Saturday, August 09, 2008

Flying around the world in three hours. Pack a sweater.

Superhero movies are all the rage this summer. But I must admit, still my favorite superhero show is the old SUPERMAN TV series from the 50s.

I know it dates me but I was the target audience when it first came out but I still watch it in reruns (it’s now on cable channels so obscure they don’t even have names) and bought the first season DVD the day it came out. I’ve since given up running around the neighborhood employing a towel as a cape. My wife finds it humiliating.

When I watch the episodes now I am filled with a warm sense of nostalgia. I also am struck by how incredibly STUPID I was as a kid. There are moments in that show that are so preposterous that even as a seven year old I should have said, “Heyyyy, wait a minute.”

Okay, forget that no one can tell the difference between Clark Kent and Superman just from the glasses even though they look alike, have the same voice, and build. (Teri Hatcher had the same problem in the later series although in her case she was probably just too distracted terrorizing the crew because her Perrier was three degrees too cold.) I’m talking about these little gems (and I bet some of you have a few too):

In one episode Superman flies a little girl around the world. In three hours. At that speed with the g-forces I’d guess she’s be vaporized just outside the Metropolis city limits. And she’s just wearing a little sun dress and flimsy sweater. In one scene they’re flying over Mount Everest. He asks if she’s cold and she assures him she’s not. That must be some sweater because at that altitude it must be minus 300 degrees. But I bought it.

Remember the episode in which Superman was frozen? Oh no! How will he pass for Clark Kent? Simple, with some shoe polish and Lois Lane’s make up. Son of a gun, it worked!! No one noticed there was anything different between a normal person and a man wearing pancake makeup on his face and hands and jet black shoe polish in his hair. It worked for me.

The Daily Planet was a great metropolitan newspaper with a staff of three reporters. Yeah, that sounded about right at the time.

They were always quite liberal on their definition of X-Ray vision. Instead of just looking through objects, this Superman was able to see things from miles away. The one catch was that he couldn’t see through lead. There’s no lead anywhere in a straight line between the Daily Planet building and India?

Which brings me to my favorite moment of all. In one episode the bad guys got the brilliant idea that if they wore lead helmets that fitted completely over their heads that Superman could never identify them. Okay, forget fingerprints, they went to so much trouble to have these helmets made. And wasn’t it hot in those things? I guess not.

So in one scene two of these lead heads are going up to Perry White’s office in the Daily Planet. We see them walking down the hall. Picture this: Two men in suits, lead helmets, with fedoras. Two extras (“staff members”) pass them in the hall AND DON’T EVEN NOTICE THEM. Ho hum. Nothing unusual. Just two businessmen in helmets and hats. Now I fall off my chair. Then I thought “those helmets look good with those suits”.

Yeah, today Hollywood can turn out dazzling productions with spectacular special effects, starring A-list actors, shown on humongous IMAX screens. But they still can't mesmerize me like those cheesy black-and-white episodes that flickered on my twelve inch TV set, even if Superman did fly with strings and wore a gurdle.

27 comments:

TCinLA said...

And all that makes you how much dumber than the standard-issyue Model 2008 studio release movie audience????

Since you can drive an M1A1 Abrams battle tank through the logic holes of "the thinking man's Batman," I rather suspect that as ignernt as you (and I) were are age 7, we'd still be unable at that age to pass the IQ test low enough to qualify as movie audience today.

David K. M. Klaus said...

> And she’s just wearing a
> little sun dress and
> flimsy sweater. In one
> scene they’re flying over
> Mount Everest. He asks
> if she’s cold and she
> assures him she’s not.
> That must be some sweater
> because at that altitude
> it must be minus 300
> degrees. But I bought it.


You can blame the show's story editor Mort Weisinger for that. In the Superman comics he also edited, in scenes where Superman flew people to his arctic Fortress of Solitude without protection, there was always a yellow editorial box saying that Supes flew them fast enough that the heat from air friction balanced out the cold.

Actually, in the episode where Superman is frozen to "a thousand degrees below zero"(!), Perry White did notice something was wrong as John Hamilton, in character, bellowed at George Reeves "Kent! Are you wearing make-up?" before distractedly changing the subject.

And it wasn't shoe polish for hair dye, it was lots and lots of mascara.

What's fun for me in that first season, is how small-town Metropolis looks. Of course, there's a reason for that, as the first year was filmed on the Culver City RKO Forty Acres sets used a decade later for Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show and where Reeves had worked in another section slightly further west at "Tara", over a decade earlier in Gone with the Wind.

MrEd said...

The Superman episode where the little glowing men came out of the well scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

DwWashburn said...

Your comment about the girl not freezing while flying with Superman reminded me of a comment my brother made after the first Christopher Reeve movie was released. I was the only comic book fan in our family, but my brother had taken a date to the movie because she wanted to go. When I asked him how he liked it, he said he couldn't believe that the writers had Lois and Superman flying above the clouds where the thin air and cold would be fatal to the mortal Lois. I told him, "You went to see a movie about an outer space man in long johns who could fly, and about a master mind criminal who had his office in a smelly subway system while surrounding himself with total dolts, but the Lois and Superman scene was the unbelievable part?"

Dave said...

sxzerluYou neglected my favorite Superman moments; after criminals had fired all their bullets at Kal, they would invariably throw their guns at him, using the logic that if bullets didn't harm him, a hunk of steel might.

Of course, if Superman hadn't ducked as the guns flew past him, he might have disabused them of the idea.

A. Buck Short said...

Corollary to the gun-chucking conundrum. Whenever criminals would attempt to wack the man of steel by stabbing him, to their amazement, the knife would always bend against his chest. Of course they were amazed. Do you realize how incredibly strong the bad guy would have had to be to bend the knife like that? Try bending a knife against a brick wall.

My first special effect, on Super-8
(also employing the infamous towel-cape wardrobe element), was Superman flying against a clear blue sky. Really pulled it off too. It would take an Einstein the complexity of having held the camera sideways -- or to question why the dude's feet always remained slightly out of frame.

Even after the 180 degree rotation, facilitating our superhero's demonstration of the soaring backstroke.

rob! said...

George Reeves really sold that part, that's why everyone bought into it so completely. A shame he didn't live to see how beloved he would become to multiple generations.

Anonymous said...

Ken,
Couldn't agree more. I love the old Superman show of the 50's. May favorite episode was the one where two thugs (a husband and wife) while in Clark Kent's apartment, discover a hidden closet with the Superman costume. Clark catches them and flies them off to a remote mountain top where they will live in solitude forever. The wife, in four inch heels, tries to traverse down the snowy mountain, only to fall to her death... while taking her husband down with her. Now THAT was the golden age of television!

John Leader said...

I'm with you on "Superman" the TV series, Ken. I used to love that show.

What did you think of "Hollywoodland" the 2006 film loosely based on George Reeves life and (supposedly mysterious) death?

josé ferrari said...

Hi! You probably wont answer yet i feel compelled to write. Im kind of lost. Ok i will start with an introduction; mi name is José (jOEY) i am from Uruguay (in 2 months i leave to spain) and i dream of becoming a writer, a tv writer to be more precise, yet i dont know what to do, how to do it or anything really all i do know is that i want to write to give a home to all those people that dont like their lives so they have friends on tv. Does that make any sense? Anyways, i guess i was hoping you could talk to me, give me a tip or something, become mi mentor, thogh i guess that sound pretty ridicouls doesnt it? Well anyways thanks for your time and in case you would like to write to me here is mi e-mail ; jose_ferrari_1990@hotmail.com

Jim said...

"A great metropolitan newspaper with a staff of three reporters" -- Seen the L.A. Times recently? The "Superman" producers were just ahead of their time.

tb said...

What's the show with the guy in the bullet-shaped helmet & jet back pack? Drawing a blank...but I always liked the fight scenes in that one, where no one's hat EVER came off.

AlaskaRay said...

>>Superhero movies are all the rage this summer. But I must admit, still my favorite superhero show is the old SUPERMAN TV series from the 50s.<<

It's still one of my favorites, too. I guess I was also their target audience, but, in my head, I always managed to create pseudoscienfic explanations for most of the inconsistancies.

>>In one episode Superman flies a little girl around the world. In three hours. At that speed with the g-forces I’d guess she’s be vaporized just outside the Metropolis city limits.<<

Not at all. The circumference of the earth (at the equator) is about 25,000 miles. This would put their speed at just over 8000 MPH or 2.3 miles per second. Not only is this not vaporization speed, but it's not even close to the 7 miles per second required to escape the earth's gavity. However, the heat from the air friction might be enough them warm over Mt. Everest (take that stupid logic).

>>The Daily Planet was a great metropolitan newspaper with a staff of three reporters. Yeah, that sounded about right at the time.<<

Hey, it was the 50's. There was nothing interesting to report anyway, except who was a communist on any particular day. How many reporters did you need for that?

Thanks for post, Ken, and the personal nostalgia it created.

Ray

rob! said...

well, the comic books have established supes has the ability to extend a certain of amount of invulnerability and/or warmth to someone he's touching (which they might have explored--*ahem*--in Lois & Clark).

so he could be warming the little girl using his super powers, hence her not freezing to death. there's even a sort of reference to this ability in the first superman movie before he and lois fly for the first time.

i'm so proud of myself i know this stuff.

Anonymous said...

And even at my tender age I thought both Lois Lanes were HOT!

John said...

Superman actually was a decade ahead of its time in pioneering the standard rule about 60s TV shows (mostly sitcoms) -- when in doubt, watch the black & white episodes, because they're going to be a lot better than the later color ones.

The first two seasons of the show, while still made for kids, were a lot less simplistic in the plots than the final few seasons were, when they toned it down so that the worst any of the bad guys ever got was a Moe Howard-like double-head bonk from Superman.

(And I confess that, even though it shouldn't make a difference, I look at the shows a little differently now, after finding out about 10-12 years ago that Jack Larson was gay when his life-partner died and the obit was in the Washington Post. Jumbling my childhood views of the show with adulthood cynicism, I just see Jimmy and Lois in a competition for who can be Superman's best friend whenever one of them has to be rescued.)

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Commando Cody might be the rocket man you're trying to think of,tb.

Ken, count me in as another huge fan of Superman. A few episodes that stand out in my mind are: the good clown (Crackers) vs the bad clown; the ghost of Caesar that haunted Perry White; the mole men; and, yes, the girl he flew around the world. Even as a kid I wondered how she didn't freeze to death, but I assumed it was just one of Supe's powers that allowed her to survive.

Anonymous said...

Talk about preposterous movie or TV scenes how about serious ones like "Titanic (The Love Story" - the worst picture to ever win an Oscar), were they make hot love in the back of a car in the hold of the ship and next are up on an open deck, she in a skimpy dress, where the temperature had to be 15 below. And speaking of helmets, why didn't Robert Downy have the sense to wear one when he was trying out his flying suit in his lab? Geeze, you have to wear one riding a bicycle! Well, it was a "comic book" movie too. But, still, you should set the right example for the youngsters.

Jumpcut said...

Back in the 60's I preferred the Superman reruns to the then-new Batman show because I felt the villians in Superman were much more realistic. The logic of an eight-year-old...

betty said...

My 7 year old is buying that no one recognizes Hannah Montana is really Miley in her school. Maybe it's just the age - or my kid is really naive!

Dan Coyle said...

I think perhaps the kids at Hannah's school can't possibly believe someone with a voice as unbearably grating as Miley's can carry a tune.

Vermonter17032 said...

Ken,

I'm with you on the George Reaves Superman. Wonderful show!

The biggest problem with Superman... in all his incarnations is this: Why does he waste time as Clark Kent? Certainly bad things are happening ALL the time somewhere on Earth. Being Superman could be a full-time job, flitting from one disaster to another rescuing people and making things right. But most the the time, Superman is content to flirt with Lois Lane and tutor Jimmy Olsen. I mean, sure, the guy deserves some down time, but if you're the man of steel, you should be spending more time doing good and less time chatting up Lois!

Anonymous said...

They were always quite liberal on their definition of X-Ray vision. Instead of just looking through objects, this Superman was able to see things from miles away.

Two separate superpowers. Superman's telescopic vision allows him to see things from a great distance. His x-ray vision allows him to see through anything except lead.

Mobisop said...

wow. its so amazing. i cant fly around the world in years coz i'm using bike. hehe

Dan Coyle said...

Based on Christopher Reeve, I always thought Superman was Clark Kent because he liked fucking with people. Who could forget Reeve's shit eating grin whenever he caught a bullet or popped up just when Superman was away?

D. McEwan said...

Those glowing little men who came out of the well (who were ex-Munchkins) were from the feature film SUPERMAN VS THE MOLE MEN, later edited into the TV series as a two-parter, with about 10 minutes trimmed out. The terrifying ray gun they brought up with them is an Electrolux vacuum cleaner with a large tin funnel stuck in one end. It's my all-time favorite cheap sci-fi prop.

I too managed a good, cheap flying effect for a home Superman movie, but none of this standing actor and turned-sideways camera stuff. We strapped our Superman's legs to the roof of a truck cab and he stuck his arms out in front of him as we drove the truck around the block, while I rode in a car beside the truck, filming him. Result: Superman, from the waist up, zooming (at about 15 mph) past sky & buildings, and making 4 consecutive right turns. It actually looked pretty cool.

I'm sure they must have had sports reporters at The Daily Planet, except when Superman got involved with a sports-related plot (There's one involving a race horse, and the little girl who loved the horse of course.), then Clark, Lois, and Jimmy cover it.

"What's the show with the guy in the bullet-shaped helmet & jet back pack?"

Wasn't a show, but a couple theatrical serials: Lost Planet Airmen & King of the Rocektmen. Perhaps others as well.

"rob! said...
well, the comic books have established supes has the ability to extend a certain of amount of invulnerability and/or warmth to someone he's touching"

Here I reveal what a geek I am, by knowing that the invulnerablity field concept was added to the Superman mythos by John Byrne, 30 years after the George Reeves series ended, so it wasn't in effect then.

"And I confess that, even though it shouldn't make a difference, I look at the shows a little differently now, after finding out about 10-12 years ago that Jack Larson was gay when his life-partner died and the obit was in the Washington Post."

So when Jack's lover (Who, BTW, was James Bridges, the great film director.) died in 1993, you caught up with what we gay viewers always knew: that Lois was just the beard, and Jimmy was Clark's REAL True Love.

Why did Superman bother with being Clark Kent? To have a life. Even a Superman didn't want to be rescuing people 24/7/52. And to have relationships with other people, since just being known as a Superman friend got you kidnapped regularly, if it was known who he was, his family would be in constant danger. Besides, it's essential to the wish-fullfillment nature of the beast, the idea any kid could relate to that, though I may look like a mild-mannered 4th grader, what those jerks in the 6th grade don't know is that under my street clothes, I have super-poweres! Eliminate the Clark Kent identity, you lose that all-important aspect of the character's appeal. The Clark smirk was ESSENTIAL! It was OUR smirk.

Dwwashburn,
Let's not forget the MOST absurd element of SUPERMAN THE MOVIE: he reverses the rotation of the earth (Without it causing all buildings to topple and everyone on earth to die), and it REVERSES TIME! Dead Lois springs back to life. Entropy decreases.

If he could do this, then it would be all he ever needs to do. He can undo EVERY bad thing.

It's the ultimate writing cop-out. Turn back time and fix everything. Bad writing.

PANIC IN THE SKY, a second-season George Reeves show that the Dean Caine/Teri-who-must-not-be-named series remade, had Clark Kent get amnesia and forget he's Superman. He faints in the shower while Jimmy is visiting. (As I said, for we young gay viewers, that made perfect sense.) Jimmy lugs Clark's naked body out of the shower stall (Over broken glass) and hauls him up into bed, and then calls Lois and Perry to come over. (But not a doctor. He's got amnesia and he passed out, send for a reporter and an editor.)

Perry, Lois, and Jimmy talk to Clark while he's lying in bed, NOT WEARING HIS GLASSES. It's Superman's best friends talking to a guy with Superman's head, Superman's face, and Superman's voice, and not only does no one recognize him as Superman, but one of them actually asks "Where's Superman when we need him?" Jimmy pulled him over broken glass without his getting cut or even scratched, and they all know that Superman has been missing ever since Clark got amnesia, but no one catches on.

Kellogg's sponsered, and shot commercials where Clark, Jimmy and Perry all sat down for lovely bowls of corn flakes (Yuck!) in Clark's kitchen. Poor Noel Niell wasn't allowed in the ads, since it seemed unacceptable for Lois to be breakfasting at Clark's, but Jimmy and Perry were okay to have spent the night in one weird three-way. I was okay with Jimmy being there, but Perry?

I hear a gruff, irrascible elderly voice, in the dark of Clark's boudoir, reversing his usual catch-phrase, and hollering at Jimmy "Call me CHIEF!"

Dan Coyle said...

In the very first arc of Astro City, writer/creator Kurt Busiek told two stories featuring the character Samaritan, who was an obvious Superman analogue (though with a VERY different origin), and he was henpecked and overworked and never, ever got a break. He'd go to work, then go play superhero and there was always something going on (he had an advanced listening device that hacked into all police bands).

The stories were sad, yet poignant, because Samaritan never gave up hope that there was something better coming along, that he'd catch a break, that he'd find someone. He may have been fooling himself to keep from going crazy, but is that so wrong?

Busiek later would do his own "official" take on the Superman mythos with Superman: Secret Identity, which was one of the finest stories featuring the character concept I'd ever seen.