Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

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Twice the Villain, Twice the Fun:

Anne Baxter in Batman

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may be present)

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Miss Anne Baxter who delighted audiences with her roles in The Magnificent Ambersons, The Ten Commandments, and All About Eve was at her most divine and excellence in the TV Series Batman starring Adam West. Now the who’s who of Hollywood wanted to be guests in the series, whether as people Batman had to save, or as his adversaries. Many got the opportunity; others were slated for it, but missed out because the show was canceled. Anne Baxter is a unique figure in the show’s plethora of guest villains, because she got the chance to play two totally different villains. She first appeared in season 1 as Zelda the Great, then as Olga, Queen of the Cossacks in Season 3. She played Olga several times to Zelda’s sole single appearance, but Baxter left pretty good impressions on more than one occasion during her tenure on the show. While not as talked about as Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Julie Newmar, Victor Buono, and Frank Gorshin, she’s still a worthy player in the cavalcade of Batman players.

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I hate robbing banks! All I ever wanted to be was a poor but honest magician!

Anne Baxter as Zelda the Great

What makes Zelda the Great an interesting Batman villain is that she’s not a villain by choice, or to be more precise, she never intended to be one. It’s discovered that in order to pay supplier Eviol for the elaborate props in her magic act, Zelda must rob the Gotham National Bank once a year. When Batman & Robin foil the most recent robbery with fake money, Zelda’s forced to kidnap Miss Harriet Cooper, Robin/Dick Grayson’s Aunt for a fresh stash. Being forced to abduct Miss Cooper is the final straw for Zelda, and tells Eviol she’ll have no more parts in actions that might get people hurt. Batman and Robin sense Zelda’s natural decency and come to realize she only acted out of necessity to earn a living to survive. Not wanting to see her talents as a magician wasted, Batman/Bruce Wayne asks that upon her parole, Zelda be hired as the Gotham City Hospital’s Children’s Ward magician, a role that raises her spirits.

Image result for anne baxter on batman

Image result for anne baxter on batman

Zelda provided the rare occasion on Batman that an individual doesn’t look to be a criminal, nor is seduced by a known high player of the criminal underworld for the easy life. Instead Zelda, who loves performing her magic tricks and bringing joy, laughter, and entertainment to her audiences is forced by unforeseen debt to become a criminal in order to be able to continue her work as a magician. At first indifferent because she’s only required to rob a bank once a year, and doing so in an ingenious manner that avoids people getting hurt slowly becomes infuriating to Zelda because it goes against her moral code. Being a naturally good-hearted person is what convinces Batman to insist on a lighter sentence for Zelda, causing him to realize not all criminals are in the game for the thrill and spoils, that some have no choice or are forced by matters out of their hands to enter into the criminal life. Baxter, with her years of study and training, conveys all these emotions and feelings well, and not only mark her spot as the show’s first female baddie, but also the first sympathetic one.

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Baxter does well with the role and clearly made it her own all the way, not giving into standard TV clichés regarding these types of roles. Normally a character like this would start out bad, but somehow be brought back on the right path, whereas Baxter plays Zelda as a nice person from the start, coping with making poor choices, unsure of how to break away from the life. By having Zelda wanting out, and her proving as such to Batman, Baxter creates a whole new dimension to a villain like role that allows the audience to sympathize with her and hope in the end she’ll make that courageous choice in spite of the risks Many stars of the 40’s and 50’s found new audiences filming TV shows like Batman and so on, and Baxter was no exception.

Image result for anne baxter on batman

Cossack Queen is permitted up to six husbands. Oh, but do not worry Batushka, you will always be number one in my heart.

Anne Baxter as Olga, Queen of the Cossacks

In season 3, regular villain Egghead was joined in his schemes by exiled Cossack Queen Olga. Olga’s a more traditional Batman villain in that she has plans to become rich, but has much ambitious plans to reclaim the regency of all of Eastern Europe for herself. While many Batman villains were hokey in appearance and voice, Baxter makes a quite believable White Russian who prefers to wear red with a fine accent and dialogue delivery. She portrays Olga as a firm believer in the customs and rituals of her homeland, but juxtaposes a desire to take over the land and the surrounding provinces, giving her this interesting dynamic that pleases viewers to watch her. Her schemes with Egghead include obtaining rare treasures of the Old World to cornering the egg market to bringing back to life a species of dinosaur, all of which Baxter does with believability and a straight face, something most other actors/actresses got a little over the top with.

Image result for anne baxter on batman

Baxter is more interesting as Olga, in spite of not having the depth and background story of Zelda, that comes from Baxter’s abilities as an actress and the believability with which she is able to get audiences to enhance their imagination and go along for the ride she enjoyed taking them on. Olga is a very animated character and gives Baxter the freedom to put all her talents to their greatest use and sees her in one of the best performances of her later career. Zelda was an interesting character for certain, but Olga has a little more spirit and an intelligence that makes her quite the worthy adversary for Batman, as she takes him head on, while accomplice Egghead shifts to the side when confronted by him.  Even though she’s a villain, Olga manages to have viewers curious as to what she and her Cossacks will do next and maybe even root for her a little too.

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Anne Baxter was a rare talent among Hollywood elite, an individual who doesn’t get the same accolades as other stars of her generation, and certainly should. While many other stars were great at their guest stints on Batman, Baxter took it to a whole new level with her professionalism and dedication, giving every bit of herself to the parts she got to play. Her role as Olga may have been silly, but it was one of the most restrained and believable role out of all the Batman female baddies. Zelda provided a rare glimpse into the mind of an individual who never intended to be a criminal, and manages to come out with a better reputation than before, and a fresh start that re-ignites the passions she thought she had lost. A fine actress doing well in a zany and fun series.

(Despite most die-hard Batman comic book and Micheal Keaton & Christopher Nolan film fans, the Adam West series of the 60’s is a fun series and all the classic stars who appeared on it were as good in it as in their other amazing roles. I highly recommend picking it up)

All images courtesy of images and their respective owners

All quotes from Baxter’s acting page at IMDB under her Batman appearances

For more information

IMDB/Anne Baxter, Batman appearances

Wikipedia/Anne Baxter, Batman villains

Batman series Wikia

For UK/Region B fans

Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight

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