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Cesar Romero Thinks ‘Batman’ Is a Joke

June 22, 1989 GMT

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) _ Hollywood’s new gothic action-thriller ″Batman″ is nothing like the campy television series of the 1960s, and Batman’s old TV nemesis found nothing to laugh about in the new Joker.

″This just hit me the wrong way,″ said Cesar Romero, the former Joker, played in the movie by Jack Nicholson. ″This picture is dreary. The violence in it - good God 3/8″

The new ″Batman″ opens in 2,100 North American theaters Friday night, poised like the dark avenger himself to make a killing at the box office.

Amid a summer slate of movie blockbusters already shining like gold for major studios, the Gotham world of ″Batman″ glowers in its grim portrayal of primeval violence and urban corruption.

″This is a very serious, heavy crime drama,″ said Romero, a robust 82- year-old who just finished filming a cops and robbers movie in Pittsburgh called ″Simple Justice.″ Romero attended a media screening of ″Batman″ Wednesday night at the invitation of The Associated Press.

″It’s not the Batman concept at all,″ Romero lamented. ″And Nicholson, who is such a wonderful actor and who has done such good work, is just so violent.

″What we did was fun. It wasn’t played that way. It was a spoof. It was fun. It was a comic strip.″

Still, Romero added, ″The picture will probably make a bloody fortune.″

Indeed, entertainment industry insiders predict that ″Batman″ may gross more than $30 million in its opening weekend.

The ″Batman″ Romero remembered was as much a reflection of its time as pop art and sunflower stickers on Volkswagens. It was silly burlesque, with Adam West’s wooden Batman squaring off against a new, less-than-fiendish villain each week.

And the villains were hardly theatrical slouches. There was Vincent Price, Burgess Meredith, Tallulah Bankhead, Roddy McDowall and Frank Gorshin.

″Everybody wanted to be a villain in Batman, it was sort of ‘the’ thing to do,″ Romero recalled.

″Batman’s″ popularity mushroomed after the series began in 1966, but the slapstick wore out with all the countless ″KA-POWS 3/8″ and ″SPLATS.″ By 1968 the show was dead.

″I thoroughly enjoyed playing the part, playing the Joker,″ said Romero, whose film career began in 1934, and who appeared as the Cisco Kid in a series of 20th Century Fox movies, beginning in 1939.

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During the 1940s and ’50s, Romero often appeared as a tall, dark Latin lover and later was cast in roles requiring a suave character.

Romero joined the TV show at the invitation of the producer, William Dozier, who showed him a proposed script for an episode with the Joker and a film of the first episode, featuring the Riddler.

″It was great,″ Romero said. ″But why he wanted me, I’ll never know.″

Casting against type also is evident in the new film, with the slight Michael Keaton playing the hulking, 6-foot caped menace who is more obsessed with avenging his parents’ death at the hands of hoodlums than in truth, justice and the American way.

Keaton ″plays a very subdued character,″ Romero said. ″The Joker naturally has to be the flamboyant one.″

To say that Nicholson’s Joker is flamboyant is to say that his ax murderer in ″The Shining″ was neighborly or that the actor’s devilish address to a congregation in the ″The Witches of Eastwick″ was prim.

But for Romero, Nicholson’s Joker was too evil, too revolting and the film was all too dismal and bewildering.

″In fact, I don’t understand what this ‘Batmania’ is all about,″ he said.