James Batman (1966)
During the last Batman Across the Globe, we looked at the 1973 unauthorized Turkish Batman film, Yarasa Adam Bedmen. Which if you got a chance to search the internet and find the film, was quite an explicit interpretation of the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin. However, I bring up that film because I described the character and the villain as being very similar to themes that are present in the James Bond film franchise. And in this segment, I will be looking at the 1966 unauthorized Phillippino film, James Batman.
The best word that I can come up with to describe this film is, "peculiar". To my knowledge the film is only available on VHS in the United States to date. However, while extremely difficult to find, it is available to stream online, good luck finding it, as I had a hell of a time. Now, before I go into the review of the film, I'm sure you guys are asking; Is this serious? Should I even bother? And I had similar thoughts, as I had no expectations going into, matter a fact, I didn't expect to be able to watch the film the whole way through, but surprisingly, while it is incredibly stupid, to say the least, I found the film to be a lot of fun and quite entertaining.
In the 1960s, after the release of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery, and the release of 1966's Batman: The Movie, many foreign countries, like Turkey and the Philippines began churning out low-budget, unauthorized "Pop Culture" films like James Batman and Batman Fights Dracula, which we will discuss in the future. Most of these films, were made rather quickly, or at least the production quality look as such to represent that belief, but because of the time, many of these films didn't have to worry about copyright laws. In the Philippines case, they believed they were outside international copyright laws, being so far away. However, I do not want to paint a negative picture in regards to the Philippine film industry, because prior to Western culture invading their cinemas in the 1960s, the film industry had saw critical success with well-produced films that created several big name stars. Unfortunately, due to financial troubles, many of the Philippine big studios shut down, and the doors opened for many independent filmmakers to rush in, which began the sudden rush of these, "knock off" films being produced, like James Batman in 1966.
Now that we have the history lesson out of the way, as I mentioned before, James Batman was released in 1966 in the Philippines and was written and directed by Artemio Marquez, who to my knowledge, is still a part of the Philippine film industry today. The film in a way, moves a lot like a bad blaxplotation film; meaning, it has its moments of humor, but then dives into these lengthy scenes of dialogue that you find yourself completely disinterested in. Oh, and by the way, James Batman is absolutely, 100% a spoof. And its the funny moments that make the film worth watching, not the action sequences. Quite frankly the action sequences are boring, and funny in a completely different way. There are several very obvious moments where, during a fist fight, an actor misses their cue, but with dignity, the cast and crew are able to shake it off and continue. The story itself is put together in a very haphazard manner, but amidst all the chaos, is a film with a lot of heart and soul behind it.
A lot of that heart rests upon the star of the film, Rodolfo V. Quizon, more notably known as, "Dolphy", who was a successful comedian, who at the time was making his name for starring in spy spoof films, like this one. Dolphy, has two roles in the film, and guess what? The two roles are both, Batman and James Bond. That's right, and to be honest, it isn't too obviously noticeable. A matter of fact, if I hadn't already knew Dolphy played both roles going into the film, I may not have noticed. I'm sure for the time, this wasn't easy being that the filmmakers would have used an optical printer to re-photograph the image and then do the matte work. Which for those of you who don't know, an optical printer was an old form of copying and restoring old film stock and being able to alter and combine them together.
Dolphy very much is parodying Adam West and his portrayal of Batman during the 1960s. As for Dolphy's portrayal of James Bond, he very much is playing it as best he can in reference to Sean Connery, Bond is brutally honest and bastard, for lack of a better term. One of the funnier bits is the decision to change Robin's name from, "Robin" to "Rubin". I honestly don't know why its funny, but it is.
As for the costumes and production values of the film; the best way to describe them is "ambitious". Rubin's costume is nearly identical to Burt Ward's on the television series, but Batman's is a little different. The biggest change is the removal of the bat symbol across the chest, instead we have what looks like showgirl symbol, but take a look for yourself:
I was actually surprised by the editing and cinematography in the film. In today's films, fight scenes are usually compiled of quick cuts, that in a sense, move so fast, that they keep us from seeing the actual fight. Here, it is much more raw, and while there are some misses here and there, I thought the fight scenes were well put together, especially considering the cast and crew were involved with the project. The camera work flows surprisingly well. Marquez does a nice job of incorporating several different shots into the picture and, rarely does anything feel out of place. Marquez definitely had a vision for the film in mind when he started the project. Also, the film uses a Cadillac that has had some tweaks as the Batmobile, and I must say it looks strikingly similar to the Batmobile from the 1960s television series. Another thing that Marquez did that was wise, was not allowing the camera to focus on anything for too long, keeping the audience from noticing the blemishes within his film.
Overall, the major problem with the film is that the comedy is poorly paced within the film. For about two thirds of the film, its clear that this film is trying to be an action-packed spoof full of gags, that isn't trying to hard to take itself seriously, or try and fool the audience into thinking that these are fantastic interpretations of these pop culture icons. However, the last third of the film is almost entirely empty of humor, as if the writers ran out of jokes and gags. Therefore, the atmosphere of the film changes, all of a sudden you wonder if what you are watching is taking itself seriously, which becomes a problem. Having said all that, while it is hard to sit through at times, the film is without a doubt entertaining and worth probably no more then one viewing. Did I mention there is a not so subtle references to The Penguin and Catwoman here, and Batman has his rear-end bitten by a centipede? Give James Batman the opportunity, and you'll be glad you did… hopefully.
Posted by Zach