convertible) which Robin uses to scare some crooks while rescuing Batman. Robert Lowery, the actor playing Batman, seemed to be in good enough shape and played the part well (although it did nothing to further his career). Robin's costume was much better than Batman's, but both were in tune with the comic books at the time.
The picture quality of this serial was digitally remastered in High Definition by Sony Entertainment--and it shows. The picture is clear and sharp--with very little grain and maybe one or two lines creeping across the screen-- otherwise,looking great for something made in 1949. The sound is in Dolby Digital and is clear and vibrant for the most part, although I had some problems making out some dialog from Robin. Luckily though, this serial is closed captioned in English (which you can turn on with your TV Menu) and also has Japanese subtitles (if you understand the language).
So, if you're interested in Batman's cinematic past--before Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, or Christain Bale played the role--then this is certainly worth a look, and if you're a Batman collector, it's a must-have!
The biggest shortcoming of this serial is its tremendously low budget. Producer Sam Katzman, known for making movies on next to nothing, pulled the purse strings dreadfully tight on this one. The Batmobile was nothing more than a modest Mercury convertible and the Dynamic Duo are forced to store their crime fighting costumes in a filing cabinet. I was embarrased for the actors, Robert Lowery and John Duncan, who had to wear those costumes. It was obvious that Robin's domino mask was simply purchased at a five and dime, and the tailor who crafted Batman's cowl seems to have followed a pattern for some sort of devil costume.
This horned cowl proves to be a problem for Lowery. He is constantly tilting back his head in order to see through the eye holes. Also, during several fight scenes, Lowery is actually forced to adjust the cowl in order to keep it from slipping off his head altogether. In all fairness, Lowery does as well as can be expected with the terrible script and ultra low budget. I'm amazed that he was able to deliver some of his lines with a straight face.
Vickie Vale: Does Bruce Wayne know that you have his car?
Batman: Of course.
At least Lowery is physically similar to Batman, unlike Lewis Wilson who wore the mantle of the Bat in the earlier 1943 serial. He has an athletic build and a fairly impressive voice. I think he could have been a decent Batman had the script and the props been up to par.
Douglas Croft, however, makes for a poor Robin. He looks like a thirty year old with a baby faced sneer. He comes across as a spoiled brat and an imbecile.
The bad guy, a masked character known as the Wizard, is certainly an odd chap. He has cars, a air plane, a submarine, a device that allows x-ray vision, a couple of underground lairs and hoard of witless and amoral thugs at his command. His overhead must be huge. Yet all he is asking for is five million dollars. I've watched this serial twice so far and I still can't figure out exactly what the Wizard was really after. His overall goal seems to shift from episode to episode.
All in all, this is really a poor production. I give it one star only because it has Batman and there are a few scenes where one is likely to chuckle. Take away the camp factor and this serial would be rated at zero stars.
Regards and Best Wishes,
Donald Eric Kesler