SUPERMAN (1948)


Film is primarily story telling and entertainment and nothing brought a generation of  children and  sometimes adults back to the  theater  then the  Serials.  Those  deeds   of  daring do taking place in  jungles,  lost cities,   Outer Space, a frontier  town,  to under the sea by  groups of  kids in a  gang  or a solitary  figure be it  Hero or intrepid  reporter, lion  trainer, detective , military officer or in this case an visitor from another planet.   The high flying adventures of Superman were a natural fit for kids all ages and the movies.

The fifteen part Columbia produced serial SUPERMAN (1948) featured  actor Kirk Alynn in the title role. Mr Alyn  who’s real name was  John Feggo Jr, is the first to play the live action MAN OF STEEL predating George Reeves on  the  television series  from 1951 to 1958.   It was the  first time the audience saw in ‘real life’  Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and  Lois Lane. The serial was  Directed  by Thomas Carr who later also worked on some of the initial television shows.   The style  was  naturally slam band  with  quick cuts, little dialogue, lots of stunts and the cliff hanger ending bringing the audience back.

SUPERMAN (1948) gives us a first glance at the origin and  arrival on Earth and adoption by the  Kents who find him when driving  home.  This sequences in the  first episode  called SUPERMAN COMES TO EARTH is very reminiscent of Glenn Ford/ Phyllis Thaxter finding scene in SUPERMAN (1978)  with almost the same style of  vehicle and  folksy humor. Kudos  goes out to the  film makers if  that was a homage.

 

The cast also features the  first live action Lois lane in the person of Noel Neill.  Neill was a  former pinup model during the  Second World War second only to Betty Grable. She was a regular in Monogram Studios and Republic Pictures  usually playing women in Distress.

 

he  also sang with Bing Crosby and performed regularly at his club.   It has been said that Lois lane was based  partly on Torchy Blane  character from the  film series  from 1937 to 1939.    Neill was  ‘Lois  Lane’ in the follow up  feature film with Kirk Alyn titled ATOM MAN VS  SUPERMAN (1950) .

Neill was so identified with the role that she   took over the part from Phyllis Coates after  the  first year of the  George  Reeves series due to  Coates committing to another project. Neill went on to be associated with  SUPERMAN by appearing in retrospectives.    Both her  and Kirk Alyn played Lois lanes’s mother Ellen on screen along with Alyn as  Sam Lane in SUPERMAN (1978).    Phyllis Coates would play Ella in  LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN Television series. While  Coates initially distanced herself from the role . Neill embraced it by giving talks on college campuses, attending conventions which endeared  herself to people with her warmth and  good humor.  A statue of “Lois lane’ in the likeness of Neill’s character was unveiled by her in Southern Illinois  city of   Metropolis  in 2010 as a lasting legacy.

 

The rights to the  character were obtained by Sam Katzman who would  go on the produce two Elvis Presley films and one by the  English pop group Herman’s Hermits.  The rights  were difficult to get at the time because Superman was huge with the  Comic audience plus he was only ten years since first appearing in ACTION COMICS issue number  one in 1938. Bob Kane/ Bill Finger creation Batman appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS issue twenty seven  in 1939.  Batman  had already appeared in live action  format  in the 1941 serial BATMAN and  BATMAN AND  ROBIN (1949).    Superman was more demanding character as one was dealing with heat rays, super breath, super  strength and of course flying on screen.  First National Comics  which later became DC wanted full control of the story hence negotiations were slow due to the later Classic Max Fleisher Cartoon series sold to Paramount.

Katzman tried to sell the property to Universal Studios but they had stopped making serials   Republic Pictures refused as  it was thought the “Flying” was impossible to duplicate on a budget so  the deal was made at Columbia Pictures.  The picture had many writers  including which  was pretty much they way series worked.

Katzman found Kirk Alyn by looking through photographs. he was   a  ‘hard sell”  to DC representative  Whitney Ellsworth.  Alyn did not  endear himself to the role by showing  up for the audition sporting a  goatee and  mustache as he was shooting another project. The  role was his in fact he  was  billed as only playing Clark Kent  not Superman.   Alyn performed  all the stunt himself with exception of  a leap from the back of  truck by Paul Strader.  Strader only did one stun in the series and had to leave production with a broken leg

 

SUPERMAN(1948) concerns  the Spider lady (Carol Forman)and her gang getting control of  the Reducer ray.  The  gang also discovers Kryptonite  at the effect it has on the MAN OF STEEL.

 

 

Plenty of car wrecks, Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond)heading to fiery doom of a blast furnace,  Runaway trains,  bullets  bouncing off people and crappy Perry White (Pierre Wadkin) growling as he  sends  Clark and Lois on assignments that prove  dangerous.

SUPERMAN (1948) was shot  entirely in the Los Angeles area and  surrounding Chatsworth in San Fernando Valley. The flying stunts were considered the  weakest asset  of the series which  featured strong writing  as you find Alyn holding a pose followed by animation of Superman in flight.  Alyn was  said to have spent an entire day strapped up in prototype of today’s wire work rigging with movable background of clouds which did not prove  effective so the animation was used.     Superman’s landings always occur in the foreground of the frame and landing are always behind objects.  Clark has  yet to prefect the trademark telephone booth change into costume so that was handled  behind objects like  rocks or trees

Alyn tends to strike poses almost to the point of caricature  but he makes up for it with  strong look and  voice of  Clark Kent that would set the visual standard for all that followed.    The stunts  range from holding a  running automobile, going  into fire,  x ray vision and  bending railroad tracks which must have been pretty cool to see.  Alyn’s  fighting  usually was him tossing around the actors ending with Superman holding up  two of them and knocking their heads together.

SUPERMAN (1948) was originally presented as a Saturday matinee yet after the  first three episodes it proved  so popular it played in “first run” movie houses that had never booked  serial It proved  to be  a “tremendous financial success” for the  studio and  for  Sam Katzman.  The  serial also made stars out  of both Kirk Alyn and  Noel Neill as  both went onto the other things all be it  similar.   Thee series now is available  for  viewing while dated in  approach and  budget it still has  strong genre writing and  good   old fashioned  slam bang, gangster shoot em up   entertainment.    Movies can  still be fun so its onward to another 80 years or more of  SUPERMAN.  Today we  need Heros even more.

 

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