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Orson Welles Presents: The Bat-Man

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In 1943, Orson Welles, famed director of Citizen Kane, attended a movie serial entitled "Batman" based on the highly popular comic then in its golden age. Welles was furious. He was one of Batman's biggest adult fans, and to him, the movie was a disgrace to the character. He felt that "using the Batman as a tool of propaganda is absurd." Furthermore the movie did not even mention the tragic history of "The Bat-Man's" past. Orson approached the studio about making a new and better produced Batman movie. The studio was hesitant. After all, the rights were then owned by Columbia Pictures. But Welles was inflexible. It took several years but eventually RKO purchased the film rights for "Batman" from Columbia. It was now 1946, and Welles had already written the script. He himself would play Bruce Wayne, the title character. Originally Welles wanted to pack the movie with villains, everyone from "The Joker" to "Two-Face" to "The Cat" making an appearance. He decided against this idea, considering that it would be too long, and hard for any audience to sit through. With the rights in RKO's hands, he began writing the script. To help, he hired veteran comics writer, and uncredited Batman co-creator Bill Finger. The movie was to open with a young Bruce Wayne attending "Zorro" with his parents, who are then shot to death. The movie then follows as he becomes obsessed with "fighting back at crime". Eventually he becomes the Bat-Man, and takes on crime in Gotham City, facing off with Gotham's ruling Gangster, a man known as the Penguin, but who Welles named as Oswald Cobblepot. At this point in the script, the Joker appears for the first time, much of the Joker's actions in the film came more or less directly from "Batman 1". The main difference being that the Joker is not, as in that story, interrupted by an arrest. In addition, in the film the Joker is responsible for both a horrific train wreck and an explosion that kills "The Flying Graysons" and prompts Wayne to adopt the young Dick Grayson who it is implied will become Robin, though the boy does not assume the role of Robin in the film. Welles himself had a distaste for the role. From that point on the movie consists of a three way war between "The Batman" "The Joker" and "The Penguin". The movie ends with The Joker in an insane asylum after surviving a self inflicted knife wound and Oswald Cobblepot in prison facing charges after one of his underlings is scared into talking to the police by "The Bat-Man".

Once the script was written, Welles began casting. Edward G. Robinson was hired to portray the Penguin. Joseph Cotton and Everette Sloan were hired to portray James Gordon and Alfred respectively. Welles had no clear actor in mind for the role of either Joe Chill or "The Joker" and one man's audition for the former role, landed him the larger one. Richard Widmark auditioned for the role of Joe Chill. Welles was so inpressed that Widmark ended up playing the Joker.

The film was filmed in 1946. On December 1947, "The Bat-Man" was released to stunned audiences. It was an instant success. Though it was intended to be a Welles vehicle the then unknown Widmark gives perhaps the film's greatest performance as the crazed murdering Joker. Indeed, in the years to come, the Joker of the comics would be made to resemble Widmark. Nevertheless, after years of being disliked by the studios, Welles was essentially told: "You can do whatever you want, as long as you make a sequel to this film." Welles complied and in 1949 "The Return of the Bat-Man" was released. Welles, Sloane Cotton and Robinson all reprised their roles. This film would feature two new villains, "The Cat" and "Two-Face" George Raft was hired for the role of Harvey Dent and Jane Russell as "The Cat". The movie follows as Dent is scarred by the Penguin during the latter's trial, he then becomes a vicious killer, only held back by his coin, a compulsion Welles tried hard to show was a sign of a mental illness and not a mere gimmick. "The Coin Flip is the only way the good side of Harvey Dent can control his bad side"-Orson Welles. Meanwhile Bruce has to deal with "The Cat" and the addition of Robin to his team.

The movie was released in 1949 and once again was a massive success. Once again the studios demanded a sequel and once again. This time Vincent Price was hired to portray Dr. Crane or "The Scarecrow", a man obsessed with fear. The movie consists of two parts, the first is "The Batman's struggles with Dr.Crane and then a fight in Arkham asylum between "The Bat-Man", "The Joker", "Two-face" and "The Scarecrow". Towards the end of the film, Bruce Wayne is unmasked, and the villains realize who it is they've been fighting. Nevertheless, Bruce prevails, and the three villains are defeated. While "The Bat-Man Triumphs" proved as popular as the previous films had, Welles refused to make another Batman movie. When in the 1960s a TV seriodrama based on the Batman Comics went on the air, both Welles and Widmark made guest appearances. Welles portrayed Dr. Thomas Wayne in flashback scenes. Widmark played the Joker's first victim in the series.

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