Monday, June 12, 2017

When Batman met Captain Kirk (and John Cassavetes!)

There are currently so many tributes to the late Adam West centering on his time as the Caped Crusader, I'd rather spotlight one of the odder projects he worked on, one where he played the sidekick of none other than William Shatner!

I posted two clips from this telefilm a long time ago (mid-2006), on the first Funhouse blog, after airing scenes from it on the first year of the Funhouse TV show, in early 1994. What follows is the original blog entry, augmented by further details and information: 

That’s right, it’s two of our childhood heroes acting opposite each other in a program that has been forgotten by all but the most diehard fanatics: a failed pilot for a projected series about Alexander the Great (!) that united for the first and only time William Shatner and Adam West. Shatner is Alex, and Adam West is his aide-de-camp Cleander. The film was shot in 1965, right before Shatner donned the mantle of James Tiberius Kirk and West put on the bat-cowl for the first time. It didn’t air until January 1968, when it was dumped on a prime-time children’s series called “Off to See the Wizard,” which aired on Friday nights.

Both actors were primarily still supporting players at this point in their careers (with Shatner of course having done more memorable work, especially on “The Twilight Zone” and in Corman's The Intruder). The most fascinating thing is watching them interact, since both of them had… a style… of delivering dialogue… that became… their signature. The many dramatic pauses one would find in their dialogue does indeed answer the Fabs' query about how many holes it took to fill the Albert Hall. 

I assume that both gents started delivering dialogue that way as a matter of emphasis (with Shatner hammering the phrases home, while West supplied a breathier alternative), but their delivery became campier and campier when their shows became famous. And, of course, it became even more pronounced in the Seventies when impersonators began doing impressions of them on TV sketch shows (and when times got really lean, both men began doing impressions of themselves in comedy contexts).

In researching this piece, I found that in 2011, a writer for the Hero Complex website got quotes from both West and Shatner about the show. Shatner said "it was great fun to make," but otherwise he just thought of it as "Combat in drag." West, on the other hand, had sentimental memories of the show, but admitted "
it turned out to be one of the worst scripts I have ever read and it was one of the worst things I’ve ever done."

He noted that the concept for the series (had the pilot been picked up) was that he and Shatner would have alternated as the leads of the show. Thus, Alexander the Great would be the focus of attention one week, and then Cleander the next. That sounds like a curious memory on West's part (was Alexander the Great really going to be a supporting character in a show called "Alexander the Great"?), but West is the one in the article who imparts more vivid details about the telefilm, such as his memory of early morning shoots in St. George, Utah.

The Shatner-West pairing is the first thing that makes Alexander a “great” find (had to), but there are several other reasons to be intrigued by this somewhat dubious historical epic: it was directed by hardcore noir director Phil Karlson (who was deep into the Matt Helm films around this time), written by Robert Pirosh (A Day at the Races, I Married a Witch, Hell is for Heroes), and has a supporting cast of character actors that includes Simon Oakland (Psycho, “The Night Stalker”), Ziva Rodann (Macumba Love, Batman’s “Queen Nefertiti”), and Cliff Osmond (Kiss Me Stupid).

And if you’ve read this far, you deserve to find out the identities of the “Special Guest Stars”: Joseph Cotten and John Cassavetes! Yes, Johnny C. must’ve needed money to finish Faces, and if he could work with Ronald Reagan, he could certainly work with Shatner and West.


I presented clips from “Alexander the Great” in the first year of the Funhouse, and haven’t shown it at any point since. In recent years, a much better looking copy has been posted to YouTube. You can watch the whole thing there, but I guarantee that you're probably better off just watching the two short clips I posted from a “wavery” copy long ago. (Thanks to pal M. Faust for sharing this eons ago.)

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