The Movie Waffler Superman Summer - Superman (1948) | The Movie Waffler

Superman Summer - Superman (1948)

Directed by: Spencer Gordon Bennet, Thomas Carr
Starring: Kirk Alyn, Noel Neill, Tommy Bond, Carol Forman, Pierre Watkin

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.
He may have previously appeared in animated form in the Fleischer Studios cartoons but this serial is the man of steel's first live action screen outing.
Back in the days before a television set adorned every American living room, parents would drop their kids off at the local movie theater on a Saturday morning. There, wide-eyed brats would be held entranced by various action serials. These were usually about twenty minutes in length and invariably ended with a ridiculous cliffhanger, ensuring the kids would return in a week's time. The most popular of these was "Flash Gordon", something of a phenomenon in the serial world. By 1948, Superman was already a cultural icon thanks to his appearance in comics, cartoons and a successful radio show. If ever a character was deserving of it's own Saturday morning serial it was this one.
I have to confess I'm a sucker for the sort of trashy fun that pervades forties cinema. I love the classic Universal horrors of the thirties but I equally enjoy their black sheep cousins, the forties knockoffs which cashed in on the characters of Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman and their ilk. These films might be brain dead but they're thoroughly enjoyable and always have a heart. You invariably come out the other end with a smile on your face and that's the case with this fun serial.
The characters here are all portrayed by likable if not entirely convincing actors. Alyn is thoroughly charming as Superman and particularly as his alias Clark Kent, schlubby and loveable with his winks and smiles behind the backs of unsuspecting colleagues. Neill is feisty as Lois Lane and plays the role like a B-movie Katherine Hepburn, constantly berating Kent for his seeming cowardice. She was so impressive she would later repeat the role in the fifties TV version. Journalists apparently weren't paid very well back in the forties as she wears the same outfit through the entire series. As Jimmy Olsen, Bond is frankly terrible yet still manages to be an affable presence.
The biggest problem faced in the production of the seventies Superman movie was how to make the audience believe a man can fly. In 1948 it was obviously a lot more difficult to pull off. This issue was skirted by basically turning 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 you won't even think twice about it.
Modern cynics should avoid this but if you're a fan of the innocent charm of the forties I highly recommend it. The total running time of all fifteen episodes is roughly four hours so I wouldn't attempt to watch it in one sitting but an episode or two a night is a good way to approach it. I guarantee you'll fall for those crazy cliffhangers.