Batman Serial 1943
This is not your comic book Batman. It was the first DC Superhero to get his own serial but due to strict regulations on serials at the time and being produced during World War 2 there are a lot of changes. Bruce Wayne is still a rich lazy millionaire but Batman is not a vigilante. He is working for the FBI to help battle the evil Axis Powers. Rather than fight his famous villains, his enemy is Dr. Tito Daka, a Japanese spy. Warning, this film has a lot of racist elements because of the time in which it was written. Irish actor J. Carrol Naish played Dr. Daka and used a very stereotypical Japanese accent. When first introducing the location of the villain's lair the voice over describes Little Tokyo being empty by saying, "Since a wise government rounded up the shifty eyed japs." Holy Political Incorrectness Batman! Be prepared for this because I was not and it took me a few episodes to get back into the film. Batman will call the police to arrest criminals after dealing with them but does not work directly with them. There is no bat signal and no Commissioner Gordon. Instead they have a Captain Arnold.
Unlike the Batman and Robin serial from 1949, this film did not survive as well. The lighting is terrible and a lot of the faces are drowned out, several places had spots or lines appear on the film, and sound will cut out periodically. This film was almost 70 years old by the time it was brought back to life, so it is still amazing how well they were able to restore it.
In my opinion, this was not as good as the 1949 serial Batman and Robin. A lot of the elements were the same like Robin protecting Batman's identity by shining a bat signal through a window or using a trap door to survive a building explosion. They even have the exact same footage of Batman falling from a building. It seemed like almost every episode ended with Batman falling to his death. It got a little repetitive. Dr. Daka did have an alligator pit, which was fantastic! The films budge was low, even for the time. They cut all but 4 actors from the credits to save money and made no attempt at having a Batmobile.
Batman / Bruce Wayne
Lewis Wilson was only 23 years old when he took on the role of Batman, which is closer to the age most Robins are cast. He had three distinct characters during the course of the film. He played a very stoic Batman, a lazy jokester Bruce Wayne, and pretended to be an old time mobster called Chuck White. I did not like his portrayal of Bruce Wayne but admired his versatility as an actor.
As the Dark Knight he was not a very good fighter. He got beat up and captured a lot by simple henchmen. Batman may have been given his gliding wings because of this film. Most of the time the Caped Crusader was getting thrown off some high structure. Once they actually showed a dummy hit the ground. It was so comical that I laughed out loud.
The costume looks a lot better than the 1949 version but still leaves a lot to be desired. Being made of a thick fabric it looked a bit bulky and was not very flattering to his physique. At least this one actually fit the actor playing Batman. The fabric mask keeps riding up and doesn't do a great job hiding his secret identity. The utility belt was my favorite part of the costume. It was solid, looked like the comic, and most importantly gave the illusion that it could hold Batman's arsenal of utilities.
Robin / Dick Grayson
Douglas Croft may be one of the best live action versions of Robin to ever come to the screen. For once the Boy Wonder was played by a teenager. Sadly he would pass away of unknown causes at the age of 37.
Robin got hit on the head a lot. He must have a lot of concussions. However, he also did his share of POW, BANG and Smack to the bad guys. Robin may have been knocked unconscious more than Batman but he saved Batman just as many times if not more. They lived up to their name as the Dynamic Duo. He also took on the role of being the voice of reason to Bruce Wayne's personal life instead of Alfred.
For a 1940s costume they did a wonderful job of bringing the comic character to life. They stuck to the comic design without making him look ridiculous.
Poor Alfred, the actors playing him in the serials never makes it into the credits. However, William Austin did have a lasting effect on the Batman comics. When Alfred first appeared as Bruce Wayne's butler he was fat and clean-shaven. After this film was made, comic book Alfred went to a spa to lose some weight and grew his classic mustache. From that point on he has resembled William Austin's character. That is where the similarities end. In the film he is very involved in helping Batman by donning various disguises but his character is a bumbling fool and is used as the comic relief.
Shirley Patterson took on the role of Linda Page. This is one of the few comic characters to make it into the film. I doubt many current Batman fans remember Linda Page. When we think of Bruce Wayne's love interest Selina Kyle and maybe Vicki Vale come to mind. Linda was Batman's romantic partner in the comic books from 1941 to 1946. She occasionally appears in flashbacks but her time in modern comics has passed.
Batcave / Gadgets
With the exception of the cave walls there were not a lot of things worthy of having the word bat put in front of them.
The Batcave was a simple design and did not look much different from the villain's hideout. Besides some bars, it consisted of a presidential oak desk and three office chairs. They did project a lot of bat shadows flying around and in one instance batman uses them to interrogate a villain.
The detective's lab was in the mansion and did not require the use of the Batcave. It looked like something that might come from a My First Chemistry Kit.
Gadgets were practically non-existent. They used standard rope to climb walls and at the beginning Batman pulls something out to pick the lock on a police phone box. He uses the phone to have the police arrest the criminal he and Robin have just captured. He does put some batstickers on their foreheads so the police know who is responsible for apprehending these criminals.
It was release again in 1965 with the title "An Evening With Batman and Robin" It was the exact same film but all the episodes were played back to back. Each of the 2 DVD disc were 2 hours 10 minutes, which means that was over 4 hours of screen time. Lord of the Rings wasn't so long after all.
The original home video release removed the racial slurs but they were put back in for the DVD so that it would be exactly the same as its original theatrical showing in 1943.