Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Best Penguin Ever

A lot of '60s Batman talk going around today, what with Batman's debate with Penguin going viral and, sadly, the death of Neal Hefti. One thing I wanted to note after watching that Penguin clip: it reminds me why Burgess Meredith's Penguin is my favorite villain from the '60s series and, in my opinion, the best version of the Penguin ever done in any TV series or movie adaptation.

Gorshin's Riddler and Newmar's Catwoman are also great, of course. (Cesar Romero's Joker, not so much. Weirdly enough, even though the Joker is probably the easiest Batman villain to play effectively, he was one of the least interesting regular villains on the show.) But what Meredith and the writers did with the Penguin was a real feat: they took a villain who has almost nothing going for him to make him a threat -- a short, foppishly dressed guy whose most deadly weapon is his umbrella -- and made him a credible threat. Usually when people try to make the Penguin threatening, they do what Tim Burton did in Batman Returns, make him a hideous freak. Meredith did the opposite: he played the Penguin as a guy who is threatening to Batman because, unlike most villains, he actually fits in with normal society. In fact, as the debate clip shows, he understands the public better than not-too-bright Batman ever does. Unlike most of the other villains, who really are complete freaks, Penguin isn't that much more grotesque than some of the people we actually tolerate in everyday life, and that allowed for more directly satirical stories than the writers could do with Riddler or Joker.

I doubt the Penguin will ever make it into one of the Christopher Nolan movies, but if you think about it, a more serious version of Meredith's characterization would fit right into the whole "Batman in the real world" approach.

7 comments:

Mark Waid said...

Long time listener, first time caller. Just wanted to say, as someone who's written Batman for fifteen years now, my hat is off to you for making an observation about the Penguin that I've never heard or thought about before--that he's threatening because, unlike the others, he's NOT a freak. Kudos.

Straight Talk on McCain said...

I just think it’s great that a show that I used to watch in reruns when I was a kid nearly three decades ago is now being used as social commentary. Who would’ve thunk it? http://straighttalkonmccain.blogspot.com/

Larry Levine said...

The great Burgess Meredith would ad-lib a number of his Penguin lines, among my favorite was in movie when he cautions Catwoman & Riddler to be careful scooping up the dehydrated henchmen--"Each of them has a mother".

I respectfully disagree about The Joker, I thought the character was equally great.

Jon Delfin said...

Is that Jack Bailey ("Queen for a Day") serving as the debate moderator? IMDb shows nothing (not a surprise).

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Yes, that's Jack Bailey. His contemptuous delivery of "We should have a few words from the other candidate" is one of the best things in the segment.

Jon Delfin said...

I think tv.com just became my go-to Web page for such information. Thanks. (I'm guessing that I'm your only reader old enough to have recognized Bailey, and to be upset about losing Neal Hefti, Edie Adams and Jack Narz...)

Mike Tennant said...

Not so, Jon. I'm "only" 36 but did all the same.