Batman is a 1989 superhero movie directed by Tim Burton and based on the character of the same name created by Bob Kane which first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. The film stars Michael Keaton as billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne who fights crime in Gotham City disguised as his alter ego Batman who must prevent the rise to power of the ruthless Joker portrayed by Jack Nicholson whilst protecting love interest Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger). Batman was classic Burton, a dark visual masterpiece with incredible production design from Anton Furst, costume design by Bob Ringwood and visual effects from noted miniature specialist Derek Meddings it became an instant hit and popular culture phenomenon grossing over $400 million at the box office and winning the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. The success of the picture spawned an entertainment franchise which includes the Burton directed sequel Batman Returns and, following a 2005 reboot with Batman Begins, continues to the present day, it remains an influential favourite of the superhero genre.
The character which would become Batman's archenemy first appeared in the Detective Comics Batman #1 release of 1940 and was first portrayed on camera by Cesar Romero in the 1960s Batman television series before Jack Nicholson made the role his own in Burton's feature film. After gangster Jack Napier is disfigured following a confrontation with Batman he becomes insane, killing his boss and reinventing himself as The Joker single handedly spreading terror across Gotham City. The casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier/The Joker was an inspired, if expensive, choice and without doubt a contributory factor in the huge success of the movie. A highly regarded and versatile performer Nicholson is the most nominated actor in the history of the Academy Awards, three times a winner he remains one of the most celebrated actors of his generation with his portrayal of The Joker ranking among his most notable.
One of the most memorable scenes of the movie comes when The Joker shoots down the Batwing with a single shot from a ludicrously long barrelled pistol which he produces from his trousers resulting in Batman crashing in to the base of Gotham Cathedral. The prop guns were created for filming by special effects supervisor John Evans and his team along with the numerous other gadgets or 'wonderful toys' utilised by Batman as he attempts to outwit The Joker. At least two long pistols were created for the production by Evans and his team, one for the scene where the Batwing is shot down and a further prop for the scenes as Batman pursues The Joker and Vicki up the steps to the top of the Cathedral where we see that the long pistol features a telescoping barrel as it is condensed in to a more manageable weapon.
This is the original telescoping version of the long pistol used on screen by Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Constructed from fibreglass the weapon is a solid casting of a Smith & Wesson revolver which has been modified to include a longer than usual barrel made from from brass tubing. The weapon originally included a two piece telescoping section of brass tube, one being 1/32" smaller than the other ensuring a air tight fit and making a virtually unnoticeable extension to the barrel which could be collapsed by Nicholson on screen. This telescoping section is sadly missing having been mislaid after production and the barrel extension with the pistol today is a reproduction for display purposes however the remainder of the weapon is as it was used on screen by Nicholson after he has telescoped the barrel and is clearly seen in the scenes where The Joker and Vicki Vale make their ascent to the top of the Cathedral. The weapon also features a small tube which protrudes from the rear of the butt, this runs through the gun and in to the bottom of the barrel and was most likely to enable the rigging of pyrotechnics whilst also enabling the displacement of the air in the barrel as it is telescoped.
Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker remains one of the greatest villains of the superhero genre and this represents a significant and memorable artefact used during the production of this influential classic.