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

olympics APB diversity Calendar IFC Films blaxploitation NBA natural history rotten movies we love Hear Us Out Sneak Peek Esquire child's play ViacomCBS Summer IMDb TV dexter Cosplay razzies Premiere Dates kaiju 2016 joker satire 2015 Extras screen actors guild Best and Worst batman scene in color series comedies Country documentary sopranos werewolf Fantasy Mudbound high school king kong Spring TV laika Awards TBS CNN Pirates Chilling Adventures of Sabrina black rom-coms Adult Swim Mystery Valentine's Day ghosts know your critic GoT Paramount dreamworks psychological thriller First Look Quiz 45 emmy awards aliens The Purge true crime hidden camera Best Picture justice league Hallmark Christmas movies Oscar 2019 Action sports Fox News space BET Crackle A&E movies TLC Lifetime Women's History Month Lifetime Christmas movies Amazon Prime Video dc adaptation deadpool First Reviews MSNBC miniseries worst movies Best Actor ABC Family comic book movies Emmys Logo sequel jamie lee curtis Opinion cops RT History marvel cinematic universe Film San Diego Comic-Con Travel Channel wonder woman cancelled TV shows The Academy History 99% Mary poppins spanish language cartoon live action Photos news marvel comics psycho cars Anna Paquin TNT harry potter Certified Fresh Pacific Islander breaking bad ITV ABC Signature mcc talk show spain OneApp Tomatazos TCA Awards Watching Series Avengers hist archives technology mob Toys Year in Review Britbox cancelled television Mindy Kaling Superheroes remakes Alien golden globe awards See It Skip It Lucasfilm based on movie Grammys international ESPN italian stand-up comedy sequels Song of Ice and Fire kong football Neflix Western Awards Tour Rom-Com Warner Bros. TIFF james bond FX on Hulu VICE independent HFPA LGBTQ comics posters slasher DC Universe Exclusive Video binge anime 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards biography Tubi OWN teaser 2020 transformers Star Trek DC streaming service monster movies video New York Comic Con Disney genre Horror PBS SXSW pirates of the caribbean Comics on TV sag awards die hard science fiction asian-american toy story Captain marvel Showtime Winter TV Ghostbusters criterion Rocky Christmas Chernobyl green book Music TCA documentaries dramedy Ellie Kemper Interview Acorn TV Turner YouTube Red canceled TV shows adenture Prime Video FXX quibi war Sci-Fi A24 AMC Plus The Walt Disney Company Rocketman 79th Golden Globes Awards feel good cats telelvision Binge Guide venice Amazon Prime comiccon Walt Disney Pictures Tokyo Olympics South by Southwest Film Festival Kids & Family HBO cancelled Apple TV+ discovery PlayStation anthology Crunchyroll VOD Comedy suspense dogs Vudu SXSW 2022 El Rey SundanceTV hollywood 2021 trailers YA Elton John rt archives biopic toronto Fall TV NYCC Instagram Live mockumentary The Arrangement Set visit Focus Features Peacock nbcuniversal women classics BET Awards what to watch adventure boxing Star Wars Celebration WGN Pride Month Super Bowl Winners Video Games latino elevated horror 2018 Cartoon Network gangster Superheroe facebook Rock animated unscripted art house spinoff social media American Society of Cinematographers mutant obituary Black Mirror CW Seed prank slashers leaderboard The CW Trailer Oscars blockbusters Ovation french universal monsters Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt worst twilight serial killer finale ID new york ratings casting series singing competition Nominations Biopics docuseries spider-verse Creative Arts Emmys rotten Netflix popular Starz cancelled TV series MCU Star Wars Lionsgate BBC One debate 94th Oscars TruTV interviews hispanic heritage month The Walking Dead Sony australia doctor who trophy dceu Universal BBC America Emmy Nominations 71st Emmy Awards MGM indie Musical Food Network CBS All Access Holiday Nat Geo blockbuster E3 Marvel Studios broadcast Tags: Comedy mission: impossible CBS Mary Poppins Returns streaming royal family cooking GIFs target scene in color scary movies Thanksgiving Pop directors romance Syfy FX VH1 japanese Hollywood Foreign Press Association new star wars movies HBO Go 73rd Emmy Awards fresh DC Comics Image Comics Polls and Games Freeform Brie Larson children's TV festival YouTube BBC 4/20 Apple a nightmare on elm street 93rd Oscars historical drama Comedy Central TV movies Pixar Marvel aapi Best Actress Writers Guild of America Television Academy President 72 Emmy Awards Sundance TV NBC Spike parents game show Native TV renewals name the review scene in color black comedy YouTube Premium live event TV One new zealand Schedule films young adult Marvel Television Black History Month Animation halloween scary game of thrones Arrowverse Teen comic books 007 composers BAFTA Disney Plus Comic Book book streamig video on demand strong female leads award winner target Hallmark Trivia Tumblr Turner Classic Movies fast and furious theme song superman halloween tv sitcom spy thriller renewed TV shows lord of the rings Columbia Pictures dark nfl travel Paramount Pictures X-Men reviews National Geographic ABC Countdown FOX festivals concert stop motion TCA Winter 2020 Endgame Fox Searchlight Sundance Now police drama jurassic park Pop TV politics Netflix Christmas movies Comic-Con@Home 2021 TV Land book adaptation WarnerMedia all-time comic book movie action-comedy summer preview scorecard spider-man Amazon summer TV Holidays 20th Century Fox Spectrum Originals kids chucky boxoffice thriller revenge Bravo Television Critics Association Sony Pictures godzilla summer TV preview TCM crime franchise crossover Reality political drama Discovery Channel vampires Baby Yoda Infographic Character Guide Stephen King TCA 2017 richard e. Grant disaster DGA Heroines Dark Horse Comics RT21 Podcast dragons foreign vs. witnail rt labs japan scene in color film series 2017 1990s The Witch Drama legend cults south america E! Mary Tyler Moore screenings GLAAD Epix Marathons Geeked Week king arthur 24 frames reboot nature period drama critic resources Shudder Pet Sematary Disney+ Disney Plus stoner indiana jones Reality Competition Wes Anderson 21st Century Fox HBO Max Amazon Studios streaming movies canceled critics Classic Film Election zero dark thirty Indigenous basketball DirecTV Broadway Musicals Film Festival Cannes Masterpiece saw USA Network Hulu LGBT crime thriller 90s IFC Apple TV Plus hispanic Shondaland Tarantino AMC Paramount Plus USA tv talk Best Director superhero PaleyFest MTV comic Paramount Network Martial Arts Disney streaming service robots Nickelodeon TV television versus Funimation Universal Pictures movie Trophy Talk Academy Awards SDCC crime drama docudrama romantic comedy obi wan Fargo christmas movies zombie spanish Legendary heist movie rt labs critics edition Box Office medical drama best Family CMT zombies Disney Channel free movies supernatural Red Carpet cinemax golden globes Sundance