Joker – Not So Fast… (New Spins Aren’t Always Good Spins)
With the new “Joker” movie coming out, starring Joaquin Phoenix, there have been great comparisons to his take on the character (inconceivable because the writer and director both say that they are not going from Batman canon), and the wonderful portrayal of the Joker by Heath Ledger. You also get the older generation (sadly, mine), going on and on about how Jack Nicholson’s portrayal was spot on. And then, you get the minority who say that Mark Hamill played the best Joker. (Since he’s voice only, I discount him, though he voices it spot on, and he’s Luke god damn Skywalker)
I call bullshit on all of these options. Every day at 3:30, I ran home from wherever I was, so I could turn on channel 44 WFLD, and would watch Batman, the 1966 series starring the great Adam West, and the human tripod Burt Ward.
At the time, Batman the comic book was struggling. Sales were down, interest was at best minimal, the book was in real financial trouble. Then this campy sitcom came on, after underwhelming test audiences, and took the airwaves by storm. They had a rotating gallery of villains, with the Penguin (the great Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (a minor villain who exploded thanks to Frank Gorshin), Mr Freeze (Mr Zero in the comics, forever renamed, played by Otto Preminger), Louis the Lillac (Milton Berle anyone?), King Tut (Victor Buono), Egghead (Vincent Price was amazing), Catwoman (Julie Newman, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether), and of course, the Joker. Of course, in its 120 episodes (I have seen them all, multiple times), a literal who’s who of stars made appearances as character, or themselves popping their heads out of buildings they were “climbing”, so to stick out, you had to be special.
My favorite rogue for Batman is the Penguin. I just love the character, and Catwoman, because who doesn’t love a woman in skin tight black outfits (I’m looking at you Eartha Kitt), but on the series, there was always a special electricity when Cesar Romero took the screen as the Joker.
Cesar Romero, born in 1904, had a long career in Hollywood. Often thought of as a “Latin Lover”, he never saw himself as so. (Obviously) He always thought of himself as a character actor, who sometimes got the girl. Looking through his filmography, it was rare that he played the lead, but was often a supporting actor. He also played a wide variety of characters, from a Spanish conquistador, to many roles playing Italian characters, a Hindu one, up until he played Jane Wyman’s love interest on Falcon Crest, the greek Peter Stavros (at the age of 78).
Mr Romero also created a bit of controversy when interviewed by Boze Hadleigh, and he outed Desi Arnez somewhat. Romero claimed that he and the “highly sexual” Arnez were friends, and that Desi knew what Romero wanted, so he made it happen. When asked for more, all Romero would do is smile and say “Sex is like potato chips”
Romero got the call to play the Joker in the third episode of Batman. He read the script, loved it, and the rest was history. The story is, when he saw the design for the costumes, he realized then and there the Joker needed an outrageous laugh, and came up with it on the spot. The director overheard it, and told him to keep it. He later claimed that between the 20 episodes, and one movie, and countless times for fans, that this laugh overtook his natural laugh.
I always loved his portrayal. I loved the fact that he was so vain, that he refused to shave off his trademark mustache, so they had to white over it. I felt he used his height to his advantage playing it (6’3”), because the Joker always felt angular to me. His boisterous laugh, the colors that popped off the screen, but also the simplicity of the character, always made him my favorite rogue. Most importantly, when I watched him on screen, he always looked like he was having fun.
His back story was never looked into. He just showed up, came up with outrageous plots that Batman thwarted, and he was either sent to prison (where he escaped outrageously), or just sort of disappeared, only to return a few episodes later. In fact, the sheer joy Mr Romero had playing the role, plus his natural flamboyance, really made for a great character.
I like Mark Hamill’s voice portrayal, but I also feel that he channels Romero in his portrayal. Slightly edgy, borderline insanity, much like Romero, you feel like he’s always teetering on the edge of giggles. The main difference is, Romero went just a tad bit farther, and was always releasing a stream of giggles.
Jack Nicholson was too short, and basically played Jack Nicholson in grease paint. He wasn’t even the best actor up for the part, because they brought in Robin Williams to entice Nicholson, and I felt he wouldn’t have been good as Joker, but he’d have still been better as Nicholson, because he gets lost in a character better.
Heath Ledger took the Joker to a much darker level. I know he was a character actor, and I did like his portrayal. Alas, the joker in my head is much more like Romero, and Hamill, so a great performance, it doesn’t compare to the series’.
Then there was Jared Leto. I enjoyed his performance as the Joker in Suicide Squad. I thought he had good chemistry with Margot Robbie. I thought whoever designed the character should be banned from Hollywood. I know that they were trying to modernize him, revitalize him, and get away from the Heath Ledger portrayal, but why not go back to the original design. Though short, Leto is of a slim build, so he could have pulled off the original look. For my money, second best Joker laugh behind Romero.
Now I get to the newest Joker. I’m going to go see it, I am going in with a bit of a closed mind, because I am a traditionalist. Arthur was not a clown/comedian, he was a career criminal. Arthur did not paint his face, he fell in a vat of acid because of Batman. Society did not drive Arthur insane, well maybe a little, but getting knocked into a vat of acid and it rewired his melon a bit, because now he’s stark white with green hair, did.
I get they are trying to fill in the back story of the Joker, but does it really need to be done? Do I want his history locked down, how he got his physical and emotional scars? Simple answer…no. I like his past to be a bit of a mystery, I like that it floats out there. One of the best thing Heath Ledger did was convoluting the Joker’s history, telling multiple tales of how the Joker got to where he was in that moment.
I think, in the long ruin, “The Joker” will fall into the same category “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” did. It will be a good movie, but not near as good as if they’d have gone with a different title.
Most people are on DC for not releasing “good” movies. They do, but compared to the Marvel Universe, their movies are darker, and more up and down, with some wishy washy story lines, that aren’t all working in sync together. By allowing this movie to be made, I feel that they are really sabotaging their brand, by making a movie about a character (though waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay overused in the comics at this point), and going for a cash grab.
I could be wrong, and I will go and see it, but to me, this is akin to Dolph Lundgren’s “Punisher”, where every time I see it, I wonder why it was really made.
Now go watch all 120 episodes of Batman: the series, learn to do the Batusi, wonder why Burt Ward doesn’t unleash that weapon in his double ply speedo, and practice your Joker laugh to annoy your friends.
Hate me on social media at @jaycanchu. I post a lot of cats, pies, and and comment on boobs. And you get to see my workout body, which compares to The Blob.
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