Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr), Chapter 10: Between Two Fires

Between Two Fires does indeed feature two fires. The opening fire is when Noel Neill has been knocked out and captured. Kirk Alyn–and a nicely animated Superman–save her. Of course, the rescue does come with Alyn’s most unlikely change of outfit. And Neill’s asleep for the whole thing, so no dialogue between her and Alyn, not as Superman or Clark Kent.

Then it’s Tommy Bond’s chapter for a while. He’s out trying to get a story and happens upon some of the goons. He follows them, bursting in without any thought, and gets promptly captured.

It takes Alyn and Neill a while to find out Bond’s missing. Bond’s hanging out with captive scientist Herbert Rawlinson who is using the phone lines and Morse code to try to get rescued.

Unfortunately, Neill ditches Alyn to burst in without any thought and gets locked into a room with, you guessed it, another fire. And cliffhanger.

Even with poorly executed material (Earl Turner’s editing is terrible in Fires), Bond makes a fairly solid lead in his subplot. He at least gets to interact with people. Alyn and Neill’s team-up to cover the phone service interruption–no one at the phone company knows Morse code, apparently–has no dialogue between the stars.

Neill getting into trouble with the second fire requires so much stupidity and carelessness on her part, Superman breaks its disbelief suspension. Of course, why Alyn keeps trusting her to get him when there’s trouble has got the disbelief suspension primed for failure.

Superman’s consistently bumpy; between chapters and during them.

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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Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr), Chapter 9: Irresistible Force

Again, a Superman chapter where the title really has nothing to do with the content. Unless the Irresistible Force refers to Superman vs. train, which is one of the serial’s better composite effects sequences. At least ones involving Kirk Alyn and not the cartoon Superman fill-in.

But after resolving the previous chapter’s cliffhanger, Alyn vanishes for most of Force. It’s a Spider Lady and goons episode. They’re plotting to kidnap a scientist (Herbert Rawlinson) from under Noel Neill’s nose, replacing him with bad guy scientist Charles Quigley in makeup.

Whether it’s Rawlinson as Quigley as Rawlinson or just Quigley as Rawlinson, the make-up on the imposter is actually pretty darn good. Neill knows something’s up and is trying to figure it out. Too bad she acts like a complete idiot and gets busted.

Spider Lady Carol Forman has her own reveals as she executes the kidnapping herself. The serial goes for surprising but it’s hard to get jazzed up about anything involving Forman and her band of thugs. They’re exceptionally slight villains.

Force also introduces a facet of Alyn’s x-ray vision. He can see through Quigley’s disguise from a photograph. Not sure how the yellow sun makes that one happen but it does.

There’s very little action with the kidnapping; once Force finally does get going, it’s already time for the finish.

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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Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr), Chapter 8: Superman to the Rescue

Superman to the Rescue fails to feature one thing–Superman to the rescue. The cliffhanger resolution goes from sped-up film fistfight to Kryptonite gas filling a room. Tommy Bond saves himself–lucking out because apparently a convener belt is poorly designed–while Kirk Alyn’s Superman stumbles out of the gas cloud.

Noel Neill shows up just in time for the scene to end and Alyn, Neill, and Bond to go back to the Daily Planet. Pierre Watkin gets to yell at them a bit–they missed the story but at least they rescued Bond–before it’s time for Carol Forman’s Spider Lady to take over the plot.

She’s going some infighting to deal with before she can try to steal the Reducer Ray. Superman’s supposed to be guarding it. Unfortunately, she’s able to figure out his plan to safely transport it. Oddly, no one notices Superman’s not doing anything to help with the transportation. Alyn’s in Clark Kent garb for most of it.

Lots of back and forth with Forman and her goons as they plan and execute said plan.

It’s a fairly boring chapter. Even if Alyn up, up, and awaying is a little pricey, it’s not like Neill and Bond couldn’t be doing something. Instead, Forman’s a supervillain with a dysfunctional work place. Yawn.

Alyn does have a solid action sequence in the last third. Not really the cliffhanger, which is forgettable and doesn’t need Alyn; so in the lead up to the cliffhanger.

But Rescue is still incredibly tedious.

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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Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)

Most of Goodfellas is told in summary. After an opening scene introducing leads Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci, the action flashes back to Liotta’s childhood. Liotta narrates. Christopher Serrone plays the younger version.

Liotta’s narration guides Serrone around the neighborhood, letting the film introduce all the mobsters Serrone is enamoured with. Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi’s script does mass introductions at least two more times, maybe three. They’re setting up the ground situation, but in tone and mood, not for narrative purposes. Not even when it’d be narratively efficient to use them for useful exposition. Scorsese is revealing and examining these characters he’s introducing, their criminal monikers, their appearance. It’d be a lot if there were any neccesary information, instead it’s just gorgeous Michael Ballhaus photography.

De Niro and Paul Sorvino get introduced in the Serrone flashback. Sorvino’s makeup is all right throughout, but De Niro’s young guy makeup is far better than his old guy makeup at the end. And Pesci gets introduced, but he’s also played by someone else. Liotta’s a little hard to believe playing a twenty-one year-old. But Pesci playing one is Goodfellas biggest suspension of disbelief.

Scorsese establishes Goodfellas’s narrative pattern during the Serrone flashback. Amusing, expertly shot, expertly cut summary, often with great songs playing, followed by more summary, more summary, then a scene. The scene works at an entirely different pace, usually to let Pesci have a big scene. Scorsese’s a good son though; his mom, Catherine, gets a big scene too. She’s playing Pesci’s mom. It’s a long, self-indulgent scene, but damn if Pesci’s acting doesn’t carry it. Neither Liotta or De Niro really act much. Liotta goes from being a dimwit to a scumbag to a cokehead. He’s awesome at the narration. His performance in the narration is so much more distinct than his performance on screen. On screen he’s thoughtless and dull. In the narration, he’s sharp. He does get his one monologue at the end, tying action to narration. It’s mildly successful.

Scorsese should’ve started employing it two minutes in.

And then De Niro. Until the last third of the movie, De Niro feels like something of a special guest star. Even when he gets his own subplot in the story, the film doesn’t cover it. He goes from being the cool older thug to kid Serrone to loitering around bars less active thug. Though De Niro does tend to be in the scenes. When Goodfellas slows down and stops summarizing, it’s usually for a De Niro scene.

Little weird since he’s obviously not the protagonist.

His performance is also a little bland. He’s only ever got to show concern for one person and he doesn’t pull it off. He hadn’t been layering his performance. He’s good, he’s a lot fun sometimes. But he’s the special guest star who gets to wear a lot of old age makeup. The character’s never interesting, only De Niro.

But then it’s the same thing and totally different with Pesci. His character is extreme and unpredictable, while never dangerous. Because danger doesn’t really factor in to Goodfellas. And it shouldn’t. The movie wouldn’t work if Liotta, De Niro, and Pesci didn’t act with impunity. Pesci’s the only one who takes the time to live in that experience. To luxuriate in the impunity. In his performance, not the character as written.

And now Bracco. Or, Goodfellas’s biggest problem. Not Bracco, she’s excellent. But how the film treats Bracco.

About an hour in–still in some kind of first act–Liotta and Bracco meet and get married. There’s a courtship, but it’s not long and their eventual marriage is never in question once it gets introduced. Especially since Bracco starts narrating the movie instead of Liotta.

It’s the mid-sixties now. The film pays beautiful attention to period detail–Kristi Zea’s production design, Richard Bruno’s costumes. Bracco’s ostensibly there to seduce the viewer with the mobsters’ wives lifestyle. Scorsese does it half-hearted, treating it as narrative function. Turns out Bracco’s narration isn’t Goodfellas developing its narrative into new territory, it’s just a device. One Scorsese and Pileggi do away with–Bracco’s done pretty soon after she observes all the other mob wives wear terrible pantsuits (something she’ll be doing before the end of the movie, foreshadowing of foreshadowings). Also Bracco and Liotta don’t really develop any chemistry. She moons over his tough guyness in the narration, but their scenes together are at best thin.

Again, she’s a narrative function. Bracco doesn’t get a good character until the movie’s almost over. And it’s a shame, because she’s excellent once she gets that character. And she has good scenes before it. Scorsese and Pileggi are just way too comfortable using her as a caricature.

After Bracco, the biggest female part is Gina Mastrogiacomo’s. She’s Liotta’s girlfriend–in the early seventies era of the film. She’s even more of a caricature, though not as loud of one.

Somehow Debi Mazer–as Liotta’s eighties girlfriend who used to be Mastrogiacomo’s friend–somehow she ends up with the stronger part. At least in how it plays on screen. Her performance never gets screwed up for narrative purposes. She’s a caricature through and through, never reduced to one.

The film ends with an amazing procedural sequence. When the film gets to the seventies, Scorsese stops showcasing the period. But Zea and Bruno work just as hard on the production design and costumes as when those aspects were getting spotlights. So the procedural sequence is this magnificant slowdown, while still staying active. Liotta and Bracco finally get a long sequence to themselves. Not much in the way of acting material, but they get the sequence.

And it turns out they’re great together, which is the most disappointing thing about Goodfellas. Where Scorsese wastes potential.

Especially since the last third is full of Chuck Low’s annoying wanna-be mobster pestering everyone. Goodfellas has a problem with cariacture.

Scorsese’s direction and the technical successes–Ballhaus’s photography, Thelma Schoonmaker and James Y. Kewi’s editing–keep Goodfellas moving along. There’s a lot of moving to do–the film races through thirty years, only slowing down for De Niro and the finale. And the finale doesn’t add up. Because it’s Liotta’s finale and Scorsese’s been avoiding Liotta since before Liotta was playing the part. Embrace the protagonist’s narration, avoid the protagonist.

It’s a problem. Goodfellas has many. It’s also has some real strong strengths; those add up to a moderate success.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese, based on a book by Pileggi; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker and James Y. Kwei; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Irwin Winkler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ray Liotta (Henry Hill), Lorraine Bracco (Karen Hill), Robert De Niro (James Conway), Joe Pesci (Tommy DeVito), Paul Sorvino (Paul Cicero), Frank Vincent (Billy Batts), Chuck Low (Morris Kessler), Gina Mastrogiacomo (Janice Rossi), Debi Mazar (Sandy), Christopher Serrone (Young Henry), and Catherine Scorsese (Tommy’s Mother).


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