Saturday, April 7, 2018

Superman The Serial - 1948!

When Superman hit the big screen in 1948, the era of serials was almost over. It took Superman an enormous amount of time to make it to the movie theater, at least in a live-action mode. The Fleischer cartoons had filled the void early in the decade, but as the years rolled by and lesser heroes populated the screen, the absence of the Man of Steel was glaring. Part of the problem was of course DC wanting the best deal they could manage. When Columbia took the property it was a pretty good deal I guess.

Kirk Alyn plays both Clark Kent and Superman and does a creditable job, though his moves as Superman can come across a bit mincing at times. Blended with animation for the super stunts, he  provides a handsome version of the famous hero.

Noel Neill plays Lois Lane for the first time, role she will define in years to come. She's almost consumed by her own costume which includes an enormous hat, but still and all her frisky but friendly manner shines through. Jimmy Olsen as portrayed by  Tommy Bond is particularly good and lacks some of the buffoonery the character is sometimes saddled with.

The story begins with Superman's origin story but quickly shifts gears to engage the schemes of the vile Spider Lady (Carol Forman) who has a lot of henchmen and a sprawling plan to capture and use a deadly device called the Reducing Ray. Most of the movie deals with attempts to steal it and later rescuing its inventor.

It's usual serial stuff, with some pretty decent super stunts tossed in. Superman seems singularly reluctant to take the offensive and just rid the city of the criminals, but instead performs as  a soldier in the Daily Planet's war on the crime queen and her gang.

All in all a thoroughly diverting entertainment. It's not a great serial, but it's far far from the worst one. 

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  1. An interesting sidebar is "The Mysterious Dr. Satan" from 1940, which started as a Superman serial from Republic, but had rights issues. They altered the script enough to transform Superman into a more conventional masked hero called the Copperhead, but you can see the ghostly outlines of a Superman adventure if you look; the Lois Lane doppelganger is pretty faithful to the original.

    1. I have this on a cheapo VHS, but I just ordered it on DVD. Looking forward to seeing again, this time armed with the Superman background info. Thanks.

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  2. "...though his moves as Superman can come across a bit mincing at times."

    Alyn trained as a dancer, and one of the things I liked about his performance (besides his warmnth as both Kent and Superman) was the fact he made his feats as Superman seem effortless, the way a truly superhuman character would be in a world of normal humans.

  3. Of course it was effortless. Check the credits and we find that Kirk Alyn only played Clark Kent. Superman was played by Superman.

    I, too, found that the body language was effective in selling the character.

    Watching these old serials again is also a great little time capsule from the period. When else could Lois trap Clark indoors by hiding his hat?


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