She’s a rich vigilante who fights sea monsters and still has time for a wrestling career. What’s Bruce Wayne’s excuse?
Cotter, Bobb. The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. Print.
Greene, Doyle. Mexploitation Cinema: A Critical History of Mexican Vampire, Wrestler, Ape-man, and Similar Films, 1957-1977. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. Print.
Muir, John Kenneth. The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004. Print.
Reinhart, Mark S. The Batman Filmography: Live-action Features, 1943-1997. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. Print.
Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na. Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na. Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na…
Holy copyright infringement, Batman! It’s a dynamic duplicate on this episode of Deja View.
In 1966, ABC’s Batman BIFFed, POWed, and ZAPPed his way onto U.S. television sets. Inspired by the camp appeal of the already-corny Batman movie serials of the 1940s, this new series played the Dark Knight strictly for laughs. Full of vivid colors and far-out production design, it was a pop culture—and pop art!—sensation. “Batmania” swept America—and beyond.
South of the border, prolific director René Cardona knew success when he saw it and decided to take this new, groovier Batman and combine him with the world of “lucha libre,” Mexican pro wrestling, which had fast become a cinematic sensation of its own.
“Lucha libre” is perhaps best known for its combatants’ colorful masks. Never going out in public without them, these luchadores, with larger-than-life names like “El Santo” and “The Blue Demon,” took on a mystique beyond the boundaries of the ring. And by the ‘60s they had became full-fledged superheroes, starring as themselves in films and serials battling mad scientists, vampires, mummies, aliens, and more. These were quickie, low budget affairs with lots of action—much like the cliffhangers that inspired the “Batman” series.
This shared serial tradition may have made “lucha Batman” a reasonable proposition. And there was another element. In 1962, René Cardona had pioneered a new kind of movie hero: the luchadora. And after going several successful rounds with these lady wrestlers, Cardona apparently thought Batman might work even better as Bat Woman.
In his film of the same name, a mad scientist is murdering wrestlers and draining their pineal glands. He’s using the fluid to create a superhuman fish man, a process which somehow involves combining a goldfish with a G.I. Joe action figure. Baffled, the police have called in special agent Bat Woman to infiltrate the wrestling circuit and discover who’s behind it all. And before long she finds herself battling the gill man himself!
Bat Woman has more in common with her male counterpart than just the name. Like Bruce Wayne she’s a wealthy socialite and rigorously-trained athlete. Her cape and cowl clearly emulate Adam West’s. And although her primary costume is just a bikini, her wrestling uniform—designed to disguise the figure of her stuntwoman—borrows even more from the ‘60s caped crusader. She also has the requisite goofy gadgets, like a gun disguised as a makeup compact. And even her car bears a certain resemblance to the Batmobile.
So-called “Mexploitation” films were well known for lifting ideas from Hollywood. Universal horror classics like “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Mummy,” for example, were frequent wellsprings of material. And filmmakers would even steal from each other. “Bat Woman” screenwriter Alfredo Salazar in particular was notorious for recycling material. And indeed, perhaps the only real novelty in this “monster vs. wrestler” offering—a well-tread genre by 1968—is Bat Woman herself.
Remarkably, though, Cardona’s film wasn’t the first unauthorized cinematic “Batwoman.” 1966 saw American filmmaker Jerry Warren’s “The Wild World of Batwoman.” However, its particularly unique flavor of weirdness pushed it far from its model and kept it from feeling like kin to the TV series.
On the other hand, Cardona’s “Bat Woman” is very much in the spirit of the show. In fact, an evil scientist and a rubber monster suit might even be a little tame by “Batman ‘66” standards. Nor was a female doppelganger particularly outrageous. By the time “Bat Woman” came out, the Batman TV universe had debuted its own Batgirl. So with Cardona’s light-hearted approach, the cartoonish story, action, jazzy musical score, and of course the costume design, Bat Woman is every bit believable as the Caped Crusader’s latina cousin.
Star Maura Monti would later tangle with a different kind of bat in 1969’s “The Vampire Girls,” another Mexican offering starring erstwhile Dracula John Carradine. But there all the heroics were handled by popular luchador Mil Máscaras.
And Monti had little to do except sit around and, erm, bat her eyelashes. Ah well.
Thanks so much for watching. See you next time, same Bat-channel.