13 Reasons 1943’s BATMAN SERIAL Is Must-Watch Viewing — for Good and Bad

An 80th ANNIVERSARY look at Batman’s first time on screen…


The 1943 Batman movie serial debuted 80 years ago, on July 16, 1943 — just four short years after the premiere of the character in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. It was the Dynamic Duo’s first time on screen, so here are 13 REASONS 1943’s BATMAN SERIAL IS MUST-WATCH VIEWING — FOR GOOD AND BAD.

(And if you’re interested in hearing more about it, writer Jim Beard and I did a deep dive into it, episode by episode, over at The Batcave Podcast!)

Classic Alfred — GOOD: Alfred was introduced in Batman #16, which was released in February 1943. On the page, Alfred was a portrayed as a goofy, portly man but the serial’s producers cast William Austin, who was thin with a mustache — establishing a look that would endure for the next eight decades. In the comics, he was sent off on vacation and came back looking like our movie version. Austin’s butler is one of the best elements of the serial as he offers great comedy relief.

The Introduction of the Batcave — GOOD: In the serial it’s called the Bat’s Cave. It’s a simple setup, with one chamber with a desk and chair, plus a phone with access to upstairs and outside lines. Batman would bring criminals back there to interrogate them. A lab room was next door.

Ken Colton, Tough Guy — GOOD/BAD: Batman and Robin are searching for a missing scientist and at one point in the story, a man named Colton works with the Dynamic Duo to find him — and he was often more interesting than our heroes! Colton was a lot more aggressive in his dealings with the story at hand than the twosome and there was something compelling about his mix of knowledge and down-home country manner. If this were the ’70s, you could compare him to McCloud.

Charles Middleton, with beard

Daka — BAD: Let’s just say this is real bad. Like Lon Chaney, actor J. Carrol Naish was a “Man of a Thousand Faces” because he could be made up to look like anyone — including, unfortunately here, a Japanese agent. Add to it his stereotypical accent and you have a painful caricature. But remember, this was 1943, the height of World War II, and the serial was clearly a propaganda piece to show the “evil” of the Japanese at the time.

Boston Batman — BAD: Batman/Bruce Wayne Lewis Wilson made no effort to hide his Boston accent and as a result, there are laugh-out loud moments when he is in Batman garb, telling Robin to “stay with the cah.”

Robin’s Hair — BAD: Douglas Croft has the distinction of being the first to play the Boy Wonder on screen. He was also the youngest, at 16. Oddly, he had a mop of curly hair, which didn’t exactly look like Dick Grayson’s from the comics. And it was a wig!

Linda Page — GOOD: Early in the comics, Bruce Wayne had his share of girlfriends and one of them was Linda Page, who by this time had decided to become a nurse and do something with her life. While they don’t pick up on that in the serial, it is nice to see her playing up her disappointment that Bruce is such a playboy.

Shirley Patterson

What Secret Identities? — BAD: In the serial, both Batman and Robin casually shout out their real names while they are in their disguises.

The Caveman — GOOD: The Caveman who is seen multiple times in the “house of horrors” ride in Chinatown gets a payoff when he finally attacks Batman. I have to wonder what kind of shifts he had to endure in terms of just standing there. Plus, who filled in for him?

Cliffhangers — GOOD/BAD: Crocodile with Batman is the only cliffhanger worth its salt in the entire serial, and that’s towards the end.

No Gordon — BAD: There are stories that the Joker was originally intended for the serial but was dropped. And we don’t get Gordon, either. Was it a licensing thing? It’s not like he wasn’t well known. Heck, Batman and Robin visited his house at Christmas.

Gordon was Batman’s first supporting cast member — appearing in Detective Comics #27.

The Theme — GOOD: There were two serials. Each has a distinctive musical theme. This one is the better of the two. No arguments. But if you must argue, this one is more evocative of Batman whereas the second sounds like a Nazi marching theme.

The Costume — GOOD: As much as people laugh at both serials’ Batman costumes, the 1943 version was in many respects superior. If nothing else, his Bat-ears didn’t droop.


— The Oddball World of 1949’s BATMAN AND ROBIN. Click here.

— 1950’s ATOM MAN vs. SUPERMAN. Click here.

John S. Drew has been a doorman, restaurant manager, writer, teacher, podcaster and hostage negotiator at one point or another in his life. He has written prose in the Star Trek, Doctor Who and Spider-Man universes. He podcasts about pop culture, in particular television adventures of the ’60s and ’70s, including The Batcave Podcast, The Shazam/Isis Podcast, The OSI Files (about the Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman), The World’s Greatest Super Friends Podcast (with Dan Greenfield), and The Doctor’s Beard (about Doctor Who, with Jim Beard). You can find all these podcasts on any reputable or less than reputable podcast platform.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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