BATMAN (1943) Review: The Dark Knight in Black and White

With plenty of sass and wit, tons of World War II propaganda, and as many over the top fight scenes as you could ever hope for, BATMAN (1943) is 4 hours of laughs and sighs all mixed together to make a fairly enjoyable film.

I love Batman. I always have, I always will. The Caped Crusader, in all of his different versions, has been a practically indestructible defender of good. This movie, however, definitely shows a much different Batman than most people today are probably used to seeing. This Batman, played by Lewis Wilson, bares a certain likeness to the whimsical and outrageous version, played by Adam West, from the 1960’s. Wilson shows a sort of softer side to this character. Usually jogging everywhere and throwing elementary school playground punches, this Batman is as far away from Christian Bale’s as possible. 

It’s difficult though, as Wilson plays the first onscreen version of the character. Batman wasn’t even created more than four years before this movie came out, so they were out in the cold of what exactly they should do. The result is a Batman who doesn’t seem to know much about crime fighting at all, and is instead exactly what someone might imagine an incredibly wealthy playboy-turned-superhero would be. 

Wilson’s Bruce Wayne, however, is a different story. He plays the character with ease, showing the audience a perfect level of charisma and confidence. He has a fiancĂ©e, Linda Page, with him, as well as the trusty Dick Grayson and Alfred Pennyworth by his side. Watching the movie, there were definitely times where I started to think that he really was Bruce Wayne, but just when I started to come out of some sort of Cary Grant psychosis, the plot started to thicken. 

(This is where the propaganda really starts to settle in.) 

Now, you may be wondering, “Who does Batman fight? The Joker? The Riddler? Two-Face?” Oh boy, do I wish I could say that you’re right. In the most direct way possible, the villain is none other than… 

An original villain who is an embodiment of the dangers of the Empire of Japan during WWII! 

Classic, right? 

Coming out less than two years after the United States entered the war, this movie shows the villain, named Prince Daka, who plans to take over the world in the name of the Empire of Japan. He creates a machine to try and control people’s minds, but instead of using it for his own benefit, each person he uses it on becomes a mindless zombie who is supposed to follow orders from Hirohito, the Emperor of Japan. 

Where other superhero movies lure you into their story, Prince Daka’s actions and determination took me out of the film and reminded me that I wasn’t just watching a Batman movie, I was watching an attempt to turn Batman into an uncharacteristic piece of publicity for the war. 

Though Prince Daka definitely puts up a fight against The Dark Knight, deploying henchman after henchman to take him out, it is somewhat difficult to get past the reasons this character even exists. But hey, it’s not everyday that you get to see Batman being used in propaganda. Though this movie had other intentions besides to entertain, it is important to emphasize just how cheesy this movie is. Any classic superhero movie trope that you can think of, trust me, it is in this movie. From having to save the damsel in distress, all the way down to the villain causing his own demise, this movie has everything. Though every cliffhanger gets resolved with ease and every punch or kick is done with the actors being at least 6 feet apart, it never takes away from the movie. As the movie went on, instead of becoming more and more annoyed at these tropes, I found myself enjoying each one more than the last. It became a part of the movie that I wouldn’t want any differently, just because they made the film all the more entertaining to watch. 

Batman (1943) is an odd, yet captivating journey through this all too familiar character’s early history. Though it’s cheesy beyond belief and contains just about every stereotype that early superhero films had, it’s amazing to see the first appearance of this character onscreen. My suggestion? Watch this, then watch THE DARK KNIGHT, and sit in awe at how far Batman has come.

Written by William Staton, Retro Movie Reviewer -- Click here to read William's posts