Batman: A Retrospective of Tom Mankiewicz' Unfilmed Script
Article Written and © Copyright James Van Hise; Posted with Permission
When BATMAN was released in 1989, it was the culmination of a decade of effort to bring the character to the screen, and several different screenplays were written in the course of bringing this about. Among them was this one by Tom Mankiewicz, who, it was announced earlier today, has passed away, thus this look back.
BE FOREWARNED: IT'S A LONG ONE:
The BATMAN film was originally announced by Michael Uslan in 1980 at the New York Comic Art Convention, a gathering which was then the annual highlight and central gathering for comic book enthusiasts before the San Diego Comic Con took its place. But in 1980 the New York show was the big one, and the Batman movie was DC's big announcement for the year, although no one there would have believed that it wouldn't actually be finished and released until 1989.
In 1983 a script was written for a Batman movie which bore little resemblance to what finally appeared on the screen in 1989. But this script written by Tom Mankiewicz helped to keep the project alive as directors read it and either showed interest or passed on it while the subsequent screenplays were crafted, written and rewritten. But it is this screenplay, which helped to propel the project forward through the early, more difficult years of the project, that bears looking at here, for from the beginning the final result can be better understood.
Mankiewicz had worked on the scripts of the first two Superman films as well as on some of the James Bond movies, so he had sterling credits entering the project. When this script was written, in the wake of the highly successful releases of SUPERMAN (1978) and SUPERMAN II (1980), it seemed at the time that BATMAN would be put into production momentarily. Tom Mankiewicz was even interviewed by Lee Goldberg for STARLOG in the April 1983 issue. Mankiewicz even described the screen version he expected to see.
"I want The Batman's outfit to be truly frightening," Mankiewicz told Goldberg. "I hope we can do something with his eyes so he has a penetrating and mesmerizing gaze that will give him a Svengali look. Really, when you look at The Batman character, he's only one step removed from Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH." In 1983 this sounded rather extreme as the true darkening of the Batman character wasn't as far along then and didn't truly occur to the degree we recognize today until Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS was published in 1986.
Since it was written in 1983, the script contains references tying it to a specific time period. It opens in Wayne Manor in 1960 when Bruce Wayne is ten years old. His father, Dr. Thomas Wayne, is running for City Council. The family, including Bruce's mother, Martha, and their butler, Alfred, are established in some gentle scenes demonstrating that young Bruce is a science whiz who has even created a hologram in his basement laboratory.
The family goes out to a movie to see the Audrey Hepburn film THE NUN'S STORY and afterwards the inevitable robbery and murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne take place while they're on their way back to the car. In this script Joe Chill is the killer, but even early on we realize that this is a contract killing because Chill addresses Thomas Wayne as "doctor" before shooting him, so it's evident that he knows exactly who this is. In a scene similar to the old 1948 comic book origin, Joe Chill backs down from shooting Bruce because of something he sees in the boy's eyes, and then the criminal runs off.
THE REALITY OF THE DARK KNIGHT
The reason Mankiewicz chose to open the film with the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, rather than build up to something this brutal and shocking, was to establish the reality of the film, which was the same purpose behind having Marlon Brando portray Jor-el in the first Superman film. "By beginning THE BATMAN with a starkly dramatic scene, I hope we can do the same thing. The more moving and arresting that scene can be, the more you'll understand the single-mindedness with which Wayne grows up. Would that more of Bruce's youth between the time of the killings and his emergence as an adult was shown. The first Superman film indulged in this, and even though it made for a protracted sequence leading up to the emergence of Superman, it established the persona of the character rather then leaping directly from childhood to adulthood.
The story then departs from the traditional origin when we are introduced to the Joker, who is already the familiar figure with pale white skin and green hair. It turns out that he's involved with Joe Chill and soon kills the man in typical Joker fashion. This is another major departure from the traditional origin because first, the Joker had nothing to do with Batman's origin in the comic books, and second, Bruce Wayne later confronted Joe Chill after Bruce had grown to adulthood and become the Batman. But since the 1989 movie departs from Batman's origin even more dramatically than this, we can at least be grateful that some of the basic features of the origin remain unchanged here.
Regarding how Mankiewicz viewed the Joker, his version was in keeping with the modern comic book style (which was in fact derived from the original version of the Joker depicted in BATMAN #1 in 1940) and not the 1950s and 1960s comic book stories, and certainly nothing like what was portrayed on the 1960s television series. "The Joker will dress in theatrical clothes and still have green hair, but he will not be a buffoon. There will be something terribly scary about this guy," Mankiewicz explained at the time he wrote his screenplay for BATMAN.
A MAN NAMED THORNE
In this script we're shown the funereal of Martha and Thomas Wayne and also encounter a man named Rupert Thorne. He's turned up in the comic books in recent years and also in the animated TV show. In the '70s Batman comic book stories he was a City Councilman who hated Batman, and who secretly had ties to organized crime. But in this script he was Thomas Wayne's opponent in the 1960 election and Thorne wins because his only opponent has conveniently died. Although we're not told anything specific yet, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out that he is implicated in the murder. This is because we're already certain that it was a hit and not just a robbery, and also because Thorne clearly had everything to gain by Thomas Wayne's demise. Thorne even makes an insensitive remark about Thomas Wayne ironically becoming a victim of the sort of criminals whose rights he sought to protect.
There are various images of foreshadowing early in the script, such as after the murders when thunderclouds seem to form into the shape of a cape and cowl in the sky.
Shortly after the deaths we see young Bruce make some decision he doesn't verbalize, and he begins to train himself, whereas before there was no hint that the boy had any real athletic prowess. In a series of scenes which span Bruce's life from the age of ten to seventeen, we see him learning karate, acrobatics and even mountain climbing. But these are brief and are little more than a montage. What the person is like during those seven years isn't depicted, other than showing him struggling towards some unspoken goal. It would have helped had there been at least one scene of the boy standing in front of a portrait of his parents saying something portentous like, "Some day. . . Some day. . ."
Following his high school graduation, Bruce is seduced (with very little force) by a young woman and Bruce realizes that he's been missing a side of life for all these years. This even climaxes in a scene where Bruce and the young woman wake up the next morning on the beach and some very sexually implicit dialogue takes place.
A '70s KIND OF GUY
Using a newspaper headline reference to Richard Nixon, we realize that it is now the early 1970s and one night Bruce encounters some street criminals (portrayed as typical biker thugs) who shoot a man in front of his wife and daughter. This is all too familiar to Bruce and he confronts the hoods and in a brutal fight scene he overcomes them. Then he leaves before the police come around the corner.
When Bruce realizes that the crime victim has died, it has a profound effect on him. Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce accidentally discovers a cave beneath the home, and the bats he finds in there inspire him since he's realized that he has to become more than a man in order to really make a difference in the world and avenge the deaths of innocent people. This is apparently the first time Bruce has been in his childhood laboratory in seven years when actually one would think that he would have spent a lot of time there working on his experiments since he has apparently been developing his mind as well as his physique.
If Bruce has been neglecting his social life as completely as the seduction scene implies, he must have been doing more than studying acrobatics and lifting weights. Clearly he would have been developing his mental prowess as well as his physical prowess.
This all happens in the first 33 pages of a 133 page script. Batman makes his first appearance on page 35 of the screenplay. Mankiewicz chose to discard the traditional scene from the comic books from which Bruce Wayne got the idea for his creature of the night persona. "In the comics, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne was sitting by his window when a bat came by. And he said to himself, 'I've got it! I'll be a bat!' To me, that even suggests stately Wayne Manor is in a rotten neighborhood," Mankiewicz observed.
BATMAN'S FIRST NIGHT OUT
When Batman makes his first appearance, it's on a subway, of all places. That's certainly not borrowed from any of the comic book stories. And that same night Batman foils a hostage situation. When the police realize that the description of the mysterious vigilante in both cases is the same, Commissioner Gordon doesn't believe that it could be the same person, but his assistant suggests, "Maybe there's more than one of them. Maybe we're dealing with some sort of secret society of cross-dressers."
This sequence of Batman's first night is clearly patterned after a similar sequence in the 1978 Superman movie wherein Superman appeared all over town foiling crimes and saving people. He next appears, that same night, on the outside of the 40th story of an apartment building while burglars inside are robbing the place. Tom Mankiewicz worked on the scripts to the first two Superman films but wound up only being credited as a "creative consultant," but one can easily detect his style in both those films based on what we read in this screenplay.
Batman is first seen in a full shot on page 43 when two police cars corner him in an alley, but in a scene you can see coming a mile away Batman leaps over one of the two cars speeding towards him and the two vehicles collide head on in a scene very common in films of the '70s and '80s. Can you say BLUES BROTHERS?
Commissioner Gordon isn't impressed by the idea of the costumed vigilante. At a press conference the next day when questioned about it, Gordon replies, "I can't explain it. I only hope for the poor fellow's sake, he's sobered up by now." This is similar to the skepticism with which the Commissioner Gordon of the 1989 version treats the character—until he saves the city in the climax. Unlike the 1989 version, this 1983 script actually includes a scene in which Batman appears in Gordon's office and offers his assistance against the Joker and similar menaces, and Gordon reluctantly accepts it. But at least there is an exchange here to explain why Gordon is willing to accept Batman's help.
ENTER SILVER ST. CLOUD
On page 46 the character of Silver St. Cloud joins the storyline. This character was invented by Steve Englehart during his brief run on the character in DETECTIVE COMICS in the late 1970s (see the chapter "The Batman Chronicles" elsewhere in this book). This is in keeping with what executive producers Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melnicker announced in 1980 regarding the planned screen version of Batman. Although Mankiewicz had not yet been announced as the screenwriter (due to a writer's strike in progress at the time), Uslan had revealed that the screenplay would draw its inspiration from three specific time periods of the character: The 1939 Bob Kane/Bill Finger version of Batman; the Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams version of the early 1970s and the Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers version of Batman from the late 1970s.
Silver is working as the intern for Rupert Thorne and while he's clearly smitten with her, she adopts a pose of cool distance. This is a slightly different version of the character from the Steve Englehart comic book stories, although the script does attempt to portray her relationship with Bruce Wayne as being a pivotal one. The relationship is developed differently, though, and achieves a very different resolution here.
Just as in the 1989 BATMAN film, this script has a party thrown by Bruce Wayne at Wayne Manor. The party is to celebrate "David" Gordon's birthday. (Why they changed the Commissioner's name from James to David is unclear as it's a pointless alteration.) It's surprising some of the material they left out in the later BATMAN script by Sam Hamm because if they were going to have a party scene, why not use the best stuff from this script's party scene? For instance, when Bruce is commiserating with Gordon over the Batman situation, the Commissioner states, "I'd give up half my pension to be standing face to face with that caped fruitcake right now." It's a nice ironic bit which was well worth saving.
But while in the 1989 movie it is during the party when events elsewhere lead to the creation of the Joker, in the 1983 script the Joker crashes the party at Wayne Manor and robs all of the guests, going out of his way to single out and humiliate Commissioner Gordon.
THE BLACK KNIGHT?
Silver St. Cloud is also at the party and when one of the Joker's goons threatens her, Bruce attacks him, but then the Joker presses a gun against Silver's head and forces Bruce to get back in line. Silver's personality seems very similar to that of Vicki Vale in the 1989 movie, but Vicki was a reporter and was therefore portrayed as being more pushy. Silver, on the other hand, acts more mysterious but also clearly warms to Bruce right away.
In many respects she is a traditional female character in superhero stories who is there to be the romantic interest for the hero, and who has only a peripheral connection to the plot. In this case she works for Rupert Thorne, who secretly is in love with Silver and clearly resents the attention Bruce is paying to her, as well as resenting Silver's interest in the indolent playboy.
In the Mankiewicz script, the Batsignal is seen for the first time midway through the story, on page 60, rather than in the last scene the way it is in the 1989 BATMAN film.
While in the comic books by this time Batman had already been referred to as the Dark Knight (it has more dignity than Caped Crusader), in the script he's called the "Black Knight," a nickname I've never seen used in the comic books. It may have been Mankiewicz misremembering something he'd read in one of the Batman stories he employed for research.
In this script, Batman is quickly embraced by the city fathers, both figuratively and literally. Scenes of Batman foiling a variety of crimes (including some perpetrated by the Joker's gang) climax with a dinner where Batman is proclaimed Man of the Year and even Rupert Thorne is there acting supportive, although earlier he was seen in the privacy of his office cursing Batman's name. Why? We haven't been let in on that yet.
ENTER THE PENGUIN
In a surprise appearance, on page 69, the Penguin appears in the script. He's portrayed as an elegant man dressed in black and white whose normal body temperature is 65 degrees. In some ways this is a precursor to the bizarre mutant human version of The Penguin seen in BATMAN RETURNS. He's even shown eating frozen shrimp and keeps the temperature in his room at or near freezing. His girlfriend, named Empress, coaxes The Penguin to turn the temperature up to at least 40. Empress even makes a joke about the temperature, stating, "It's so cold in here a flasher would have to describe himself." A good joke which would have been worth appropriating to use in BATMAN RETURNS, particularly since that later version of the Penguin indulged in suggestive remarks of his own.
Said Mankiewicz about his version of this villain, "The Penguin lives in an entire world of black and white—and at a temperature about 16 degrees below what everyone else considers normal. He won't be a rotund little fellow. I see him as somebody much more urbane and cold—in every sense of the word. Deadly." This sounds very similar to the Penguin of BATMAN RETURNS except that the filmmakers did opt for the short, rotund version of the character, while at the same time making him even stranger and deadlier than even any of the comic book versions ever were.
There's an amusing scene when the Joker visits the Penguin and he is described wearing a heavy overcoat with muffler and earmuffs. And he has four candelabra pulled near him for warmth. This is more in keeping with the kind of visual imagery the new animated series indulges in since it is closer in the look and the style of the comic book stories than the movies are, even though the cartoon show does employ some of the dark flair of the films for its animated adventures.
On the other hand some of the dialogue in the Mankiewicz Batman script is more along the path of the risqué kind indulged in by the Penguin in BATMAN RETURNS. For instance, when the Joker asks what you get when you make love to the wrong canary, and the Penguin doesn't know, the Joker replies, "Twerpes! Not only that—but the disease is completely untweetable!"
THE MODERN BATMOBILE
When the Batcave is first shown on page 72, it is the classic image of the Batcave familiar to old comic book readers. There is a full scale mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex (a relic of a previous encounter with the Joker, an encounter described in passing on a news report in the script) as well as the classic giant penny shown in the Batcave's trophy room in the comic books. This is more like the comic books than the version seen on the '60s television series. There's also a workout room shown as well as the familiar crime lab.
A partially constructed futuristic automobile is described, and we can clearly guess that this will become the Batmobile. Bruce is also shown testing an electronic force field. Regarding the Batmobile, Mankiewicz expressed the following opinion about how it should look. "I think a new one should be designed for the '80s; an outrageous but not ridiculous car." Considering what the 1989 Batmobile turned out to be, his prediction was right on the mark, even if it was another writer's script which brought about the opportunity for the new Batmobile to be seen. Interestingly, Mankiewicz made another prediction back in 1983 which was ultimately followed by director Tim Burton in the 1989 BATMAN. "What I find ridiculous about Batman is this guy walking down Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and getting into a Batmobile. I want a sleek, powerful black car driven at night by a man who scares the willies out of you. Daytime is the enemy of The Batman." There was certainly precious little daylight glimpsed in the 1989 BATMAN movie.
On page 75 we learn that Rupert Thorne is in cahoots with the Joker, and they have a plan to trap the Batman. This seems to involve luring Batman to Thorne's office under the guise of a break-in having occurred. But Silver also happened to have been there and she asks Batman to escort her home, which bothers Thorne but he can't say why. Obviously it is because he knows that the Joker is waiting for Batman to emerge from the building, which will put Silver St. Cloud in danger. But in spite of the fact that Thorne claims to be in love with Silver, he's clearly only "in lust" with her because he doesn't come up with any excuse to keep her from leaving, which he would do if he really cared. Thorne only cares about getting what he wants, no matter who is in the way.
No sooner do they enter the elevator than the doors close and it begins to descend. But the Penguin is inside the elevator shaft and he cuts the cable. Responding quickly, Batman pops open the escape hatch and hurls out a grappling hook which catches on one of the gears high above so that Batman can grab Silver and they can leap to safety.
ATTACK FROM ABOVE
Once outside, the Penguin's gang attacks from the air. They're wearing jetpacks which fire machine-guns at Batman and Silver. The two are able to make it to the safety of the Batmobile, whose description is vague but it sounds a lot like what we first saw in 1989. But this one is equipped with the force field Bruce Wayne was testing earlier which bathes the car in a solid blue glow. During the chase that ensues, Batman reveals something about the Batmobile we didn't know before, that it doesn't use gasoline. So it is apparently a fully operational electric powered car.
A clever bit occurs when the trunk of the Batmobile opens to reveal a huge magnet which plucks one of the flying bandits from the air and deposits him inside the trunk, which closes after him. This Batmobile has as many gimmicks as the one seen first in 1989, but it has a different array of gimmicks.
The Penguin and his gang do everything they can to get Batman. They try to trick him with a mirror across the road so that he'll think that another car is speeding out of the darkness towards him. They even blow up a bridge, sending the Batmobile into a lake. But the Batmobile is amphibious. Then it is cornered by two other cars and so Batman drives into a multileveled parking garage.
Cornered on the roof, the Batmobile's four tires blown from driving up a ramp the wrong way, he seems trapped but then Batman reveals that the car is also capable of flight as it zooms into the air, right past the hovering Penguin. Batman honks the car horn at the Penguin as the Batmobile zooms past him. The Batmobile lands safely on a building across the street from the parking garage. Batman then takes Silver home, but the script doesn't explain how the car can drive with four flat tires, or how it was fixed.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
During all this, Silver St. Cloud noticed something which leads her to believe that she knows that Batman is really Bruce Wayne. This is because she'd previously noticed that while under stress, Bruce's chin twitches, and in the Batmobile she noticed Batman's chin twitch in an identical manner. At her apartment door she kisses Batman goodnight and then he wonders if she's pierced his secret identity. Something similar also happened in the Englehart and Rogers Batman stories, but that came more out of subtle things in Silver's relationship with Bruce and Batman, rather than out of this gimmick. In fact when the script first mentions that Bruce Wayne's chin twitches when he's under stress, it seems like a dead giveaway for something planned for later because otherwise why have this character quirk? It's as obvious as having someone whistle when they're nervous.
There's an amusing bit in the script which employs the real TV game show "THE JOKER'S WILD" (although the script calls it "The Joker Is Wild"). A contestant is in front of a huge slot machine which begins showing images of The Joker on the video screens until the real Joker bursts out of one of them and holds the contestant and the audience at gun point. The Joker then announces that from that moment forward, whenever the Batman makes a public appearance, a prominent citizen of Gotham City will be murdered by the Joker.
While trying to figure out what to do, Bruce Wayne attends the opera, but not with Silver St. Cloud. She's attending with Rupert Thorne. One wonders why she wouldn't approach Bruce now that she believes he's Batman. But perhaps this outing with Thorne had already been scheduled. After all, even Bruce doesn't decide to attend until the last minute. But Silver does act surprised when she sees that Bruce is there.
Bruce attends the opera with Alfred, and both of them are incredibly surprised when Batman appears at the entrance to the opera house. The script describes Batman as bearing an uncanny resemblance to the real one. The fact that Rupert Thorne is amused by this is our tip-off to who's behind it.
Some people in the crowd jeer the Batman, which appears to make him angry, but Commissioner Gordon escorts him back outside. Rupert Thorne invites the Mayor to sit near him and we soon see that a huge chandelier is hanging above where the Mayor is seated, and one of the crystals contains a clear liquid. When the force of a sung high C causes the crystal to crack, the liquid leaks out, infecting the Mayor and his party who begin laughing hysterically—a typical Joker gag—and then abruptly die.
Remember, the Joker said that if Batman appeared in public, a prominent person would be killed. So this is clearly a set-up to make Batman look bad, as though he were recklessly ignoring the Joker's threat.
The real twist in all this is that the next day Rupert Thorne is appointed the acting Mayor. Batman is blamed for the deaths as much as the Joker is and Thorne brands the Batman a criminal.
This leads to a sequence in which Bruce questions his own effectiveness because now the image of Batman has been stained. This scene taps into what makes Bruce Wayne tick as he expresses his frustration, and we see more of his personality. Other than early in the script when Bruce was in training, we haven't seen much about what he thinks and feels about everything that is going on. Primarily we're shown his reactions in the form of the actions he takes as Batman. It's obvious that vengeance is at the base of his desire to be Batman, but this hasn't been explored in any substantial way with the adult Bruce Wayne in this script. But now, with Batman disgraced publicly through no fault of his own, Bruce finds that what he's worked for all these years has been reduced to a shambles.
A NIGHT AT THE CIRCUS
The risqué elements of the script continue when Silver St. Cloud drops in on Bruce at the Manor. He hasn't been returning her phone calls and so she decides to visit him. It is night and Bruce is in his outdoor swimming pool when he is startled to see Silver standing there. Following a brief conversation she walks down the steps into the pool, fully clothed, bringing him a tray with champagne glasses on it. The scene ends when she says, "Well just now—a moment ago—I thought you were being rude, not getting out of the pool to say hello. (looks down; grins) I didn't realize you weren't wearing a bathing suit." The scene then cuts to Bruce Wayne's bedroom where both he and Silver are in bed together, naked.
Then, when we assume that the script is working towards its climax, on page 104 of a 133 page script, we see that Bruce Wayne and Silver St. Cloud are attending the circus where the performers include the Flying Graysons! That's right, not only has the script already worked in Batman's origin as well as the Joker and the Penguin, but now we're approaching the introduction of Dick Grayson as Robin the Boy Wonder. It is interesting to note that Robin was also introduced in a similar fashion in early drafts of Sam Hamm's script for the 1989 BATMAN, although all references had been dropped by the time the final shooting script was completed. In both scripts, the origin of Robin and the death of Dick Grayson's parents are the fault of the Joker, an element added in the screenplay version because the Joker had nothing to do with the comic book origin of Robin. In fact the Joker hadn't even been created yet when Robin was introduced in DETECTIVE COMICS #38, right before the Joker was created in BATMAN #1.
This is in keeping with Michael Uslan's original announcement for the film back in 1980 when he stated that the film would focus on Batman at the beginning of his career, with Robin introduced late in the script with his own origin. Robin apparently remained a viable part of all of the scripts, not only up to the early drafts of the Sam Hamm version, but even in some drafts of BATMAN RETURNS. But for various reasons Robin wouldn't make it to the screen in the modern film version until BATMAN FOREVER in 1995.
The dialogue in this script is fun, such as when Bruce observes that going to the circus without bringing your own children is almost immoral, to which Silver replies, "Don't worry. I've made plans for the next time." When Bruce looks startled at the remark, she adds, "Lighten up. My sister has two kids."
In this script Dick Grayson is described as being in his "middle teens" whereas in BATMAN FOREVER their version of Robin is in his late teens.
After the Joker uses a falcon to cause the adult Graysons to fall from the high wire to their deaths, the Batman impostor appears again, and once again, as fate and this script would have it, Bruce Wayne is there to witness it. What are the chances, do you think, that Bruce Wayne would just happen to be in the audience at the only two venues where the Batman impostor appears? The Joker sets off a smoke bomb and the fake Batman opens the cages housing the lions and tigers, and during the ensuing pandemonium the fake Batman escapes.
But this is followed with a quiet, personal scene when Bruce Wayne approaches the grieving Dick Grayson and tells the boy that he knows exactly how he feels. The action then shifts to an equally dramatic scene in which Batman has been tried in absentia and found guilty of murder. This is because at the circus Batman revealed himself after the Graysons fell to their deaths and proclaimed that he didn't care how many people had to die. This shifts to a different courtroom scene in which Bruce Wayne adopts Dick Grayson as his ward. Why ward? Why not son? The term "ward" makes Dick Grayson sound like a temporary foster child rather than someone who's just been adopted.
A SOLEMN VOW
In a twist not used in any previous Batman stories, because of the circumstances of the death of his parents, Dick blames Batman and has vowed vengeance against the caped crusader. Then when the Joker kidnaps Silver St. Cloud (at Rupert Thorne's suggestion) in order to lure Batman out of hiding, a chain of events leads to Dick discovering that the Batcave is right below Wayne Manor. This is done in such a way that Dick overhears Batman blaming the Joker for the deaths of the Graysons, and that he wants Alfred to be sure that Dick knows this in case he doesn't survive this encounter.
While the 1989 BATMAN movie has a scene in a museum which has a skylight, the climax of this 1983 screenplay takes place in a similar museum. When Batman drops down through the skylight, his cape gets hooked on a giant prop. The old Batman comics of the '50s had stories which sometimes featured giant props, which this scene is an homage to. Unfortunately it carries its homage a bit too far, as I'll explain.
Meanwhile, Rupert Thorne is hiding in the museum, observing the proceedings. He sees Batman caught up on the typing ball of a giant typewriter while Silver is tied to the typewriter ribbon of the same machine. The Joker has them in his power and is not only preparing to kill Batman, but Silver as well (in defiance of Thorne's instructions). This is as close as we come to seeing the Joker portrayed as being crazy, and mostly this just comes across as being vicious, such as when he killed Joe Chill earlier in the script. Other than things like that the Joker is just employed as a gimmick, other than as a central character such as he became in the Sam Hamm screenplay. In the Tom Mankiewicz the Joker is just a simple plot device who is ushered on stage whenever he's required, like the villain in a stage production who makes an entrance whenever the play begins to drag.
ENTER THE BOY WONDER
Just as it looks like Batman and Silver are about to face doom, Robin makes his entrance. The only problem with this scene is that it hinges on Batman being trapped because his cape is caught on the giant element ball of a giant electric typewriter. But wouldn't Batman have a way to discard his cape in an emergency with some sort of special release mechanism? But what's really silly is that the giant typewriter isn't just a prop—it actually works! The tab key, shift key, even the typing ball, all operate exactly the way they would on a normal sized typewriter. This begs the question—why? So that the Joker can use this in the climax?
The Joker is knocked out when Robin swings down and frees Batman. Then Batman and Robin fight the crooks in a scene which is described as having actions (although not sound effects) similar to what was seen on the 1960s TV series. And while all this is going on, Rupert Thorne emerges and frees Silver St. Cloud from where she had been bound to the giant typewriter ribbon.
When Silver sees that Batman is about to be attacked from behind, she warns him but inadvertently calls him Bruce. Thorne realizes the significance of this and goes to shoot Batman, but one of the thugs crashes into Silver and she accidentally falls into the line of fire and takes the bullet meant for Batman.
Batman goes after Thorne and uses a giant rubber band to spear Thorne with a giant thumbtack, which knocks Thorne into a giant pencil sharpener, which proceeds to grind Thorne up. No, really. That's what happens.
DARKER AND SILLIER
In trying too hard to be like a Batman comic book, the storyline unravels in the climax. Although the executive producers stipulated that the script would draw its inspiration from Batman of approximately 1939, 1970 and 1978, the giant props of the climax are strictly late 1950s and early 1960s and go completely against the tone of the otherwise realistic attempt to portray a modern day Batman on the screen. The word "laughable" comes to mind when one reads the climax, and except for the extreme violence, it plays like an episode of the 1966 TV show in this crucial sequence.
Following the death of Rupert Thorne, which is so ridiculously handled as to virtually destroy the credibility of the screen story, Batman returns to Silver in time for her touching death scene. This makes the 1983 screenplay even darker than the 1989 screen version!
Ending the climax on this note is a distinct downer and in fact is going much too far in attempting a realistic portrayal. It is akin to having Lois Lane die in the climax of SUPERMAN rather than having Superman rescue her in that rather confusing time travel sequence (in which Superman goes back in time and saves Lois but doesn't stop a dam from bursting, with all its accompanying destruction). This screenplay has the death of the Waynes, of Dick Grayson's parents, of Silver St. Cloud as well as Rupert Thorne, and most of those deaths are of innocents who are also protagonists. Batman may have ostensibly triumphed at the conclusion, but we're left feeling like he lost.
The script ends with Batman standing on the top of a building at sunrise while Robin comes up behind him. Actually this ending is very much in keeping with the melodrama of modern comic books where the hero must struggle onwards in the face of awful adversity, and here we see that Batman has decided to forge ahead, but with Robin at his side.
Back in 1983 this film was announced as a $25 million production (a big budget for the time, particularly for a film which wouldn't require a lot of special effects the way SUPERMAN did) and was to be produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber, who did ultimately bring BATMAN to the screen in 1989. The fact that the final version cost considerably more than $25 million was because this project was never dead, but was in continual development since 1980 when it was announced by executive producers Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan. Thus all of those development costs accumulated over the years and became a part of the final budget of the motion picture.
Michael Uslan had optioned the rights for a Batman film as soon as he heard that SUPERMAN was in production, but until he linked up with Benjamin Melniker he couldn't get the project moving ahead. Since 1980, Warner Brothers had been the studio announced as the distributor of BATMAN, although at the time of the Tom Mankiewicz script, Polygram Films (the company that Guber and Peters were then associated with) was the announced production company. It was believed then that BATMAN would be filmed and released as early as 1984.
It's interesting to note that as long ago as 1983, Jack Nicholson was suggested as the actor to play the Joker. But the Penguin was a very different story. How different was the Mankiewicz interpretation of The Penguin? The writer envisioned Peter O'Toole in that role, which would have been a decidedly different take on the character from the bizarre Danny Devito version finally seen in BATMAN RETURNS.
The Batman in the script written by Tom Mankiewicz is really little different from the version portrayed on screen in 1989, even though different writers crafted their screen image of the Dark Knight detective. The underlying melodrama of Batman's origin involving the death of Bruce Wayne's parents forms a subplot of the 1989 version, whereas in the 1983 script this is the opening sequence of the film, which, if anything, lends an even darker tone to the storyline than the 1989 version did. This is underscored by the on-screen deaths of the Flying Grayson's late in the storyline, Bruce Wayne's comforting of the grieving Dick Grayson, and then the tragic death of Silver St. Cloud in the climax. If anything, the 1983 script is even darker than the 1989 version.
If one were to criticize the 1983 script, if would be from the point of view of there being only the thinnest of plot threads linking everything that happens. Essentially it is a very episodic story which is connected only by the presence of Rupert Thorne. Thorne was behind the assassination of Thomas Wayne, and the Joker works for him (while Joe Chill ostensibly was in the employ of the Joker when he assaulted, robbed and murdered the Waynes).
When Silver St. Cloud is introduced, she also works for Rupert Thorne. The Joker is still employed by Thorne at that time and The Penguin teams up with the Joker, but no origin is presented for either the Joker or the Penguin—they just exist as two bizarre criminals, having no more preamble than they did in the 1960s television series.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Tom Mankiewicz' Batman screenplay may not have worked out, but his contribution as creative consultant to the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie and the Richard Donner version of the second had a genuine impact on the Man of Steel's mythos, elevating the character far beyond the confines of comic books and the small screen.
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