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: BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949)

 

CAST

Robert Lowery (Adventures of Superman)
Johnny Duncan (Plan 9 From Outer Space)
Jane Adams (Angels in Disguise)
Lyle Talbot (Atom Man vs Superman)
Ralph Graves (Ladies of Leisure)
William Fawcett (Gunsmoke)
Leonard Penn (Spartacus)

Those familiar with Batman and Robin only through Warner Bros.’ franchise or 20th Century-Fox’s campy TV series (and subsequent feature) may be surprised to learn that Batman’s big screen debut dates all the way back to 1943, in a serial produced by Columbia Pictures. The Batman, as it was called, was followed years later by Batman and Robin (1949), an enjoyable 15-chapter serial. The one-a-week chapter play was running out of steam by 1949; the burgeoning medium of television was killing the market for such things. Moreover, Republic and Columbia, the leading producers of serials in the late-1940s, were cutting corners by recycling the same footage — cars sailing off cliffsides, planes crashing into mountains, dams bursting, etc. — over and over, and unimaginative, budget-conscious writing resulted in one serial’s script playing pretty much like any other. In standard movie serial plotting, the villain of the piece is The Wizard, a hooded criminal mastermind operating from the caverns of a remote island base. (As usual with such villains, he has a lot of all-purpose futuristic equipment stacked atop sturdy wood tables.) As usual for chapter plays, The Wizard’s identity is kept secret until the serial’s climax, though its writers surely want viewers to think it’s eccentric, paralyzed inventor (William Fawcett), who secretly sits at an electric chair-type device decked out in neon that enables him to walk around unaided.vicky-valeThe Wizard’s henchmen steal a fantastic new invention which allows the operator to control moving vehicles of any size from extreme distances. Gotham City’s Commissioner Gordon (Lyle Talbot) enlists the aid of crime-fighters Batman (Robert Lowery) and Robin (John Duncan), the secret alter-egos of wealthy — and, in this serial, outrageously lazy — playboys Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Also on the case is plucky photographer Vicki Vale (Jane Adams), who is unaware that Batman/Bruce and Robin/Dick are one and the same. According the IMDb, Vicki Vale’s popularity was boosted by the serial’s success, prompting Batman creator Bob Kane (who is credited in tiny print onscreen) to make the character more prominent in the comics. He reportedly based her design on Marilyn Monroe, though Jane Adams, a brunette, is rather matronly in Batman and Robin. Some will want to watch Batman and Robin solely to mock its now dated thrills and limited budget, others will be drawn to the DVD’s attractive cover art (see above) and perhaps mistake it for something else. (Columbia’s large font “1949” on the box art seems an effort to stave off lawsuits from Warner Bros. and Fox.) Batman and Robin is an easy target next to, say, Joel Schumacher’s over-produced Batman & Robin (1997), whose honeywagon budget alone probably eclipsed the entire cost of the serial.It’s certainly easy to laugh at Bruce and Dick grabbing their superhero costumes out of a file cabinet drawer or, in one scene, Dick putting the top up on his late model Mercury convertible so that Bruce can change into Batman. Really, though, by serial standards of the day, Batman and Robin is above average: the two-heroes-for-the-price-of-one premise is a novelty, and it has a lot of energy in some of its action set pieces. There’s a long fight sequence atop a moving train that’s pretty elaborate for a serial, and there’s enough going on in each chapter — mysterious submarines, underground lairs, futuristic gadgetry — that only the most cynical audiences wouldn’t be entertained. Lowery and Duncan are only okay as Batman and Robin. As Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, the script forces them to behave like sloths around Vicki, and though physically right (at least by late-1940s standards), neither is exactly bursting with charisma. Lowery’s fleshy features suggest Johnny Weissmuller, while Duncan’s Robin/Dick doesn’t so much resemble a Boy Wonder as he does Michael Rooker’s Henry the Serial Killer. Character veteran Talbot is no match for Neil Hamilton’s earnest Commissioner Gordon on the TV show, while Eric Wilton’s Alfred the Butler is all but invisible.