Remembering the Riddler from ’ 60s Batman.
As lean and as crooked as one of his question marks, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler is my favourite Batman villain.
Mainlining the box- set of the ’ 60s series, I’m reminded how Gorshin’s brand of supervillainy exists in a whole other league to his fellow Bat- felons. So many of the show’s guest stars feel like Hollywood warhorses plundering the dressing- up box and having a right old hoot, earning cool points with the grandkids and banking anecdotes for Bing ’s next pool party in Palm Springs. Gorshin’s different. Gorshin’s crazy. Just look at him, this deranged matchstick man in green tights, scampering through the day- glo unreality of Gotham City. Convulsed in hysteria, a vein throbbing fit to burst on his brow, he’s like a spider frying in an electric socket – and loving it. Gorshin brings such a brilliant, defining physicality to the role. No wonder the equally elastic Jim Carrey openly homaged his predecessor in 1995’ s Batman Forever.
You can hear the madness of King Frank in that immortal giggle, too. It’s a contagiously cracked sound, more demented than a hyena dosed on laughing gas. But watch how Gorshin switches in a heartbeat from manic glee to psychotic chill. There’s something genuinely frightening in those eyes. He’s the only ’ 60s Batman villain you’d be wise to be afraid of ( King Tut? Get out of here).
Gorshin confessed he stole that giggle from Richard Widmark in 1947’ s Kiss Of Death ( it’s the sound of a man pushing a wheelchair- bound old lady down the stairs, apparently). He first won fame as an impressionist, in fact, and became a popular nightclub draw, headlining in Vegas. And there’s a definite pinch of Rat Pack DNA in him. Gorshin once performed a song as the Riddler on a Dean Martin TV special. Sharp of suit, flanked by go- go girls, he reels off puzzlers before collapsing in demented fits. YouTube it. It’s like a lounge act in hell.
There’s a Gorshin anecdote I love. One day he stole the Batmobile. Shooting a scene where the Riddler hijacks the caped crusader’s wheels in a Gotham alley, Gorshin ignored the frantic cries of “Cut!”, gunned the accelerator and kept driving, rocketing into the Hollywood hills. I’d like to believe he was giggling all the way, the lunatic.