Sunday, December 12, 2010

Great What-Ifs Vol. 2, Electric Boogaloo: Batman The Animated Series in the '40s?

Starting yesterday, I've been having a Batmanathon with my dad, sister, and brother-in-law, since the latter two now own the DVD boxset featuring all of the fantastic animated series episodes from the '90s. Overall I consider myself a fairweather Batman fan, seeing as it was only a latent bout of nostalgia that led me to watch the show recently (even in my childhood, when the show was on the air, I only cursorily watched it when I had nothing better to do. I was a pretty dim kid). But now the cartoon is my Batdrug of choice. I've gotten a fun kick out of watching the '60s TV show (what gal out there doesn't want to be Julie Newmar?), and I enjoyed the parts of the '89 Burton movie and its sequel that I've seen (again, what gal wouldn't also want to be Pfeiffer?). And I acknowledge that Ledger looks awe-inspiringly brilliant in Dark Knight. But that film appears to have just too much of that dreaded realism crap for me to really get into it too much. I mean, I acknowledge I should get around to actually watching it one of these days and judge it from there, but when it comes to something adapted from a comic book, I prefer the output...y'know....a little more comic-y.

While I have a very limited knowledge of the original comics, what I have seen and what I've researched makes me believe the '90s cartoon comes closest to Bob Kane's original vision in 1939: dark and energetic, gothic and stylized--heart without camp, grit without downtrodden naturalism. Y'know, only without the killings. For the kids! Oh, and I'd just like to point out you couldn't capture the slick artwork and expressions on the characters' faces with CGI, thankyouverymuch. Plus, who knew Mark Hamill of all people could make The Joker sound so maniacal, twisted, and hysterical?

 Little Lukey....

....Equals this guy?
Right on.

Did I mention how the first comic came out in 1939? That's right, this is where I'm heading: a kickass, full-scale, top-notch film noir made in the '40s, depicting the tone and characters of the animated series (see, I know there was a lower budget version of Batman made in 1943, so I wanted to specify that this is BIG BUDGET BIG STARS and exclusively in TAS-verse). I'm just going to throw this out here right away: directed by Fritz Lang, circa 1945 (wanna give the comics a few years to gain popularity). Now let's cast the hell out of this! Wheeee, I'm never going to stop with these things!

Dana Andrews as Batman/Bruce Wayne

One of the handsomer stars of film noir, Andrews also had a dark, rough, and somehow vaguely tragic edge. He was moody but no weakling. And perfect for playing the stalwart hero (see Laura). Andrews also has that square-cut jaw and strong/lean physique perfect for Batsy. 

Yeah, I have a bit of a crush on this guy.

You know who's an even weirder crush of mine?

Richard Widmark as The Joker

I read once that Widmark was actually inspired by Joker comics when he infamously portrayed the giggling psychopath Tommy Uto in Kiss of Death. I mean, look at those two faces! Any surprise, really? Someone with mad photoshop skills should try Jokerizing the heck out of that picture of Widmark. Seriously, slap some white body paint on him, slather on the red lipstick, and dye his hair bog green, and he is Joker.

I would like to note that after researching Mr. Widmark on IMDb, I found out that in spite of his "pushing-wheelchair-bound-grannies-around" image he depicted onscreen, he was apparently a very peace-loving, pro gun-control sort. Kind of a relief to know, innit?

For Batman's principal femme fatale, I have a list of potential candidates, like

Gene Tierney....

...Ava Gardner....

...or, yes, my girl Vivien....

...As Catwoman
All these ladies would bring phenomenal qualities to Catwoman. Gene Tierney's got the elegance, mystique, and the established chemistry with Dana Andrews. Gardner has the wicked cat eyes and attitude, plus she probably has the best bod of the bunch. Vivien has the most kittenish personality, plus the best acting chops, so if Lang wanted to go with the deeper Jeckyll /Hyde persona that Pfeiffer brilliantly portrayed in Batman Returns, Viv would be superb.

So, I'm stuck on this one. Thoughts? Concerns? Other ideas? Merp.

 Jeanne Crain as Batgirl /Barbara Gordon 

In Leave Her to Heaven, a marvelously ludicrous melodrama that nevertheless remains a classic film noir despite the blazing technicolor, Crain played the good girl-next-door role to Tierney's seething baddie. Crain played what could have been a simpering character with an undertone of strength, making her believable and sympathetic (though often outshone by Tierney, but everyone in that film was). Crain has the youth, sweetness, spunk, and the bright auburn hair crucial to Babs. I think she could pull off both the loving daughter and librarian, and the plucky superheroine.

C. Aubrey Smith as Alfred

Not really much I can add to this one. Smith is refined and stuffy, but with an underlying paternal kindness. It's all good. Kind of a weird photo of him, though.

Burt Lancaster as Two Face / Harvey Dent
Lancaster often played the steady, the hero. Yet my strongest impression of him comes from his ferocious portrayal of megalomaniacal, obsessively covetous and incestuous columnist J.J. Hunsecker in the masterpiece noir Sweet Smell of Success. Hunsecker tries presenting himself as an affable man-about-town and caring brother, but his face quickly shifts from bland benevolence to reptilian malice as needed. That coupled with his foreboding broad shoulders and razor sharp glare makes him just twisted and fascinating enough for tragic, dynamic former D.A. Harvey Dent.

Rita Hayworth as Poison Ivy

To be perfectly honest, I haven't really seen much with Rita Hayworth. I only know she's another great fatal female, has glorious red hair, and men go all sorts of ga-ga over her. Seems quite fitting for Dr. Pamela Isley.

But what about Ivy's bestest buddy in the whole wide world?

June Preisser as Harley Quinn

Oh, Harl, everybody's favorite henchwench. I dismissed her as a mild annoyance when I was a young'un, and ironically it took me in my older years to fully appreciate, and fall in love with, the most childlike character in the batverse. She was created especially for the animated series, in an attempt to lighten the Joker--again, for the kids. Frankly, I always thought she did the opposite of that, since  Joker always beat her up and tried to kill her. But she did win the hearts of cartoon and comic book fans alike, and she was soon adopted into the canon. Screwball, nuts, squeaky voiced, and physically limber and flexible. Who could do it back in the day?

June Preisser is a recent find of mine. I was just mindlessly flipping through a Pauline Kael book, as is a frequent pastime of mine (parties? Pffft, screw that noise), and I came across this description of her in one of the Andy Hardy movies: "she's like a baby Mae West and her eyes rove with mischief."  Baby Mae West? Well, obviously, I just had to check her out. She's blonde, vivacious, and criminy, take a look at her eyes in that picture: insane. But in an adorable way! And as an experienced contortionist, she could even effortlessly pull off Harley's gymnastic stunts! Double whammy. True, she might be a bit young to fit Harley's origin as a former shrink of the Joker's, but I always thought that backstory was a bit odd anyways. Driven mad with love for the Joker, fine; after all, look at all the fangirls panting over Ledger's Mistah J. But a young woman who heretofore has thrown herself into psychology suddenly snapped into a world-class, circus level acrobat? Not so believable, in my mind. So, alter the backstory to something like Joker wooing a ditzy tightrope walker, and Preisser is absolutely perfect. Plus, by the mid-'40s, things started sliding sadly downhill for Preisser, so maybe playing Harley could have revitalized both her life and her career, and she could now be known as someone other than Judy's rival in the Hardy flicks.

Peter Lorre as The Penguin

Penguin is one of those characters seldom used effectively. Burgess Meredith did well with him in the '60s series because the quacking laugh and long cigarette didn't look out of place in that more comic backdrop. But Penguin was one of the biggest failures in both Batman Returns and the cartoon series. Neither Burton nor the brains behind TAS knew how to reconcile a man who looks like a penguin and the darker, pulpier feel they were going for, and the scenes with him turned into an uncomfortable mesh of both genres. Frankly, if you're going to do it that way, might as well have an actor excellent at both macabre and comedy. Dear Lorre, one of my favorite actors ever, was obviously a dark, scary mite, but guess what? He got his start doing comedy in revue halls. Perfect match, if you have to film The Penguin. 

Clifton Webb as Scarecrow

Yep, three Laura stars here. But I swear it isn't only narcissism because of my name. Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka THE ALMIGHTY SCARECROW KING OF FEAR, requires someone cruelly erudite without falling headlong into histrionics; I think Webb's smarmy sophistication would capture that dichotomy well. And those who have seen his Waldo Lydecker will attest to my assertion he can also nail playing a psycho-creep. Really, who else could you imagine reveling in exploiting peoples' fears, but still maintaining his sharp and classy demeanor?

I might write a sequel to this post after I finish the whole series, when I'm better acquainted with the entire rogues gallery. And I can't yet pinpoint which actors could play Riddler, Killer Croc, Clayface, and the rest. Suggestions, kids? Oh, and leaving out Robin? Not an oversight. I just don't give a crap about Robin.

And yes, to those wondering, in this wonderland Fritz Lang production, George Sanders will remain Mr. Freeze. Only it would be even better this time, because in the animated series his character would have the added pathos of fretting over his sick wife Nora, and wouldn't Georgie just be too too adorable struggling to keep her alive cryogenically? He'd do a helluva better job than Arnie, that's for sure.

(Hmm, who could have played the immobile Nora? All she'd have to is stand there frozen, looking pretty. Would Grace Kelly have been too young? She's certainly got the ice queen thing down, har-dee-har. BUT NO DON'T EVEN SUGGEST ZSA ZSA NO WAY DON'T EVEN THINK IT THAT'S NOT FUNNY).


  1. Well, I can see that I'll have to skip visiting the family during the holidays because I'll be too busy with Dark Shadows, Batman and every film I have with GS (actually quite a few) and/or VL.

    To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar is one of the best if you haven't seen it.


  2. I can honestly think of no better way to spend the holidays than filling up on Batman and older movies/TV shows. Really.

    I saw part of To Wong Foo on TV once, and I should certainly watch the whole thing sometime-- if not for Julie, then as a tribute to Patrick Swayze's memory. As they used to sing on Mystery Science Theater, "Let's have a Patrick Swayze Christmas this year!"

  3. I like your casting. A lot. Dana Andrews is my only quibble. I kind of think he's too pretty (seriously, look at him in The Ox-Bow Incident). Though, admittedly, my alternate--Cornel Wilde--is about the same.

    Did you know that the TV 60s series had Clint Eastwood on tap to play Two-Face? The show got canceled before they got to his episode, unfortunately, but, wow, that idea just fills me with glee.

  4. Clint Eastwood?! Really? That woulda blown my mind. Especially considering this was the 60s series. I always figured they never featured Two-Face because a former DA gone mad with a disfigured face was too dark for the more...shall I say...goofball?...setting of the show. Now I'm angry I never got to see this happen.

    You know who really surprises me who never showed up, though? Ivy. I mean, she's a sexy red head with a plant gimmick, and she was created in 1966. She seems prime material for the TV show. The execs would no doubt have demanded she tie up Yvonne Craig in vines at some point.