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Superman (1948, Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr), Chapter 4: Man of Steel

Man of Steel opens with a good scene for Kirk Alyn, as both Clark Kent and Superman, as he has to decide if he’s going to reveal his secret identity. He’s trying to convince scientist Forrest Taylor to destroy kryptonite.

Unfortunately, Taylor’s got an assistant who’s more interested in personal profit than the well-being of the Man of Steel, which brings Carol Forman’s Spider Lady into the mix.

But not for Alyn. After the opening, he gives up the chapter to Noel Neill. For a few minutes, anyway, before she gets kidnapped. She and Tommy Bond do get a good scene together–visiting a stool pigeon, Neill has to school young Bond in proper reporting.

Once she’s kidnapped and off to Forman’s lair, Man of Steel starts to get its familiar drag. Forman’s performance isn’t good; her character is stupid too. Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr have Neill ostensibly in danger the whole time, yet when she gets to have the cliffhanger, it’s like they just remembered to do something with her. Before the cliffhanger, it’s all Forman doing expository.

Bennet and Carr’s lack of urgency hurts Man of Steel. Alyn, Neill, and Bond are all good, but the finale gives none of them anything to do. Just Forman. And she wastes anything she gets to do. It’s not entirely her fault. Spider Lady’s a weak character

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 3: The Reducer Ray

The Reducer Ray drags. It opens with an okay, not great, cliffhanger resolution–with the best use of the animated Superman action so far in Superman. The resolution’s truncated so the action can get back to the Daily Planet so Noel Neill can meet Kirk Alyn (as Clark Kent). She already met Superman, but just for a moment and it has no apparent effect on her.

There’s a promising hint of Alyn and Neill bickering, then the chapter moves ahead an indeterminate period. There’s a newspaper headline montage of all Superman’s feats.

When the montage ends, Reducer Ray introduces villain Carol Forman and her stooges. Forman is “The Spider Lady.” She wears a black gown and an eye mask. She also has a giant silvery spider web in her foyer. It’s unclear why she’s such a powerful villain, but her stooges do her bidding. Including when it gets them killed, like here.

Turns out the U.S. government has a job for Superman. There’s a lot of action–and The Reducer Ray–before it’s back to Metropolis for Alyn as Clark Kent. A meteor is expected to land nearby and they’re supposed to get the story. Can he and Neill work together?

Or will she strand him on the side of the road.

Neill’s good. Alyn’s better as Kent. Especially during the bickering scenes with Neill, Tommy Bond, and Pierre Watkin. The script just doesn’t take any time with them.

Lots of Superman cartoon flying “effects.” Never too bad, but never good. If Superman’s got to fly as a cartoon, they ought to still be excited about the cartoon.

It feels long–there are a lot of people standing around in Reducer Ray, most of them new characters, most of them probably just here for the one chapter. It’s a lot to get through.

The cliffhanger involving Kryptonite is at least a shocker.

Also–Neill gets screen time but nothing to do as a reporter. Her part is to actively dislike Alyn, amusingly so, but zilch else.

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 2: Depths of the Earth

Depths of the Earth opens with Superman saving a train. Only on a budget. Yet everyone acts like it’s the second coming, from Noel Neill’s Lois Lane to the stunned rail worker. All the rail worker saw was Kirk Alyn run out of the bushes in his Superman costume and kneel next to the train tracks. But it’s enough to wow the rail worker. He can’t even form sentences to tell people what he saw, which is good since Alyn’s not really good with the secret identity thing. Clark Kent runs into the bushes (three times this chapter) and Superman runs out.

After Neill and Tommy Bond file a story about the rail incident, they head off to a mine disaster. Alyn heads to Metropolis to get a job. But first he’s got another rescue to do as Superman, his first time flying. A mob of citizens tries to chase him down after the rescue, but Alyn gets away. He’s too adept at hiding in bushes.

Alyn heads to the Daily Planet, where editor Pierre Watkin tells him if he can scoop Neill and Bond he’s got a job. So off Alyn goes to the mine disaster, which is further away than his hometown. But he gets there quick.

Not in time to save Neill from her bad instincts; she follows an old codger to get into the mine and ends up trapped.

Watkin is rather good in his scene with Alyn. He does angry newspaper editor well. Neill and Bond are good too. Alyn’s fine so far. He hasn’t really had a scene with anyone yet–his rescue was unconscious so there’s no interaction.

The cartoon flying Superman is still a little weird, but nowhere near as weird as Alyn going to cover the story of a mine disaster without helping as Superman.

The cliffhanger’s weird too. Directors Bennet and Carr are having a lot of problems with building tension. Hopefully they improve.

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 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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