Monthly Archives: November 2021

Superman 1.62: Catching the Cat

Time Magazine — August 1, 1977:

“Even with the crane and wires, flying is not easy. Christopher Reeve, 24, who plays Superman, has to make a dozen or so passes 50 ft. in the air before he bags his cat, made suitably cooperative by the taxidermist. Every once in a while Superman is brought down for an adjustment of his ailerons. He has 25 different costumes and perhaps six different kinds of capes—for standing, sitting, flying and coming in for a landing. He is now wearing his flying cape, which is stretched out with wires so that it appears to billow in the wind.

“The changes made, he goes back into the air, accompanied by cheers from local residents who are hanging out of windows. “Hey, Supraman, why cantcha get the cat?” someone shouts in that rich blend of gravel and adenoids known as Brooklynese. “Thattaboy, Supraman!” yells another when he actually touches the dusty beast.”

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Superman 1.60: Stop the Steal

Let the city-stunning commence! Now that Superman has rescued Lois from a plummeting helicopter, he’s finally let off the chain and allowed to spend six minutes hopping around performing one heroic feat after another, piling up wins.

And just to mess with us, this thrilling sequence begins with Superman doing something that I’m not 100% sure he’s supposed to be able to do.

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Superman 1.59: The Alternative, part 2

I believe that I left you yesterday teetering on a knife’s edge, wondering how Action Comics ever got away with spending four months in 1978 justifying the production of a frankly disappointing die-cast toy. As you’ll recall, Corgi, one of the finest names in the British die-cast novelties market, wanted to make a Superman-themed companion piece to its successful line of Batman toys. The caped crusader had an easily merchandisable Batmobile, Batboat and Batcopter, so Superman was going to get a Supermobile, whether he needed it or not, which he didn’t.

Showing a ready willingness to bend to the needs of die-cast commerce, Action Comics produced a four-issue toy commercial, starting with issue #480 in February 1978. That first installment set up the premise of the storyline: A wave of red-sun radiation that has washed over the Earth, causing several problems.

First, it’s reactivated the deactivated Amazo, an enormous terrifying android who has all the powers of the Justice League and never lets you forget it. Now Amazo is hunting down his mad scientist creator, Professor Ivo, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Second problem: The red-sun radiation has dimmed Superman’s powers, leaving him vulnerable and helpless. Problem number three is that Amazo has tricked all of the other superheroes into gathering on the Justice League satellite, which he’s propelled into another dimensional plane.

As of the middle of the second issue, Amazo has tracked the weakening Superman to his Fortress of Solitude, where the action ace has concealed Professor Ivo, and the only way that Superman can fight the android is to jump into his souped-up Supermobile hot rod, and show the boys and girls at home all of its exciting action features.

Continue reading Superman 1.59: The Alternative, part 2

Superman 1.58: The Alternative

Superman is up in the air at last, and now — at the late date of 70 minutes into a 140-minute experience — we might say that Superman: The Movie has finally begun. He’s rocketed skyward, a danger to sneak thieves and drug smugglers, and a friend in need to cats and kings.

As we discussed yesterday, the film’s special effects crew finally figured out how to produce credible shots of the action ace soaring through the sky, which is great, but it involved a great deal of wear and tear on the harnesses, the front projection equipment and the lead actor. It’s too bad that the Superman crew didn’t realize that there was an alternative, which was proposed in Action Comics in spring 1978, on behalf of a British toy company.

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Superman 1.57: A Man Can Fly

So here’s a scene that we didn’t see in Superman: The Movie, straight from the shooting script:

The eagle bursts through a white cloud bank up once more into the clean blue air. After a short moment SUPERMAN does likewise, trailing the bird.

For a few moments we are privileged to witness this real beauty and poetry of flying as the eagle and SUPERMAN chase each other through the air doing banks, loops, and dives, swooping closely together like two beautiful fighter planes in tight formation.

The unspoken ceremony over, they silently acknowledge each other, then head off in different directions.

Obviously, that scene didn’t happen, because who has the time to choreograph eagles, but the interesting thing is that it made the cut all the way up to the shooting script. That says to me that they really didn’t know how hard it was going to be just getting Superman to fly in a credible way, without having to do a fucking raptor ballet on top of it.

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Superman 1.56: The Catch

It’s impossible, of course. Falling object LL descending distance d at velocity v for a given time t, being met by rising object S at acceleration a, with v equal to a times t, and d equal to one-half a times t squared, would result in falling object LL rapidly disassembling into her component parts, some on rising object S and quite a bit on the ground g, making a terrible mess and putting the kibosh on the romance like you wouldn’t believe.

So overall I think it’s best if we stress the fiction more than the science here, and focus on the matter at hand. A handsome man from beyond the stars has suddenly appeared directly under Lois, sweeping aside the laws of physics for her immediate benefit.

“Easy, miss,” he assures her. “I’ve got you.”

Her surprised squeak of a response — “You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” — is one of the great moments in American cinema, partly because her comic timing and the crack in her voice are utterly perfect, but also because she’s expressing the surprise and anxiety of a person who suddenly finds herself starring in a different movie than the one that she thought she was in.

It’s easy to imagine this scene going wrong; all you’d need is for Lois to be grateful rather than horrified. “Oh, thank goodness,” she would say, “I thought I was falling to my death, but here you are and you’ve saved me, hurrah!” And then she’d wave to the crowd like a homecoming queen, instantly comfortable with the idea that gravity is backwards.

What Lois is actually expressing is more along the lines of, “Holy shit, what’s happening? What the fuck are you, and what are you doing to me?” I mean, obviously she’s pleased that she’s moving away from the ground rather than smacking directly into it, but she’s fallen into the clutches of a monster from outer space, and that’s going to take a minute to get used to.

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Superman 1.55: The Bad Outfit

It’s a moment of celebration — after all this time, with Lois Lane in terrible trouble, Superman emerges triumphantly from the magic revolving door. The music explodes with pleasure: it’s SU-PER-MAN!

And then we see the only Black character in the movie with a speaking part: a criminal, who rents out women for sex. “Say, Jim!” he cries, entering the frame with a hat and an amazed expression. “Whooo!

Superman lifts a finger in response; our hero has no time to hobnob with the locals. “Excuse me,” he says, and moves on to something more important: a white woman, in trouble.

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Superman 1.54: The Stupid Question

I got sidetracked yesterday talking about the special effects in the helicopter rescue sequence, which means I’ve left dangling reporter Lois Lane up there hanging on for dear life, approximately two feet south of safety.

I hate to leave her up there with nothing but a seatbelt, a camera crew and some front projection for company, but there are pressing matters that I need to attend to here on the ground, so she’s going to have to hang tight for today. I’m pretty sure she’ll be okay. The location filming for these Metropolis street scenes was completed in July ’77, and they didn’t start shooting the hanging-off-the-roof scenes until October, so technically we have three months before it even becomes an issue.

The thing that we need to discuss today is Clark Kent finally tearing off the guise and garb, revealing the supersuit and taking charge of the situation. It’s the moment that we’ve been waiting for — some city-stunning from the caped wonder, at last — and the only thing between us and it is a button-down shirt.

Now, at this point some people might ask where he puts the Clark Kent clothes when he changes into Superman. They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but then a question like that comes along, and you start to wonder if there might be a couple exceptions.

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Superman 1.53: The Heights

Let’s face it, transportation in Metropolis is fraught with peril. Just seven minutes ago, a detective was pushed in front of a train, and now there’s a busted helicopter dangling precariously over the edge of a tall building. Elsewhere in Metropolis tonight, there’s going to be a car chase and a shootout on a boat, and Air Force One is going to be one engine short when it lands in Metropolis Airport. Honestly, you can’t even walk down the street in Metropolis without getting mugged. It seems like if you want to go anywhere in this town, you need to have Superman specifically move you from one spot to another. Otherwise, it’s probably best if you just stay put.

But let’s focus on the current crisis, which is Lois and the helicopter. As I talked about yesterday, this helicopter rescue scene is a very complex sequence with lots of exciting action shots, and it took twelve months to complete, using just about every method of special effects available except rubber monsters. So today I want to take a look at the helicopter that can’t fly, the rooftop that isn’t a rooftop, and the building that’s only about two-thirds of the building.

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