Monday, 31 May 2010

The Late 40's and into the 50's

The late 40's and early 50's were "sparce" on the Superhero front, and Superman dominated the scene.

Superman (1948)

Superman (1948) was a 15-part black-and-white Columbia film serial; it starred an oddly uncredited Kirk Alyn - billed only by his character name, Superman!

However Kirk Alyn's name appears on the promotional posters.

It is important to the Genre as the first live-action appearance of Superman on film!

it was filmed entirely in and around Los Angeles and was originally only shown as part of movie matinee presentations.

All of the Superman flight scenes were animated, partly due to the small budget - but possibly also because some of the Cast (Kirk Alyn included) were bothered by heights.

It follows standard Superman lore, Superman is sent to Earth by his parents just as the planet Krypton blows up and is later raised as a Human by the Kents.

After his foster parents die, the Man of Steel heads to Metropolis under the guise of Kent and joins the staff of the Daily Planet in order to be close to the news.

Whenever there is trouble - he appears in his true identity of Superman.

This first serial involves a nefarious plot perpetrated by the villainous Spider Lady.

Republic Pictures tried to make a Superman serial not once but twice before.

The first attempt was hastily replaced by "The Mysterious Doctor Satan" (1940) when licensing negotiations fell through.

The second attempt was advertised in 1941.

This time around there were two obstacles that its production - the publisher insisted on absolute control of the script and production, and the rights at the time were also tied up by the Paramount cartoon series.

Katzman acquired the live action rights to Superman in 1947. He pitched it to Universal but they were no longer making serials by this time.

He also tried a pitch to Republic - but they insisted "a superpowerful flying hero would be impossible to adapt" despite having done so in 1940 with The Adventures of Captain Marvel (go figure their logic here).

Republic were also no longer buying properties for adaptation by 1947, TV was now on the scene - NBC began operations in 1946, followed by CBS and ABC in 1948 - and naturally the Film studios were becoming more careful.

Columbia however accepted Katzmans pitch, and production began.

Script writer George Plympton tried adding and ongoing joke to the script, substituting the Lone Ranger's "Hi-Yo Silver!" for the traditional "Up, Up and Away" - however this did not survive in the script long enough to actually be filmed (thankfully LoL).

Kirk Alyns Superman costume was grey and brown rather than blue and red -this was because the muted colours photographed better in black and white.

There is loads of action and the animated flying scenes are actually fairly good, Kirks performance as Superman isn't earth-shattering - but he captures the Man of Steel quite well.

Superman (1948) has a reputation as the most popular chapterplay in history. I'm not sure if I would go that far, but it is great fun and an excellent example of the genre.

Kirk Alyn reprised his role in 1950 . . . .

Atom Man vs. Superman (1950)

Lex Luthor, secretly the Atom Man, invents a number of deadly devices to plague the city - these include a disintegrating machine which can reduce people to their basic atoms and reassemble them in another place.

Superman manages to thwart each scheme. But since Kryptonite can rob Superman of his powers, Luthor decides to create a synthetic Kryptonite and races about to obtain the ingredients he needs for its fabrication - plutonium, radium and an undefined 'etc'

Luthor places the Kryptonite at the launching of a ship, which Superman will be in attendance. He is exposed to the Kryptonite and blacks out. Superman is taken off in an ambulance driven by Luthor's henchmen, and he is now under the control of Luthor.

Superman is placed in a device, a lever is pulled - and the Man of Steel vanishes into "The Empty Doom" (which seems to bear a striking similarity to the Phantom Zone of the comic books).

When Superman finally escapes from "The Empty Doom", the headline of the Daily Planet proclaims "Superman Returns" . . . . .

Quick Facts -

Lyle Talbot as Lex Luthor, wore a rubber scalp for baldness (and by god you can tell)

When not shooting Talbot and Alyn spent most of their time exchanging recipes as both actors shared an interest in cookery (now THERES an Episode of Ready, Steady, Cook I would like to see LoL).

The final set piece shows Metropolis under attack by some REALLY badly animated flying saucers and a torpedo (Ed Wood would have been proud)

The flying effects were improved a little for this Serial, the camera was turned on its side. Kirk Alyn stood with arms raised in front of a rotating screen, while a wind machine and smoke pot were placed above him out of shot - this gave quite an effective illusion of flight (and managed to keep the Stars feet firmly on the ground LoL). Long shots still used animation to represent the Man of Steel in flight.

Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) was Columbia's 43rd Serial, and it showed to be honest.

The whole production was starting to look a little tired, the actors for the most part were going through the motions.

The dialogue was stale and uninventive - and the direction could have been done better by a child - its not good, not good at all.

The Adventures of Superman TV Show (1952-1958)

Adventures of Superman TV series ran from 1952 - 1953 in black and white, and from 1954-1958 in colour.

George Reeves plays Clark Kent/Superman with such gusto and commitment its a joy to watch, and the show is still so popular today it remains in syndication.

The Adventures of Superman employed surprisingly competant visual effects for television of the period, and while the show won no major awards - it was extremely popular with its audience.

In 1951, California exhibitor and B-movie producer Robert L. Lippert released a 67-minute B&W feature starring George Reeves and Phyllis Coates called Superman and the Mole Men - the script by Robert Maxwell (credited as Richard Fielding) and was directed by Lee Sholem.

The film was so well accepted it prompted the first season of the "Adventures of Superman" to go into production in August/September of that year.

It didn't reach the airwaves until September 1952 when Kellogg's agreed to sponsor the show (Kellogs had previously sponsored the Superman radio series).

The series was an instant success, and the Mole Men story became the Series only multi-part story.

George Reeves LIVED the part of Superman, even though the shooting schedule was gruelling and the pay was appaling (Reeves had earnings from personal appearances beyond his meager salary) - his affection for his young fans was genuine and sincere.

Reeves took his role model status seriously, avoiding cigarettes where children could see him and eventually quitting smoking altogether.

He even tried to keep his private life discreet - he had a romantic relationship with a married ex-showgirl eight years his senior (Toni Mannix wife of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer general manager Eddie Mannix)

He was a gentleman to his fellow cast members, and did a lot for charity - however on June 16, 1959 - tragedy struck.

It SEEMED like George Reeves had taken his own life, many people would not accept that a man so full of life would ever do such a thing and even today many people believe that Eddie Mannix had something to do with Reeves death - as retribution for Reeves involvement in the breakup of his marriage.

Hollywoodland is a 2006 dramatization of the events surrounding George Reeves Death.

He was buried at Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum in Altadena, California.

I really liked the Adventures of Superman, and knowing its star was such a good guy and so full of life while he was making it enhances the show immensely.

I heartily recommend it to anyone.

Next Time, Remember to Tune in - Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel . . . . . . .

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