Before Batman's cape and cowl were donned by Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, or even Adam West, he was played Lewis Wislon. Batman: The Complete 1943 Movie Serial Collection gathers this 1943 World War 2 series that first gave us a live-action Batman.

This series has Batman/Bruce Wayne (Lewis Wilson) and his young sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson (Douglas Croft) fighting the minions of the evil Japanese villain Dr. Tito Daka (J. Carroll Naish), who uses everything from a radium-powered death ray to hypnotized super-strong victims. There's also Linda Page (Shirley Patterson) as Bruce Wayne's love interest, Martin Warren (Gus Glassmire) as Linda's uncle and early victim of Daka, and Alfred (William Austin) as a wimpy, "comical" butler to Batman and Robin.

Even if you attribute the omnipresent racism of this series to the time it was made (you'll be hard-pressed to find a more offensive stereotype of the Japanese than Dr. Daka), there are numerous other problems with this Batman serial collection. The budget was so low that Batman and Robon's costumes look like they were made of felt, the "Bat's Cave" (yes, that's what they call it) is a cave with a desk in it, and the "Batmobile" is a normal car, with Alfred driving it. Worse, the fight sequences are repetitive, with Batman and Robin punching out the same thugs repeatedly, while getting beat up by the same thugs. And remember the movie Misery where Annie complained that she hated cliffhangers where a hero would be in peril at the end of an episode, then the next episode would add a scene showing why they weren't in peril? That happens in every episode here! Also, why is the government giving Bruce Wayne top-secret assignments? Does the government know Batman's secret identity?

Batman: The Complete 1943 Movie Serial Collection has a few good touches -- Batman assuming the disguise of gangster Chuck White, foreshadowing his "Mathces" Malone disguise; Dr. Daka speculating that there are multiple Batmen since he keeps escaping death -- but overall it's more painful that entertaining. Fans of the Batman character might be curious to see this earliest live version of the Caped Crusader, but you'll be more entertained with the Tim Burton films, Batman: The Dark Knight, or even Batman: The Animated Series. This version is far too clunky, dopey, and repetitive.

Overall grade: F
Reviewed by James Lynch

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