Title: Superman: The 1948 & 1950 Theatrical Serials Collection
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Warner Brothers Superman Theatrical Serials Collection!. This great collection is made of steel! For the first time on DVD, you can see both the complete 1948 and 1950 serials in their entirity, and top it all off with bonus features that come straight from the pages of the Daily Planet! The collection begins with an exciting montage of Superman’s history, from Kirk Alyn to George Reeves, Christopher Reeve to Dean Cain and Tom Welling to Brandon Routh. Considered the most successful serial of all time, Superman broke ground by listing Kirk Alyn as “Clark Kent” in the credits. The studio felt that no one, not even the audience, should know who was playing the man of steel. It also took a very unorthadox approach to filming. During Superman’s flying scenes, we see him as a cartoon in the air, only to land as a real person again. This was undoubtedly a solution based on a lack of technology. While it looks somewhat ridiculous by today’s standards, it was second nature in its era. The quality of the storylines would make for an easy transition into the Superman franchise’s success, when George Reeves began playing him only a few years later. Assembled in this stellar four-disc set is a piece of American nostalgia.
The 1948 Serials
The 1948 serials literally start out at the very beginning. We come in as the planet Krypton is facing a catastrophic end, and an elite “board of directors” realize there is no way to stop it. With time running short, one of the members builds a small ship that he uses to shoot his son out of Krypton’s atmosphere, and away from the destruction. This little boy is Kal-El. Kal crash lands into Earth and is found by a couple driving by in their car. They adopt him and rename him Clark. Clark’s extraordinary abilities are evident early in his childhood. His senses are acute, far surpassing those of any normal human being. Once he reaches adulthood, his foster parents, the Kents, tell him of how they came upon him. Their wish is that he travel some place that will benefit from what he has to offer. His mother even presents him with a uniform she made from the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby. The blanket/uniform is of an unknown fabric, unaffected by elements of heat and electricity. He obliges and moves away shortly after their deaths. Young Clark migrates to Metropolis, the “big city”. In a whirlwind of events, we see him save a speeding train from derailing by fixing a broken track and rescue a woman from a burning building. These mysterious miracles leave a stunned public scratching their heads. Newspaper headlines tell of a strange “bird man” who manages to prevent disasters without being seen. Clark tries his hand at getting a job…as a reporter. The managing editor of The Daily Planet agrees to hire him if he can manage to get inside a mine where workers are trapped, and return with the story. Lois Lane (played by Noel Neill), the paper’s star reporter, is already at the scene and having no luck with getting in. Naturally, Clark’s alter-idenity gains access with ease and we see the beginning of the Superman phenomenon unfold. His tasks include guarding a powerful ray-shooting machine and going up against the Spider Lady! This is also where we first see the effects of Kryptonite on our hero. His brief crossing with the glowing rock brings him to his knees and knocks him unconscious. Kirk Alyn introduces us to both Clark Kent and Superman exactly how they should have been introduced. Clark is the quirky, almost naive adult-child hybrid, while Superman is his opposite, a guardian of the city with enough bravado to be effective.
The 1950 Serials
The 1950 serials go a bit further into Superman’s gift…and curse. By now he has already been established, so the only thing left to do is continue his perpetual responsibility. The man of steel’s nemesis, Lex Luthor (played by Lyle Talbot) comes into play. Luthor is secretly “Atom Man”, and he is threatening to destroy Metropolis! Through a series of schemes and malicious ideas, Luthor takes small shots at the city and Superman manages to counter each of them until he is weakened once again by kryptonite. Luthor takes advantage of this effect and confines him in one of his contraptions halfway through the series. As one would assume, Superman eventually frees himself and goes right back into fighting Lex. In his many altercations, including some with a UFO, Superman’s ability to pull off the impossible leaves the viewer somewhat amused. Though we expect nothing less of his character, it does provide us the opportunity to laugh at the absurdity of the events. Nevertheless, both the 1948 and 1950 serials were made for kids, and with that demographic in mind, the determination of Kent alone was nothing less than stellar. These were set up as cliff-hangers. The conclusion of each episode bled right into setting up the continuation. “Will Superman be able to……?!?! Find out next week!” Kirk Alyn does an overall great job with bringing Superman from the comic book to the screen.
Special effects aside, these serials really paved the way. We have to remember the mindstate of the 1940s and 1950s, and allow ourselves to enjoy the episodes for what they were meant to be. If every little detail is scrutinized, then we could find a million imperfections. The intention was not to create a show that revolutionized television, but rather simply entertained. That’s exactly what it did. We cannot recognize the legend of Superman without crediting his origins, and this being his first screen incarnation, the credit belongs to these serials.
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