Episode Title: The Great Escape
Original Airdate: February 1, 1968
It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen the villain featured in today’s Batman episode. Shame, that modern day western outlaw portrayed by Cliff Robertson, last showed up at about the midway point of the second season. Unlike many of Gotham’s other villains, Warden Crichton has been able to keep him locked up in Gotham State Prison. We even see him at the beginning of this episode being visited behind bars by his lady Calamity Jan (Dina Merrill) and her mother Frontier Fanny (Hermione Baddeley). But Shame isn’t going to stay locked up for long. Let’s see what happens in today’s episode, The Great Escape.
A short time after Calamity Jan’s visit, she busts him out by smashing through the prison wall with a stolen, bright red tank. Word of this reaches Commissioner Gordon, who is enjoying fondue with his daughter Barbara and Bruce Wayne. Gordon has Chief O’Hara patch in the batphone to the call, and Bruce uses a secret button hidden his cufflink to alert Robin and Alfred to engage a recorded message so Gordon will think he’s talking to Batman. Later at police headquarters, a message arrives from Shame informing our heroes that he intends to rob the Gotham stage and that he plans on stealing a rock and a roll.
Later in the Batcave, Batman and Robin figure out that the “rock” must be a diamond and the “roll” probably means a bank roll. They can’t figure out the “stage” part of things, though. Luckily, they get a call from Batgirl who tells them that she’s figured out the part about the stage…none other than the Gotham City Opera House since they are opening The Girl of the Golden West. Not only that, but the female singer starring in the opera always wears a large diamond (the rock) and the lead male singer always carries lots of cash with him (the roll).
Shame and his gang (which now includes a bandito with a British accent and an Indian chief) show up to get the goods, but our heroes show up just in time. What seems like a longer than normal fight sequence breaks out on the stage, with the heroes triumphant. That is, until Calamity Jan and Frontier Fanny show up to spray our heroes with fear spray. This turns them into shivering cowards, afraid of everything. Shame then makes a getaway, taking Batgirl with as insurance.
The heroes return to the Batcave where Alfred fixes them some soup complete with Bat Antidote Powder. They then figure out that Shame’s hideout must be in a horse stable right across the street from the opera house. When they show up there, Shame, his gang, and Batgirl are gone…only Frontier Fanny remains. However, she’s not givin’ out any information. That’s where this first part ends on not much of a cliffhanger.
This series has been a bit hit and miss when it comes to the villains that were created for the show, rather than debuting in the comics. Shame is one of the better ones, so it’s good to see him back. Cliff Robertson plays the character with a goofy cowboy swagger that is actually quite charming. I do have to say, though, he has a weird gang of goons this time. One character is called Fernando Ricardo Enrique Dominguez, but they call him Fred because that’s his initials. Strangely he speaks in a very cultured sounding British accent. Even weirder is the Indian chief, who doesn’t speak at all. He communicates by inhaling from a cigar and blowing smoke signals that only Calamity Jan seems to understand. Calamity Jan is not quite as, shall we say “slinky” as many other ladies that have chummed around with the Gotham villains, but she makes a good match for Shame. Her mother, Frontier Fanny, is also funny. Shame often shows his frustration with her hanging around when he’s trying to do a little “sparkin’” with Calamity Jan. At one point Shame says to Jan, “Why couldn’t you have been born an orphan?” Frontier Fanny is played by Hermione Baddeley, who is probably most famous for playing Ellen the maid in Mary Poppins.
This story builds up well to the middle section of the episode, which features the fight. It’s unusual that the battle would happen so early. The fight is rather long and drawn out, but has a lot of great moments. It’s all capped off with the heroes being sprayed with the wonderfully goofy gimmick of “fear gas.” Seeing the three superheroes cowering in fear is a great moment. Batman even encourages Shame to take Batgirl as a hostage. I almost forgot to mention that the whole opera house sequence begins with the bad guys talking to the stage doorman played by the Beaver himself, Jerry Mathers. He’s no longer the kid he was on Leave it to Beaver, but he’s still only 19 years old at the time this was made.
Strangely, this episode hits a bit of a wall after the fight. It tools around doing nothing really important for another six minutes before telling us that we need to come back next week to see the end of the story. It really feels like we’re just killing time to get to the 24 minute mark. Hopefully next week’s episode with get injected with a bit of energy, because part one ends with a fizzle. We’ll see next time in part two of this story, The Great Train Robbery. Same bat-time, same bat-channel (superhero).
Bat Gadgets Used:
Emergency Bat Communicator
Bat Answer Phone
Bat Antidote Powder