Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flying Around the World in 3 Hours -- Pack a Sweater

Hello from Cleveland. Since I'm flying back to Seattle with the Mariners later today this seemed like the perfect day to share this post.

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.

31 comments:

Somersby said...

True. Soooo true.

Danj said...

Ken, I love your blog so please forgive me if I hijack it for a little rant here. But, can we please declare a moratorium on jokes about Lois Lane not being able to see through Superman's disguise? Not just in this blog, but throughout the world. Seriously, school kids were making these jokes on the playground when I was in first grade and that was over 35 years ago! And the jokes were already ancient even then (i felt embarrassed for Terri Hatcher when they made her act out this joke on SNL). There is no one who's seen Superman since 1938 that hasn't thought of the same joke. Please everybody... let's all just go look up suspension of disbelief and move on with out lives.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Ronald Reagan was elected twice!

Anonymous said...

The writers were dumb as rocks, perhaps, but the producers cast smart--George Reeves Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill, and Jack Lsrson were all pretty good actors. And somehow, the cheesy special effects, overdone music, etc. were a good fit--the was KIDDIE stuff--not portentous nonsense, and the people involved seemed to understand that's what kids wanted and they gave it to them.

The Curmudgeon said...

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

OK, maybe that wasn't right at that time -- the Daily Planet was just 55-60 years ahead of current newspaper staffing concepts.

DJ said...

You're forgetting that, in addition to his x-ray vision, Superman has telescopic vision -- the ability to see things from great distances. Two separate powers.

Ronald Drump said...

Excellent point - Reagan got elected twice, as did Bush (well, once, anyway). We can say the same thing about Obama. Whoever thought we'd see a Hawaiian elected president?

MikeBo said...

And, how about all those Nash Ramblers as police cars? I also recall that TV Guide blew the whistle on George Reeve's Superhero launchings. He trotted out on a diving board and jumped off camera into a trampoline.

Bob Levinson said...

Clark Kent was Superman? Wow! It's never too late to learn...

Pat Quinn said...

What sticks out to me from those black and white superman shows was when it got caught up in stuff that should not have anything to do with superman. Remember when he was taught how to slowly disolve into a wall and come out the other side? Or when he levitated Lois and she stopped the compacter walls from closing because she was hynotised? I remember watching the Molemen episode when I was 8 or 9 and getting really anxious about what the townspeople might do to them. Now when I watch it I wonder why they didn't just call an exterminator.

bevo said...

"There’s no lead anywhere in a straight line between the Daily Planet building and India?"

There's actually a lot based on my experience. As I have learned, women's blouses and bras contain a lot of lead because my x-ray power is blocked by those things as well.

"OK, maybe that wasn't right at that time -- the Daily Planet was just 55-60 years ahead of current newspaper staffing concepts."

Today, Superman would be living in his mom's basement. When not writing his blog, he would be making occasionally witty comments and observations on someone's else blog.

BigTed said...

"Smallville" -- the occasionally fun, mostly dopey teen-Superman show that just ended its run -- actually solved the secret-identity problem in an interesting way.

When Clark Kent is finally ready to take his Superman persona public, Lois Lane convinces him to turn "Clark" -- who up to then is a rugged, good-looking farmboy-reporter -- into a wimp. He starts wearing glasses he doesn't need and becomes shy and clumsy around the office. The idea is that even if people noticed the resemblance, it wouldn't occur to them that this, yes, "mild-mannered" reporter could possibly be a superhero.

It's a slightly more positive version of what Quentin Tarantino wrote in his screenplay for "Kill Bill":

"When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent.... What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us.... Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."

Naz said...

I remember as a young girl being shocked and confused when my mother told me Superman (George Reeves) killed himself. That was just so unexpected from The Man of Steel.

te said...

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

Pretty much the same as the Los Angeles Tribune in "Lou Grant." And, for that matter, the real-life Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

Paul said...

A large metropolitan newspaper with only three reporters is probably pretty accurate these days. I'm pretty sure the LA Times is just two paid reporters and three dozen bloggers who get paid a penny per word.

Kirk said...

George Reeves played a very wry Superman, which is why I still enjoy watching the show whenever I come across it, no matter how lousy the special effects.

Watching as an adult, I notice the show had a kind of tounge-in-cheek attitude about it. Nowhere near the extent of the later Batman series, but it was there. I remember one episode where a crook invents a fireproof costume. He sets banks on fire, and then robs them as they burn. When his otherwise thickheaded accomplice asks him, quite reasonably, why he just doesn't sell the suit to a giant corporation and get more money then he ever could robbing banks, the crook replies,

"Because that would be honest."

OK, you had to be there.

Cap'n Bob said...

In the original comic books, Kent also drooped a lock of hair on his forehead to change his appearance when he became Superman. On radio, his voice became deeper and bolder as Superman. Worked for me.

jbryant said...

Didn't one of the Superman iterations try to explain away the recognition issue by suggesting that he vibrated his facial molecules or some such when in his Clark guise, thus making him look different from the Man of Steel? I don't think this was ever reflected in the artwork, however.

Powerhouse Salter said...

I liked the Nash Rambler convertible that Lois Lane drove in the early episodes. Its side windows were always rolled up, maybe because she wouldn't have recognized the car without its [window] glasses on!

YEKIMI said...

A "gurdle"? On the other hand I wasn't even around for when the Superman series originally aired (except for the last couple of years) but did watch it in reruns when I was growing up. Even back then, in my single digit age, I was thinking "Why does Superman look like he's almost old enough to be retired and collecting Social Security?"

crackblind said...

@jbryant -

They've used a explanations a bunch of along those lines. My favorite was when they claimed that he used glass from his spaceship as the lenses in his glasses. This explained:

1. how his glasses survived if he used his heat vision while wearing them (never mind the times you saw him lower his glasses when he needed to do that trick)
2. Because of some Kryptonian property, the glasses acted as a hypnotic enhancement so the image people saw of Clark was actually a weakling man because that was how he wanted them to think of him.

I think I am officially the geekiest man on this blog (sorry Ken).

John said...

The first season episodes of "Superman" were actually considered a little too dark for the kiddies (no that's not why they started shooting the episodes in color), because the show runners had been the ones involved with the Superman movie serials and were trying for a broader audience appeal. So you got things like Superman taking a two-bit hood and his girl who've discovered his secret identity and dropping them on top of a glacier until he could figure out what to do with them, and having them conveniently fall off the thing to their deaths. Pleasant dreams kids, and don't think about the mole men zapping that guy with their ray gun, either.

Once they decided they were more interested in pushing the other kind of cereal that show sponsor Kellogg's was try to sell to the yutes, they dumbed the plots down and also replaced the more abrasive Phyllis Coates with Noel Neill and made sure there was at least one comic "dese, dem dose" type of comedy relief bad guys in every other episode (which apparently gave the writers of the Superman movie their inspiration for Gene Hackman's Otis role 20 years later).

Dan in Missouri said...

Ken:
Like you, even at 57, I still love the old black and white Superman.

A Friday question:
You've discussed Two and a Half Men before, so I'm sorry if I'm repeating a question. How would you handle Sheen's replacement?
Superman, Rosanne, Bewitched and many others replaced actors without changing characters.
George Burns replaced one of the actors playing his neighbor by simply telling the audience that the previous actor had asked too much money to return.
I thought it would be neat, but probably not profitable, to have a different actor each week portray Sheen's character. The idea would probably grow old.
I don't watch the series, but I'll watch the first couple of new episodes to see how this is handled.
Dan in Missouri

jbryant said...

Dan, you may be on to something. Maybe the producers of TWO AND HALF MEN should treat the Sheen character like Dr. Who -- recast every season or two. :)

Earl B said...

"Remember ... when he levitated Lois and she stopped the compacter walls from closing because she was hynotised?"

Yeah, and Jimmy had to inch his way up the walls to turn off the Kryptonite ray that was keeping Supes down there? And how, rejuvinated, Supes flew up out of the compacter and left Lois down there to get out on her own?

Ah, well ...

I'd explain how the girl didn't freeze in her 'round-the-world flight ... but I don't want to look like a geek.

parnell said...

My favorite scene involved Superman confronting several villains who proceeded to empty their revolvers at the Man of Steel. Of course Superman just puffed out his chest and allowed the bullets to bounce off harmlessly.

Then, in desperation, one villain hurls his gun at Superman. And what does the Man of Steel do?

He ducks. Stage prop bullets won't hurt him but that metal gun would sting if it hit him.

EWA private network said...

In the original comic books, Kent also drooped a lock of hair on his forehead to change his appearance when he became Superman.

MG said...

Christopher Reeve made the Clark Kent / Superman secret identity work.

jbryant said...
Didn't one of the Superman iterations try to explain away the recognition issue by suggesting that he vibrated his facial molecules or some such when in his Clark guise, thus making him look different from the Man of Steel?

MG: No, other way around. Superman vibrated his facial features so pictures of him always looked blurry. That was John Bryne who did that in the eighties.

crackblind said...
2. Because of some Kryptonian property, the glasses acted as a hypnotic enhancement so the image people saw of Clark was actually a weakling man because that was how he wanted them to think of him.

MG: That was in a story in the seventies. The story was not well received and was never referenced again before the eighties reboot.

Blaze said...

The hair thing has certainly become confused in Superman's 70+ years.

When the character was created, the ever-cycling fashions for men was to have a load of 'product' (as it would be called today). Watch any old movie of the time with Clark Gable or Cary Grant or whoever. Gleaming, slicked back coiffures. To be part of his generation, Clark Kent also kept his favourite pomade and comb busy.

Now, when you're watching those old movies, observe when Clark or Cary or whoever has to slug it out with a two bit hood. When the fight is done, notice how their hair is in disarray, often with an errant lock ACROSS THEIR FOREHEAD.

Our boy from Krypton has a natural wave to his hair. When Superman goes into action, he has no time to worry about his hairdo. As such, an unruly lock of curly hair fell down. Only as Clark would he fuss with a comb and set everything in order.

It's that simple

jwj170104 said...

I grew up a little bit outside of the George Reeves Superman (I was born in 1959). I did grow up on the Superman Comics and of course loved Christopher Reeves (who did sell the Clark/Superman thing well). Did want to recomend to anyone who likes the Superman/Lois dynamic to check out Love and Capes by Thom Zahler. He writes a great comic that has the Crusader dating and marrying his Lois, Abby. A great book that has a lot of fun with the romance but never takes it lightly. (LoveandCapes.com)

Ron Rettig said...

A very good friend of my father's, George Blair, directed many of the Superman TV episodes and was a prolific director of 40s movies and 50s and 60s TV shows. I always used to look for his name in the credits of TV shows as a kid and young man.