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 2

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)

reevescast

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Aline Towne (Highway 301)
Vera Marshe (The Crimson Key)
Jonathan Hale (The Saint Strikes Back)
Sterling Holloway (Alice In Wonderland 1951)
Yvette Duguay (Domino Kid)
Ruta Lee (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers)
Leonard Penn (Mysterious Island)
Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby)
Pierre Watkin (Bill Cracks Down)
Judy Nugent (There’s Always Tomorrow)
Allene Roberts (The Red House)

the-adventures-of-superman-george-reevesA warm nostalgia drives the enduring popularity felt by an aging generation of Baby Boomers for Adventures of Superman, the 1952-57 series that ended only with the tragic and still-mysterious death of its star, George Reeves. Cheaply-produced and generally unambitious, the program never lived up to its full potential, even taking into account its budgetary and technical limitations. By the end of its run Adventures of Superman (there’s no “The” in the title) had further de-evolved into a silly, trivial children’s show; it ran out of steam and Reeves had aged noticeably.adventures-of-superman-five-minutes-to-doom-john-hamilton-george-reeves-noel-neill-jack-larsonBut for children growing up in the 1950s (and several generations thereafter, who caught up with the program in reruns), Adventures of Superman was a 30-minute tonic of thrills and adventure. The audio commentary supplied by Gary Grossman on the First Season DVD set is more fannish than informative, but he nails precisely the excitement children felt watching the show when it was new. (You can read DVD Savant’s first season review here.) Like the first season, episodes play like single-chapter serials, crammed with action, mystery and intrigue. Superman (Reeves) “fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way” with the help of his alter-ego, “mild-mannered” reporter Clark Kent (also Reeves), who works for gruff Daily Planet editor Perry White (John Hamilton) and alongside perky Lois Lane (Noel Neill) and cub reporter Jimmy Olson (Jack Larson).the-adventures-of-superman-e2809cthe-man-who-could-read-mindse2809d-jack-larson-noel-neillAdventures of Superman – The Complete Second Season is much like the first. Compared with those that followed, Year Two is in black and white (the next season would be in color), and is slightly more adult in terms of content. The big difference from the first season is the series’ single major cast change: Noel Neill replaced Phyllis Coates in the pivotal role of Lois Lane. Neill had played Lois before, in two 15-chapter Superman serials produced by Columbia: Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950). Unlike Coates, Neill has remained very actively involved in Superman fandom after the show ended, appearing at comic book conventions and making cameos in the 1978 Superman movie, and again this year in Superman Returns.MV5BOWI3NDljZjUtNTQ0My00OTAwLTljNjktZTAyMjU2N2Y5NmE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjcxMDczNTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_Considering how little Reeves’ appearance changes from Clark Kent to Superman, why Lois and Jimmy don’t instantly recognize Clark as Superman is one of television’s great mysteries. Season two shows, however, broach this subject now and then. In one episode Clark and Lois are involved in a car accident; his suit is torn, revealing his Superman costume underneath, requiring some fast-thinking on the superhero’s part. In another good show a criminal tries to blackmail Superman with a photograph showing Clark changing into Superman in an alley. How this is resolved is cleverly handled. Season two boasts an incredible line-up of great character actors in guest parts, including Dabbs Greer, Hugh Beaumont, Lawrence Dobkin, Billy Gray, Leon Askin, Philip Van Zandt, George Chandler, Percy Helton, Sterling Holloway, Peter Brocco, Roy Barcroft, Leonard Penn, Elisha Cook, Jr., Paul Fix, Robert Wilke, Denver Pyle, Virginia Christine, and John Doucette.capture51Adventures of Superman can be a very entertaining show if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and watch it from an early-1950s perspective. It’s a show of its time, from a simpler era, but still loads of fun.