Superman (1941, Dave Fleischer)

Superman (or The Mad Scientist) opens with Jackson Beck narrating the origin of Superman. It’s a couple minutes, sets up Krypton going boom and mild mannered reporter Clark Kent. Then it’s on to the action, which starts with a mad scientist sending a threatening letter to the Daily Planet.

Perry White (Julian Noa) tries to send Lois (Joan Alexander) and Clark (Bud Collyer) on assignment to investigate. The mad scientist is going to attack at twelve midnight. Lois tells the boys she wants to do it alone and skips out, getting in a plane and flying off. Clark makes some vaguely sexist remark to Perry and cut to the mad scientist.

The mad scientist has a pet bird (vulture? blackbird? doesn’t matter). They cutely walk around his hidden laboratory as the mad scientist prepares his death ray. Lois shows up just before midnight, ready… to interview him? Instead he assaults her and ties her up. He zaps a bridge, at midnight, just like his note said, apparently surprising Clark, who’s sitting at his desk. He then changes outfits and saves the day as Superman. Though not the bridge. And there’s no real prevention of the plan.

The cartoon’s designs are fantastic throughout–Lois in her flight gear–the architecture of the buildings, but the animation takes a while to impress. The mad scientist, for instance, is particularly disappointing. He’s got a jerky walk and Jack Mercer plays him as flat evil. The bird saves their scenes, even though the bird makes absolutely no sense.

It’s like they realized the mad scientist didn’t have enough personality.

Some of the Superman saving the day stuff is fantastic, though the cartoon’s understanding of structure engineering (a skyscraper flops like gelatin) is suspect. Unfortunately, Superman’s showdown with the mad scientist is rather wanting. And the rescue of Lois is dramatically inert. Just like the resolution.

Superman looks great, moves mostly all right, and the Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg music is right on… but it’s lacking. And the silhouetted violence of the mad scientist attacking Lois is pretty intense given it’s a cartoon with a cute pet (evil) bird.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Seymour Kneitel and Izzy Sparber, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Frank Endres and Steve Muffati; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jack Mercer (The Mad Scientist), and Julian Noa (Perry White); narrated by Jackson Beck.


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