The first ever appearance of Batman on film was in this 15 part TV serial from 1943. Batman was played by Lewis Wilson, and his sidekick Robin was played by Douglas Croft. AS with the TV shows, I am not going to give TV Serials like this a rating as such, as compared to movies nowadays I think any rating would be quite irrelevant. Movies like this would obviously score quite low as they were made cheaply and quickly.
The story is heavily influenced by the war at the time, so if you are going to watch this then prepare for a lot of anti-Japanese racism, even from Batman himself, that will mostly have you cringing and how ridiculous it is. It focuses more on the detective side of Batman, which was a feature of stories at the time. The villian, Dr. Daka, is the only villain to appear in the entire 15 episodes, and is hell bent on ending the American way of life. It is essentially war-time propaganda.
What makes this TV serial essential viewing for the Batman enthusiast is that it contains a few Batman “firsts”, which are:
- The first ever appearance of the Batcave
- The first appearance of Batman on film
- The first ever unique villain on film (not in the comics)
- The first appearance of Alfred as a slim gentleman with a moustache
For casual viewers and fans, there’s little here to add to what you already know about Batman, and the quality of the movie is something a decent amateur could do with a few friends nowadays. The costume design was even criticised at the time for being ill-fitting, and Wilson himself makes a pretty laboured-looking Batman, although he does make a decent Bruce Wayne. Croft is good as Robin, and actually is the closest in age to Robin out of any actor to portray him, I think, at 13 years of age.
There is a noticeable absence of the Batmobile. The movie being made on a budget meant that The Caped Crusader had to drive around in Bruce Wayne’s Cadillac the entire movie.
The running time (260 mins) means you may have to watch this in two parts. At over 70 years old, the quality of this movie may turn off a lot of viewers. It’s not exactly something a non-fan would go out of their way to watch, but for fans like me, it is part of the collection even if it is only used for reference. It was good to come back to this for the purpose of this review, but I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that I found myself skipping to fight scenes past dialogue, which as mentioned sometimes is a little cringeworthy.