James Batman (Review)
Directed and screenplay by Artemio Marquez
Story by Pepito Vera Perez
James Batman is both a comic parody and wonderful homage to both the 1960s Batman TV series and the James Bond films. Legendary Filipino comedian Dolphy plays both title characters, as they team up to take down the ultimate terrorist organization, who has set its sights on conquering the world (typical!) Because this film is somewhat rare, you’re gonna get a long infodump in the beginning, and a long review as well. And if you don’t like to read, there will be a bajillion pictures and even a movie clip!
The Philippines have a long history of making Batman films that are completely unauthorized (along with a whole slew of other superheroes.) James Batman isn’t even the first Batman! 1965’s Alyas Batman at Robin has that distinction. It featured Bob Soler as Batman, Lou Salvador Jr. as Robin, and actress Nova Villa. James Batman was next in 1966. 1967 gave us Batman Fights Dracula in color, featuring Jing Abalos as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Ramon D’Salva, and Vivian Lorrain. (Batman seems to fight vampires a lot).
There was a trilogy of Batwoman and Robin films that began in 1972 with Batwoman and Robin. They starred female action star Virginia (aka Virginia Gaerlan aka Virginia Aristorenas) from Revenge of Lady Fighter as Batwoman, her real life son Robin Aristorenas played Robin, and Jun Aristorenas/Junar (Virginia’s husband) produced and directed. Tony Cayado took over directing duties for the sequel Batwoman and Robin Meet the Queen of the Vampires, but by 1973’s Johnny Joker, Jun Aristorenas was directing again and even starred as Johnny Joker. Virginia and Robin were back as well, along with Merle Fernandez as Catwoman, Freddie Webb as Spider Web, and Palito as Lastikman.
UPDATE: 2 stills from Johnny Joker can be found here. Warning! The stills will make you more angry the film is lost!
Fight Batman Fight! is a 1973 joint starring Victor Wood as Batman, Lotis Key as Catwoman, Rod Navarro as Joker, Pinky Montilla as Bat Girl, and Roderick Paulate as Robin. It also has an awesome-looking cardboard box robot. The final Batman flick is 1991’s Alyas Batman en Robin, which you will find out more about soon. Sadly, of all these wonderful films, only James Batman and Alyas Batman en Robin still exist in a watchable form. It is possible that there are vhs tapes of these surviving somewhere, but the original prints are long gone and most of the masters were destroyed at some point during the various political uprisings along with countless other films.
James Batman stars Dolphy, one of the most famous comedians from the Philippines ever. Born in 1928 as Rodolfo Vera Quizon, he began his career during the Japanese occupation at the age of 17 doing stage work. Two years later he made his film debut, playing mostly bit roles. After some exposure in radio, he began headlining films in 1952, and also began his long time partnership with fellow comedian Panchito (who would do his own Batman movie turn as Paenguin in Alyas Batman en Robin.) He has continued to work for decades, even gaining modern fame for his 2001 film Markova: Comfort Gay. Never married, Dolphy has 17 children from his five long term relationships, including several who have also entered show business. His spoof films covered almost every possible genre and most popular film series at the time. They include Tansan the Mighty (1962), Dolpinger (1965), Scarface at Al Capone: Espiya sa Ginto (1965), Alias Popeye (1966), Captain Barbell Boom! (1973), Da Best in da West (1984), and dozens more. Sadly, many of his films are considered lost, but thanks to sheer volume there are a lot still around.
Batman and Robin are presented just as campy as the TV series lays them out to be. But the jokes have to go further for this film, so we get random sight gags such as a machine that delivers food in the Batcave obviously being a guy in a box thanks to the all-too-human hand that comes out of it (is that Alfred???) and let’s not forget the random scene where Robin shows off how if you put a light bulb in his mouth it glows. Yeah. Music guy Caroling Cruz is not afraid to just rip the Batman theme directly, further cementing this as a bizarre fever dream episode of the series.
Despite all the silliness, the film is rather good, the plot of the evil organization infiltrating the government and even turning people to its side is a time-honored tradition of epic comic books doesn’t have a dull moment. There is no time to breath, you just go on the 90 minute journey of campy coolness, and like the best roller coasters at Six Flags, you want to immediately get back in line to do it all over again. A testament to the movie is you could change just a few lines and it would make a good three-part episode of the actual Batman series. James Bond (here called just James) is more or less wasted. He doesn’t do much except kiss girls and get randomly shot at, and more often than not his girlfriend saves him.
Finding casting information or actor biographies on Filipino stars is notoriously difficult even in this brave new internet age. I couldn’t identify all of the actors/actresses in James Batman. I did manage to ID a few of them, and here are high billed cast members I couldn’t figure out: Nori Dalisay, Tessie Concepcion, Diane Balen, Johnny Ysmael, Jr, Elsa Bouffard, Lynn D’Arce, Joy Del Sol, Jose Moralos, and Ven Medina.
We open with a girl saving James from several gun-toting chicks via smokebomb, and Batman and Robin beating the tar out of some masked goons in 60s campy costumes. The meat of our movie begins at a UN conference, an evil organization is threatening to destroy all countries if they don’t go all communist and surrender. No, not Cobra. No, not Al Qaeda. No, not Red Bamboo. It’s CLAW!
The CLAW representative crashes their meeting, giving more CLAW demands like all the Europe and Asian countries surrender, the seizure of all guns, death to America, we’ll blow you all up…you know, the usual random terrorists demands. He even sets off an atom bomb as a threat. CLAW gives the world five days to decide to surrender or not. Just when you think they should arrest the CLAW guy, he shoots lighting at the security guard that pulls a gun. Holy crap, CLAW are the Sith!
In the fantastically futuristic Batcave, Batman and Robin in human form are asked by the NBI director to have a meeting, the caped crusaders agree to head over as there are women there, but first they gotta eat! Both Batman and James are drafted by the UN to fight CLAW, each claiming they are awesome enough to go it alone.
Batman and Robin are ambushed by a henchman with a club for a hand named Joker and about 20 goons with machine guns. But they are no match for Batman and Robin, who karate chop them all. They fight their way through a building then along several rooftops. Of course, they’re soon dangling off the side of a building with Robin pulling down Batman’s pants, just like in the comics. I’m sure that was in one of the comics. Detective Comics #347? Dark Knight #34? Mad magazine #134? Batman and Robin escape thanks to some Molotov cocktails.
James has to deal with a hot babe on his bed who tries to kill him as they kiss. James has the problems you want to have. He’s all bulletproof vested, so she’s captured and he takes her to the station, where everyone just looks down her chest. Those progressive 1960s… CLAW baddies watch her interrogation and kill her when she’s about to talk with an implant via remote control.
The boss of CLAW, a man named Drago who is wrapped in a black hood like The Emperor (they ARE the Sith!!!), tells the other baddies that he implanted the chip in all of them. At the CLAW business meeting, the side goons Penguin and Joker debate whether to destroy all the countries immediately, but Drago is a stickler for the five day timeline. There is also a random girl up with the other top lieutenants, she is never named but we’ll just call her Catwoman. The audience attendees (all three of them) wear hoods. In walks a masked girl in slinky catsuit – no, it is not Catwoman, it’s Black Rose!
Dolpho stops by Shirley’s place to try to hit on her, but she only has eyes for Batman. Dolpho brought along Robin, who spends the whole time laughing at Dolpho’s constant rejection. Shirley is one of two daughters of the UN President who hired Batman and James.
James defends his girl from goons, but then has a beach rendezvous with a different girl, who is in cahoots with Penguin and his goons. They attack, and James manages to lose his bathing trunks and get bit by a centipede. I think we’ve all had this dream. He ends up in the hospital. Batman and Robin visit, but Shirley tracks them down with help from her sister Delia and invites them to dinner.
Armed goons dressed as doctors and nurses storm the hospital to get James, him and his girl karate fight them but are captured and dragged away. Delia showing up with masked armed female goons confirms our suspicious as to her allegiance to evil, as she is secretly Black Rose. Her masked girl goons all have low cut V dresses that I’m surprised made it past the censors at the time. Shirley is captured, and Batman and Rubin arrive just in time to be captured by a whole host of goons. But Shirley slips her bonds and secretly follows as they drive off with Batman, Robin, and her dad as captive.
While sneaking around the base, she meets Johnny, an NBI agent undercover as a goon. Good thing there is a random agent all of a sudden here at the end of the film! Hold on to your hats, folks, as it is revealed that Shirley’s Dad the UN Chairman is a secret leader of CLAW! He and his daughter Delia/Black Rose have teamed up to destroy the free world because he had no respect and no money when he was born. No respect? Good thing Rodney Dangerfield became a comedian instead of the leader of a crazed international criminal organization. Or did he….?
The CLAW kill a woman who blew the whistle on their group with the giant claw sculpture in the room–except it disintegrates her instead of slicing her like I thought it would. You see, they flip around your expectations and make it even better! They’re going to kill Batman, Rubin, James, and Shirley via the laser claw next, but Johnny tosses a bunch of grenades and gets everyone’s attention. Catwoman, the random extra girl on the CLAW command group starts freeing the prisoners.
Johnny’s pretty cool, he’s done more to actually bring down CLAW than all the title characters so far. Goooooo Johnny!
The characters run around the evil compound, which is some sort of crazy factory/generator, fighting and shooting all the while as the “Batman” theme plays. There are punches and punches for several minutes. Then the villains start to die, as James kills Penguin, Rubin kills Black Rose, and Batman kills Drago via the claw hand laser. But the evil lair is going to explode, and it does just as soon as all our heroes get free, killing the remaining CLAW agents. The day is saved, time to all go home.
Except for James, who spends the last few minutes running from an unattractive woman in a Batman costume.
James Batman is definitely worth your time in tracking down and watching. In fact, as soon as you read every other review on TarsTarkas.NET, you must track down a copy! It’s a law. Ape Law. And you don’t want to be violating Ape Law.
James Batman is part of our Batmania series.
Rated 9/10 (bad girl gone good, Johnny, Batman’s chest symbol is a chorus girl, giving a hand, boob-shocked, female henchlady listens, evil sister, non-dynamic duo, new hairstyle=realization of her family’s dark legacy)
Please give feedback below!