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Superman (1978, Richard Donner), the extended cut

The extended version of Superman runs three hours and eight minutes, approximately forty-five minutes longer than the theatrical version (Richard Donner’s director’s cut only runs eight minutes longer than the theatrical). The extended version opens with a disclaimer: the producers prepared this version of the film for television broadcasts (three hours plus means two nights). The director was not involved.

Neither, one must assume, was original editor Stuart Baird because I’m not sure anyone could stand to see their work so butchered. Superman’s already had one somewhat inglorious revision–the director’s cut–and this extended version takes it one step further. Scenes will now drag on and on as actors try one more line. The subtly of the cuts, which enhance the performances, is either gone or severely hampered. The John Williams music is rearranged to fit the lengthened scenes and sequences, with no attention paid to how the music fits the scenes.

Worse, padding the film out changes the emphases. Margot Kidder is far less relevant (Christopher Reeve’s Superman as well) because most of the added footage is Gene Hackman and company. In addition to introducing Lex Luthor (Hackman) as a piano-playing crooner, the extended edition has all sorts of physical humor and lame jokes for Hackman’s sidekicks, Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine. Perrine gets a little more character–in fact, she’s the only actor who benefits from the extended material–while Beatty gets a lot less. The constant jokes make his presence drag, especially since he and Hackman aren’t funny with the physical humor.

The extended edition does explain a few things, like why Larry Hagman isn’t with the missile on Hackman and company’s second attempt at it. And Chief Tug Smith gets a whole subplot. In the other versions of Superman, he gets maybe a line or two in an interview with Kidder.

And there’s more at the beginning on Krypton. With everyone except Brando and Susannah York–though, wow, you forget how amazing they are together in their one scene. So good.

Actually, the extended version starts just fine. Terence Stamp’s microexpressions are preserved as well as Baird’s exquisite cuts between them. Then there’s a little more dialogue, here and there, with Brando and the other council members. The scene starts to drag and instead of the drag being corrected, it just gets worse. All the added lines are superfluous (as the two successful versions of the film attest).

Then the flying guard out to bust Brando for using too much power shows up. It’s a pointless addition–I assume it got cut because they couldn’t get the special effects to work or just decided it was a waste of time. But the producers want to waste some time with this cut. Well, executive producers. Original producer Pierre Spengler apparently didn’t have anything to do with bloating the film out. Ilya and Alexander Salkind, however, wanted to get it to those two nights for television.

Most of the added material–after the three major additions (Krypton, Hackman and company, Smith and the Native Americans)–is surplus dialogue. Lines no one would’ve kept. Including the actors. Besides Hackman seeming lost in the slapstick, Glenn Ford’s got a real awkward added line and can’t get any traction out of it. Though the extended scenes of the Daily Planet are interesting. They’re still too long.

After the surplus dialogue, the Salkinds threw in a lot of establishing shots. Lots of second unit. Lots of unfinished special effects–like during the way too long destruction of Krypton. Or special effects director Donner wisely cut just because they didn’t look any good even when finished. There’s some great helicopter footage of New York City though. Sorry, Metropolis. And, actually, Smallville too. It just doesn’t do anything.

Except add time. As scenes play long, even unpadded scenes start to drag–the mono soundtrack with the rearranged score doesn’t help–and subplots stop developing. Kidder disappears for way too long. Reeve gets some added material, which starts the character in a mildly new direction, but then there’s nothing else. The extended material is dead weight. Even when it’s good for character development, like with Perrine. And, to a lesser extent, Marc McClure.

Superman: The Movie: The Extended Cut is a swell curiosity, but nothing more. Maybe it really should be seen in two parts. Except, of course, it’s not like the Salkinds tried to do anything to make it feel like a two-part story either. Because their additive editing is disastrous and an ignoble diss to the film, its cast, and its crew. Not to mention the screenwriters, who clearly wrote some rather wordy, rather unnecessary lines.

However, if you’re a Fawlty Towers fan… Bruce Boa (from “Waldorf Salad”) does show up for a second and gets very angry. There’s also more John Ratzenberger, if you’re an avid Cliff fan.

Anyway. Editing is important. So is not purposely bloating out a film. The extra forty-five minutes are kryptonite to Superman.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).


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Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr)

Superman is a long fifteen chapters. The first two chapters are the “pilot.” They set up Kirk Alyn as Superman. He comes to Earth as a baby–with the Krypton sequences in the first chapter the most impressive thing in the entire serial–and grows up through montage to become Alyn. The first chapter has him heading off to Metropolis, intent on becoming a reporter so he can keep his ear to the ground for trouble. Except there’s trouble–a runaway train; wouldn’t you know it, Lois Lane (Noel Neill) and Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) are on that very same train.

For a while, Superman keeps up the pretense its a special effects spectacular. Sure, Superman flying is just a cartoon, but there’s a lot of super-action. And then there’s less. And then there’s less. And the script doesn’t make up for it. Screenwriters Arthur Hoerl, Lewis Clay, and Royal K. Cole take away from Alyn and, eventually, Neill and Bond to focus on the villains. Because only the bad guys get any developments. They’ve got the schemes, they have all the new characters, they have all the action. Alyn, Neill, and Bond are mostly just cliffhanger bait.

The first two chapters of Superman set up the ground situation. They also introduce Perry White (Pierre Watkin), the Daily Planet, whatever else. Third chapter brings in villain Carol Forman. She’s playing the Spider Lady. Most of the cast is her gang of interchangeable thugs. Except George Meeker and Charles Quigley. Quigley because he’s a mad scientist, Meeker because he never gets to do anything except bicker with Forman. Wait; he does torture the good scientist (Herbert Rawlinson), but it’s offscreen. Chapter three also introduces the “Reducer Ray.” Superman has a mission from the government to protect it. But Forman wants to steal it.

At one point, she tries to steal it using a ray more powerful than the reducer ray. Superman’s short on sense.

Alyn foils most of Forman’s early schemes. Then she discovers Kryptonite. For a while, Alyn versus Kryptonite is a big part of Superman. He can’t rescue Bond because of Kryptonite, he can’t rescue Neill, whatever. Bond or Neill. One of them is always in trouble, usually for doing the exact same stupid thing they did to get in trouble before. By the end of the serial, Bond ought to have more rapport with the bad guys; he spends most of his screentime their captive.

After the Kryptonite plotline, Superman just becomes about Forman trying to get Quigley to try to get Rawlinson to do something with the reducer ray. Steal it, duplicate it, destroy it, something. And Watkin wants Neill, Bond, and Alyn to get to Quigley before the cops–even though everyone’s aware of Forman’s Spider Lady, she’s not the target of the investigation. There aren’t really any cops in Superman. The occasional flatfoot or jail guard, but otherwise, it’s all either Neill, Bond, and Alyn or Forman and her goons. Even when Alyn–as Superman–captures a goon, he’ll deliver them to the Daily Planet for interrogation instead of the cops. It’s a very, very strange system of criminal justice they’ve got in Metropolis. It’s also incredibly ineffective because, while Watkin can fight, Bond can’t. Neill can’t. Alyn can’t. Alyn’s never Superman when he needs to be. He’s always Clark Kent at the worst times. Sometimes intentionally. Alyn goes on the reducer ray transport mission–the one Superman’s supposed to be doing–as Clark Kent to cover the story.

Four screenwriters and they couldn’t come up with anything better. Directors Bennet and Carr wouldn’t have been able to handle much better though. Not with action. Their problems shooting action–specifically rising action and tension–are clear from the second chapter. They never improve. They may even get worse once the serial gets into the treading water portion of its chapters. Chapters nine through fifteen are pretty much indistinguishable from one another; the set pieces are never significant (except for Watkin’s fight scene). Superman frontloads its superhero action. Alyn gets a little bit more to do at the end–in chapter fifteen, not fourteen, they really wait for the end in fifteen–but it’s not spectacular. In fact, his great scheme to put a stop to Forman once and for all is something he could’ve done in chapter five. And spared us the rest of the serial.

Bennet and Carr end up showing a lot of aptitude for comedy. The bickering between Neill and Alyn is narratively problematic–even though there’s an indeterminate but at least a few months flashforward in chapter three, Neill and Alyn never act like they know each other any better than after they first meet. Four screenwriters and none of them can figure out how to write a scene for the two top-billed actors. Not even when Alyn’s Superman. Neill is passed out for nearly all of her rescues and only really gets to chitchat once. Before Alyn tells her to scoot off to her office. Because with the good guys, Alyn’s Superman is authoritative. With the bad guys he’s either vicious (which is at least interesting) or a complete goof. Alyn’s showdown with Forman is utterly anti-climatic. He’s grinning like a moron, she’s barely paying attention to him; not a great showdown.

And Forman’s been a lousy villain. Her grand plan isn’t even clear. She wants to extort money or maybe she doesn’t. In the first few chapters, Meeker and then Quigley tell her how wrong she is about everything and question all her orders. The scenes aren’t good but at least they have some energy. After Forman consolidates her power, things just get even more boring. Because then it’s just about waiting for things like raw materials for the reducer ray or just waiting for the ray’s battery to charge. And her underground lair, complete with an electrified spider web for unwanted visitors, is a boring set. Superman’s got a lot of boring sets, but Forman’s spider-cave is the worst. It might just be because the serial wastes so much time there.

Most of the acting is okay, without any of it being standout. Alyn, for instance, gets into a good groove as Clark Kent while Superman is getting less to do, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Same goes for Neill. She’s better than anyone else–except maybe Watkin, who’s awesome–but she’s still not able to get any momentum out of the role. The script doesn’t do character development. The best it does for the actors is one-off scenes; there’s one scene of screwball for Neill and Alyn and it’s great. There’s one scene of dread for Neill, as a reporter, and it’s great. The actors make the scenes happen–though the directors get both those examples too–but they’re just filler.

Bond is all right for a while but gets tiring. Towards the end he gets to be the crusading reporter–including threatening poor Mexican immigrants (Metropolis in this Superman, incidentially, is L.A.) and flying the Daily Planet airplane. He bosses Neill around, dives headfirst into dangerous situations, gets his ass kicked time and again. He was a lot more likable as Neill’s sidekick.

Forman’s not good, but she’s a lot worse at the start than by the end. Same goes for Quigley. Meeker’s pretty steady. So’s Rawlinson. Frank Lackteen is pretty good as Neill’s stoolie who dumps her to be Alyn’s stoolie. It’s more poorly written than weird, kind of like they wanted to have two characters but didn’t.

Technically, Superman’s fairly unimpressive. The cartoon flying Superman is never embraced. The set pieces rarely involve any superpowers. Sometimes super-strength. But the superpowers are usually only for when Alyn’s in the tights, meaning Clark Kent is played as a regular boring guy. Including when Alyn gets beat up by the goons while trying to save Neill. Why didn’t he change into his tights? Why didn’t he just beat up the bad guys while in his suit? Just another of Superman’s many logic mysteries.

Earl Turner’s editing is awful. Ira H. Morgan’s photography is fine. It’s either the same interiors (Superman reuses office sets a lot) or the same exteriors around the Columbia lot.

There’s clearly a lack of budget. There’s not much inventiveness to work within the constraints either.

Even with the always disappointing cliffhangers (and cliffhanger resolutions), the overemphasis on Forman and her goons, the utter lack of non-expository moments much less scenes, Superman almost gets through. For a while, the occasional Kirk Alyn Superman scenes payoff. For a while, it seems like there might be something for Neill to do.

Then, after the drag of the final six chapters, Superman rushes to a disappointing finish. The serial doesn’t just not make up for its losses, it goes out on bigger ones. Futzing the showdown with Forman should be the last straw, but somehow the screenwriters manage to make it even worse with a peculiar, “comedic” end tag. Directors Bennet and Carr, regardless of previous comedy prowess, do nothing to save it. Because it’s lost. But it’s also finally over.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

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), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Carol Forman (Spider Lady), George Meeker (Driller), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Charles Quigley (Dr. Hackett), Herbert Rawlinson (Dr. Graham), Jack Ingram (Anton), Frank Lackteen (Hawkins), 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 15: The Payoff

The Payoff presumably refers to this chapter being the finale of Superman. There’s not much payoff otherwise. Spider Lady Carol Forman isn’t out to blackmail the city, she’s out to cause destruction. She’s given the Daily Planet four hours until she destroys it.

She’s has to give them four hours because the machine isn’t ready yet.

The chapter opens with Superman Kirk Alyn saving Noel Neill and her being conscious long enough to thank him. He’s let at least two people die in order to save her. After he tells her to get back to work, he cartoon flies into the building and changes outfits.

The chapter reuses a lot of Superman flying, Kirk Alyn changing clothes footage. It reuses some of it at least twice because as Neill, Tommy Bond, and Pierre Watkin try to figure out the Spider Lady’s plan, Alyn is popping in and out as Superman or Clark Kent.

The showdown between Forman and Alyn is about as impressive as one would expect for Superman, meaning not impressive at all.

The chapter ends on an odd note–a weak, mean joke. Certainly not a payoff moment.

There is, however, the best thing in the serial in terms of character development in this chapter. Neill starts writing an article about experiencing her impending doom. It’s about the only sincere thing in the serial’s fifteen chapters.

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 14: Superman at Bay

Superman is never at bay in Superman at Bay. In fact, Superman’s barely in it. When Kirk Alyn does done the tights, it’s stock footage of him changing in the stock room and flying out the window. Same footage as last chapter.

The cliffhanger resolution is actually pretty good, with Pierre Watkin hanging off the side of the building, but then the chapter just switches over to Spider Lady antics. The bad guys are finally ready to do something bad, not just talk about it and prepare to do it. This time, they’re doing something, for sure.

Tommy Bond gets the most to do this chapter. He rushes into a dangerous situation (again), hides in an obvious place (again), gives himself away (again), and gets captured (again).

The only difference is he roughs up a private citizen to get the information. After he and Noel Neill chase a wanted man down the street and beat him up. This chapter of Superman stands out–there’s an actual cop or two.

It’s the penultimate chapter and Bay’s not bringing anything new to the table. It’s leaving a lot off the table–Alyn and Neill have bupkis to do–but it’s almost done. Presumably Superman will even show up next chapter.

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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