Ronald L. Smith is the author of 19 books. He's edited several national magazines, and his fiction, non-fiction, poetry and photographs have been published around the world. He is an ASCAP songwriter. http://www.ronaldlsmith.com/
[[ After viewing the Catwoman seduction scene https://www.facebook.com/jnewmar/videos/10215613168115167/ ]]
Merry Christmas indeed. Quite a gift; the remembrance of things past and still relevant today.
When you see that scene “out of context,” it looks like something out of a classic movie. It looks like it was rehearsed for a week, carefully scripted and choreographed so that certain words (such as “happiness”) are mated to vivid images. It’s a literal dance between Catwoman and Batman here, and perfectly directed.
This is quite miraculous, considering it was knocked off for a weekly TV show hurrying to complete dozens of episodes. It was produced with enduring quality, even though nobody could imagine there would be VHS tapes and DVD discs one day.
Of course, there’s a reason why Catwoman scenes have resonated far more than any moments with The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin or the others. The conflict between Catwoman and Batman is far more delicious. The Shawns of the world don’t freeze-frame moments of skinny Frank Gorshin giggling or striking poses. He was a fine actor who did know how to maximize his face and his body, but he was a mere man.
Only you (and not Eartha or Lee) had the physicality to match up against Adam. No other woman had the dancer’s training, the background in choreography or the skills as a model to achieve what you did. It takes two, as was even proven in “Li’l Abner” when the movements (not just the beauty) of Stupefyin’ Jones paralyzed people. Here, Batman is, if not paralyzed, mesmerized. It leads to the key moment where his inertia becomes his strength: he won’t fight Catwoman. Like an elephant against a lioness, he relies on being stoic.
It’s a tribute to the script, and to Adam, that Batman’s reactions in that brief scene not only cover a wide range of lust and fear, but do so with subtle panache. One of the things that even the most devoted of Batman fans fail to remark on enough, is the quality of both of your voices. No impressionist has the talent to capture either of you vocally. Did Rich Little do Adam West? Did Debbie Reynolds do you, or instead a Gabor? Not only does this little scene bristle and glow with complex little bits of court and spark, tease and lure, and give and take, but your voices compliment every twist. In some other scenes in Batman episodes, your voice is pitched lower, and there’s a more languid and sultry approach. Here, you put on a more teenage voice once you come down the stairs, an adulation and enthusiasm that Batman isn’t expecting. Catwoman is capable of vamp, coquette, admirer and quite a lot more…more notes than even Lola in “Damn Yankees,” and more than the silent Stupefyin’ Jones or the even-tempered Katrin.
The direction is sublime, starting off with the stairway focus totally on you. We don’t see Adam’s face, but there’s no mistaking the halting awe he conveys in his voice. He never breaks character, which is of a stolid man caught up in his own mythology He is a hero, first and foremost. He needs to be in total control at all times. Like Jack Webb’s Joe Friday, who bottled his emotion, Adam’s Batman never breaks the vocal tone. Another actor might have over-played Batman’s temptation, but Adam doesn’t. There’s no comic stuttering. There’s no uncomfortable tension in the voice where it would pitch higher. And yet he conveys his vulnerability.
In that opening scene, the director shrewdly sensed that his voice would be enough. There’s no break in Catwoman’s glide down the stairway for a reaction shot of Batman. I have no idea what was behind the ludicrous tilt of having Catwoman, wearing GLOVES, petting that strangely long pelt, but to me, it’s more than a prop, it’s also a barrier between Batman and Catwoman, and because that thing is a dead animal and not the living breathing Catwoman, it underlines that this IS still intended as comedy. I suppose Lola waving her boa in “Damn Yankees” was also keeping things “over the top” comical.
The excitement and tension mount, as seductive Catwoman plays against stolid Batman. You’ve often mentioned the important dynamic of scenes where two performers share energy. Deforest Kelly, for example, had none in “Star Trek.” Cummings sometimes sucked the life out of a scene with his condescending smirks. Adam by contrast, is effectively reacting; he’s struggling with his composure. He becomes more upright with every provocative and liquid position Catwoman assumes. And every position she assumes works with the script. She goes frontal, then she does the reverse, and the word “happiness,” well, there are thousands upon thousands of screen-caps of THAT moment on blogs and Facebook pages. Or as Lee modestly admitted, there was NO way she could fill the curves of a Catwoman outfit the way you did.
I liked the ebb and flow of this battle, and how the viewers are even seduced into thinking this lady is gaga over Batman. Huh? “I thought you’d be dead by now!” So, this was all a trick and she was getting close to him to poison him! Once this cat is out of the bag, seduction gives way to all-out war, with Catwoman’s threat of a cat-form of karate. We think it’s entirely possible that, like the lithe cheetah or even the ocelot, the clawed Catwoman might have a chance to take down her foe. This is countered by Batman’s declaration that cat-Karate only works as a counter-attack, so he won’t attack. And voila, the covers come off and the henchmen are the next chess move. It’s all very, very clever in the writing. The writer in inspired because he knows who will be acting his scene.
The scene is compact and self-contained, and shows the best of the participants, and why, 50 years later, it still maintains an enthusiastic audience. People cherish many familiar clips. Oh, Mary Astor trying to persuade and flirt her way out of trouble with Humphrey Bogart, only to have Bogart waver slightly but affirm “You’re going over…maybe I’ll have some rotten nights…” This Batman scene is very much a “classic” like that. It’s conflict, it’s complicated, and it’s got the magic that comes from all the forces aligning just right: writer, director and performers
A brilliant choice, isolating this Bat-moment. It looks easy, and anyone can instantly enjoy it, but it is such art, that it can be savored again and again. Some of us can be moved to analyze it, and write many paragraphs about it, which is a testament to its greatness. It’s just as much of a testament when some who watch can only say “WOW!”