During another of my infamous DVD shopping sprees, I picked up the “Superman – The Theatrical Serials Collection.” The Man of Steel may have previously appeared in the classic Fleischer Studios cartoons, but this serial is Superman’s first live action outing.
Superman is a 15-part black-and-white film serial released by Columbia in 1948. The serial stars Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent/Superman. But you wouldn’t know it, as Kirk Alyn is only credited as “Superman.”
The film also features Noel Neill as Lois Lane, and Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen. The serial’s lead villain is the Spider Lady, played by Carol Forman.
In the 1948 film, Superman is dispatched to Earth as an infant to avoid the destruction of his home planet krypton. As an adult, his alter-ego, Clark Kent, takes a job at the Daily Planet newspaper in the city of Metropolis. It isn’t long before Superman is called into action to avert the evil plans of a villainess known as the Spider Lady.
Back in the days before entertainment was available on every mobile device, parents would drop their kids off at the local movie house on Saturday mornings. There, wide-eyed kids were entranced by various action serials. These were usually about fifteen or twenty minutes in length and always ended with a ridiculous cliffhanger, ensuring the kids would return the following week.
Although I was born decades after serials were in fashion, I became a huge fan of serials from watching them on Saturdays mornings on AMC. For those who don’t remember, the AMC of twenty years ago was nothing like the AMC network of today.
Back then the channel only played classic movies, and they didn’t air commercials. Anyways, some of my favorite serials included the various Flash Gordon films, Buck Rogers, and the 1944 Captain America serial. But until today, I had not seen the Superman serial, and it was worth the wait.
The characters in “Superman” are all portrayed by likable actors. Kirk Alyn is thoroughly charming as Superman and particularly as his Clark Kent. He plays Kent with the right mix of humor, and kindness. As a matter of fact, I liked Alyn’s work better than George Reeves.
Nothing against George Reeves, I’m a fan of his. But I always felt he didn’t look like Superman, but more like that uncle that only visits around the holidays. Kirk Alyn however, looks the part, and he’s pretty good in what little action he’s asked to do.
Noel Neill is feisty as Lois Lane, but she comes off as mean too many times. Lois is constantly berating Kent for something, and she always plays tricks on him. At one point she lends Clark her car, then tells the police it was stolen. Poor Clark ends up in jail for a good chunk of that chapter.
Noel Neill was so impressive as Lois, she was later asked to repeat the role in the George Reeves tv show. And I’m guessing the budget for this serial was low, as Lois wears the same outfit through the entire series.
Tommy Bond is likable, but he’s miscast as Jimmy Olsen. The main problem is he looks too old to be playing Olsen. I don’t know how old Bond was then, but looks like Orson Welles and not a teenage photographer. This Jimmy Olsen is mostly there to get into trouble, drive Lois around, and later pilot the Daily Planet’s airplane.
The villain played by Carol Forman is somewhat forgettable. She’s a good actress, but she didn’t have much to work with. With a better scrip, the Spider Lady could have been a bigger threat to Superman. But it is impressive that the main foe in the serial is a woman.
The biggest problem the 1978 Superman movie faced was how to make the audience believe a man could fly. In 1948 it was all but impossible to pull off any sort of flight sequence. In this serial they got around the issue by turning Kirk Alyn into an animated version of the character whenever he needed to take flight. It takes you aback the first time you witness the technique, but after a couple of episodes, I didn’t think twice about it. And the animation is actually pretty sleek.
“Superman – The Theatrical Serials Collection” includes the 1948 serial, and the 1950 follow-up “Atom Man vs. Superman.” I’m about halfway thru Atom Man, and I’ll do write-up once I’m done watching it.
The total running time of all fifteen episodes for “Superman” is roughly 244 minutes, or about four hours. I don’t recommend watching it in one sitting like I did, but an episode or two now and then is a good way to see this very entertaining classic.