Atom Man vs. Superman (1950)
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By the early fifties, the Saturday morning serial format was on it's knees. Television had swept across American homes and parents were more likely to plonk little Johnny in front of the goggle box rather than pay for a cinema ticket. The producers of this second Superman serial obviously bore a grudge as they made the character of Lex Luthor, the very definition of evil, the head of a TV network. Of course Luthor, or "Loothorr" as everyones seems to call him here, has other tricks up his sleeve and poses as the masked villain Atom Man to unleash terror on Metropolis. At his disposal is a variety of, ultimately useless, weapons such as a "Space Transporter", "Disintegration Machine" and (no laughing at the back) "Sonic Vibrator". This means we get much more lavish set-pieces than the first serial although they employ a liberal amount of stock footage. One sequence is hilarious in it's incorporation of clips from a flood which obviously occurred a good thirty years previous, given the dress styles on display. Luthor seems to have a very slow way of raising funds for all this as at one point his henchman are sent to hold up a "Payday Checks Cashed" outlet. I guess global terror has to start somewhere.
The main cast are all back and seem to be having a whale of a time. There are several shots where Neill seems on the verge of a laughing fit and, given the dialogue she has to work with, you can't blame her. Another reason for her giddiness may be that she gets to wear more than one outfit in this series. Alyn is just as likeable as in the previous series but sadly gets less time in the role of Clark Kent. Coming on board as Luthor is Lyle Talbot who fans of bad fifties cinema will know as the bald-headed star of many an Ed Wood production. He's actually quite restrained here compared to his later work and the writers have a lot of fun with his character. Here Luthor has a jet black sense of humour, sending his cronies adrift in space for a few minutes before bringing them back to earth to "teach them a lesson".
The series is fun throughout which is more than can be said for most of today's superhero outings. It also seems to have been quite influential. A plot-line involving Superman's loss of powers would be repeated in the ultimate comic book movie "Superman 2". At one point he saves metropolis by flying out across the ocean with a nuclear bomb on the verge of detonation. Now where have we seen that recently?
While it may not be as strong as the first Superman serial, it is still pretty solid. The villain this time is Lex Luthor, who also poses as a new criminal in town known as the Atom Man. The gimmicks with Luthor's gadgets (like the teleportation coin) can get a bit tiresome, but over all the serial is just about as enjoyable as the first one. Most of the cast return, which is always a plus. Kirk Alyn was the first Man of Steel, and I think his interpretation is pretty good...it has held up and had a lasting impression on the franchise.
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