[To purchase a copy of The Batman Filmography: Live Action Features, 1943-1997, go to the McFarland & Company website or call 1-800-253-2187.]
In her review of Batman Begins, New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis called the Christopher Nolan film "the seventh live-action film to take on the comic-book legend," and in his New York Observer piece, Rex Reed grumbled, "This is the fifth of the big-budget Batman flicks (I'm not counting the cheesy TV series with Eartha Kitt as Catwoman and the cheap movie knockoff with Adam West)...." I'm not sure how Dargis arrived at her math, and Reed obviously also isn't "counting" the Columbia serials of the 1940s, but undoubtedly, critics would have been more informed and precise had they consulted Mark S. Reinhart's excellent reference book The Batman Filmography: Live Action Features, 1943-1997.
In his endearingly geeky acknowledgements and preface, Reinhart fesses up to being a lifelong Batman fanatic with a large collection of memorabilia, two sons who share his affection for the Dark Knight, and a preoccupation that has led him, on more than one occasion to don cape and cowl for the benefit of local youth and himself (like most fans, he has a not-so-latent desire to embody the Caped Crusader and his ethic of excellence). We know then, that we are in trustworthy hands: Reinhart, by his own confession, will be an opinionated guide, but also one coming from a place of a lifetime's knowledge and affection. As Reinhart explains, "I feel that Batman fans deserve...a fan's perspective" on the Batman feature films. In fact, Reinhart's book is the only single volume to offer an in-depth accounting of all seven live-action Batman features made prior to Batman Begins, which the author anticipates in a hopeful conclusion entitled "Batman Begins and the 'Definitive' Live-Action Batman Film."
As his cogent introduction proves, Reinhart's book offers more than the title implies. The 64-page Introduction expertly condenses Batman's 66-year history to its most salient points. Though the material therein about the feature films proves a bit redundant to the in-depth chapters that follow, the Introduction puts Batman's television, video, and merchandising exploits into context, as well, while breezily recounting the creation and development of the character, summarizing the most important Batman stories, and explaining the historical significance and fan reaction to the introduction and dismissal of various "Batman Family" characters (in this section, Reinhart also notes the buzz around Sandy Collora's indie short film Batman: Dead End).
The meat of Reinhart's indexed, 230-page volume comes next—a chapter devoted to each of the seven Batman features between 1943 and 1997: Batman (1943), Batman and Robin (1949), Batman (1966), Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997). Reinhart subjects each film to minute detail, providing complete cast lists, release information, elaborate plot summaries, historical context, critiques, and—in the case of the serials—chapter titles with individual release dates. At all times, Reinhart is informative and readable, and I have yet to catch him in a factual error. I would quibble only with the format of Reinhart's chapters, which should preferably have separate sections for plot description and commentary so those already intimately familiar with the plots (or wishing to bypass plot details) can access the critical material without having to skim lengthy summaries.
Aside from this proviso, The Batman Filmography: Live Action Features, 1943-1997 is an enjoyable and useful resource for neophytes researching the Dark Knight, fans seeking a factual reminder without running to a DVD or tape, or anyone seeking criticism on the seven films included. Any library's film section would be better for it, and die-hard Batman fans will certainly wish to add it to their collections and try their opinions against those of Mr. Reinhart, who comes down hard on the serials (even suggesting that the 1943 be reedited and digitally enhanced in an effort to wipe away its racist elements and cheap production values—a historical no-no in my book), embraces the 1960's TV and film of his childhood, regards the initial films of Burton and Schumacher mixed bags, and derides each director's respective sequel. Reinhart's opinions are thoroughly and clearly expressed, allowing an energetic dialogue between the author and his informed readership.