We now continue our Bataan Death March through the 1943 Columbia serial, The Batman!
Chapter 10: Flying Spies
Well that sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Flying spies. Unfortunately, there’s only one spy, and he doesn’t actually fly, although he does spend a large part of the episode sitting in the passenger cabin of a DC-3, eloquently miming the existential dread of a man whose hemorrhoid donut is slowly deflating.
When we last left Batman in Chapter 9, The Sign of the Sphinx, he’d assumed the identity of gangster “Chuck White,” and donned a disguise which consisted of unbuttoning his coat and borrowing Billie Hayes’ rubber nose from “H.R. Pufnstuf.” Still, he put slightly more effort into it than Superman does. Anyway, this low budget masquerade allows the actor to get out of those itchy woolen tights, although it doesn’t seem to accomplish much else, since at the end of the episode Robin has leaped from the deck of an ocean liner left over from a more expensive movie and disappeared into the dark and fetid waters of Gotham Harbor, while Batman lies crushed beneath the ship’s gangplank. How does he come back to life this week? Why, with the help of Greenpeace.
After the recap of the last chapter, we see that Batman and Robin landed in a net that’s somehow hanging between the dock and the side of the ship. And fortunately for lovers of truth and justice, it’s one of those new Bat-Safe nets, so once again the Dynamic Duo and Special Guest Star Flipper narrowly escape death by suffocation in a purse seine full of tuna corpses.
The Batman and Robin return to Wayne Manor, apparently walking in the front door after pausing to grab the newspaper off the lawn. As a rare example of a one-room mansion, Wayne Manor is cramped, but with a rustic charm. Alfred offers to sponge out the bat suit, but Bruce declares that the Batman isn’t done for the day, which apparently means he hasn’t yet succeeded in sweating completely through his puffy, Depends-like underpants. He turns with a cape-swirling flourish, hunches over, and squeezes through the grandfather clock like a bone-in ham pushed through a mail slot.
Inside the Bat’s Cave, the hoodlum they captured last episode is still sitting awkwardly beside the Batman’s desk, trying to come up with a good answer to the Dark Knight’s demand that he, “give us an example of a situation where you faced conflict or difficult communications problems.” He muffs the interview, and suddenly the Batmobile screeches to a stop outside a police station and the trussed-up thug is rolled into the gutter, because apparently it’s one of those “safe surrender” spots for newborns, and they’ll see he goes to a good home.
Meanwhile, Dr. Prince Daka discovers that the Batman is still alive, but he can’t even pretend to be surprised, probably because it would crack his make-up. But all that is forgotten when he suddenly receives a radio call from “Section 50.” Like all the Japanese spies, Section 50 resembles an insurance salesman from Modesto, or maybe a floorwalker from Dayton’s Department Store, underscoring the fact that nobody in Daka’s Japanese spy ring is Japanese, including Daka. Anyway, he reports that they managed to get some of that radium Daka’s been trying and failing to steal for the past nine episodes; apparently it was going cheap at a garage sale or something. Daka gazes reverently skyward, testing the tensile strength of those fake epicanthic folds he wears for work, and whispers, “The radium will enable us to complete our atom disintegrater. And start our work of destruction!” Oh right, that was the plot, the radium and the ray gun thing. So by chapter 10 they’re finally getting ready to start work? This makes me suspect that the spy ring is just a hobby, and Daka’s day job involves home contracting.
Cut to Bruce and Dick, who are lounging around Stately Wayne Room, when a telegram arrives from Washington. At that very same moment, however, Bruce’s forgotten girlfriend Linda barges in, so Bruce hands his ward the coded message and mutters, “Take it in the lab, Dick,” in a way that just sounds dirty, I’m sorry.
Linda has come to pick a fight with Bruce, because she’s jealous of Chuck White, convinced that Bruce is cheating on her with his own banana-nosed alter ego. Fight successfully picked, she storms out again, just as Dick re-enters through the clock (that’s the nice thing about using just one of the sixty rooms in your mansion — you only have to rent the Rug Doctor two, three times a year, and maybe once after the holidays for a quick freshener).
Dick has decoded the telegram, which reports the theft of some radium, and says, “this looks like a job for the batman!” But Bruce says no, it’s a job for his other superhero identity, Chuck White, Big Nosed Regular Guy.
Back at Imperial Japanese Headquarters and Amusement Park Ride, Section 50 calls again to tell Daka that a courier is flying in with the radium, but the police are checking the baggage of all arriving passengers. He suggests that “you use Plan 18.” Considering that the spy ring has had only had one task so far — acquiring radium — you’d think it would rank a bit higher — Plan 3 or 4 at least — but no. Turns out that Plans 1 through 17 are only good if Webelos have stolen your bank statement, or you’re being chased by bees.
But Batman has his own plan: to pad out the episode! He puts on his utility nose, then takes a cab back to the Sphinx Club and hangs around until a random thug hires him to commit treason, then they take another cab to a different place, where Bruce sits in a waiting room and reads a magazine. Meanwhile, Daka spies on him by peering through the eye holes of that portrait from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
The gangsters take Chuck to the Melody Ranch, where they all stand around and wait for the radium to go skydiving. Bruce is now in a perfect position to gain the hoodlums’ trust and infiltrate the spy ring, but he arouses their suspicion when he succumbs to a sudden, Tourette’s-like urge to perform bird calls (his one fatal weakness, although in later years it would make him a popular fixture on the Sullivan show).
Since he’s blown it anyway, he runs over to his car so he and Dick can scramble into the back seat and grunt and struggle into their tights.
Meanwhile, the thugs stick a highway flare in the ground. In a DC-3 conveniently overhead, a Flying Spy looks down, sees the flare, then lugs a hatbox into the toilet and breaks outs the window (which has modesty curtains, just in case another plane flies by when someone with a shy bladder is trying to pee).
The movie’s not really clear on what time it is, although I think it’s supposed to be after dark (the scene is shot dull-for-night) but nobody has any trouble spotting a base jumping hatbox full of radium. As Batman and Robin are vastly outnumbered, they must use stealth and exploit the element of surprise, so they lumber into the light of the flare and smack around the first guy they find.
Robin takes a vicious blow to the upper thigh and rolls around on the ground, while the Batman is quickly overwhelmed by hoodlums. Suddenly, he jumps into one of the getaway cars and takes it for a joyride. A thug shoots out a tire, but the Batman maintains control, and as he glides down a gentle embankment, the passenger compartment suddenly bursts into flames as though underneath his costume, the Batman was a quivering aspic sculpted from jellied gasoline.
So let this be a lesson to you. Lock you car. Take the keys. Don’t let a good Bat, go bad.
Next, Chapter 11: A Nipponese Trap.