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.