Further Reading: Dark Knight is Unforgettable, but Who Remembers James Batman?

Kim uncovers a strange copyright-flouting Filipino movie from the 60s.

by | July 24, 2008 | Comments

Further Reading by Kim Newman

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.

James Batman

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 WestBurt 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.

James Batman

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.

Further Reading by Kim Newman

The venerable Chairman, whose younger daughter Shirley (Shirley Moreno) has a crush on Batman (a picture of Adam West), is so concerned at the threats of the Organisation that he calls in Bond and Batman, who one-up each other in a split-screen shot and each childishly insist they should be given the solo mission. Later, in a frankly bonkers plot twist, the Chairman himself turns out to be behind the Organisation’s nuclear plot, which allows for a poignant moment as Shirley pleads with him not to pull the lever that sets off the big bomb but begs the question of why he bothers to order the two comical but surprisingly efficient superheroes to defeat his own plan.

The heroes wear parody-of-a-parody outfits: Bond isn’t in the tux usually associated with the character but a hideous check suit and hat (in one bedroom scene, they match a quilt) which riffs on the tweedy Brit-abroad outfits Connery occasionally sports in the early films; and Batman has baggy tights, a chest symbol which seems to be a silhouette of a girl with a feather boa and a floppy cowl/stripey cape combo which isn’t that much sillier than the ’40s look. Robin (Boy Alano) looks as if he’s wearing a commercially-available Burt Ward costume, but hasn’t got much to do in a movie where the hero can play his own sidekick. The budget runs to a fairly cool four-door stretch Batmobile with spindly fins, gadgets like a fork with a radio aerial and a computerised bat-device from which a Thing-like disembodied hand dispenses pre-crimefight snacks (bananas, mostly).

Most of the film consists of knockabout action comedy — Bond is canoodling with a slinky villainess but doesn’t notice her shooting him several times in the chest because he is wearing a bullet-proof vest, and later loses his swimming trunks while fleeing hordes of gunmen and is bitten on the bum by a centipede in the palm-leaf he uses to cover himself. He then pretends he’s hurt worse than he is to get sympathy from a nurse and the other good guys. In fact, both Bond and Batman are such whiny dolts that a cooler, better-looking agent (the real James Bond?) and Robin’s karate expert girlfriend show up to help in the busy climax.

James Batman

After it’s over, everybody gets a girl but Bond, who is pursued by a goofy-looking character in a Batwoman outfit and comically hops off as if chased by Pepe le Pew (‘ugly’ women with ‘ridiculous’ desires for frankly equally gruesome-looking men remain figures of fun in gross-out comedies of all nations to this day, so this instance of horrible misogyny isn’t really unusual).

From a non-Filippino point of view, the strangest thing about James Batman is that it keeps turning oddly serious. After the comedy murder attempt, this goofy Bond roughs up a hit-woman in a sexualised way even Sean Connery would have thought ungentlemanly, stopping only just short of rape. The villainess is then taken to a police station where her low-cut dress excites Basic Instinct-like interest from goony cops who absent-mindedly shove cigarettes up their noses or drink from saucers while ogling her breasts (along with the camera).

James Batman

Because the melées are shot in black and white on real locations (with thump noises but no ‘Zap Pow Bam’ captions) makes the karate fights seem more like the straight action of the ’40s serials than the stylised silliness of the camp crusaders — Bond vs the Penguin is especially brutal, but a pile of thugs drop a net on and then kick the helpless Batman and Robin as if acting out the wish-fulfilment fantasies of all those bonked, zapped and powed extras in the TV show. The mood swings take the edge off the Third World-level production values, and it’s all bizarrely fascinating. I can honestly say I enjoyed it more than two Joel Schumacher Batmans and most Roger MoorePierce Brosnan Bonds.

For the record, there’s more out there. Dolphy played ‘Agent 1-2-3’ in a string of films (Dr Yes, Dolphinger, etc) and remains a major star in his home territory (unlike, say, Adam West), but he wasn’t in the 1993 Filipino musical comedy Alyas Batman y Robin. Sadly, Batman Fights Dracula (1967), a perhaps-serious Filipino cross-genre movie which vaults to the top of my ‘must see’ list, seems to be as lost as Andy Warhol‘s similarly-titled Batman Dracula (1964).

Meanwhile, if you need a bigger bat-fix, there’s La Verdadera Historia de Barman y Droguin, Superbatman vs Mazinga V, La Mujer Murcielago, Bat Bitch, Splatman (which features a villain called the Pornguin), Buttman and Throbbin, Rat Pfink and Boo-Boo, The Wild World of Batwoman (aka She Was a Hippie Vampire), Bathman dal Pianeta Eros, the short Robin’s Big Date (with Sam Rockwell as Batman) and Scooby-Doo Meets Batman, which is the only entry in this list authorised by DC Comics.

Tag Cloud

Amazon Prime festival Mindy Kaling telelvision Ghostbusters golden globes Turner blockbuster Superheroes Tubi marvel cinematic universe joker Academy Awards Election Peacock ABC Summer Broadway Year in Review thriller Best and Worst stoner PBS south america lord of the rings Funimation natural history spinoff live action CW Seed spy thriller ratings superman See It Skip It IFC Films book ABC Signature movies rt archives Sneak Peek ABC Family facebook hist Calendar Star Wars Black Mirror Comic-Con@Home 2021 technology sitcom Trivia 2019 The Purge olympics YouTube Super Bowl Columbia Pictures breaking bad parents Biopics Nominations golden globe awards all-time BAFTA Song of Ice and Fire RT History 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Certified Fresh singing competition 72 Emmy Awards TCA Awards USA latino comedies Nickelodeon scorecard fast and furious Crackle elevated horror History Epix Winners Creative Arts Emmys Disney Plus archives SXSW Star Trek Image Comics MSNBC TV Television Critics Association crime drama CBS discovery E! movie Britbox Toys canceled scary movies The Academy Paramount Plus Pride Month high school First Look jamie lee curtis TNT historical drama police drama BET rotten movies we love X-Men chucky Stephen King Box Office ITV YA Drama boxoffice blaxploitation indiana jones political drama dogs Schedule DC streaming service game show 99% Superheroe serial killer Disney+ Disney Plus spain universal monsters Character Guide Avengers documentaries Brie Larson Mudbound TV Land Emmy Nominations richard e. Grant spanish vampires Spring TV versus rotten nature screenings HBO Go hollywood Country nbcuniversal Mary poppins cats crossover heist movie cancelled TV series Apple TV+ dc theme song Pixar travel toy story CMT Martial Arts batman 2018 saw target cars venice Pet Sematary witnail child's play Lifetime Christmas movies dragons teaser Sony Pictures Nat Geo politics Watching Series PlayStation FX on Hulu science fiction composers Netflix prank spider-man First Reviews Trophy Talk LGBT crime spanish language films E3 Comics on TV 45 psycho period drama Oscars Reality best football transformers Disney Channel 20th Century Fox streaming movies unscripted tv talk biography war TCA El Rey a nightmare on elm street quibi king kong The Arrangement Warner Bros. VH1 GoT 90s Travel Channel Pop Pop TV halloween finale toronto remakes Comedy San Diego Comic-Con Photos Video Games ghosts TLC die hard Set visit Quiz international diversity Opinion hispanic know your critic Exclusive Video pirates of the caribbean 24 frames VOD Showtime trailers mockumentary razzies adaptation french Alien Spectrum Originals cops Lifetime video strong female leads black Lucasfilm Paramount Mystery indie Adult Swim Holidays Vudu VICE MCU zero dark thirty Marvel Studios cancelled television reboot asian-american franchise 2015 TIFF new york 2016 2020 Musicals Bravo Tomatazos television christmas movies satire true crime Animation women Awards Tour sports The CW documentary mutant Mary Poppins Returns comiccon Ellie Kemper Food Network crime thriller Extras stand-up comedy stop motion zombies comics italian docuseries Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt justice league President TV movies suspense laika Syfy NBA Crunchyroll series Premiere Dates robots Marvel Television Anna Paquin sequel Fox Searchlight GLAAD ID Emmys NBC Hallmark kids cults dceu 007 DC Comics jurassic park Freeform TCA 2017 adventure Classic Film Trailer cancelled sequels binge based on movie Disney Women's History Month new star wars movies APB japan Black History Month Marvel YouTube Premium Cartoon Network rom-coms anthology Tumblr Polls and Games emmy awards FOX DirecTV TBS Infographic Rocky Hulu TV One critics australia Apple Chernobyl Fantasy The Walking Dead Comedy Central canceled TV shows Lionsgate zombie casting directors miniseries Cosplay Film Festival Binge Guide foreign slashers doctor who HBO Max kong green book Rock boxing DC Universe james bond Winter TV Hallmark Christmas movies NYCC Hear Us Out mission: impossible Thanksgiving A24 Western Musical 71st Emmy Awards superhero Sci-Fi Logo Film disaster Captain marvel news WGN FX Tokyo Olympics reviews Paramount Network cinemax comic books Valentine's Day Heroines Countdown fresh Walt Disney Pictures LGBTQ SundanceTV hidden camera SDCC Acorn TV medical drama what to watch legend DGA Holiday Disney streaming service WarnerMedia CBS All Access concert ViacomCBS dramedy Legendary Baby Yoda Reality Competition game of thrones Shudder New York Comic Con Mary Tyler Moore revenge MTV streaming 4/20 Sundance TV Writers Guild of America adenture festivals cancelled TV shows Chilling Adventures of Sabrina FXX Fall TV Comic Book space psychological thriller Cannes Music 21st Century Fox obituary cooking Sundance Rocketman CNN YouTube Red criterion comic talk show social media Kids & Family Amazon Studios A&E TCA Winter 2020 The Walt Disney Company Awards anime monster movies Podcast Shondaland Red Carpet Spike Netflix Christmas movies BBC Pirates BET Awards Arrowverse Amazon children's TV RT21 Teen Sundance Now book adaptation twilight Fox News godzilla worst movies Interview ESPN romance OWN BBC America Marathons USA Network American Society of Cinematographers new zealand 1990s free movies Universal sag awards Amazon Prime Video BBC One Rom-Com HBO GIFs The Witch japanese basketball screen actors guild Family video on demand werewolf Esquire National Geographic halloween tv cartoon dark Pacific Islander 93rd Oscars worst nfl popular OneApp Horror Tarantino Starz Grammys award winner Television Academy Dark Horse Comics 2017 Action Endgame docudrama deadpool animated TV renewals TCM aapi AMC Masterpiece name the review 2021 harry potter TruTV Apple TV Plus aliens scene in color Discovery Channel Elton John romantic comedy supernatural PaleyFest IFC classics Ovation independent kaiju blockbusters renewed TV shows Wes Anderson Christmas Turner Classic Movies