Now, if it were entirely up to me, I’d probably stop writing about this Lex Luthor scene at some point, rather than natter on endlessly about it, but I can’t help it; there are larger market forces at play.
Richard Donner ended this scene with Luthor and his sidekick Otis saying in unison, “What more could anyone ask?” But, as it turned out, people did want to ask for more — specifically, the Salkinds, who wanted more money from television sales. TV networks wanted to air Superman, and they were happy to have as much of it as possible, to fill up programming time and justify more commercial breaks. They were willing to pay by the minute, so the Salkinds prepared what’s now called the Extended Cut, taking a 143-minute movie and stretching it out to 188 minutes.
Most of the extra material is just useless filler — slightly longer scenes, extra reaction shots, second-unit footage — all the stuff that was properly cut out the first time, and adds nothing to the experience except making things take longer. But there are a handful of actual deleted scenes, like Krypton’s tinfoil science cop, who exploded before accomplishing anything.
There’s also another two minutes of this introductory Luthor scene, which aren’t necessary but offer several items of interest. If you don’t mind, I’m going to give you the whole scene, and then we can discuss it.
Luthor: It’s a pity that he didn’t see from such humble beginnings how I’ve created this empire.
Eve: An empire? This?
Luthor: Miss Teschmacher, how many girls do you know who have a Park Avenue address like this one?
Eve: Park Avenue address? Two hundred feet below?
Luthor: Do you realize what people are shelling out up there, for a few miserable rooms off a common elevator?
Luthor and Otis (in unison): What more could anyone ask?
Eve: Sunshine? A night on the town, instead of under it?
(There are sinister growls from the other side of the room. Otis takes a couple casual steps in the opposite direction.)
Luthor (quietly): Otis…
Luthor: Did you feed the babies?
(More terrifying growls and snarls.)
Otis: N-not today, Mr. Luthor. (He takes another step away.)
Luthor: Otis… feed the babies.
Otis: Mr. Luthor, please.
Luthor (raising his voice): Otis!
(Eve gasps. Lex waits impatiently as Otis cracks his knuckles, and walks to the steel door. Luthor crosses to the piano.)
Luthor (to Eve): Relax.
(Otis presses a button that raises the corrugated steel door. He holds his nose as the opening reveals a purple, steaming pit. More growls from the pit. Otis enters the room, balancing on a thin platform. He waves his hat at the creatures below as they snarl at him.)
(Leaning against the piano, Eve grimaces. Lex sits down and begins to play some soothing dinner music.)
(Standing on the platform, Otis manipulates a chain that lowers a huge raw side of beef down from the ceiling. The monsters hungrily devour the meal. Lex pays no attention.)
(Finally, Otis hauls on the chain and pulls up the bones, stripped of flesh.)
Otis (calling to Lex): The babies were hungry, Mr. Luthor!
Eve (turning to Lex): You are sick. You are really sick.
Eve: You would take a diaper pin to cut a baby’s throat. You’d fix the brakes on your own grandmother’s wheelchair.
(Lex smiles, taking this as a compliment.)
Eve: I don’t know. Just explain one thing to me, Lex… (She reaches out a hand across the piano.) Why do I love you so much?
Luthor (grinning): Because life with me is never dull. (He lightly touches her hand.)
(Encouraged, she walks around the piano to stand behind him.)
Eve: No. No, it’s never dull, Lex. (She puts her arms around him.) Because you are the pits. You are really the pits.
(She starts to cuddle and stroke him. He gets turned off by the affection, and starts scanning the newspaper.)
So that’s the scene. Now, it’s pretty clear why this was cut from the film; it’s not funny. The scene in the theatrical cut is a three-minute high-energy comedy routine with Lex at the center of the action, as the sidekicks feed him straight lines to react to.
But all of a sudden, Lex goes quiet, and starts playing the piano. For more than a minute, he only says one word. I suppose the idea is to show that Lex is mercurial, and can shift moods on a dime, but that’s not a characteristic that makes the movie more interesting, so it needs to go.
And then there’s the babies. I can see what they’re trying to do — he’s a Bond villain, so he needs an over-the-top hazard in his lair that he can throw people into — but it’s only funny intellectually. There’s no moment in that minute-long routine where an audience would actually laugh; you realize from the start that Otis will be throwing meat at monsters, and it plays out exactly as you would expect. You might smile at the funny faces that Otis makes, or the sight of the carcass’ skeleton returning to view, but that’s about it.
Now, this introduction of the babies is supposed to pay off at the end of the movie, in another deleted Extended Cut scene that I actually think is worthwhile. Furious at Eve for betraying him, Lex dangles her over the pit, and intends to drop her to a messy death — but at the last moment, Superman appears, saving Eve and taking the other two miscreants into custody. It’s a nice moment that wraps up Eve’s storyline, so I wish they’d been able to use it — but to do that, they’d need to keep the “feed the babies” scene as well, and it’s not worth it.
The other item of interest is that this is the only time in the film where it’s explicit that there’s a romantic connection between Lex and Eve. She spends the rest of the movie criticizing him relentlessly, and a moment of actual affection makes her presence in the lair more explicable. It’s also interesting to see how uncomfortable Lex is with that expression of affection, which explains why he insists on calling her “Miss Teschmacher” all the time. It also resonates nicely with the mention of his unhappy relationship with his father; Lex has clearly cut himself off from normal human relationships.
So that’s interesting, but it requires Lex to sit still and look uncomfortable, which slows down the movie and isn’t funny. Overall, it’s nice to see this scene as an example of the good decisions they made in the editing room, but including it in a version of the film that they actually showed to people is kind of a mean trick.
And with that, I believe that I’ve finally said everything that I have to say about this sequence, and we are excused. Tomorrow, we’ll move forward to… well, backwards to 1974, actually, and then 1913 after that. Still, there’s always Monday.
1.49: The Look of Luthor.
— Danny Horn