It’s somewhat ironic that a man so closely associated with the lush, timeless music of Frank Sinatra would find such great fame (or notoriety?) as a composer scoring one of the most over-the-top television series ever. Yet such was the case of Nelson Riddle, who as arranger and conductor was a chief sonic architect of Sinatra’s unprecedented run of Capitol concept albums and beyond. His television credits included such groundbreaking programs as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Naked City and Route 66. In 1966, the esteemed Mr. Riddle picked up the baton from Neal Hefti (another Sinatra veteran, having provided the exuberant charts for 1962’s Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass, and also the composer of such TV themes as The Odd Couple) to score Batman after Hefti composed the now-classic theme song. Much to the chagrin of comic book readers, the series brought Pow! Bam! Zonk! and Holy (insert-your-favorite-exclamation-here), Batman! into the lexicon, and they’re still recognizable turns of phrase today.
With the great success of the campy series, it was no surprise when Twentieth Century Fox announced Batman: The Movie would premiere in the summer of 1966, with Bat-Mania at its height. (Producer William Dozier had actually hoped to launch the TV series with the film, but Fox wouldn’t commit until the success of the show was proven.) The movie featured Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin facing their rogues’ gallery in a series of predictably outlandish situations. Chewing the scenery were Cesar Romero as The Joker and Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, joined by Frank Gorshin’s Riddler and Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman. Nelson Riddle’s soundtrack to this camp classic has just been reissued in a remastered edition courtesy of our friends at La-La Land Records (LLL CD 1130). The new disc expands on all previous CD reissues of Riddle’s score, including the fine, out-of-print version released by Film Score Monthly (FSM Silver Age Classics Vol. 3 No. 7). When Neal Hefti withdrew from the series after penning the insistent theme, Riddle picked up the slack, scoring all episodes in Seasons 1 and 2. (Hefti would return to the Bat-fold in Season 3 with Warren Barker and another Sinatra arranger, Billy May, also contributing scores.) Riddle was thus tapped by Dozier to score the film.
His score liberally employs the Hefti theme for multiple cues, beginning with Track 2, “Batmobile to Airport,” following a martial Main Title. But Riddle introduces his own catchy melodic motifs right off the bat (pun intended) with the third cut, “A Good Job.” His score consistently conveys tongue-in-cheek adventure, and is evocative of the characters and situations onscreen. “Kitka” is a slinky theme that instantly conjures up Catwoman without as much as a word of dialogue or lyric. The brassy Riddle sound, familiar from those classic Sinatra records imbues such tracks as “Filthy Criminals” with a strong jazz feel. (It should be noted that Gil Grau is credited as orchestrator, while Riddle conducts.)
La-La Land’s edition is produced by soundtrack reissue guru Nick Redman along with Matt Verboys, working from the restored mono master prepared by CD executive producer Mike Mattesino for Fox’s recent Blu-Ray release of the film. Matessino details in the liner notes his process of implementing EQ and a bit of “stereo-ization” to the mono master. Three bonus tracks have been added, including a newly-assembled version of the movie’s climactic submarine battle sequence. Riddle never composed a unique cue for the sequence, which was assembled in the original film from edits of cues previously heard in the film. Matessino painstakingly reassembled the music for the Blu-Ray and this release, and the fruits of his labor sound terrific.
This reissue has a lot going for it, expanding the FSM issue from 66 minutes to over 72. I would have liked to see track-by-track liner notes, however; the origins of the other bonus tracks (the song “Again” and a recording of the Hefti theme) aren’t alluded to anywhere in the booklet. Along with full-color photos, it offers only a general overview of the series and film. But with the television series itself in licensing hell, and Fox unable to release it in any home video form, we’ll all have to settle for Batman: The Movie to remind us of just how much fun the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder were in their groovy 1960s incarnation. This release is limited to 2000 copies; as FSM’s previous version was a sell-out, it’s possible this will follow the same route. And perhaps strong sales will persuade La-La Land to consider a CD reissue of the long out-of-print soundtrack album to the television series itself, also with music by Riddle and that famous Hefti theme. Stay tuned…same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.