Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


SUPERMAN (1948 serial). Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet.

The first Superman cliffhanger serial from Columbia pictures stars Kirk Alyn (pictured) as the super-hero from the doomed planet Krypton. Although most of the really great villains of the comic book didn't appear until after this serial was released -- Braniac, for instance -- surely the writers could have come up with a more interesting antagonist than the witchy Spider-Lady (Carol Forman). Although Forman wasn't bad as The Black Widow, and she doesn't actually stink in Superman, she comes off more like an especially bitchy cocktail waitress or B girl than a serious super-villainess. Noel Neill is appealing as Lois Lane -- Neill was one of the more distinctive serial heroines -- and Tommy Bond, while initially off-putting, grows on you as Jimmy Olsen. Alyn doesn't exhibit much more charisma as Superman than he does as Clark Kent, but at least he doesn't portray Kent as a coward. There are a couple of decent cliffhangers in the production, but for long stretches Superman is pretty dull stuff. Not the worst of Columbia's serials, but a far cry from the best.

Verdict: The Man of Steel deserved better. **1/2.


Anonymous said...

I was really looking forward to this serial after reading about it for years and seeing still photos of Kirk Alyn in the costume. Growing up with George Reeves playing the Man of Steel I was at first put off by Alyn's buoyant portrayal but I think it's more faithful to the comic books (except maybe he's over-acting too much). Alyn fills the costume better than Reeves (I don't think he needed any padding as Reeves did). He also looks more like the Clark Kent of the comics.

The flying scenes were disappointing when I first saw them (especially after reading that they attempted live action) but, with all of the computer-generated imagery (CGI) today aren't we still seeing Superman in the movies flying as a cartoon!

William said...

Yes, one could argue that CGI is just a type of animation anyway. Alyn does look a bit more like Clark Kent. You're right that the flying scenes look lame at first, but that was the way they did it then and it was effective enough I guess. But the flying scenes improved with the TV show and the Captain Marvel serial.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Captain Marvel serial was filmed seven years earlier than the Superman serial so Columbia could have done better with the flying sequences.

William said...

Definitely. Good point. I forgot the Marvel serial was earlier, but I remembered it was better in all departments.