Friday, June 15, 2012

James Batman (1966, Artemio Marquez)

The blockbuster hit The Avengers has amassed more than half a billion pesos in box office take. Can the latest James Bond caper Skyfall or the latest Batman epic equal that distinction? It is a possibility although a dream team-up of the two heroes is more likely the only way to match the box-office stash of the star-studded film, The Avengers.

The idea of pairing the brave, brooding Batman with the bold, ballsy James Bond is not entirely new. It had been done before in the 1960s by a wildly inventive, copyright-eschewing Filipino film production company, Sampaguita Pictures. The resulting film, James Batman, is more fun than The Avengers, more satisfying than The Dark Knight, and more watchable than most 007 flicks.

James Batman is a grand showcase of Dolphy’s impeccable timing and wonderful adlibs. The Filipino comedy legend does a parody of the two Western heroes. His Batman is a campier take on Adam West’s Batman, while the local Bond is a unique Dolphy concoction. Deadly with women, James (Dolphy) gets into numerous amorous affairs. Caught in a compromising situation by female lover Janna, he concocts up a witty alibi in a flash. He is clearly an escape artist par excellence. The first scene shows him fleeing from a horde of women with the help of smoke bombs. He evades death a couple of times. So far, James seems to be in the mold of the early Sean Connery iterations of the British agent.

The appearance of James is not so heroic though. He is a gangly, Chaplinesque guy wearing an eye-catching plaid suit, which is later revealed to be from the same source as a bed sheet. It is no wonder then that he is able to bed various women at will. But, underneath James’ seemingly comic/carefree persona is a misogynist brute. A female assassin gets manhandled by James in a terrifying fit of rage. The combination of comic and brute personas makes James a loose ball of a character. The viewer is left wondering what the secret agent will do next.

Another character that made a strong, early impact on the viewers is the bearer of bad tidings to a pan-Asian conference. The messenger, a Fu Manchu-looking guy, is a representative of the dreaded Klaw organization. With a strong presence and assertive voice, he calls on the Asian delegates to heed the group’s orders. He disintegrates a security guard with his finger and makes a vanishing act in front of astonished guards. Sadly, that is the last time the viewer sees him. He disappears completely from the film after his escape.

Dolphy’s Batman comes to the rescue of the world (and the film). He makes the film watchable and enjoyable even sans the cool Fu Manchu guy. He elicits the most laughs, especially during a cliffhanger of a scene that left me breathless. He parades the coolest of gadgets (e.g. the Batmobile exudes the sexiness of Bond’s Aston Martin and the Belt Bag adds a surprising twist to a meal) that can shame even those invented by Q.

These references to the Batman iconography and the Bond films make the movie a delight to watch. The monstrous claw hand refers to James Bond’s close brush with the lethal laser beam and Oddjob’s strong vise-like grip in the 1964 hit Goldfinger. Gamers may have seen the uncanny similarity of the monstrous claw hand with Nintendo’s Crazy Hand.

When I was in my teens, I was a huge fan of Batman and James Bond. I devoured the paperbacks, comics, and films. However, I’ve outgrown my fondness for most Bond films. Majority of them have lost their edginess. I’ve never adored any of the Batman films including the overrated hit The Dark Knight. There are a few things that I still loved after all these years, including the George Lazenby film, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Bruce Timm’s Batman animated series. My latest addition to this pantheon of favorite films/videos is James Batman. It also belongs now to my list of favorite Dolphy films.