Burgess Meredith – Batman (TV Show – 1966)
Say what you want about the television show, but this was the start of almost all of Batman’s 2nd tier villains. The Penguin was no exception, and in this reviewers opinion – one of the few redeeming factors of this television show. Burgess Meredith, better known as Mick from the Rocky movies, was one of the most personable actors to grace the show.
His laugh, set to mimic that of a penguin, has become a staple of the character through all of his adaptations into other media. That is something that really lets you know that there was some passion behind the portrayal. Now, as always – the show limits how great any of the characters can really be. His henchmen are nicknamed after birds, and so are some of his crimes – which are also motivated by terrible plot devices. His look was as identifiable as can be.
A man in a suit with a top hat and a cigarette always chipping out of the corner of his mouth. He was grumpy and arrogant and always looking down upon those around him. It was truly the first and best showing of an aristocratic mob boss criminal. The basis of the comfort level of a criminal was a reflection of the world of Gotham city and what it had become. So bad, that even criminals had created their own hierarchy.
What Meredith had done here, was create a solid foundation for what the character would become. It’s enjoyable, diverse and original from anything any other superhero mythology had come up with.
Danny DeVito – Batman Returns (1992)
Never in the history of the world has a character been so differently portrayed since his previous incarnation. Well, this was before B&R/Begins. My point is though, The Penguin went from being an arrogant mob boss to an orphaned freak of nature who grew up in the sewer system of Gotham who then decides to grow up and try and take over as a corrupted Mayor who will kill all the first born sons of Gotham’s aristocracy.
Just take a second to re-read that and make sure you’re with me. Got it? Alright. Once again, there’s a glimmer of great ideas in here. The Penguin forcing a new election to assume the ultimate power over Gotham city? The office of the Mayor? Genius. Pure, genius.
The idea of a super villain having that kind of power to square off against a vigilante is a complete role reversal that really makes for interesting story possibilities and character arcs. However, using a gang of circus clowns and freaks is, once again, a complete rip off of the Joker. Spewing out green blood from his mouth and making sexual advances to Catwoman are also a little too far of the center.
Just in the opposite direction of the campyness that we usually get. This was almost too dark and serious. It definitely demonstrated the centered necessity that the world needs in order to work faithfully to it’s origin and also appeal to a wide audience. In the end, the character is interesting and could even work as a great comic book villain if he had been created into a whole nother different character. Devito’s performance is top notch for what it was.
He was completely committed to that character and once he was in make up, was always talking and thinking like his Penguin would. It’s effective for the character arcs and the story being told, just not a loyal adaptation of what the penguin should be.