BATMAN AND BILL (2017) is a documentary by Marc Tyler Nobleman following up on his earlier book Bill the Boy Wonder. Like the book, it lays out the overwhelming evidence that Bill Finger deserved co-creator status on Batman (to say nothing of credit for such classic stories as the Joker’s debut, below), and that when fans began confronting Bob Kane with this, he made outraged denials (the success of Batman on TV is a particular sore spot as Kane’s percentage made him rich while Finger lived in lonely poverty). The documentary traces Nobleman’s efforts to track down an heir who could make a copyright claim for Finger, and eventually succeeded — the closing scene is Nobleman seeing Finger’s co-creator credit on Dawn of Justice. On the whole, better than the book. “This is a statement about Bill Finger as an unsung contributor by the man who’s most responsible for Finger not getting credit.”
I also caught BATMAN: The Scheme Is Sound, a 2019 tribute by the Parkview Elementary School Music Club to the 1966 TV show: Why does the Riddler kidnap a dishwasher heiress? What happens when Catwoman and Batman dance the Watusi? Who can save the Dynamic Duo from death by dishwasher? This was fun, though the actors playing the villains had more to work with than the straight man roles of the heroes. “This adventure ended on a good note.”
THE PIRATE (1948) is my delayed double-bill to last week’s The Black Pirate as Gene Kelly’s swaggering bravo here is partly a riff on Douglas Fairbanks’ role in that earlier movie. Kelly plays Serafina, womanizing leader of a Caribbean circus troupe in the 1830s. He’s instantly smitten with Manuela (Judy Garland), a repressed, convent-raised girl about to marry her town’s stuffy mayor, Don Pedro. Serafina puts Manuela under hypnosis to get her to admit she loves him, but instead she reveals her fascination with the legendary pirate Black Macocco (“Mac the Black” is one of Cole Porter’s delightful songs added to the non-musical stage show this is based on). When Serafina realizes Don Pedro is Macocco, retired, he contrives to pose as the pirate and win Manuela, but of course that kind of imposture is just bound to go wrong … The leads are awesome, bounding with energy, as are the talented Nicholas Brothers in their one dance with Kelly (black entertainers were limited to numbers the studios could cut out for prints in the south) and the songs are fun. The romance should be unconvincing (there’s really no set up for Manuela falling for Serafina) but the stars make it work; however Serafina’s pursuit of Manuela has enough creepy overtones, it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. “Now that I’ve seen ya/Niña, Niña, Niña/I’ll have neurasthenia/until you are mine.”
THE 39 STEPS (1935) was Alfred Hitchcock’s very free adaptation of John Buchan’s same-name novel, a hit book which introduced Buchan’s series hero Richard Hanney (one of the forgotten adventurers covered in Clubland Heroes), but even Buchan admitted Hitchcock improved on the source. Robert Donat plays Hannay, temporarily staying in London; when a woman invites herself up to his apartment, he’s game, but then she reveals she’s part of a spy operation and staying with him to hide. Doesn’t work: she winds up knifed in the early morning and Hannay, realizing he’d be the prime suspect goes on the run. Can he clear his name? What is the secret of the “39 steps” and the man with no little finger? Will Madeline Carroll, who winds up dragged along with him, come to see that Hannay’s on the side of the angels?
It’s a first-rate film, superior to Hitch’s previous movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much. It’s also very much a model of the themes and tropes Hitchcock would play with for the rest of his career. The man falsely accused of a crime. Traveling hither and yon to bring the bad guy to justice (something that also happens in North by Northwest and Saboteur). The “McGuffin” behind all the espionage not really mattering — we know it’s something involving aviation, but the explanation is just a string of technobabble. The Hitchcock Romance argues that Hannay also undergoes a typical romantic/maturing arc for a Hitchcock protagonist. He starts out unattached — no permanent home, willing to have a casual liaison — and ends up happily restored to society and in love with Carroll.
#SFWAprof. All rights to images remain with current holders. Comics art by Jerry Robinson