George Takei’s happy dance and The Batman 1943 film serial

Behold the greatest thing ever:

Behold the greatest thing ever:

Man, George has got some sweet moves! I’d never heard of this project before now, but I wish them all the luck in the world.

The timing’s interesting, though, because I just finished watching The Batman, a 15-part 1943 movie serial. It features the Dynamic Duo going up against Doctor Tito Daka, an evil Japanese-American spymaster and mad scientist out to sabotage the US war effort and bring this beacon of democracy under the heel of Emperor Hirohito.

Also it serves as a great showcase of WWII anti-Japanese hatred and paranoia. Let’s see how the narrator introduces Gotham City’s Little Tokyo:

This was part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America, and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs it has become virtually a ghost street where only one business survives, eking out a precarious existence on the dimes of curiosity-seekers.

Emphasis mine. Yes, they really said that. Oh, and the business in question, the front for Daka’s sinister lair? A “Japanese Chamber of Horrors” where visitors can see what horrible people the Japanese are: exhibits include some Japanese soldiers, more Japanese soldiers menacing a helpless lily-white American lady, and yet more Japanese soldiers pointing their bayonets at an American soldier in a cage. Just so viewers don’t forget, this chamber of horrors is shown over and over at least every other chapter. Oy.

Aside from that, though, the serial wasn’t half bad. Horribly low-budget, of course, but pretty decent entertainment. It’s an interesting look at a very, very early Batman, probably before much of the mythology was fully developed. The serial makes no mention of the heroes’ tragic origins, instead just portraying them as costumed crimefighters who spend most of their time breaking up gangs and such, but occasionally take orders directly from Washington to handle matters of national security.

What’s also interesting is how thin the line is between Batman and Bruce Wayne. True, in public he behaves as a useless rich playboy, but he doesn’t even try to change his voice or mannerisms when in costume, and when in private or in their car will casually remove his cowl. Batman is very human, just doing the punchy-punchy thing with bad guys, no special bat-gadgets. Which I guess makes sense if “Batman” is just a costume to Wayne and not an identity—and of course could just be due to the low budget—but I wonder how true this was to the comics of the time?

A couple of other thoughts:

  • Daka is actually smarter and more restrained than I expected for an old-school serial villain. He’s very pragmatic about using his zombifying machine to get slaves and extract information, and only takes a few seconds to gloat in Chapter 14 before sending Batman into the pit. Of course it had to have a silly death trap, but there you go, sometimes you can’t buck tradition. No unnecessarily slow-moving death trap, no cliffhanger, am I right?
  • Damn, Edna Mode was right. In the fight scenes, Batman and Robin kept getting all tangled in their capes. Batman’s cowl almost came off accidentally a couple of times, too.
  • According to TVTropes, this serial created several elements of the Bat-universe we now take for granted, like the Batcave and Alfred’s usual appearance of a skinny British guy.

Next up: the 1949 Batman and Robin movie serial. Borrowed the DVD from a friend, this should be fun.

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