Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
as Perry White
as 'Spider Lady'
as Superman/Clark Kent
as Dr. Hackett
as Jimmy Olsen
as Lois Lane
as Dr. Graham
Critic Reviews for Superman
Audience Reviews for Superman
It plays out like many old-but-good hero serials, but this one plays more seriously and smartly. Some of the characters are timely and cliche, and the action is pretty bland compared to what we see today, but seeing Superman take flight (even if it's animated) makes this a landmark to the franchise.
He may have previously appeared in animated form in the Fleischer Studios cartoons but this serial is the man of steel's first live action screen outing. Back in the days before a television set adorned every American living room, parents would drop their kids off at the local movie theater on a Saturday morning. There, wide-eyed brats would be held entranced by various action serials. These were usually about twenty minutes in length and invariably ended with a ridiculous cliffhanger, ensuring the kids would return in a week's time. The most popular of these was "Flash Gordon", something of a phenomenon in the serial world. By 1948, Superman was already a cultural icon thanks to his appearance in comics, cartoons and a successful radio show. If ever a character was deserving of it's own Saturday morning serial it was this one. I have to confess I'm a sucker for the sort of trashy fun that pervades forties cinema. I love the classic Universal horrors of the thirties but I equally enjoy their black sheep cousins, the forties knockoffs which cashed in on the characters of Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman and their ilk. These films might be brain dead but they're thoroughly enjoyable and always have a heart. You invariably come out the other end with a smile on your face and that's the case with this fun serial. The characters here are all portrayed by likable if not entirely convincing actors. Alyn is thoroughly charming as Superman and particularly as his alias Clark Kent, schlubby and loveable with his winks and smiles behind the backs of unsuspecting colleagues. Neill is feisty as Lois Lane and plays the role like a B-movie Katherine Hepburn, constantly berating Kent for his seeming cowardice. She was so impressive she would later repeat the role in the fifties TV version. Journalists apparently weren't paid very well back in the forties as she wears the same outfit through the entire series. As Jimmy Olsen, Bond is frankly terrible yet still manages to be an affable presence. The biggest problem faced in the production of the seventies Superman movie was how to make the audience believe a man can fly. In 1948 it was obviously a lot more difficult to pull off. This issue was skirted by basically turning Alyn into an animated version of the character whenever he needed to take flight. It takes you aback the first time you witness the technique but after a couple of episodes you won't even think twice about it. Modern cynics should avoid this but if you're a fan of the innocent charm of the forties I highly recommend it. The total running time of all fifteen episodes is roughly four hours so I wouldn't attempt to watch it in one sitting but an episode or two a night is a good way to approach it. I guarantee you'll fall for those crazy cliffhangers.
In truth I am a much bigger fan of Batman than I am of Superman. That said I have to admit that this first Superman serial is VASTLY superior than the serials that starred Batman. It is just a straight up true to it's source adaptation of Superman. It has it's variations, but it just carries that tone that Superman requires to work. I think that it is important to note that Superman also fits into the world of serials better than Batman really could. Serials were all about the straight laced hero that kids could look up to...but Batman is a much better character when he is more introspective and a brooding...brooding isn't as much fun. Now that's not to say Batman can't be fun, but the serials took away the essence of his character (oh and this serial lacks racist propaganda overtones). If you like Superman at all, then this serial is pretty great, Kirk Alyn threw himself into the role and it shows (he also is the only actor to pop on glasses and truly look like someone else to me). Noel Neill is also quite good as Lois Lane, no wonder she eventually returned to the role on the TV show. The Spider Lady is actually a pretty solid villain too. In spite of the cop out animated special effects, this serial is pretty solid.
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