Batman: The Complete 1943 Movie Serial Collection (film serial review)

I expect like many of you, the odd photo I’ve seen of the 1943 movie serial of ‘Batman’ have had some distain over their costumes. Oddly, watching the first two episodes was slowly changing my mind. As Bruce Wayne (actor Lewis Wilson) and Dick Grayson (actor Douglas Croft), it is Alfred Beagle (actor William Austin) who acts as their chauffeur as well as butler. It must be odd for his sometime girl-friend, Linda Page (actress Shirley Patterson) for the idler Wayne to bring his ward as gooseberry when they go out. Mind you, sleeping late is common to them because they are out and about acting as vigilantes Batman and Robin, rounding up criminals and stamping the bat symbol on their foreheads on delivery to the police and Captain Arnold (actor Charles C. Wilson), happy to take responsibility. Lets hope it wasn’t indelible ink.

The plot quickly moves on when Martin Warren (actor Gus Glassmere), released from prison and grabbed up by oriental spymaster Dr. Tito Dako (actor J. Carrol Naish)’s gang with Bruce and Dick there with Linda to get her uncle, when gang members pick him up instead. In pursuit, the criminals’ car does a colour and number plate change and escapes. That’s pretty sophisticated for a cheap budget series in 1943.

Over the 15 episodes, we see Dako’s American minions go about their tasks of getting radium to power his disintegrator gun. Before you query them getting raw pitchblende, it does actually contain radium as well as uranium. With Batman and Robin getting in the way from time to time, the brief extends to stopping or killing to capturing them for brain control. He’s done this to several people already, including Martin Warren, although nothing is disclosed about whether he allows them to eat, although defecation would have been too much for the 1940s.

Having Bruce Wayne going undercover in disguise as Chuck White is something borrowed from the comicstrip that didn’t really make the transition into more recent years. When he’s unmasked by gang members when stunned, he still has his Chuck White disguise on and gives thought that there was more than one Batman which is, again, quite profound. As if that would ever happen.

There are some things I was curious about that made more sense seeing the series. The reason that Batman looked so bulky was because of the padding he had under his costume. If it was done these days, that would be a muscle suit. Seeing how he gets punched about, falling over and even stunned, there was a need for Wilson to match his stuntman. A lot of the fighting was fisticuffs and when you see it done realistically, you do realise why the 1966 series version put in the visual sound effects. The clock in the Wayne Manor lounge hides the way down to the Bat’s Cave, no mistake in their spelling here because its captioned as such.  Batman does not always win such fights and is often knocked down or out.

When it comes to disguise, there is a realisation of just who knows who they really are. Certainly someone in Washington does, considering they receive secret messages from there by mail. Considering how Dick Grayson looks so much like Robin with his haircut, you do have to wonder how Linda Page doesn’t make the connection. Then considering how much she thinks Bruce Wayne is a wastrel, why does she keep confiding in him other than the fact that he’s incredibly wealthy and frequently offers his car, mostly driven by Alfred, to where she wants to go.

Of course, the limited members of cast, mostly down to gang members and police, doesn’t leave much room for anyone else and the noted cast is only four and not even including William Austin as a lead.

The utility belts are not referred to or used until the 14th episode. Batman must have been carrying his torch somewhere. The biggest surprise was Robin was concealing a crowbar as you would just in case your partner needs something to get out of a room with closing barbs.

Oddly, it is a series worth watching. It might not be great by modern standards but I was surprised how watchable it was on such a limited budget. Of course, much of the elements could have worked in a standard serial and adding Batman and Robin was more window-dressing but it is still effective.

GF Willmetts

July 2023

(pub: Columbia Pictures. 2 DVDs  minutes 15 * 25 minute episodes . Price: varies. ASIN: 1-4049-9139-8)

cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J/Carrol Naish, Shirley Patterson and many uncredited.


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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