The Third Man

  • The Third Man
  • Director:  Carol Reed
  • Date:  1949
  • Studio:  London Films Productions (UK)
  • Genre:  Film Noir, Mystery, Drama
  • Cast:  Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White
  • Format:  Black/White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1 (Criterion Collection)

“Is that what you say to people after death? ‘That’s awkward.’ ” – Holly

“Death’s at the bottom of everything, Martins.  Leave death to the professionals.” – Major Calloway

“Look down there, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000  [English Pounds Sterling] for every dot that you stopped – would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend?” – Harry Lime

Holly Martins (Cotten) is a down on his luck American writer who jumps at the chance when his old childhood friend, Harry Lime, offers him a job in post-World War II Vienna. He arrives in a city that’s still literally digging out from the destruction and rubble of war, and a city that’s split into British, American, Russian, and French zones (so having your passport handy is of vital importance), only to find that his friend, Harry Lime, is dead. The police believe it to be an accident. Holly has trouble believing his old friend is dead. He starts to investigate – at first, merely to learn what happened. He talks to various people, the porter at Harry’s building who witnessed a few things about the time of the accident, Harry’s girlfriend, Anna Schmidt, other friends of Harry’s, and becomes suspicious that not only was Harry’s death not an accident – but that something odd is going on in Vienna.

Harry also has several encounters with Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) a member of the British police for the British section, and his aide, Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee). When he takes his suspicions to the police, he’s told, not unkindly, that even if Lime was murdered, the police won’t waste resources investigating – because the man was a racketeer, involved in the Black Market, and most importantly he was involved in a scheme to steal, cut, and re-sell penicillin to sick and injured men, women and children – that resulted in several deaths, and a number of children with meningitis. As first, Holly doesn’t believe his old friend would be involved in such a scheme. Later in the film, Major Calloway shows him proof of Harry Lime’s involvement, and Holly reluctantly believes it. Still later on – Calloway takes Holly to a hospital ward filled with children who were left mentally disabled because of the tainted medicine and the resulting meningitis. There is considerable restraint in the scene, the audience doesn’t see the sick children – only doctors and nurses tending to them, some shadows and medical charts, and the reactions of Holly, Major Calloway, and Sgt. Paine.

Holly also spends time with Anna, Harry’s girlfriend. He begins to develop feelings for her – and she seems to return those feelings, but it’s not to be.

About halfway through the film, when Holly’s considering leaving Vienna altogether, he actually meets Harry Lime, who isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

The second half of the film turns into more of a moral dilemma for Holly. Harry wants him to join him in another scheme to make money, that would probably harm as many people as his last one if not more. Holly tries to get Anna to go with him – but she’s still in love with Harry. Anna’s been having her own problems – she’s living with a false passport, perhaps even a false name – because, as a Czechoslovakian she would be sent to Russia. Anna’s reactions throughout the film are influenced by her blaming Holly somewhat for getting her in trouble with the police and her undying and unexplained love for Harry Lime.

Meanwhile, Major Calloway holds his duty to turn Anna over to the Russians, because she’s an illegal immigrant, and the carrot of arranging her freedom over Holly as well.

Holly agrees to set-up Harry after Major Calloway presents him with proof of Lime’s involvement in the drug stealing and selling scheme. They also discover that the person buried in Harry’s grave is the missing hospital porter Calloway’s been looking for.

However, an encounter with Anna again shakes Holly’s resolve, he meets with Harry Lime, who turns out to be a real sociopath. Harry does not take up Lime on his implied offer to go into illegal business together someplace outside of Vienna.

Holly goes back to Calloway – who this time shows him the children in the hospital. Holly resolves to set-up Lime to help the police, especially as Calloway lets him have Anna’s passport back.

Anna – gets off the train (Calloway had also supplied a ticket out of Vienna), she sees Holly and blows up at him because she knows he’s setting up Harry. She even rips up her forged passport.

The conclusion of the film is a chase in Vienna’s sewers, as Holly, then the Major and his troops, then police from the other districts of Vienna all chase down Harry Lime.

The brilliance of this film isn’t in the overall plot, though the dead man who isn’t dead was probably somewhat novel at the time – the brilliance is in the details. The cinematography of this film is just incredible. Director Carol Reed uses all sorts of unusual, tilted, and strange camera angles, which alongside the strange score, act to put the audience at unease. This odd setting emphasizes for example, Holly’s isolation and grasping need to trust somebody. It sets all the characters apart, especially Harry Lime who towers over the film, despite not really being in it all that much. Lime is the “Third Man” of the title – referring to a Third Man who witnessed Harry’s death as described by a witness, whom everyone else involved denies was even there. The discovery of a “Third Man” is an early clue that Holly discovers and uses to try to find out who “killed” Harry Lime.

The setting of this film is also unusual. Vienna is literally pulling itself out of rubble. Piles of concrete, and stone dust, and bombed out buildings are in nearly every shot. Nothing looks new and almost nothing is whole. There is evidence of war in nearly every scene. Oddly enough, the sewers are the only structures that seem solid, not crumbling or broken – and they are far underground. But it isn’t just the buildings that are destroyed – the faces of the people, all very old or very young (except the main leads who are all probably in their 30s) – are a visual hint that the able-bodied men are all gone – and good young women don’t appear on the streets. Anna, who works in a theater singing comedy opera in German, isn’t exactly what the times would have called a “good woman”. The faces of the bit players, and the few people in the streets, have character – but they have also seen pain and destruction.

Overall, I would highly recommend watching The Third Man at least once. Visually it’s a film not to be missed, despite the bleak setting. I’d say it really needs to be seen because of the bleak setting.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

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Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country

  • Title:  Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country
  • Director:  Nicholas Meyer
  • Date:  1991
  • Genre:  SF, Mystery
  • Cast:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Keonig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Kim Cattrall, Mark Lenard, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Dorn, William Morgan Sheppard, Christian Slater
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“We believe it [the explosion on Praxis] was caused by over-mining and insufficient safety precautions.  The moon’s decimation means deadly pollution of their ozone.  They [Klingons] will have depleted their supply of oxygen in approximately fifty Earth years.  Due to their enormous military budget the Klingon economy does not have the resources to combat this catastrophe.” – Spock

“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Volaris, not the end.” – Spock

“You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read it in the original Klingon.” – Chancellor Gorkin

“You don’t trust me, do you?  I don’t blame you.  If there is going to be a Brave New World, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.” – Chancellor Gorkin

Star Trek VI starts with a bang, but what at first appears to be a supernova, is in fact a man-made (well, Klingon-made) explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis.  This explosion causes a huge shockwave, which hits the Excelsior on patrol in the area under the command of Captain Sulu.  Once recovered from the shockwave hit, Sulu offers help, but the Klingons order him to stay outside the neutral zone.

There’s a top-secret meeting at Star Fleet, where Spock reveals that over-mining and lack of safety precautions on Praxis caused the moon to explode.  This has poisoned the Ozone on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, and the planet will be uninhabitable in 50 years.  Spock has worked with the Klingon chancellor, Gorkin, coming to an arrangement to de-militarize Star Fleet.  Gorkin and the Federation will work towards an uneasy peace.  Kirk, who has already indicated his agreement with the most militant of the Star Fleet Admirals, is charged with escorting Gorkin to Earth for a peace conference.

Kirk continues to tell pretty much anyone who will listen that he distrusts Klingons, and even notes in his private captain’s log that he blames the Klingons for his son’s death.

Kirk and his crew, including Spock, but minus Sulu (who is on the Excelsior still) precede to the point where they are to meet Gorkin’s ship.  Once there, they invite Gorkin and his staff to a state dinner on the Enterprise.  The dinner is a difficult experience for all involved, but not a complete disaster.  Shortly after the dinner, as Kirk is settling in from a bit too much Romulan Ale, he’s called to the bridge because of a radiation surge.  As Kirk watches helplessly, first one, then a second torpedo hit Gorkin’s ship, seemingly from the Enterprise herself.

Two Federation officers, wearing gravity boots, and darkened helmets, beam to the Klingon vessel, Kronos One, and kill anyone in their way, before attacking Gorkin.  They then escape. The gravity boots were necessary because the torpedo shots had disabled the Klingon ship’s artificial gravity.

When the Klingons threaten to fire on Enterprise in retaliation, Kirk surrenders his ship.  He then takes McCoy with him to Kronos One. Gorkin is injured but not quite dead.  McCoy tries to save him, despite his lack of knowledge of Klingon anatomy, but Gorkin dies anyway.

Kirk and McCoy are arrested by the Klingons for killing the Chancellor.  Though Defense Attorney Worf attempts to fight the good fight, they are found guilty almost immediately. Evidence against Kirk includes his private log entry about blaming Klingons for the death of his son. Kirk and McCoy are sent to a Klingon prison planet to mine dilithium.

Meanwhile, Spock attempts to find out who really orchestrated the attack on the Klingons, and killed Gorkin.  Piece by piece, he works it out with the help of others on the Enterprise.

I don’t want to go into details of how Spock solves the mystery, because that would really spoil the movie.  However, he does uncover a conspiracy between a few Star Fleet officers and Klingon hard-liners to get rid of Gorkin who had really wanted peace between the Klingons and the Federation (that is, his plans were not a feint or something designed to lure the Federation into “a false sense of security” before a Klingon attack.).

Spock then rescues Kirk and McCoy from the prison planet, and they go off to try to prevent an assassination attempt at the new peace conference at “Camp something”.  With some help from Sulu and officers on the Excelsior, the Enterprise crew succeeds in saving the Chancellor’s daughter, now the new head of the Klingon Empire and thus saves the peace conference.

In his closing monologue, Kirk notes that his crew will make a final cruise (his last line is, “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning,” a quote from Peter Pan) then return to Earth to stand down for retirement and a new crew will continue to explore where no man or no one has gone before.  The closing credits include the signatures of the original Enterprise crew (Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Nichols, Keonig, and Takei).

Star Trek VI is essentially a murder mystery with cold war trappings.  Klingons quoting Shakespeare and a reference to The Manchurian Candidate are thrown in as well.  But though that may seem to sound like it’s not that good a movie, I actually enjoyed it.  I found Star Trek VI to be fun – really fun.  First, no one dies in this film.  OK, the Klingon chancellor dies, but really – he’s playing the part of a murder victim, in a story where our heroes must solve a crime.  But it’s not like Wrath of Khan where Spock dies, or where the Enterprise herself is destroyed.  As is frequently the case with Star Trek, the trappings of the film are definitely Cold War.  The Federation is clearly the US/the West and the Klingons are clearly the Russians. Even the guard on the prison planet introduces it as a “gulag” (Russian for “prison”) and speaks with a Russian accent.  The Klingon chancellor who genuinely seeks peace is Gorkin, very similar to Gorbachev.  And the incident that starts the film, the explosion on Praxis, was clearly inspired by the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor disaster in 1986.

What is surprising about the film is the amount of prejudice and hatred we see from characters we know and care about. It isn’t just Kirk who “hates Klingons”.  Throughout the first half of the film, all sorts of nasty remarks are made about the Klingons, from “They don’t place the same value on life as us,” to “Did you see the way they eat?”  It was really quite disturbing.

But what makes the film work is the murder mystery aspect.  Again, we know Kirk isn’t guilty – but the evidence seems indisputable.  So not only must Spock discover who did it – he must discover “how did it”, which is always more interesting. And Spock makes for a fine detective, he even quotes Sherlock Holmes, “An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however, improbable must be the truth.”  Yes, that’s right, Spock refers to Holmes as an “ancestor”. Which suggests that in the Star Trek universe Sherlock Holmes was real, and that quite probably he was the result of a time traveling Vulcan experiment (and yes, I want to see that story!) Anyway, I enjoyed the mystery aspect, and Spock, step by step, figuring out what happened, how it happened, and ultimately – who was really responsible.

I hadn’t seen this film probably since I saw it in the theater when it originally was released, and I remembered enjoying it then.  The DVD copy I watched, I actually picked up second-hand a year or so ago.  I think at the time, especially with Chernobyl, Glasnost, Perestroika, and Gorbachev fresh in people’s minds – the Cold War plot would have had more meaning.  Now it seems like set dressing. However, what really caught my attention was that Praxis was destroyed by over-mining and lack of safety precautions, resulting in an environmental disaster that would, eventually, destroy the Klingon homeworld and that the Klingon Empire spent so much on the military and arms it couldn’t even do anything about it, also caught my attention.  Because both those things seem much more appropriate now – and not in Russia.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  4 out of 5
Next Film:  Shall We Dance (Japan, 1996)

The Thin Man

  • Title:  The Thin Man
  • Director:  WS Van Dyke
  • Date:  1934
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Mystery, Drama, Comedy
  • Cast:  William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen o’Sullivan, Cesar Romero
  • Format:  Black/White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You see, the important thing is the rhythm.  You always have rhythm in your shaking.  Now a Manhatten you shake to a foxtrot.  A Bronx to two-step time but a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.” – Nick, explaining how to make martinis.

“Nick? Nicky?” – Nora
“What?” – Nick
“You asleep?” – Nora
“Yes.” – Nick
“Good. I want to talk to you.” – Nora

“I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.” – Nora
“It’s not true.  He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.” – Nick

The Thin Man is a successful film accomplishment of style over substance.  The film is loosely based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel.  However, the film is less about the mystery and three murders to be solved than about it’s two lead characters, married couple Nick and Nora Charles.  Nick is a “retired” private detective now living large on his very wealthy wife’s income.  However, everyone, including Nora, keeps urging him to go back to being a detective because he was so good at it.  Meanwhile, a old friend of Nick’s, Dorothy, shows up to also request Nick’s help.  She is due to be married, but her father, Wynant, is missing.  The last anyone knew of her father, he told everyone he was “going away on business” and he would be back by Christmas.  Yet when he doesn’t arrive, Dorothy, and eventually everyone else in his life (his ex-wife, her new husband, their son, Dorothy and her fiance’, his partner from work, his attorney) begin to worry.

Although he considers himself retired, eventually Nick is drawn into investigating.  He finds a body in Wynant’s shop which the police assume is Wynant’s victim.  But Nick knows it’s Wynant.  He invites all the suspects to a dinner party and questions them… which leads to the murderer revealing himself.

The mystery is a bit more complex, and at times confusing, but the focus of  the film is the relationship of married couple Nick and Nora and their dog, Asta, a Airedale Terrier who steals the show.  Nick and Nora Charles, are fond of exquisite cocktails, exquisite parties, and exquisite living.  They are very much in love, and trade quips and smart dialogue.  The dialogue of the film is smart, sassy, clever, and cute in a good way. And, in an era before TV, it isn’t surprising that The Thin Man was followed by five written for the screen sequels.  Nick’s idea of bringing all the suspects together for questioning and accusations until one confesses is a motif that would continue in detective fiction for decades to come.  Likewise Nick and Nora clever, witty dialogue would inspire 1980s TV programs like Remington Steele and Moonlighting.

Overall, I recommend this film.  It’s short, enjoyable, fun and funny.  It’s like spending an evening with a pair of classy, witty, clever friends.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man

Suspicion

  • Title:  Suspicion
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Date:  1941
  • Genre:  Mystery, Film Noir, Drama
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Leo G. Carroll, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce
  • Format:  B/W, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

 

“I’m honest because with you I think it’s the best way to get results.” — Johnnie
 
“Monkey-face, I’ve been broke all my life!” — Johnnie
Suspicion starts like any light romantic comedy.  Johnnie (Cary Grant) meets Lina on a train and tries to pick her up, but she’s unimpressed.  They run into each other again at a fox hunt.  He talks her for a walk on a Sunday, and makes a date for later that afternoon.  Lina announces this to her parents, but he breaks their date for that afternoon, and for a week, Lina is miserable because she hasn’t seen him in so long.  However, he returns just in time for the hunt ball.  Very soon after, Lina sneaks out of  her parents house and the two are married at the registry office.  The two go on a whirl-wind European honeymoon, then return to a new house – where Lina discovers that Johnnie has no money.
Suddenly, instead of a light romance, the film resembles Gaslight.  Over and over, Lina picks up on her husband acting weirdly, or suspiciously.  But she has no proof, no idea what’s really going on, and every time Johnnie’s money troubles seem to catch up with him, he suddenly comes up with the money he needs (such as a £2000 pound windfall that Johnnie claims he got from the track).  Lina notices her husband is fascinated with detective and murder stories… but at first thinks nothing of  it.  But when Johnnie’s dear friend, Beaky, dies under mysterious circumstances, Lina goes to their mutual friend Isobel, a mystery writer.  Isobel talks about her recent mystery, where a man causes another man to walk over a weakened foot bridge and fall to his death.  Isobel says that morally it’s murder if the first man knew the bridge was weak.  She then casually says “It’s the same with Johnnie’s friend, Beaky.”  Beaky had died after drinking a large amount of brandy in a drinking contest – despite his allergy to brandy.  Lina freaks at this, because she knows that Johnnie knows about Beaky’s allergy, and that Beaky would sometimes still drink brandy even though it caused him to have fits, and trouble breathing.  Later, Isobel, her husband, Lina, Johnny, and a strange blond woman dressed as a man have a dinner party.  Johnnie’s dinner conversation though not only focuses on murder but on untraceable poisons.  Lina’s so freaked she won’t let him into her bedroom that night.
Things finally come to a head when Lina decides to go home to spend a few days with her mother.  Johnnie insists on driving her.  On a winding road, Lina thinks he’s trying to kill her, but he pulls her back into the car, then yells at her.  When they talk, Lina comes to the conclusion that Johnnie was considering suicide as a way out of his money problems, and for her to get his insurance money to settle his debts for once and for all.  Lina throws herself  into his arms, and they drive back towards their house.
In Gaslight, Ingrid Bergman gradually comes to realize that her husband is a criminal who only married her to have access to the empty house next to hers, where he thinks there’s a treasure.  The husband manipulates his wife, trying to make her think she’s going insane – and she’s only saved at the last minute by a kind policeman.
Suspicion is much more unsettling.  Cary Grant is very menacing – and switches from his “happy go lucky”, “everything is fine” personality to someone who is truly scary like lightening.  He clearly seems to not only not want to work, but to only have a talent for losing money – and he routinely borrows money to pay off his most insistent debtors.  Yet, at the same time, Joan Fontaine’s Lina, seems almost paranoid.  We see her getting little pieces of evidence that her husband’s up to no good, such as when she goes to visit him at his office, and learns from his employer and a family friend (played brilliantly by Leo G. Carroll) that Johnnie was fired weeks ago after £2000 went missing from the business.  But each time she finds something out, he has an explanation and she forgives him and realizes that she loves him.
What makes the film brilliant is that because of Grant’s superb acting, and the way he flips back-and-forth between menace and light-hearted kindness, one is never sure of his motives.  Does he want to kill his wife for her money?  It doesn’t appear so, he never actually does anything to her.  Yet, at the same time, he’s almost slimy in the way that he always has an answer for everything.  At times, Lina seems very alone, but at others she has no problem going out – she visits Isobel with no problems, and sees other friends who seem jealous of  her relationship with Johnnie.  Suspicion is a masterful, and short (only 99 minutes) film with no concrete endings.  I highly recommend it.
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Swing Time

Batman Beyond Return of the Joker

  • Title: Batman Beyond Return of the Joker
  • Director: Curt Geda
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2000
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy, Mystery
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Will Friedle, Mark Hamill, Dean Stockwell, Teri Garr, Tara Strong, Frank Welker, Michael Rosenbum
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

This film bridges the gap between Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, answering some of the unanswered questions. And it brings back the most famous Batman villian — the Joker. Briefly, Batman Beyond, part of the DC Animated Universe, was a television series set 50 years after Batman: The Animated Series. Bruce has gotten old and is now unable to fight crime. Terry McGinnis becomes the new Batman, having at first stolen Bruce’s latest Batsuit (used before his retirement) and then with Bruce’s blessing. Terry is a bit more light-hearted than Bruce but not as light-hearted as some of the Robins. He has a mother and a younger brother (tho’ his father was murdered) and even a girlfriend. The solid black suit with a red bat symbol is more technically advanced, with jet packs that allow real flight (so the cape is gone). It also has a video and audio link to the Cave where Bruce advises Terry. Throughout the series The Joker’s been missing but a gang of trouble-makers called Jokerz have caused Terry and the city of New Gotham trouble. It’s a cyber-punked/21st century Batman rather than the Art Deco/30s/Film Noir look of Batman: The Animated Series.

This film opens with Batman breaking up a theft of electronic equipment by the Jokerz. All goes well, but when he discusses it later with Bruce, Terry’s confused, because high-end electronics and computers aren’t normally the Jokerz’ style — they usually go for quick cash. Bruce dismissed the theft as “looking for stuff they could fence”. Bruce, perhaps, has too much on his mind — he’s returning to be the active head of Wayne Enterprises.

The Joker (again, voiced by Mark Hamill, as he was in B:TAS) breaks up the party welcoming back Bruce. Terry changes into the Batsuit and rescues Bruce and the party-goers but the Joker gets away. At the Cave, he insists Bruce fill him in on the background of the Joker. Bruce merely insists that Joker is dead, saying he was there when it happened. Terry jumps to the conclusion Bruce killed Joker, he had no choice, then stopped being Batman. Bruce refuses to comment. He also forbids Terry to go after Joker and even asks for the suit back.

Terry goes to see Barbara Gordon. Barbara refuses to talk, only mentioning Tim Drake (Robin # 3).  Terry sees Tim, but gets no answers from him either.

Deciding he will quit, Terry is relieved to spend time with his family and Dana, his girlfriend. But the Jokerz show up at the club Terry and Dana frequent and try to kidnap the girl. They also try to kill Terry. After speaking with the police, and checking on Dana, Terry goes to see Bruce. But he’s too late — Ace, Bruce’s protective Great Dane is injured, and Bruce is unconscious with a hideous smile on his face. The Cave is a wreck, the costume displays destroyed, and “Ha Ha” written in red everywhere. Bruce, between laughs, manages to point Terry to the anti-toxin for the Joker’s laughing gas, and Terry gives him a shot, then calls Barbara.

Barbara Gordon, who was once Batgirl and is now Police Commissioner Gordon, decides to explain what happened in the past. In a well-executed flashback, we learn what happened:  Harley Quinn had set-up young Robin, Tim Drake, and he is kidnapped by the Joker. Batman and Batgirl search for him for three weeks. Finally, Joker leaves them a blatant clue — Batman and Batgirl follow, and discover the horrifying truth:  Tim/Robin was tortured, electrocuted, drugged, beaten, and finally programmed to be Joker Jr. They find him complete with the white face, green hair, and a miniature purple suit. But merely turning Robin into a copy of himself isn’t enough for Joker — he also orders the boy to shoot and kill Batman. (Batgirl is meanwhile somewhere else in the now abandoned Arkham Asylum fighting Harley Quinn). But Tim shoots, and kills, Joker instead. Barbara rushes to Tim, as does Batman.

In the present, Barbara explains they buried Joker then took Tim to Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who took a year to put him back together again. After that, Batman forbade him to ever put on the Robin suit. It was the disastrous final clash with Joker that caused Bruce to forbid Terry from going after the super villain.

Terry, meanwhile, is trying to find out what’s going on. Evidence leads to Tim, yet Tim claims to be innocent. However, in front of Terry (in the Batsuit) and Bruce’s (at home in the cave, barely recovered) eyes Tim turns into Joker — victim of a transmitter containing Joker DNA that takes over his subconscience and brain. It’s basically like a scientific explanation of the “split personality” villain. Tim isn’t even aware that the Joker is piggy-backing in his body, thinking any memories are only bad dreams. Joker plans to take over a government laser defense satellite, using telecom equipment stolen by the Jokerz and Tim’s know-how to put it together. He’s already blown-up a boat, and now plans to strike close to home for Terry:  blowing up the hospital where Dana’s recovering, blowing up Terry’s home where his Mom and brother are, and blowing up Wayne Manor and Bruce — just to get started. However, Terry has discovered the secret to defeating the Joker, which is does, then he destroys the control chip in Tim’s head, bringing the man back to normal.

An excellent movie, yes, it is like a longer version of a Batman Beyond episode, but it was also quite dark — especially the torture of Tim Drake, and Bruce and Barbara covering up a murder. There’s also some extremely effective visuals. The film is enjoyable tho’, with the saucy dialog common to Batman Beyond, and it answered some questions — where was the Joker? What happened to Tim Drake? What caused Bruce to give up the Batsuit? (something touched on in the series premiere as well). But it also didn’t answer everything — Nightwing / Dick Grayson is mentioned, a couple of times, but it’s never explained what happened to him.

Recommendation: See it! Buy it!
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Batman Mystery of the Batwoman

  • Title:  Batman Mystery of the Batwoman
  • Director: Curt Geda
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2003
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Animation, Mystery
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, David Ogden Stiers, Kimberly Brooks, Kelly Ripa, Elisa Gabrielli, Bob Hastings, Tara Strong, Robert Costanzo
  • Format: Color Animation, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“The last thing Gotham City needs is a vigilante running amok.”— Bruce Wayne
“As they say on the streets – ‘I ain’t touching that one.’ “— Alfred

A mysterious new vigilante appears in Gotham — the Batwoman, but is she a force for good, or a criminal? That, and just who is the Batwoman, is a mystery Batman must solve. Bruce meets Kathy Duquesne, the daughter of famous gangster, Carlton Duquesne, and begins dating her, in part because he wonders if she might have something to do with the sudden appearance of the Batwoman, a masked vigilante. He also meets a brilliant, and pretty, and blonde female metallurgist, nicknamed Rocky, who is newly employed at Wayne Enterprises. When Batman finds her new programmable metal at the scene of Batwoman’s attack on the Penguin’s club, he wonders if she might be involved. And he also runs into Harvey Bullock’s new partner, Sonia, but doesn’t initially realize the importance of the meeting.

Meanwhile, Carlton Duquesne, Penguin, and Rupert Thorne (another gangster) are plotting how to deliver a cargo of weapons to whatever-stan (a made-up name that’s not really that important). Batwoman had destroyed their first shipment, being transported by truck, so they plot for the next shipment to leave Gotham on a ship — a ship disguised to look like a cruise ship. For insurance, Penguin calls in Bane (the muscle-bound, steroid-addicted, South American mercenary, famous for once literally breaking the back of the Bat).

Batman, with help from Robin, and the ever present support of Alfred, investigates the mystery, trying to determine who the Batwoman is. He comes to the conclusion it might be Rocky and Kathy working together, but Robin finds no evidence that the two ever met. But, Batman then discovers a link: Sonia — who knew them both. Batman, or Bruce, as the case may be, has also discovered what the three have in common: a reason to be angry at the unholy triumvirate of Penguin, Thorne, and Duquesne. Sonia, as a child, saw her parents business destroyed by Thorne — a disaster from which the family never recovered and tore them apart (though it was Batman who saved her life in the fire). Rocky’s boyfriend was framed by Thorne and Penguin and sits in jail. And Kathy lost her mother when a rival gang shot at her father and killed her mother instead.

But Bruce also cannot condone someone else being a vigilante in his town, especially when innocent people get hurt, or even criminals get killed. He sets out to stop them. Meanwhile, Kathy’s taken a bomb to the ship that carries Penguin and Thorne’s guns — but she gets caught by Bane. She’s unmasked, but Batman arrives to save her, followed by Robin in the Batboat and the other two Batwomen on their glider-rockets. The bomb explodes, sinking the ship, but all three Batwomen are rescued and Throne, Penguin and Duquesne are caught.

I enjoyed this Batman animated movie. This was the second time I’d seen it, so I knew who the Batwoman was, yet the care the storyline takes in drawing character studies of these three women, who have all be affected by crime and violence, makes the story very re-watchable. Also, the cast is excellent, bringing back many of the regulars from Batman: The Animated Series — Robert Conzanso as Bullock, Bob Hastings as Gordon, Tara Strong as Barbara, and, of course Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Alfred. Yes, a Robin is in this, but since Barbara is away at college, I suspect Dick is too (and possibly not yet Nightwing) and the Robin is Tim Drake, tho’ he’s never actually called by name.

Recommendation: See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Batman Mask of the Phantasm

 

  • Title: Batman Mask of the Phantasm
  • Directors: Eric Radomski, Bruce W. Timm
  • Voice Direction: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 1993
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Mystery, Action, Animation
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Dana Delany, Mark Hamill, Stacy Keach Jr., Abe Vigoda, Bob Hastings,
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • Length: 76 Minutes
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, Double-sided Standard/Widescreen

“I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy. Please, tell me it’s OK.’ ” Bruce Wayne to his parents’ grave

“The way I see it, the only one in this room controlled by his parents is you.” Andrea Beaumont to Batman

The first in a series of animated movies that followed the very successful DC Animated Universe on WB and it’s associated networks (Cartoon Network, Boomerang), Batman Mask of the Phantasm is a promising start. The film opens with wonderful art deco titles, and quickly moves into the plot: someone is killing top gangsters in Gotham City, and a new congressman assumes it’s Batman and makes him Public Enemy # 1. Meanwhile, an old girlfriend of Bruce’s — Andrea Beaumont, has returned to town.

Much of the film is flashbacks to their blossoming relationship, from their first meeting in a graveyard – Bruce, visiting his parents, overhears Andrea talking to her (dead) mother – to their courtship, and Bruce eventually proposing (a proposal quickly shattered by the emergence of a huge number of bats from a nearby cave). Bruce even decides that he would put aside the cape and cowl, and his mission, to be with Andrea. However, she sends his ring back the next day, and Bruce adapts the Bat as his symbol. He’d been working on a costume, something to scare criminals, but hadn’t quite gotten it perfected yet at that point in time.

In the present, Batman is trying to discover who is killing off these old gangsters, a crime being pinned on him no less. Gradually he discovers all the gangsters were clients of Andrea’s father (some sort of accountant or investment banker, it’s not really spelled out), however, he assumes it’s Andrea’s father responsible for the crimes.

The Joker shows up, voiced by Mark Hamill, as he was in Batman: The Animated Series, to wreak havoc. The “Phantasm” (not actually named as such in the film) confronts Joker, the last one involved in Beaumont’s forced exile from Gotham and eventual death, only to be unmasked – it’s Andrea. Batman arrives, and fights Joker in the now decrepit World’s Fair grounds, which, ironically, were dedicated to portraying a brighter future. Batman and Joker fight in the 1/3rd scale “city” appearing like Godzilla and King Kong – Joker even sends a group of toy airplanes after Batman. But Joker has an ace up his sleeve — he’s rigged the entire place to explode. Batman is able to stop Andrea from killing the Joker, and escapes himself, but fears Andrea is dead (she’s not, we see her leaving Gotham by boat, but she’s not talking either).

This film had the producers of Batman: The Animated Series experimenting with a longer format for the first time. Aspects do work — there’s some great filming, and the plot is nice and complex with enough twists and turns for just over an hour. There’s one scene where Batman, having chased the “Phantasm” ends up in a graveyard — he suddenly realizes he’s in the graveyard where his parents are buried. And there is a wonderful shot of Batman looking at the Wayne grave, and we see the shadow of Batman’s outline fall on the grave. It’s a shot worthy of Citizen Kane in all the complexity of what it suggests: about Bruce, about Thomas and Martha Wayne, about the effects one act of violence had on a life. And Andrea too was affected – the night Bruce proposes to her, her father announces they have to go on the run – the mob wants money from him, money he doesn’t have. Both Bruce and Andrea are robbed of any chance of being happy. But the Bruce/Andrea romance is also, in a way, the downfall of the story. Bruce in love just doesn’t work the way, say Clark Kent’s romance with Lois Lane’s does. Or even Bruce’s occasional flirting with Wonder Woman does (see Justice League and Justice League Unlimited). Bruce may flirt, he deliberately brings “eye candy” to his social functions, but he’s way too dedicated to his night job to get serious with any woman.

And, oddly enough, though well played by Mark Hamill, Joker seems almost like an after-thought to the film. He’s not orchestrating events at all, but merely reacting to them. This makes him seem oddly under-used, though there are some great moments with the Joker anyway.

And, finally, for a mystery, the film ends with a giant plot-hole. We know the “Phantasm” killed the mobsters, and that “he” is a “she”— Andrea Beaumont. Bruce knows this as well, and thinks she’s dead at the end of the film. But the cops don’t know that. Just how was Batman planning on convincing them? When they’d chased him all over Gotham City trying to kill him?

But, overall, a good try – and successful enough for an additional string of DC Animated films to be made, most of which I have.

By the way, for the curious, the DC Animated Universe is: Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond, plus various movies. Don’t ask me to put them in order — I originally saw them widely out-of-order, tho’ I now own all on DVD but Superman.

Recommendation: For the serious Batman collector, a “should have”, but otherwise rent it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars