REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – SEASON 5 & 6

Starring

George Reeves (Gone With The Wind)
Noel Neill (Campus Sleuth)
Jack Larson (Flighter Squadron)
John Hamilton (Captain Ameirca 1944)
Robert Shayne (The Flash 90s)

George Reeves in Adventures of Superman (1952)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Lilyan Chauvin (Predator 2)
Laurie Mitchell (Calypso Joe)
Milton Frome (Batman: The Movie)
Richard Benedict (Ocean’s 11)
Phil Tead (Sif of a Kind)
Billy Curtis (April Showers)
Tristram Coffin (The Crawling Hand)
Pierre Watkin (Mr. Smith Goes To Washington)
Joi Lansing (Touch of Evil

George Reeves, Cyril Delevanti, Jack Larson, and Noel Neill in Adventures of Superman (1952)

By the time Adventures of Superman began production on its last two seasons (that aired during 1957-58), the series more or less had overcome its tight budgetary restrictions by evolving into a veritable universe unto itself. And it was a wacky universe indeed, operating under its own screwy story logic often totally disconnected from any semblance of reality. That gangsters would watch their bullets bounce off Superman’s chest then, having emptied their cartridges, throw their empty guns at the superhero, as if that would stop him, or that Superman’s pals never seemed to realize that the Man from Kypton and mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent were one and the same, mattered not one iota to its legion of young viewers.Adventures of Superman (1952)For fans of the comic books, the big-budget movies and TV shows of recent decades, Adventures of Superman rightly appears quaint and at times depressingly cheap, but if you stick with it, chances are you’ll find that it has a peculiar but very real charm all its own. Adventures of Superman is one of the most iconically ’50s/Eisenhowerian programs of its era. Superman was, after all, fighting not only for truth and justice, but also for “the American Way.” Instead of super-villains like Lex Luthor, Superman’s foes were more likely to be communist types, and ironically enough union activist Robert Shayne, the actor who played Superman’s ally Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police, was during its run subpoenaed to appear before The House Un-American Activities Committee and nearly lost his role were it not for members of the cast and crew who rushed to Shayne’s defense.Adventures of Superman (1952)A wonderful example of this very ’50s tone is “The Atomic Captive,” a Cold War masterpiece. After Russian fifth columnists fail to bring back a Russian-immigrant nuclear scientist (and loyal naturalized American citizen), Daily Planet reporters Jimmy Olson (Jack Larson) and Lois Lane (Noel Neill) drive out to the desert to interview him. However, the scientist is dying of radiation poisoning, and so “hot” his mere touch is likewise fatal. Jimmy and Lois rush in, and naturally ignore his pleas not to go near him, each pawing the man with reckless abandon.Adventures of Superman (1952)When the scientist tells them they’ve just given themselves a fatal dose of radiation, all Jimmy can do is turn to Lois and say, “Golly Miss Lane, I guess we’re done for.” Making matters worse, they then drive out into the desert, taking a short cut through “ground zero” at a nuclear test site, wrongly figuring they wouldn’t possibly reschedule that H-Bomb test they had flown out to cover in the first place. Well, they were wrong, and take the full force of a nuclear blast, just like Glenn Manning in The Amazing Colossal Man. How does Superman save the day? You’ll have to tune in for yourself.Adventures of Superman (1952)This complete lack of common sense on the part of Lois and Jimmy is used throughout these later seasons, apparently as a kind of shorthand to propel the narrative forward without the need for lengthy (and logical) character motivation. In “The Perils of Superman,” an imposing man in a lead mask (Michael Fox) shows up at the Daily Planet to grimly announce that he’s devised fiendishly imaginative means to “liquidate” Lois, Jimmy, Clark, and Planet editor Perry White (John Hamilton). Within a minute or two after he leaves, Lois and Perry are blithely off to a meeting, business as usual. It’s no surprise then that they’re kidnapped the minute they get into Lois’ car. Then again, if nothing happened to them, there’d be no show.George Reeves, Tom Dillon, Noel Neill, and Robert Shayne in Adventures of Superman (1952)The budget precluded Superman actually performing feats as grand as “changing the course of mighty rivers,” but the production values on these later shows is better than those when the show began. Seasoned B-movie directors like Lew Landers and Howard Bretherton helmed episodes, as did star George Reeves, while instantly recognizable character actors like Jack Kruschen, John Banner, Cyril Delevanti, Laurie Mitchell, Billy Curtis (as Martian Mr. Zero), Dabbs Greer, and Joi Lansing populate episodes. Serial fans will likewise delight in such familiar faces as Dale Van Sickel, Tristram Coffin, I. Stanford Jolley, usually playing villains. Though the Adventures of Superman’s scripts leave all logic at the door, stories in these last 26 episodes are pleasingly close in spirit to the light-hearted tone of that era’s comic books. Neill’s hair becomes almost phosphorescently orange and both Reeves and Larson have fleshier features, with Reeves’ hair a little grayer and thinner, and Larson no longer the 19-year-old youth he was when the show began, but the youthful excitement that still greets the show remains unabated.

REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – SEASON 3 & 4

Starring

George Reaves (Gone With The Wind)
Noel Neill (Campus Sleuth)
Jack Larson (Flighter Squadron)
John Hamilton (Captain Ameirca 1944)
Robert Shayne (The Flash 90s)

Adventures of Superman (1952)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Sterling Holloway (Alice In Wonderland 1951)
Tristram Coffin (The Crawling Hand)
Myron Healey (Hell’s Crossroads)
Chuck Connors (Soylent Green)
Phil Tead (The Fighting Blade)
Janine Perreau (M)
Claude Akins (Rio Bravo)
Gloria Talbott (The Leech Woman)
Julie Bennett (Spider-Man 90s)
Milton Frome (Batman: The Movie)
Robert Lowery (Batman & Robin 1949)
Pierre Watkin (Bill Cracks Down)

Adventures of Superman (1952)Season one of the Adventures of Superman television show was quite a surprise, with a different Lois Lane and a selection of often hard-nosed crime stories. A new Lois in the person of Noel Neill came with season two; she had already played the role in two Columbia serials with Kirk Alyn. The show also adopted a lighter tone: Less violence, more fantasy. With the third and fourth season (13 episodes each) the series adds an all-important extra: Color. Just as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz looked to future revenue in re-runs by filming their shows instead of simply creating low quality Kinescopes, producer Whitney Ellsworth started his third season in color, even though the episodes wouldn’t be broadcast that way for years. Adventures of Superman (1952)These Superman episodes are the ones we remember from re-runs that ran well into the late 1960s. The characters are charmingly inconsistent. Lois is sometimes given cute or revealing business to conduct, but her part is just as often limited to little more than a handful of grumpy dialogue lines. Perry White is still after Jimmy Olsen to stop calling him “Chief”, when the real head-scratcher is wondering why Olsen still has a job. Jimmy only intermittently takes photos. He seems a total dimwit incapable of holding a thought more than a few minutes, or even writing a sentence on paper. The stories vary in charm and interest with the usual juvenile ideas — silly crooks, over-eager “gee whiz” children — but for every middling plotline there’s an episode with a clever idea. One invention makes people think they’re upside down, enabling crooks to do their stuff. In the color opener for the third season, a professor’s time machine takes the principal players back to the Stone Age for some forgettable dramatics. We also see an interesting demonstration of Political Correctness from the early 1950s. When Superman finds himself in the company of an impressionable adolescent (the actor must be at least 20!) he sternly states that only Superman can fly, and that nobody should try to do something so dangerous. Shades of the old Peter Pan furor about children imitating their fantasy heroes!George Reeves and Ben Welden in Adventures of Superman (1952)The usual buzz about the color Supermans is that they’re cheap, and the style of filming bears that out to some degree. With color film rolling through the cameras every budgetary corner seems to be cut. The cave and jungle sets from the Time Travel show are recycled for the “pirate adventure” episode and another about helping an old Indian pass a qualifying test for Chief-hood. A vault door appears several times as a trap, whether to hide Lois and Jimmy (who are together so frequently they might think of taking out a marriage license) or to freeze Superman. Interestingly, nuclear bomb shelters figure in several of the stories.George Reeves, Noel Neill, and Elizabeth Patterson in Adventures of Superman (1952)The most obvious budget shortcut is the re-use of special effects sequences. Superman’s flying scenes in season one consisted of rather pitiful rear projection setups, perhaps mandated by Reeves’ insistence after an early accident that he not be suspended by wires. Seasons 3 and 4 re-use the same four or five process shots ad infinitum through the ‘magic’ of optical duplication: Get a good take of Supe flying in front of some buildings, an empty sky; up and down, and print up enough dupe negs to last the season. Whether he’s flying across town or to Alaska, it’s always the same shot. When Superman carries someone with him in flight, we’re never shown the key action. George Reeves performs rather adroit trapeze landings for entrances (he never looks too out of breath) and vaults out of scenes with the aid of hidden springboards. After watching Chris Reeve gazelle out of shots like a flying Nureyev, those champion-diver launches now seem funny. We wonder why George Reeves doesn’t smash through whatever floor he’s bouncing on.Jack Larson, Noel Neill, and Phil Tead in Adventures of Superman (1952)Producer Ellsworth skimps everywhere he can. Clark Kent almost always enters the storeroom to change costumes in the same duped stock shot peeking around an office corner, and the same goes for his Daily Planet landings. It looks as though scenes for multiple episodes taking place on the same set were filmed at the same time where possible — all the Perry White office material, all the time-wasting in Clark Kent’s office. It’s possible that individual episode directors had only a limited number of show-specific scenes to shoot. We’re told that with the high cost of Eastman negative stock, take one was almost always the keeper. These two factors account for the inconsistency in performances — even Clark/Superman seems to change attitude between scenes for unspecified reasons. In the Bully of Dry Gulch episode, Clark almost goes ballistic when he hears over the phone that a bad guy is giving Lois “goo-goo eyes”: “WHAT!?” Yet most of the time George Reeves is remarkably smooth in the role. Clark and especially Superman are always ready with a good-natured grin and a pleasing smile.Adventures of Superman (1952)One last special effects observation: I distinctly remember optical shots in which bullets are seen to bounce off George Reeve’s chest. Those must be from the last two color seasons, as they don’t show up here. JImmy Olsen gets his usual three or four signature episodes, as when he wins a million dollars or gets to play a Burgonian prince in a story about baddies de-stabilizing a European monarchy. He even does the ‘evil twin’ routine, playing himself and a criminal look-alike. Some of the stories are on the weak side. Crooks try to fleece people by running a rigged jelly bean counting contest, and a wild west bully threatens to shoot Jimmy by sundown. In the freezer-threat episode, Superman takes sides with Daily Planet editor White on a local election. Kal-El insures that gangster thugs aren’t intimidating the voters, and then makes his prejudices known by asking a voter for whom he’s voting!George Reeves, Milton Frome, John Hamilton, Noel Neill, and Robert Shayne in Adventures of Superman (1952)Even John Hamilton’s Mr. White and Robert Shayne’s Inspector Henderson get spotlight episodes, although they’re not the most imaginative either. Crooks make White think he’s crazy by conjuring up Great Caesar’s Ghost, while bad guys frame Henderson. Old favorite George E. Stone is a weasely crook in a few episodes, along with Myron Healey, John Doucette and Paul Burke as more fumbling thugs. The best surprise guest actors are Gloria Talbott I Married a Monster from Outer Space as an heiress tricked into decoying Superman away from a robbery, and Chuck Conners, who makes an excellent yokel with the name Sylvester Superman. That episode, Flight to the North, is a warped conglomeration of nutty ideas, ending in an Alaskan shack where the recipient (Richard Garland) of a gift pie (lemon meringue) is besieged by a succession of crazy guests, including Superman.wedding4The wildest episode by far is The Wedding of Superman. Lois hasn’t been given much attention all season, but here she’s the center of a dream identical to the wish-fulfillment plotlines in the comic books. The whole show turns out to be a figment of her unconscious, as Lois imagines that Clark, Superman and even Inspector Henderson are gaga over her. The critical altar scene is handled very well, although there must have been many a groan as the dream gag (actually extremely transparent) was revealed. Lois tells the story directly to the camera, and it’s quite odd that she’d come to the obvious conclusion about Clark’s secret identity in the dream, only to dismiss it when she wakes up. It’s the only episode where Lois doesn’t have a sour or defeatist remark to make, somewhere. As an added fillip, in a brief bit part the show features none other than Ed Wood’s angora paramour Dolores Fuller!

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – SEASON 1

Starring

George Reeves (Gone With The Wind)
Phyllis Coates (Invasion U.S.A.)
Jack Larson (Flighter Squadron)
John Hamilton (Captain America 1944)

Adventures of Superman (1952)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Herbert Rawlinson (The Flame Fighter)
Aline Towne (Highway 301)
Frances Morris (The Rawhide Terror)
Danni Sue Nolan (Smokey Canyon)
Tom Fadden (Dragnet)
Robert Rockwell (Our Miss Brooks)
Maudie Prickett (Hazel)
Robert Shayne (The Flash 90s)
Tristram Coffin (The Crawling Hand)
Pierre Watkin (Bill Cracks Down)
Allene Roberts (The Red House)
Richard Benedict (Ocean’s 11)
Dan Seymour (Batman 60s)
Veda Ann Borg (Mildred Pierce)
Leonard Penn (Mysterious Island)
Gloria Saunders (Red Snow)
Jane Adams (Batman & Robin 1949)
Jeff Corey (Little Big Man)

George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jack Larson, and Syd Saylor in Adventures of Superman (1952)Just the mention of the Superman television show always brings out a smile; for 1950s kids this program was nothing but good memories. Shuster and Siegel’s Superman started as a comic book character and soon developed into an icon representing everything good and noble … sort of a folk god for the 20th century. By the post-war years the world was in a real muddle, yet for little kids Superman was a reassuring beacon of light, morally decent and vigilant without being a vigilante. Just the sound of George Reeves’ voice stirs something in a 50s kid; the brassy Superman anthem brought us to our feet and running for the TV set.

Adventures of Superman (1952)This first season has an unfamiliar but good Lois Lane in Phyllis Coates and plays much more like a crime serial than the later color seasons. Warners has assembled a trim multi-disc package and included some great extras. The disc set tells the whole tale of Superman on television. According to New Wave’s making-of interview documentary, producer Robert Maxwell filmed Superman and the Mole Men with the cast and crew planned for his TV show. It was released by Lippert films and was a moderate success; Daily Variety’s review called the film “sock moppet bait.” Then Maxwell had to film the entire first season — 26 episodes — before landing a network spot. Copyrighted in 1951 and ’52, the show didn’t premiere until 1953.5aaaa7d8d32fbd1004fe40c0626c8b43As pointed out in the docu, Adventures of Superman was more crime-oriented than science fiction. Some episodes feature strange inventions, as with a mind-control device in The Mind Machine. More often than not Lois or Jimmy Olsen is held by despicable gangsters, a problem solved when the news finally reaches Clark Kent. He leaps into a ‘storeroom’ and zooms off to the rescue. That stirring anthem blasts in along with a flying sound effect that reminds us of Dorothy Gale’s tornado. Crook confrontations usually include a demonstration of Superman’s invulnerability in the form of a bent knife or “bullets have no effect” scene (no animated bullet ricochets yet). Our hero often trades blows with the bad guys, who fall as if kayoed by your average serial hero. The way Reeves throws the punches we expect to see their heads come off!George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, and John Hamilton in Adventures of Superman (1952)Phyllis Coates is a spunky Lois Lane. She takes no guff from anyone and also tries her hand at beating up on bad guys. She comes off as essentially humorless, with only a few wonderings why she’s never seen Kent and Superman together. The jokes are all reserved for Reeves and his literally closeted alter ego. The ‘mild mannered’ Clark Kent is forever smiling and seems to derive plenty of satisfaction from knowing a secret nobody else does. Capable actor Jack Larson plays Jimmy Olsen as an immature clown with a good heart. Forever clueless, he can be depended on to ask the dumb questions so that Clark Kent can dispense plot exposition. Several episodes center on Olsen’s personal adventures, which play like Hardy Boys stories featuring one rather dense Hardy Boy.DGgb2-1456844038-217-lists-adventuresofsuperman_mrmctavishProduction values are on the dire side but they were generous for Televsion in 1952. It’s not unusual to see characters throw bold shadows onto sagging theatrical backdrops.  The minimal effects range from “okay” to “so-so” to “what the heck was that?” Reeves is good on the springboard launches and gymnastic one-point landings. Some flying shots are acceptable but a lot of others simply matte a sideways image of a standing Reeves into whatever background is handy, and look like embarrassing mistakes. When one makes 26 TV episodes on spec there is no room for second tries, let alone R&D. There are some questionable plot points as well. The docu extra covers an amazing blunder in an episode in which two crooks find out Clark Kent’s secret identity. Superman parks them on a high mountain while he sorts out the rest of the plot, telling them to stay put ’til he gets back. They try to climb down instead, and fall … to their deaths! The show offers nothing more about them – they’re just forgotten!516164f6b2abc7a3a2492aad9104f2d5The first episode is called Superman On Earth and covers the familiar ground shown in the first act of the Richard Donner / Christopher Reeve 1978 effort … on 1/1000th the budget. Krypton is one throne room and Jor-El’s lab and it’s all pretty perfunctory, but the cornball drama still tugs on the heartstrings when old Mrs. Kent finds the baby in the rocket. Events are rushed through so quickly that young Clark Kent has time to grow up (“Gee, why do I have to be different from everybody else?”), come to Metropolis, get hired and rescue a man clinging to the underside of a blimp all in 25 minutes. Don’t ask. It’s all quite charming.superman-george-reeves-31The TV show reprises Superman and the Mole Men as a first season ender, breaking it into two parts.  The feature takes an interesting liberal point of view, with an anti-vigilante civics lesson. The Mole Men are midgets from the center of the Earth that show up and are immediately judged by some irate townspeople (including blacklistee-to-be Jeff Corey) as hostiles to be eradicated. Superman’s only role in the movie is to defend the American Way, which in this case includes protecting innocent aliens from paranoid, trigger-happy yahoos. With that sensitivity, it’s suprising that so little is made of the fact that Kal-El himself is an alien immigrant to the United States. He’s from another galaxy, yet he appreciates our freedoms. I guess he has to count himself lucky that he was in human form, specifically Anglo human form. Superman may be corny, but its sentiments ring true … he’s a hero championing values we still cherish, theoretical though they may be.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN

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CAST

George Reeves (Gone With The Wind)
Phyllis Coates (Gunsmoke)
Jeff Corey (True Grit)
Walter Reed (Seven Men From Now)
J. Farrell MacDonald (Meet John Doe)
Stanley Andrews (Road To Rio)

Mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent and Lois Lane are sent to the small town of Silsby for the inauguration of the world’s deepest oil well. Unbeknownst to the drillers, however, the drill shaft has penetrated the underground home of the “Mole Men”, a race of small, furry (though bald-headed) beings. The Mole Men come up through the shaft at night to explore the surface. When the creatures first emerge from the shaft, their sudden appearance scares the elderly night watchman to death. Lois Lane and Clark Kent soon arrive at the oil well and find the dead watchman. Subsequently, help arrives and while Clark Kent and the foreman are exploring the surrounding area for signs of intruders; Lois sees one of the creatures and screams in terror. But, no one believes her when she tells them what she saw.  After the medical examiner who was summoned to the scene leaves with Lois, Clark stays behind to confront the foreman. The foreman confesses that the well was closed down for fear that they had struck radium and not oil. The foreman proceeds to show Clark ore samples that were collected during different stages of drilling; all of these glow brightly.  Their peculiar appearance, plus the fact that everything they touch then becomes phosphorescent and glows in the dark combined with the creatures being spotted by several townspeople, scares the townspeople into forming an angry mob, led by the violent Luke Benson, in order to kill the “monsters”. Superman is the only one able to resolve the conflict, saving one of the creatures from falling into the town’s water supply after he has been shot by taking him to hospital, while the other is chased away.
Superman+4Later a doctor reveals that unless the creature undergoes surgery to remove the bullet, he will die. Clark Kent is forced to assist the doctor when the nurse refuses to out of fear of the creature. Soon afterward, Benson’s mob shows up at the hospital demanding to have the creature turned over to them, leading Superman to stand guard outside the hospital. Lois Lane stands at Superman’s side, until a shot is fired from the mob narrowly missing Lois. Superman sends her inside and begins to relieve the mob of their guns, sending the mob away. Later three more mole creatures emerge from the drill shaft, this time bearing a weapon. They make their way to the hospital. Benson and his mob see the creatures and Benson goes after them alone, but when the creatures see him they use their weapon and fire on him. Superman sees this and quickly jumps in front of the blast, saving Benson’s life, which Superman says is “More than you deserve!”.He fetches the wounded creature and returns him and his companions to the shaft. Soon after they destroy the shaft completely, making certain that no one or thing can come up or go down it ever again. Lois observes, “It’s almost as if they were saying, You live your lives….and we’ll live ours”. The film is a little unevenly paced. Although the Molemen are interesting, a bit creepy, and nicely portrayed, there are several Corman-esquire scenes which spend too much time redundantly showing us their odd behavior. The script is intelligent and economical. By today’s standards, the costuming is poor to fair, but for its time, this film’s special effects and costuming were quite good. The cinematography is also generally very good, and the acting is much better than one might expect. I was particularly impressed with Reeves, Jeff Corey and Walter Reed.