Episode Title: The Greatest Mother of them All
Original Airdate: October 5, 1966
Many history buffs probably know the name of Arizona Donnie Barker…aka Ma Barker. Back in the 30’s she was wanted by the FBI for organizing the crimes of her villainous sons. Many movies and TV shows have portrayed this criminal matriarch, including Batman. The show created their own version, dubbed Ma Parker and portrayed by Academy Award winner Shelley Winters. She’s up to no good in today’s episode, The Greatest Mother of them All.
We open at Gotham’s annual Mother of the Year awards where Ma Parker robs the assembled crowd with her kids: Pretty Boy, Machine Gun, Mad Dog, and the one girl, Legs. The Caped Crusaders are called into action, but before they hit the case, the Gotham police corner Ma and her gang at their hideout. Batman and Robin show up to help. A fight breaks out with the “kids” and Ma is forced to surrender. However, she pulls a smoke bomb from her hair and uses it to escape. However, one of the kids is captured.
Later, Batman uses his Crime Computer to determine Ma’s next target…a local movie theater. Ma steals a truck to escape, but one of the kids doesn’t make it on before she zooms away. One more gang member captured. Later, another one of the kids is nabbed by the Dynamic Duo at a drug store robbery. Finally, Batman tracks Ma and Legs down to a local old folks home. Next thing we know, the whole gang is in the Gotham State Penitentiary under the watchful eye of Warden Crichton. However, that’s just what Ma Parker wants. It turns out that over the last several months, Ma has been having her gang members take jobs at the pen. She quickly takes control of the prison with plans of turning all the inmates against Gotham. Plus, one of her inside men manages to slip an explosive into the engine of the Batmobile before Batman leaves. Once the Batmobile hits 60 MPH, Kaboom! Cue the cliffhanger narration…
Ma Parker ruling the pen!
Dynamite in the engine!
Will the Batmobile be blasted?
Will the Boy Wonder be bombed?
Will Batman be blown to bits?
It can’t be true!
Or can it?
Don’t miss the next bat-episode!
Same – bat channel!
Once again, we’re seeing some very strong episodes coming out of the villains that were created for the show, rather than those who had their origins in comics. Shelley Winters is great in this part! She had been in Hollywood for over twenty years at this point and had won an Oscar for A Patch of Blue just a little over a year before this episode aired. But she was also about to see her career change a bit. As we moved into the 70’s, Winters would appear in a number of what can be considered B-films, or even exploitation films. She would even play Ma Barker in Roger Corman’s 1970 film Bloody Mama. When I picture her, it’s in roles like the one she plays here…and she’s just so dang good at it. It’s interesting to note that there really hasn’t been a whole lot of gunplay in previous episodes of this series, so it’s a bit jarring when there’s so much here. Even more so because a sweet little old mother character is the one doing the shooting. I admit, I’m struggling a bit to refer to Winters here as an “old” woman since she was only 46 at the time this was made…a year older than me, I might add.
Though there are a few comedic touches, this episode is played fairly straight. I also have to admit that I find Ma’s plan to be one of the most intriguing that we’ve seen on the series so far. The cliffhanger is also quite original. Instead of Batman and Robin being captured, they are blissfully unaware that they are in danger. I also can’t help but wonder if the writer behind the movie Speed may have gotten some inspiration from this cliffhanger.
It’s not all serious, though. Ma’s rocket powered wheelchair is a nice touch. There is a wonderful comedic moment where Batman halts his pursuit of Ma and her gang to stop at a red light. He then notices another driver park his car and fail to lock it. Batman then jumps out and tells the citizen how the police are encouraging people to lock their vehicles. He even presents him with a bumper sticker that reads, “Lock Your Car.”
Speaking of cars…Batman’s is about to explode! You’ll have to wait until next time, though, to find out what happens in part two, simply titled Ma Parker. A surprisingly simple title after this week’s episode…which could be construed in a somewhat questionable way. Anyhow, join us next week. Same bat-time, same bat-channel (superhero).
Bad Gadgets Used:
Holy Rocking Chair
Holy Greeting Cards
Holy Wernher von Braun