Oct 15, 2019
Batman (1966) shows how feminism will kill us all
[Note: This is a requested recap from the happy, nice people at Happy Nice Time People, where TV is your friend! Visit the Agony Booth Patreon page to request your own recap, or donate just $1 to get rid of the “Become a Patron” popup you see everywhere!]
With Supergirl in repeats this week, I decided to use all my newfound free time to look at an episode of a classic superhero show instead. But since this is a requested recap, I was obligated to look at an episode that hasn’t aged all that well, in order to participate in an irregular feature over at Happy Nice Time People called “Failing the Test of Time”. And believe me, this episode of the 1960s Batman certainly fails the test of time, as well as the test of being in any way worth watching.
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Batman premiered on ABC in January of 1966, 50 years ago this week, and it was an instant, massive success for the network. Sure, the show was a pretty silly, campy take on the Batman character, but anyone familiar with DC’s Silver Age knows the show wasn’t a whole lot goofier than what was going on in the comics at the time.
Batman initially aired twice a week—with the first airing ending with a now-legendary plea to tune in the “same bat-time, same bat-channel” the following night—and pulled off a rare feat when both installments placed in the top 10 Nielsen ratings for the 1965-1966 season. The success of the show kicked off Batmania, with huge quantities of Batman-related merchandise suddenly appearing on (and flying off) store shelves, including some rather… questionable product lines.
Unfortunately, Batmania was a fad that burnt out pretty quickly. Ratings dropped off significantly in the show’s second season, and by the third season, Batman saw its budget severely slashed, and the show was reduced to airing once a week. This was a huge creative blow, in that the writers were now left with a meager half-hour to introduce the episode’s celebrity villain, establish his or her evil plot, have them capture Batman and Robin and lock them up in some sort of ludicrous deathtrap, have Batman and Robin escape from said deathtrap, and then finally get around to the big finale “Bam!-Pow!” Bat-fight to wrap things up. Essentially, they were taking the same hour-long formula of the first two seasons and trying to cram it all into a half hour, which turned out to be a recipe for mediocrity.
The 19th episode of the third season, “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club”, is a pretty good example of how far the show had fallen in terms of quality, and is generally considered one of the series’ worst episodes. Not only is it a god-awful story cheaply told, but it’s full of all kinds of lazy stereotypes about women in the workplace that would have come off as dated in the ‘50s, let alone in 1968 when women’s lib was just gaining steam.
We begin at a banquet dinner, where our friendly omniscient narrator informs us that Commissioner Gordon is being honored for “25 years of faithful service”. And somehow, Batman and Robin haven’t been invited to this dinner, even though Gordon’s entire job at this point consists of picking up a phone and calling Batman whenever there’s trouble.
In their place, we have Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, and then Chief O’Hara drunkenly sings “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and calls for a toast, and everyone lifts their glasses of champagne, except for Dick, who as America’s oldest teenager is only allowed a champagne glass full of milk.
Also at the dinner is Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl, played by Yvonne Craig, a new character added to the show in season three as a Poochie-like attempt to drum up ratings. They even added Batgirl to the cartoon Bat-fight in the opening credits, accompanied by a sound effect balloon that comes off a little different in retrospect.
They’re all waiting for Mayor Linseed, and when he finally shows up, he’s standing in the entranceway with his wife, and they’re silently bickering. Linseed eventually steps up to the podium to present Gordon with a gold watch. And then, while his wife looks on sternly, he announces that he’s discharging Commissioner Gordon, and the new police commissioner will be a woman named Nora Clavicle.
Nora Clavicle enters, dressed in her supervillain costume consisting of a fur collar coat and leather gloves, while flanked by two busty henchwomen dressed like Greek goddesses. And I know what you’re thinking: Who? Thankfully, Bruce is here to enlighten us. “The famous Nora Clavicle!” Ah, yes, of course. How could we forget?
Actually, it would appear that Clavicle is some sort of militant feminist, because one of her goddesses is pounding away on a drum that reads “Woman Power”, and Nora tells the room that she wants to carry on her “crusade for women’s rights” by proving that “women can run Gotham City better than men!” Her first act as commissioner is to appoint a new police chief, and O’Hara looks flabbergasted as Clavicle names Mrs. Linseed, the mayor’s wife, to replace him.
Cut to the banquet hall in the aftermath, with all the men looking dejected. Mayor Linseed explains he had to do it, because his wife is a follower of Nora Clavicle, and “she refused to cook or clean or wash my shirts” until he appointed Clavicle as commissioner. “I haven’t had a decent meal in months!” Uh… dude, you realize you’re the mayor, right? You seriously can’t find anybody else to cook and clean for you? And shouldn’t the mayor of Gotham City have a staff to take care of those things anyway?
We now find Nora Clavicle having gotten herself all settled into Commissioner Gordon’s office, and she calls up Batman and Robin on the red Batphone, and informs them their services are no longer required. Clavicle says the police “won’t need any help from you men, Bat- or otherwise,” and instead of just hanging up, she uses a big pair of scissors to cut the phone line.
Over in the Batcave, Batman finds this whole affair “curious”, so Robin yells out the memorable line, “Well, we’re dressed for investigating… let’s investigate!” Batman says there’s really nothing to investigate, but then decides a moment later that aimlessly cruising around in the Batmobile might be a good idea, after all. And it seems Batgirl is having the exact same idea, as she walks into her “secret closet” and gets on her frilly pink motorcycle, creatively called the “Batgirl-cycle”, to go riding around the city to scope things out as well.
In Commissioner Clavicle’s office, she’s congratulating Mrs. Linseed, now Chief Linseed, on her inspired idea to fire every man on the police force and replace them with women. As soon as she’s gone, Clavicle tells her goddesses to proceed with “Operation: Ransack” while she proceeds with “Operation: Disaster Insurance”, and I proceed with Operation: Watching Total Nonsense.
Her goddesses point out that Batgirl is helping out Batman and Robin, and they might actually be a threat with a woman on their side. But Clavicle already has a trap in mind to get rid of all three of them.
And that trap involves having her goddesses go down to the Gotham City National Bank and hold up a teller. The bank manager notices the robbery going on, and he runs over to a police officer who just happens to be standing around inside the bank. Thanks to Linseed’s new hiring practices, it’s a female police officer, and it looks like the new Gotham City police uniform consists of a miniskirt, as well as a… rolling pin. Because, you see, women like to cook. Oh, but it gets better: She’s completely oblivious to the bank robbery because she’s too busy applying lipstick.
Cut to two more policewomen outside, and they’re so engrossed in swapping recipes that they don’t notice the robbers leaving with big sacks of money. The bank manager then goes over to another female cop standing around outside, and tells her to chase after the robbers. But she refuses to run in her “new Givenchy shoes”. He then goes to a call box to contact the police, but the female dispatcher is too busy telling all her officers about sales at local department stores to pay any attention to the call.
So, yeah, basically a tsunami of unfunny and shamelessly sexist clichés. It would almost be excusable if Clavicle mentioned she was deliberately hiring incompetent women to be police officers to make it easier for her to pull off her evil scheme, but nope. The whole point of this scene, and probably the entire episode, is that women are just too obsessed with makeup, clothes, and cooking to ever hold down important jobs.
And then come back next week for a recap of a brand-new episode of Supergirl!