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'Batman' returns, even on classic video


Now that another slick "Batman" movie is packing them into the theaters again, video shoppers will find plenty of bat-related artifacts competing for their attention in stores.

One of the most prominent is likely to be GoodTimes Home Video's two volumes of "Batman and Robin," containing the 15 chapter serial released by Columbia Pictures in 1949. Each volume is priced at $9.99 and runs about 120 minutes.

Hollywood has become so adept at jazzing up comic book heroes with special effects that the creaky conventions of yesteryear would bore even a 5-year-old. One watches "Batman and Robin" hoping for a touch of the mood, style and excitement that have kept the character alive for more than 50 years, but it's a vain exercise.

While movie serials were rarely mistaken for art, the shortcomings afflicting this one were hardly unique. By the late '40s, the Saturday matinee cliffhanger had run its course. The feature films they preceded were getting longer, and TV heroes were starting to siphon away the young audience. As "Batman and Robin" makes painfully clear, studios were reacting to the situation by reducing the budgets for this type of program filler.

The very look of this production cries poverty. Everyone knows that Batman's alter ego is Bruce Wayne, a millionaire playboy, yet a glimpse of Wayne's abode reveals not an expansive estate but a comfortable upper middle class house on a tree-lined street.

After Wayne (played by Robert Lowery) and Dick Grayson (John Duncan) get the Bat signal from Commissioner Gordon (Lyle Talbot) and spring into action as the Dynamic Duo, they first retrieve their costumes from their resting place -- a clunky office filing cabinet! Moms everywhere must have been distressed to see how these superheroes treated their longjohns.

When Batman and Robin hit the road, it's not in a nifty Batmobile but an ordinary period roadster. Well, at least it's a convertible (handy for leaping onto trains). In such a mundane vehicle, they look just like two fellows on their way to a costume party.

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