The 1943 Columbia Pictures serial Batman
was nowhere near the peak of the chapter-play genre; produced by Rudolph C. Flothow
and directed by Lambert Hillyer
, it was done on the cheap even by serial standards, and if the writing wasn't bad, the production was terrible. Apart from the presence of J. Carrol Naish
as the villain of the piece, there's hardly a major screen name associated with it, and the entire tone of the piece -- which includes references to "shifty-eyed" Japanese and other slurs, referring to Japanese-Americans in that instance -- makes it just as well that this is the case. The serial, which was reissued in the mid-'60s to theaters as part of the "Batman craze" spurred by the ABC television series with Adam West
, looks to be in only a fair state of preservation, at least in the first chapter. (The Columbia logos at the front and the credits look fine, but much of the image is too dark and, in compensation, the producers have pumped too much light through it to brighten some of the sequences, which ends up whitening the skin of the characters too much and whiting out certain details; and one sequence in the middle of the episode looks oxidized, even solarized at one moment at what appears to be a reel-change point.) Luckily, chapter two looks and sounds much better, and most of the rest of the serial is closer to that condition than to the shape of the first chapter, but there is an edit at about eight and a half minutes in, involving a shot that simply doesn't belong, that appears to have been in the original release print of the serial, and that speaks volumes about the overall sloppiness of the production. The packaging is infinitely slicker than the content, with the cover art made to resemble the dark 1940s version of Batman in a stylized manner, while the serial itself is less atmospheric than just dullish and clunky. The discs both open automatically to a simple menu that offers easy access to all episodes spread among two layers, advancing automatically chapter by chapter, with all installments getting five numbered scene-markers. The transfer seems to be a bit dark in spots, but there's a general consistency to the look of the full-screen (1.33:1) image and the sound that makes this one of the better presentations of the serial since the 1940s. The Batman
serial never made it to laserdisc and on videocassette was only ever issued under license from Good Times in an SLP-speed VHS edition. There are no bonus features, but for serial buffs this is still a sort of encouraging release, in that it marks the first time that one of the major studios' video divisions has tried tapping into the serial market on DVD -- the pity is that Batman
is such a second-rate example of the genre, but at least it shows that they know the stuff exists in the vaults.