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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Google.com/Google 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

https://www.amazon.com/Batman-Complete-Television-Blu-ray-Various/dp/B00PVBCSNA/ref=sr_1_2_atc_badge_A2N1U4I2KOS032_twi_blu_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1535909346&sr=1-2&keywords=batman+the+series

For UK/Region B fans

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Batman-Original-Blu-ray-Region-Free/dp/B00Q6Z16F6/ref=sr_1_2?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1535909885&sr=1-2&keywords=Batman+the+Series

Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight

Not As Bad As People Might Think:

The Three Stooges Debut in Woman Haters

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Though the title of this Stooges short suggests misogynistic tendencies, neither the author nor the Stooges fan base support any kind of bad treatment to women)

(Some spoilers may follow)

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Woman Haters (1934) **** ½

Moe Howard: Tom (as Moe)

Curly Howard: Jack (as Curley)

Larry Fine: Jim (as Larry)

Marjorie White: Mary

Bud Jamison: WH Club Chairman

Walter Brennan: The Train Conductor

Written by: Jerome S. Gottler

Directed by: Archie Gottler

Synopsis: The Stooges decide to join the Woman Haters Club after so much bad luck in love. This decision quickly sees complications when Larry (called Jim) falls in love with a woman named Mary and asks her to marry him. In the ensuing attempts to break up the wedded bliss, Moe (called Tom) and Curly (called Jack) find themselves being tempted by the beautiful Mary, who has discovered their involvement in the group.

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The Stooges first ever solo short, after permanently breaking ties with abusive bully Ted Healy is a unique debut. Done in a sing-song, every line rhymes style dialogue, The Stooges are seen giving up women forever for whatever reason they have. In the fashion that would quickly become their trademark, this decision is easier said than done, and the boys find themselves fighting temptation after temptation to stay true to their club, even going so far as to try to foil one’s happiness when he discovers he can’t go through with it. Not the usual fare the Stooges found themselves in, it’s still interesting to see how they work with material before they could put their own fine spin on it. What adds to the uniqueness of the short is that it’s loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Loves Labors Lost, which offers good credence for the rhyme scheme style dialogue; though more argue it was an axed entry into Columbia’s Musical Novelty series that was simply recycled for the Stooges debut. Granted it might be cheap to some in getting their first shot at stardom, but everyone starts somewhere, and this really isn’t a bad debut for The Boys.

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The colorful antics that America and the World over would come to love about the Stooges are not on display here, and they are truly different people in this short. That they go by the names Tom, Jack, and Jim in the script and short itself shows it was indeed originally penned for something else that later become theirs. This would be the only time the Stooges would use totally different names when performing, though years later they would play totally separate characters who weren’t a team. The Stooges themselves were never happy with this short as their introduction as a solo group, but because they wanted to be rid of Ted Healy and be paid what they felt they were worth, probably had no choice. Even though it comes off as totally alien to what audiences loved the trio for, sight gags like the eyepoke and the head & face slaps make their debut as well in the short, and already have the markings that fans all over would soon recognize as part of the trio’s repertoire.  Interestingly enough, the short came in right around the time The Pre-Code Era was ending and The Hays Code was starting to be rigidly enforced, and while not explicit in anything, some sequences with Mary could be seen as somewhat risqué, even for the period it was made.

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The Stooges are in fine form as always, even when it’s clear this was the first time they were the headliners the story and action would be following around. All three, Moe especially, may look completely out-of-place talking like they were in a spoken word play, or a musical without tempo and tone, but even from the beginning they had a clear-cut idea of what they wanted in terms of chemistry from each other. Moe is the “Boss” Stooge from the very start, managing in one way or another to keep the other two in check. Moe really didn’t do much different throughout the years, but in this first starring short, speaks more calmly and isn’t bursting into his usual modem of rage and shouting, though still makes it clear he’s mad at Larry for breaking the oath they just made.  Curly is surprisingly not the buffoon he would heavily play up not too long into their success and is fairly straightforward in his acting. This is quite interesting to see because it offers a different side to Curly not many fans got to see, and apart from a couple of sight gags with Moe, he’s more of a levelheaded pal for his older brother and their man in the middle. His goofball antics always a blast, it’s interesting and refreshing to see how Curly was in those early days before their routines were finely honed. Larry is interestingly played up as the goof in this one, desperately, and humorously trying to keep two different events that occurred in the span of a few weeks from both his wife, and his buddies. Larry was normally the levelheaded one of the group, and to see him be flustered, bewildered, and unsure of how he’ll juggle marriage and being a member of the Woman Haters Club is quite funny to look at. While not what most fans are used to, it’s still intriguing to see how the boys shaped what they would eventually be famous for.

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Marjorie White, the Stooges first leading lady, offers a wonderful and bittersweet performance (as she would pass away months later in a car accident), as Mary, Larry (Jim)’s wife. An up-in-coming comedienne leading lady from Canada, White had all the makings of starlet. A combination of beauty, wit, charm, and dialogue delivery, White was an equal to Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, and Zasu Pitts in comedy, and a precursor to talent like Fran Drescher, Madeline Kahn, and Phyllis Diller. She acts as both foil and love interest to the Stooges, playing all three against each other, trying to figure out why husband Jim is acting so strangely on their honeymoon. Her singing is also quite good thanks to a successful stint in Vaudeville, belting out lyric after lyric. With only a small number of appearances under her belt it’s a bit of a difficulty in nailing down exactly what White’s style was, but it’s clear she was a talent that would’ve gone a long way had that unfortunate accident not prematurely ended both her career and life.

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In a surprising debut that viewers will have to look twice to notice is Walter Brennan in an unaccredited role as a train conductor. Normally known for Westerns and Dramas, Brennan’s start is in a laugh a minute comedy, acting as a flunky for the Stooges. Put through the wringer by Moe and Curly as they initiate him into the Woman Haters Club, Brennan takes the boys brand of comedy stride, and even make a second appearance, again unaccredited, as their father.

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This might not have been the Stooges favorite of their own work, but it’s still quite a good watch for anyone who likes the Stooges. It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but it offers good fun, a unique method of dialogue delivery, and a good story that stands the test of time. Everyone starts somewhere, and this is unique enough a piece that it gives old fans an idea of how the Stooges had to start, and gives new fans something to compare the latter half of their career to see how they grew. In some places it comes off and clunky, but the Stooges even in this transition from one studio to another, showed they were consummate professionals who knew their craft and worked with even the mot slimmest of scripts that still needed fine tuning. Not something they would ever do again, Woman Haters is a nice one-off shot by The Stooges in what was soon to become one of the top-selling draws of the Great Depression and WWII eras.

(It might be clunky in spots, but Woman Haters is an interesting point for one of the greater comedy teams in The Three Stooges and is a must look at for anyone who loves them and/or comedy)

(I already have a link for the Stooges boxset in my other Stooges write-up, so just look up that review to buy the set)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

For more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0026000/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_226

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_Haters

The Stooges Wikia

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics