Serial Review: Batman and Robin (1949)

Release Date: May 26th, 1949 (first chapter)
Directed by: Spencer Gordon Bennet
Written by: George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland, Royal K. Cole
Based on: Batman created by Bob Kane
Cast: Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan, Jane Adams, Lyle Talbot, Ralph Graves, Don C. Harvey, William Fawcett, Leonard Penn

Columbia Pictures, 264 Minutes total (15 episodes)

Review:

Batman and Robin is the 1949 sequel to the 1943 serial Batman. It was also produced by Columbia Pictures but it stars a completely different cast.

In this second live action Batman adventure, we get to see Robert Lowery take up the mantle of Batman/Bruce Wayne while Johnny Duncan plays his sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson. We also get to see the first live action incarnation of Vicki Vale (played by Jane Adams) and Commissioner Jim Gordon (played by Lyle Talbot).

In this serial, we get to see Batman face a more appropriate super villain than the Japanese secret agent of the first series of short films. Here we are introduced to the Wizard, a hooded mad man who has a device that can control cars. Maybe that’s not the best scheme but this is a serial from the 1940s. Also, his identity is a mystery until a big reveal at the end of the final chapter.

From a visual standpoint, Batman and Robin is consistent with its predecessor. The costumes are a bit more refined but they have the same overall look and style. Unfortunately, they still drive a lame car.

I do, however, prefer the cinematography of Batman over Batman and Robin. The original serial was more artistic in its presentation and used a lot of stark contrast. The opening scene of the original serial was a much better start to a series than the newspaper headline montage opening of this Batman tale. While this seems to be a bit more refined overall and better produced, it lacks in creativity.

At least it has a better villain, even if it is another character not taken from the comic books. How cool would it have been to see a live action Joker in this era? We never got that though. And it’s not like there weren’t already a slew of Batman rogues introduced in the comic books, by this point. At least when the 1960s television series made up its own villains, they were all fairly cool and unique and some went on to be introduced in comic book form later on. Who’s the Wizard? Who cares.

Batman and Robin is entertaining enough for hardcore Bat-fans but it isn’t something that has aged well or would be appreciated by casual fans. The cliffhangers are redundant and there is so much filler in the story it puts Oscar Mayer Weiners to shame.

This chapter in the rich history of the Batman franchise is pretty simplistic and bare bones. There isn’t enough imagination to make this serial all that worthwhile. But still, it has Batman in it and if you are a super fan and want to complete your live action Batman franchise viewing experience, this isn’t impossible to get through.

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