One only need view a single chapter from any serial to determine that their parental studios and filmmakers were not trying to create award-winning material (the Oscars didn’t even exist when serials originally hit the screens). They were making this Saturday Matinee fodder solely for the sake of the kiddies. It’s probably a safe bet to say that some parents probably had absolutely no idea what their kids were watching every weekend; although I imagine parents of the Serial Era probably had no qualms over their children watching these moving pictures, either.
Should you take the time to compare these chapter plays to the hoards of talking/singing/dancing animated animal films chock full of blatantly inappropriate innuendo and scatological humor we’re forced to contend with now (to say nothing of the spoiled little child stars destined to become drug addicts), you may find that serials are most definitely easier pills to swallow — after all, they were made to be innocent. Unfortunately, many of the wartime efforts seem much more sinister today than they did when originally released. In fact, some of these classic cliffhangers come off as being blatantly off-color and downright racist by modern audiences. And, for my money, there is no finer example of how an earnest attempt at patriotism from WWII-era Hollywood has malformed into something cruelly evil in today’s politically correct world as Columbia Pictures’ 1943 anti-classic (or classick to B-Movie “scholars” such as myself), Batman.
• Batman (1943)
Directed by Lambert Hillyer / 15 Chapters / Available on DVD from Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment
Lewis Wilson. To some, the name might not ring a bell. Actually, I’m being far too generous: the name probably means absolutely nothing to practically everyone. But, whether you’ve heard of the late actor or not, it doesn‘t change the fact that Lewis Wilson was the first man to ever don the famous cape and horned cowl long before anyone else did in this 15-Chapter serial. Batman (or The Batman, as it is sometimes known) marks the first ever appearance of the Caped Crusader on film (the first time a DC Comics character had a serial), in fact. It’s also one of the worst Batman adaptations ever.
“Wait,” you ask, “it’s worse than Joel Schumacher’s movies?” Well, maybe it’s not as bad as that — but it stinks to high heaven nonetheless. Batman has so many goofs, flaws, and politically incorrect remarks throughout its four-hour-plus runtime that it isn’t even funny. No, wait, I take that back: it is funny. It’s damn funny, in fact — and, providing you have the proper disposition (or just a really twisted sense of humor) — Batman may just be the most hysterically unintentional comedy you will ever see in your life. If your disposition is all wrong, however, and you are easily offended by certain remarks, Batman can still serve a purpose to you as a reminder of just how culturally insensitive a patriotic Hollywood can truly be.