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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Superman The TV Series

This was originally published in one of the last issues of Centero, Nikki's White's wonderful media-based letterzine. It went for over 100 issues and I had something in nearly every one of them. I honed my reviewing skills in it, and sometimes I just wrote letters or raved about old favourite films or TV shows with which I had become reacquainted through video or - later - DVD. I love the way DVD has brought them back, and all the extras on the better ones.

Superman the TV series was a childhood favourite - and now I'm reading and loving Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier And Klay, about a couple of Jewish boys in the 1930s, creating a superhero comic, a bit like the ones who created Superman. When I was a child, I was not allowed to read comics at home, so I went to visit my friend Denise, who lived in her parents' boarding house. We exchanged soft drink bottles left by the boarders for deposit money with which we bought more drinks, ice cream and Superman comic books, which we read as we feasted. It's a fond memory for me.

So here's a re-run of my comments on the DVD version of the George Reeves Superman series. Enjoy!
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I have been re-viewing old favourites over the last couple of months.

I bought the first season of the George Reeves Adventures of Superman and binged on it. Strange to watch it all again, after Christopher Reeve’s films and Lois and Clark, Smallville and this latest movie.

The scenery wobbles and the effects are primitive, but each episode is like a mini-movie. You’re surprised when it’s over in twenty-five minutes. The SF is minimised. There is, of course, the opening episode which brings the baby to Earth (and by the way, the Kents are not called Jonathan and Martha, as we’re used to). There’s also the one with the robot and the one where the scientist has created a mind-controlling machine. Mostly, though, it’s Superman versus crooks. Even the Jimmy Olsen episode, The Haunted Lighthouse, hasn’t any actual ghosts in it, and the voice crying for help is a parrot. I’m pretty sure there was kryptonite eventually, but not in this season.

I always did wonder what happened to Clark’s suit while he was in his Superman costume - he always seems to be able to change back to Clark Kent no matter where he is - and where his Superman costume was stashed meanwhile. This series made it even more interesting. It’s implied that he’s wearing the Superman costume under his regular clothes (hopefully there’s a fly in those shorts), because in one episode he has to go for a staff medical and leaves it in the wardrobe, where a crook finds it and steals it. This means he can’t tell anyone what has been stolen from his cupboard! That’s the one where he has to leave the crooks on a mountain top till he can decide what to do with them, because they know his secret identity - fortunately, they get killed while trying to climb down. Not his fault - he did tell them to stay there and seek shelter in a nearby hut.

Which brings us to the next point - anyone who finds out his identity is doomed. They always, always end up dead by the end of the episode. The show is specifically set in 1951, when it was made, so the crooks still seem to be gangsters and their molls, wearing 1940s clothes.

George Reeves’s Clark Kent is not Christopher Reeve’s bumbling ,”Aw, gee, Lois...” character. He’s the one who solves mysteries - Superman just mops up and comes on the scene when speed or strength is needed. Lois competes with him for the best stories. Like Dean Cain’s later Clark, he can stand up to her. He doesn’t even pretend to be a bumbler, and has a regular arrangement with the police, who seem to respect him.

First season Lois is Phyllis Coates. This Lois Lane is a tough chick, not scared of anything. She’ll go anywhere for a good story, but has never heard of the word “teamwork” and as a result tends to rush off when the villains send a note, without letting anyone know where she’s going. The villains are usually very, very sorry they have tangled with her, but she still needs to be rescued by Superman. In one episode, the villain has been sticking a drug into coffee that turns you into an obedient zombie. Lois is suspicious of the coffee, saying she’ll pour it, then lets herself be distracted and still drinks the coffee!

Jimmy Olsen is played by Jack Larsen, who is perfect for the role. He is a wonderful comic relief, who can make his eyes bulge when he’s having a “Jimmy” moment.

John Hamilton is Perry White and also perfect for the role. This Perry is a long way from the Elvis-loving Perry White of Lois and Clark. He’s the “Don’t call me chief!” and “Great Caesar’s ghost!”, cigar-chomping editor of “a great metropolitan newspaper”. Interestingly enough, he never seems to tell the reporters to stop investigating crime and get on with meeting the deadline.

There are two extra features and commentary on four episodes. One of the extras is a delightful little featurette about the making of the series, and fascinating it is, too. Among those interviewed is Jack Larsen, who is a LOT older than when he was playing Jimmy, but whose voice is still recognisable. The other extra, “Pony Express Days” remind you that George Reeves had a life before Superman. In it, he plays a young - very young - Buffalo Bill Cody. If you’ve ever seen Gone With The Wind, of course, you might remember him as one of the Tarleton twins.

A classic series and well worth a re-viewing.

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