Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr), Chapter 1: Superman Comes to Earth

Superman Comes to Earth starts on the rocky, barren planet of Krypton. Which has just experienced a tidal wave, according to the narrator. There’s a little incongruity between the narration and the dialogue. It ceases to be an issue once Krypton’s elders start heckling Nelson Leigh for telling them the planet is going to explode. They even accuse him of staging earthquakes–kryptonquakes?–to further his point.

The Kryptonian costumes look like stylish bathrobes and it’s sometimes difficult to take the elders seriously. Leigh manages to make it through though. No matter how silly the scene or his costume, Leigh has a good presence.

Except he’s Jor-El so he’s not long for Comes to Earth.

Once the action moves to Earth, Ed Cassidy takes over for a bit as Pa Kent, then Virginia Carroll as… you know, Martha. Cassidy seems entirely out of place with the rocket landing on Earth scene, but he’s better once young Clark Kent (Ralph Hodges) is saving him from a tornado.

But then it’s time for Clark to grow up and become Kirk Alyn. Who inexplicably wears glasses before he decides to have a secret identity. Then Cassidy and Carroll die (off screen) and Alyn leaves the farm.

Except he can’t because there’s a train in danger. Not just any train–though Alyn doesn’t know it–but one with ace reporter Lois Lane (Noel Neill) and girl-crazy photographer Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) on-board. The track is broken. No one can stop the train. What’s Alyn going to do?

Run into the bushes and change into his longjohns. Then it’s time for the cliffhanger.

Everyone who makes an impression in Comes to Earth is dead by the end of the chapter. Superman regulars Alyn, Neill, and Bond barely have any screen time, though Neill and Bond make more impression than Alyn.

Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr’s direction is all right. Nothing amazing, nothing terrible. The tornado sequence is fantastic. The cartoon objects superimposed for flying–just the rocket ship here–are a little disjointing. If Superman embraced them a little more, played with having animation a part of the serial, maybe they’d work better. So far no.

Comes to Earth gets the job done. Alyn’s definitely on Earth by the end. He’s definitely Superman–something Bennet and Carr have no interest in showcasing. Alyn changes into the outfit and immediately gets to work. And the cape gets in the way right off.

It’s an okay start, reasonably well-produced. Krypton is a little boring, but Leigh makes it work. Luana Walters has nothing to do as Leigh’s wife except look terrified, which she does well; Earl Turner’s editing is solid throughout and exquisite when it comes to Walters. Superman’s entertaining enough. The cliffhanger–before any Superman does any super-heroics–comes way too fast.

CREDITS

Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr; screenplay by Arthur Hoerl, Lewis Clay, and Royal K. Cole, based on an adaptation by George H. Plympton and Joseph F. Poland and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirk Alyn (Superman/Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Lois Lane), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Carol Forman (Spider Lady), Herbert Rawlinson (Dr. Graham), Forrest Taylor (Professor Arnold Leeds), Nelson Leigh (Jor-El), Luana Walters (Lara), Edward Cassidy (Eben Kent), and Virginia Carroll (Martha Kent).


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