D: Lambert Hillyer / 14m
Cast: Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, J. Carrol Naish, Shirley Patterson, William Austin, Charles C. Wilson, Warren Jackson, John Maxwell, Gus Glassmire
Having managed to avoid the collapsing basement ceiling coming down on him, Batman ensures Linda isn’t trapped anywhere in the burning Ajax Metal Works before getting to safety. Instead of heading for home, he checks with Captain Arnold (Wilson) to see if the Sphinx Club has been raided and one of Daka’s men, Bernie (Jackson), has been picked up. Learning that Bernie is still at large, Batman returns to the Sphinx Club where he discovers Bernie in a hidden room. Bernie is taken back to the Bat Cave where he lets slip that the one place Batman doesn’t want to investigate is the hideout where Chuck White was taken. Meanwhile, Linda is taken to Daka’s lair where he threatens to turn her into a zombie unless she helps him lure Bruce Wayne into a trap. At the secondary hideout, Batman and Robin discover an underground tunnel that leads to Daka’s lair. While Linda is being turned into a zombie, Batman falls through a trap door and into a room with large spikes on opposing walls. Soon, the walls are closing in, sending Batman to certain death…
And there it is folks, the final stretch is in sight – at last. After so many episodes where the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder escape certain death only to retire to the Wayne home to wait for the next clue to fall into their laps, now, in Chapter 13 they finally take the initiative. Batman even takes the opportunity to criticise Captain Arnold (“Wasn’t very smart of you to take their word against mine”) when told the men caught in the Sphinx Club raid denied knowing anyone called Bernie. This new, proactive Batman is a pleasure to meet at long last, and this is the first installment where Wilson and Croft don’t get to don their civvies as Bruce and Dick. It’s also the episode where Robin’s involvement appears deliberately curtailed and he’s sidelined in favour of Batman leading the action (he goes into the Sphinx Club alone; in the underground tunnel, Robin is sent back for a crowbar). Meanwhile, Daka has nearly finished assembling his new radium gun, Uncle Martin is used as a threat to induce Linda to aid Daka, and the racism of the time gets a fresh outing when Linda’s first words on meeting Daka are, “A Jap!”
It’s an episode that, despite its short running time, feels like a proper installment, one that advances the somewhat precariously handled – up til now – plot, and one which has the vitality and energy of the Colton/radium mine chapters (ahh, those were the days). The various scenes have a punchy, determined quality, as if everyone involved can see the home stretch now and want to get there as soon as possible. It’s as if someone – the writers, Hillyer, the Columbia brass themselves – said, “come on, let’s put this serial to bed,” and the challenge was accepted (gladly). Even the usually tedious scenes where Daka monologues fiendishly, but to little avail, here actually see him behaving threateningly and to good effect. Naish hasn’t always been able to avoid chewing the scenery, but here he employs a quietly disturbing menace to the role that makes him seem like a worthy villain. Wilson benefits too. Without having to play either Bruce or Chuck White as well as Batman, Wilson is more forceful and single-minded. And Hillyer shows that he’s regained some of the verve and energy that he’s brought to earlier installments. It all bodes well for the last two chapters, though there’s still the question, just how is Batman going to survive this time…?
Rating: 7/10 – a huge improvement on the last few chapters (even if a few narrative leaps and bounds are employed to achieve this), Chapter 13 sees the serial rise from the doldrums with an urgency that can only mean the end is in sight; with Batman having relied too much on filler up until now, it’s a relief to see that it will, in all likelihood, be like this until Daka’s plans have been thwarted once and for all.