Further Reading: Dark Knight is Unforgettable, but Who Remembers James Batman?
Kim uncovers a strange copyright-flouting Filipino movie from the 60s.
The Dark Knight is setting cinemas alight all over the world, but, as Kim Newman discovers, there are other Batman movies that aren't quite so well known... James Batman - which crosses the caped crusader with suave spy James Bond - probably didn't attract much Oscar buzz, nor was the word "masterpiece" mentioned in its reviews, but for completists, is it worth seeing? Does the Filipino film industry's flouting of international copyright law deliver a treat? Read on to find out...
So, riddle me this, trivia-hounds, can you name all the actors who've played James Bond or Batman in the movies? Including the likes of David Niven in the first Casino Royale and Lewis Wilson in the 1943 Batman serial? Well, dynamic dunderheads, did you know one actor has not only played Batman and James Bond but did so in the same film?
Step forward Rodolfo Vera Quizon (always billed as 'Dolphy'), the Peter Sellers or Roberto Benigni of the Philippines. Or maybe the Benny Hill or Don Knotts. Dolphy takes the two roles (three, if you count the 'Bruce Wayne' part separately) in the 1966 Tagalog-language multi-hero spoof James Batman -- which, with apologies to Christian Bale and Daniel Craig, is one of the darnedest things I've ever seen.
Evidently the Filipino film industry of the 1960s deemed itself outside the reach of international copyright lawyers, and laughed maniacally at the cold-eyed franchise guardians of Eon Productions, 20th Century Fox and DC Comics, not to mention the Performing Rights Society folks collecting royalties for composers Monty Norman and Neal Hefti -- the familiar 'Bond' and 'Batman' tunes are played many times in James Batman in what sound like garage band arrangements.
As the title suggests, director Artemio Martez is managing a quick-off-the-mark combined parody of the 'Sean Connery is Ian Fleming's James Bond' saga initiated by Dr No and the Adam West-Burt Ward pop art/camp Batman TV series which debuted in 1965. The runaway world-wide successes inspired filmmakers everywhere to try and get in on the action with imitations and parodies.
Of course, the funny fellows blithely ignored the fact that the 007 films stopped taking themselves seriously around the time 007 wore a duck decoy hat (Goldfinger, 1964) and the Batman show was always a send-up of the comic book and movie serial hero. So, this means that parodies have to go really broad in search of laughs. When Dolphy's Batman gets his tights pulled down during a cliffhanger, he is accompanied by the da-na-da-na-da-na Batman theme with a mocking 'wah-wah' instead of the traditional 'Bat-man'; and when his Bond gorily stabs an arch-villain, he pokes his tongue out rudely at the dying crook.
My Tagalog is a little rusty, but the plot is fairly easy to follow. A bearded Chinese criminal representing 'the Organisation', who could as easily be Fu Manchu or Dr No (though he looks most like Iron Man's comics nemesis, the Mandarin), strides into a meeting of a Pan-Asian United Nations-type set-up and reads out a list of demands and threats from a scroll. He illustrates this with stock footage from 1950s atomic tests and what I presume is newsreel material of the aftermath of a Pacific typhoon or hurricane, cackles in the approved master-fiend manner, and zaps someone with an electrical arc from his fingernail.
Weirdly, this promising baddie fails to reappear, though the Organisation also employs the Penguin (or a thinner, tougher, cigar-smoking variation thereof), a Catwoman lookalike who is apparently a Chinese movie villainess called the Black Rose, a sunglasses-sporting sniper with a mace for a hand, a hooded and partially metal-headed nasty called Drago whose chair is a giant hand with raygun fingers which can be slowly aimed and fired at those who displease him, and a horde of cowled, machine-gun-toting babes with plunging neckline mini-dresses.