Bold! Noble! Daring! BATWOMAN (1968)

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After writing about the 1943 BATMAN serial last week that is currently airing on TCM Saturday mornings (7 AM PST/10 AM EST) I was motivated to revisit one of my favorite Batman spoofs, THE BATWOMAN aka LA MUJER MURCIELAGO (1968). This fun, inventive and outlandish interpretation of the Batman mythos directed by the prolific Mexploitation filmmaker René Cardona, replaces our heroic masked man with a heroic masked woman who solves crimes, rights wrongs and fights for justice in an unjust world.

Cardona’s film is often described as a simple cash grab designed to take advantage of the worldwide popularity of the campy American BATMAN (1966-1968) television series. But this unofficial adaptation also owes a lot to the original comic books. Long before Batgirl became a part of DC Comic’s masculine universe, Batwoman aka Kathy Kane was a reoccurring character who romanced Batman and battled villainy by his side. Batwoman never appeared on the 1960s television show but the creators of the THE BATWOMAN film were undoubtedly inspired by her intriguing backstory as well as Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl when they created their own female caped crusader.

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THE BATWOMAN begins on the rocky shores and beautiful beaches of Acapulco where some fishermen have just discovered a dead body. When police begin to investigate they admit that this is just one of many similar crimes that have occurred in the area and the victims have all been professional wrestlers. Detective Mario Robles (Héctor Godoy) suggests to the lead Inspector (Crox Alvarado) that they ask Batwoman (Maura Monti) to join their investigation and describes her in vivid terms as “…a wonderful and very rich lady who lives in the capital city. She uses her vast fortune to fight against the forces of evil. Thanks to her special abilities, she is distinguished in all sports. And, behind the mask, she’s become a great wrestler.” This is followed by a series of flashbacks designed to showcase Batwoman’s shooting abilities, horseback riding skills, deep sea diving expertise and championship wrestling maneuvers.

When the beautiful Batwoman finally arrives, she parachutes onto a beach and is met by the police who fill her in on their investigation. We soon discover that an unethical scientist known as Dr. Eric Williams (Roberto Cañedo) along with his assistant Igor (Jorge Mondragón) are kidnapping wrestlers for their mad experiments and bringing them aboard their boat where they steal their “pineal gland juices” in an attempt to create a Fish-like monster or Fishman. Once they’ve got what they want, Dr. Williams and Igor order their muscular minions to dump the bodies in Acapulco Bay. In an effort to put an end to these horrible crimes, Batwoman infiltrates the local wrestling club that has lost a number of its members and begins to investigate the mysterious Dr. Williams. Our masked heroine quickly finds herself in gun battles with criminals, wrestling with would-be captors and fighting off a Fish-man monster that is determined to make Batwoman his bride.

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Top: Maura Monti aka Batwoman without her mask
Bottom: Maura Monti &Elizabeth Campbell in PLANET OF THE FEMALE INVADERS (1966)

If the plot of THE BATWOMAN sounds batty you probably aren’t familiar with director René Cardona’s other films. Cardona, a handsome actor, filmmaker, producer, screenwriter and editor, was born in Cuba and moved to New York in 1926. After arriving in America he befriend actor Rudolph Valentino and appeared as an extra in a number of the Latin Lover’s films. Cardona went on to write and direct the first Spanish-language film produced in Hollywood, HAVANA SHADOWS aka SOMBRAS HABANERAS (1929) and in 1932 he moved to Mexico where he made over 140 films before he died in 1988 at age 82.

In his later years Cardona became a prominent director of Mexploitation films following the release of his highly imaginative and utterly bizarre children’s fantasy SANTA CLAUS (1959). Throughout the 1960s and well into the 1970s, Cardona made movies in every genre imaginable including horror films, musicals, westerns and science fiction adventures. He was particularly apt at making Mexican Luchador films (wrestling movies) and was responsible for a number of popular Luchadoras (wrestling women) films as well such as DOCTOR OF DOOM (1963), WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964), SHE-WOLVES OF THE RING (1965), THE PANTHER WOMEN (1967), WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE MURDEROUS ROBOT (1969) and NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APE (1969). THE BATWOMAN might not be considered a typical Luchadoras film due to its debt to DC Comics but it shares much in common with them and was obviously influenced by Cardona’s personal (as well as financial) interest in women wrestling.

BATWOMAN also borrows heavily from Universal horror films and seems to be a strange conglomeration of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. The horrible Fish-man that attacks Batwoman resembles the Gill-man and Frankenstein’s monster who longs for a mate. The Fish-man is also terrified of fire and dependent on his creators but ends up turning on them in the end. Some classic film fans (like me!) will enjoy spotting the similarities while others might find the entire enterprise a redundant and ridiculous mess.

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As mentioned above, Batwoman is played by the brunette Italian beauty, Maura Monti. The tall, athletic actress apparently moved to Mexico in the sixties and quickly found a career in modeling, television and the movies where she often played bikini clad spies or mini-skirt wearing Martian invaders. In THE BATWOMAN she’s perfectly believable as a sharp shooting heroine who can toss a bad guy over her shoulder, outwit villains and out swim a sea monster. But she’s also prone to wearing frilly nightgowns and will let out a bloodcurdling scream at the site of a rodent.

While some might find her behavior erratic, I find it enduring and it gives the character of Batwoman some much needed dimension. She’s only human after all and we all have our foibles and eccentricities. And don’t let her reveling costume fool you! She may dress like a sixties go-go dancer but Monti can kick some serious booty. She does many of her own stunts in the film but the professional wrestling scenes were obviously shot with a double. Critics seem to enjoy pointing this out but most action movies use stunt doubles so it’s only natural that Monti would have a stunt double of her own. Despite the film’s low-budget, preposterous script and somewhat one-dimensional male costars, Monti shines as the masked superheroine. Her action scenes are what keeps the movie interesting and she seems to have a sense of humor about the proceedings while still maintaining her “Bold! Noble! Daring! Enchanting! Audacious! Invincible!” personality as advertised on the pop art inspired posters used to promote the movie.

If you appreciate the campy, stylish and highly entertaining BATMAN TV series with Adam West you should appreciate THE BATWOMAN aka LA MUJER MURCIELAGO. Unfortunately it’s only available on DVD from VCI Entertainment without subtitles so unless you speak Spanish you won’t understand what’s going on. A subtitled version of the film is currently available on YouTube but the quality is abysmal. Hopefully some adventurous company will restore and release this crazy addition to the Batman filmography in the future although I suspect DC Comics would demand some of the profit. In the meantime don’t forget to tune into TCM every Saturday to see a new episode of the original BATMAN serial from 1943!

7 Responses Bold! Noble! Daring! BATWOMAN (1968)
Posted By Bill : March 12, 2015 7:42 pm

DC Comics/Warners wouldn’t want want a share of the profits. They’d put a Cease and desist”. Think they also went after a truly dire film called The Wild World of Batwoman.

Posted By Doug : March 12, 2015 8:44 pm

Forgive, me, Kimberly-at first I thought you were jumping the gun on April Fool’s Day-I thought that this post was an elaborate joke, as I had never heard of the film. Always more to learn.
A few years ago my brother gave me a Batman comic book from the year of my birth-the cover is similar to the ones posted, so maybe they are from 1959 or so?

Posted By Ben Martin : March 13, 2015 3:41 pm

Well I am completely sold. Now if we can get a TCM Underground Maura Monti double feature of THE BATWOMAN and PLANET OF THE FEMALE INVADERS, I would be eternally grateful.

Posted By swac44 : March 13, 2015 6:15 pm

I saw this title on the VCI website (they also have a number of vintage masked wrestler titles for sale) but balked at the lack of English translation (my Spanish is non-existent). But I may toss a copy into my next VCI order anyway, it looks like something not to be missed, even with a language barrier.

You can see a clip from the film on the VCI site here:

http://www.vcientertainment.com/LAS-MUJER-MURCIELAGO

Posted By Susan Doll : March 13, 2015 10:44 pm

These women are too cool for the room!

Posted By Jenni : March 13, 2015 11:42 pm

Fun read, and I learned that there was a Bat Woman-had not realized that the comics created her to help Bat Man and Robin.

Posted By Bill : March 14, 2015 3:22 am

To help Bat-Man and Robin seem straight. Superhero comics in the fifties started extending the brand with females and various permutations. There was a Bat-Dog, and he wore a mask.

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