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.

But John Williams and his orchestra understand what’s happening, even if Lois doesn’t. They’ve been alternating between urgent danger trills from the string section and rising he’s coming, he’s coming excitement over in the brass area, but as soon as she falls into the hero’s arms, the woodwinds take over, with a sudden heart-melting burst of the Love theme.

Meanwhile, the people on the ground are attempting to get their heads around this. “I can’t believe it, I just cannot believe it,” says a newscaster into her mic. “He got her.” They’ve accepted the creature as a “he”, at least, which must be difficult to discern at this distance.

And then the helicopter busts loose from its perch and falls toward the crowd below, which is probably something that the crowd should have been budgeting for from the start. I know that superhero movie New Yorkers are the model of blasé, but even inveterate bystanders should have been able to see this one coming.

Really, their only hope is that another entirely magical creature shoots up from a side street — say, Jim, they might say, that is an even worse out-fit — to take care of the impending tragedy.

But the vision in primary colors reaches out a casual arm and plucks the helicopter from its descent, turning the disaster into a street party. The last time we saw him do anything super was when he petulantly kicked a football and then ran home really fast from school, but this is what he was born for.

As soon as his hand hits the helicopter, the music erupts — transitioning immediately from danger trills into a full-throated rendition of the Superman March.

The crowd below bursts into ecstatic cheers, instantly accommodating an extraterrestrial superhero into their worldview. There’s no hesitation down here at ground level, because this isn’t meant to be a group that’s external to the audience in the theater. They’re our representatives, and they understand exactly what’s happening and how exciting it is.

This is the first time in the movie when the Superman March is really appropriate, a triumphant public moment as he gets a standing ovation from basically all of Manhattan. We don’t see him, as the filmmakers feared that we would, as a ridiculous cartoon character. He is Superman, and the ritual of summoning is complete.

On the way up, he tries to look in her eyes and establish a meaningful connection; he’s been hoping that something like this would happen for days.

Her response is to blink at him, and give the ground another worried look. Metropolis may have accepted this creature as established fact, but Lois Lane needs more information before she commits to a conclusion.

The March comes to a thrilling final flourish as Superman flies them all back into place, and the music ends as soon as the helicopter hits the landing pad.

“Gentlemen,” our hero says to the dazzled ground crew, “this man needs help.” Somebody else needs to take care of the unconscious pilot; Superman has more important things to do.

And we suddenly find that everything else has gone quiet. The cheering crowd, the ostentatious victory march — it’s all faded away into quiet, and comfort. This isn’t a public event anymore. After all of that excitement, the only thing that matters now is her, and him, and the beating of her heart.

How did they pull off the flying effects?
1.57: A Man Can Fly

Movie list

— Danny Horn

24 thoughts on “Superman 1.56: The Catch

  1. “… a person who suddenly finds herself starring in a different movie than the one that she thought she was in.” This phrase encapsulates how I’ve felt at so many times in my life. Thanks for that.

    If I remember correctly, there’s an episode of “The Big Band Theory” in which the cast debates the physics behind “The Catch.” They also give up on the science behind it. Sometimes you just have to embrace the fiction.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Yes, this scene does show why the middle portion of the movie had to be a screwball comedy. Screwball heroine Lois can respond interestingly in this moment, another sort of fictional character would either be struck dumb or tediously silly.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Exactly. She’s got to be the person who keeps her wits and head about her so there’s somebody to respond perfectly to an insane situation.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. We left Science behind when the interstellar travel started. And just wait until we get to time travel!
    But did anyone expect Superman to be scientifically accurate? I mean, the guy FLIES! What is the scientific explanation for that? And if gravity means so little to him, how does he walk down the street without bouncing like astronauts do on the moon?
    And to be totally honest, since you brought up the Jim guy again, my mind did not go to pimp when I saw him. It was the disco era, too, and I really thought “trendy” not “pimp” when I saw him. Yes, there’s the hat–but everyone wears hats in this movie! What woman wore a hat in 1978? Bella Abzug is the only one who comes to mind. It was her trademark, notable because it was unusual. And Clark left before Lois was dressed, so he found “a” hat on the street. He didn’t see Lois’s outfit so how could he have known it was her hat?
    It’s still a great scene.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Oddly enough, I didn’t have a problem with The Catch, even though in the back of my mind I was thinking that Lois’ downward force being halted was the same as her hitting the ground. No, my only issue was that she was suddenly in the arms of the guy she’d been with literally ALL DAY and just because he’s in red and blue tights and not wearing glasses (okay, and flying and catching a helicopter in one hand) she doesn’t recognize him? Especially when (SPOILER ALERT) he starts into the PSA about how flying is statistically the safest way to travel.
    Granted, she’d had a bit of a shock, so I can cut her some slack.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. But Superman, crucially, acts completely differently than he does as Clark Kent, which was a deliberate choice by Reeve and Donner; they had to make the two separate enough so that Lois Lane, that smartest of cookies, doesn’t look like an idiot for not figuring it out.

      It’s amazing how changing one or two things about a person’s appearance, like hairstyle or glasses, can completely disguise them, because those things are the bits we use as mental shorthand markers to file them in our heads. “Doofus, suit, collar that looks like a boa constrictor trying to swallow him, glasses” and you’ve got Clark. His suit disguise makes him look boxy and bulky, his Super outfit like, well, Superman.

      I’ve seen pictures of Zoe Deschanel without her trademark bangs, and you would never believe it’s the same woman, for example. Same with Superman. A curl in the hair, a confident grin, and you’ve got magic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Forgot to mention the Supermousse – – or else he has time to restyle as he’s getting his suit off. Maybe the tights give him a great body while giving his hair great body?

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Jumping ahead in regards to Batman ‘89, I thought Kim Basinger was a completely different person with her hair in a ponytail and glasses in her first scene.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Yeah, I always figured Clark Kent is deliberately the sort of guy you just don’t pay too much attention to. In most of their scenes together, Lois hardly ever looks at him at all, and when she does she doesn’t drink him in like she does when she’s with Superman. Also, mousy people tend to give the impression of being shorter than they actually are, so Superman would probably be thought of as taller in retrospect, unless they were standing next to each other which could never happen.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. There’s a scene later where Clark is considering telling Lois he’s Superman where Reeve actually straightens up and appears taller. It’s a nice moment.

        Liked by 4 people

      5. There was a woman I used to work with. She normally had her hair tied back in a bun and wore generally smart office wear.
        One day, I think it was a day we were all going to go to a Christmas thing, she wore her hair loose and dressed in grunge-denim (1990s!).
        There was another guy who’d shared the same office with us for a year who genuinely did a Steve Trevor and asked who she was!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Putting together a couple of the other comments, is it possible that Superman can influence gravity around himself? Not only does that “explain” how he can fly, it explains how he can catch falling people, stop an airplane without it falling apart, and so forth.

    Once again, thanks for this blog, Danny. I would never appreciate the hidden depths of this movie on my own.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Things didn’t work out so well for Spider-Man in the 1973 comic when he tried catching his beloved Gwen Stacy in the middle of a dead fall… it turns out that physics are a harsh mistress when the story takes them seriously. Interesting to note that Gwen’s famous and tragic death, a groundbreaking moment in the comics, came 5 years *before* this movie scene blithely ignored Newton’s 2nd law (F=m*a).


  7. “‘The last time we saw him do anything super was when he petulantly kicked a football and then ran home really fast from school”
    He also walked to the North Pole, flew, caught a bullet and changed his clothes in two seconds.


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