This is a little bit of a divergence from my usual offerings, but please indulge me.
I’m a huge fan of the super camp 60s TV series Batman. I also have a big girl crush on Julie Newmar. So I was more than a little surprised when found out that there was a Batman reunion TV movie that I had never heard of or seen and took pains to rectify that oversight immediately.
Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt is a low budget typically camp catch up with the stars we loved from yesteryear, and it probably the sweetest and also saddest thing I’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever. I spent the entire runtime simultaneously mesmerised and melancholic.
The general conceit of the movie sees Adam West and Burt Ward playing stylised and exaggerated versions of themselves in a nostalgically functional plot that necessitates them to recall past events from their Batman careers.
We catch up Adam West living in a fancy Los Angeles mansion bedecked with Batman memorabilia, including a batpole to hasten his journey from bedroom to garage, he also employs a butler, Jerry (Burt Viola from Moonlighting! I found that quite exciting too), whom he insists on calling ‘Alfred’ despite Jerry’s protestations. The story kicks off when West receives a mysterious invitation to attend a museum charity gala where the Batmobile is in residence. Once there he runs into old chum Burt Ward, also in attendance though his invite turns out to be fake, and within moments they witness the diabolical theft of Batmobile which was intended to raise money for orphans.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, in an echo of the original show, the lads begin to receive a series of bizarre and intangible clues designed, as they always were, to lead them to the culprit and it soon becomes apparent that in order to get to the bottom of the mystery and recover the stolen batmobile and save the orphans they must look to events of the past to unlock the present puzzle. This handy plot device allows us then to be thrown into a series of nostalgia dripped flashbacks that chart the rise and fall of the cult show. These segments play like a mini biopic and in this drama within the drama we see actor Jack Brewer playing actor Adam West playing Batman and actor Jason Marsden playing actor Burt Ward playing Robin. Confused? Me too.
It is interesting to note the comparison between the present day West/Ward action and the past re-enactments. The present day segments mirror the characterisation of the fictionalised West and Ward. West and Ward play themselves as actors still perpetually trapped by the memory of their show. They continue to use their familiar character batspeak when interacting and get into KAPOW! BIFF! bar room brawls with handily labelled henchmen. Essentially, the present day scenes play in the style of a Batman episode with all bizarre colourfulness and campness we would expect. In contrast the 60s flashback scenes are played straight and give us a brief insight into the actors’ lives before the show, their ultimate castings and screentests, their relationships with each other and with women and the studio machinations all of which lead up to inevitable cancellation. The old Batman sets are recreated beautifully here and there are some lovely portrayals of many of the show’s famous guest star villains. We also see some of the naughtiness that went on off screen as the boys cavort with a bevy of beautiful ladies and a considerable amount of time is dedicated Burt Ward’s apparently epic penis and the network’s borderline obsession with it.
The movie is deliberately and unashamedly self-referential and boasts cameos from nearly all of the surviving cast members; Riddler, Frank Gorshin and Catwomen Lee Meriwether and Julie Newmar (who still looks phenomenally fabulous, and is the only real Catwoman). There are also a couple of cute running gags; West making Ward pay for everything and the continual Batman style narration that only West can hear.
Ultimately Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt is a masochistic pleasure. While it is fun to be reminded of bright, fey frivolity of the original serial, to see insights into its production and warm portrayals of its many stars there is also a heartbreaking pathos in witnessing its aging stars, who were forever typecast and limited by their own success, hampered by a brutal combination of adulation and derision, parodying the very plight that plagued them for the rest of their careers. But despite all this it is still fun and does have a peculiar charm and surely you want to see West and Newmar dance the batusi one more time. And, of course, there are still so many unanswered questions:
Can the Dynamic Duo unravel the secrets of the past and save the batmobile from a dastardly fate?
Will the orphans ever get their happy ending?
Who is the fearsome mastermind behind this despicable scheme?
Tune in to Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt — same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!