Batman (1966) – Zelda the Great, and A Death Worse Than Fate

Zelda the Great is the first episode of the Batman series to introduce a female villain, but Catwoman does get name-checked here.

Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr, and featuring William Dozier’s fantastic narration, this episode first debuted on 9 February, 1966.

While Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and his young ward, Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) are engaging in some astronomy, a new villain is holding up a local bank, and they seem to be unstoppable. When Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) calls they Dynamic Duo into help, Wayne and Grayson slip into their costumed alter-egos, Batman and Robin and begin their investigation.

Plan and counter-plan follow as they find themselves squaring off against a skilled illusionist, Zelda the Great (Anne Baxter) and her colleague, and trap designer, Eivol (Jack Kruschen).

But when Zelda ends up with egg on her face when Batman arranges for a bank safe to be filled with counterfeit bills, both parties come up with a plan surrounding a valuable diamond. It backfires on both sides but doesn’t stop Zelda from making another play, grabbing Dick’s Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake) and demanding a ransom from Bruce Wayne, or she’ll be burned alive…

We leave Aunt Harriet dangling over a fiery demise. Will our heroes find a way to save her before her goose is cooked, and will they be able to stop Zelda once and for all?

We’ll have to wait for the next episode to find out. But man, Semple’s scripts have great dialogue, are knowingly camp, and everyone just leans into it.

A Death Worse Than Fate aired the next night on 10 February, 1966, and Semple delivered the script that wraps everything up.

With Aunt Harriet’s life dangling by a thread, Bruce Wayne, Gordon, and Robin make an impassioned plea to Zelda via television to release the woman and reveal that the counterfeit money was in fact the real thing.

When Aunt Harriet gets back to Wayne Manor, she drops a clue that is scooped up by Alfred (Alan Napier) which will lead Batman and Robin to Zelda and Eivol’s hideout. Zelda planted this because she and Eivol are eager to see if the Dynamic Duo can outwit a doom trap Eivol has purchased and Zelda wants to use in her act.

If they escape, there are a couple of machine gun thugs hiding in sarcophagi to take them out.

Unfortunately, Zelda (because she’s a woman – apparently the show is going to lean into its sexism) has become enchanted with the cowled appearance of Batman, and she warns he and Robin before the machine guns can rip them apart.

Eivol is captured, and Zelda is sent to prison, but Bruce offers her a position working in a children’s hospital when she’s paid her debt to society.

See, equal opportunity and positive reform, even if it’s sexist (ugh), and of course, the characters continue to be ever polite and mindful of civics.


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