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.

I mean, nobody ever said that he can’t stand horizontally on the side of a skyscraper and make smart remarks at cat burglars; it’s his movie, and he can do what he likes. But Superman isn’t really known for walking up walls; that’s more in Spider-Man’s line, or maybe the Batman TV show. From what we’ve seen of Superman, his hobby is crashing through walls, not standing on them.

But what the hell; it’s a kick-ass visual, and it formally announces that if we have limited expectations about what Superman can and can’t do, we need to rethink that. By the end of the film, Superman is going to do some wild things we never thought he could do, so this is an opportune moment for broadening his scope.

The interesting thing about this scene is how confident Kal-El is about his place in the world. We’ve seen him hiding behind the Clark Kent identity, both as a teenager and an adult, holding back so that he doesn’t upset the natives. But now he’s finally allowed himself to be seen in public as the fascinating creature that he is, and he has no doubts and no regrets.

After a while, on the Superman TV show, all of the characters started to treat him casually, like a co-worker. “Oh, Superman, I’m glad you’re here,” the superintendent of police might say to the glowing, radioactive archangel that’s manifested in his office, holding a blazing sword. “We’ve got a mystery on our hands, and you’re just the one to help us figure it out.” People can get used to anything, I guess, and once you accept Superman as a fact, then he becomes another inhabitant of your world.

In the movie, he’s just revealed himself to the public, and people haven’t had time to panic or build bomb shelters yet. But as far as he’s concerned, he knows exactly what his relationship is to the city, and he’s just going to be patient until the rest of Metropolis catches up with him.

That includes the audience, and right now, we’re not sure what his plans are for this cat burglar that he’s playing cat-and-mouse games with. The burglar lets go of his clamps, startled by the impossible thing that’s appeared in front of him, and he takes a tragic tumble backwards, toward the unforgiving street below. It’s possible that Superman might actually let the guy hit the pavement — we’ve just met this version of Clark, and we don’t know how he works yet.

But the movie is letting us know how we’re supposed to feel, by giving Superman some playful quips. When the burglar first sees him, Superman greets him with, “Hi there. Something wrong with the elevator?” And as the crook plunges towards his messy death on the rocks below, Superman gives him a cheery “Going down!” as he passes by, en route to his merciful catch.

Just seven minutes ago, we saw hapless Clark Kent perplexed by the elevators in the Daily Planet office, forgotten and left behind by colleagues who hardly noticed he was there. But now, he has complete mastery over the situation. He has become the elevator.

What really sells this sequence is the glimpse of a guy’s office, with Superman standing on the windows behind him, ready to catch the plummeting burglar. This is Superman becoming part of the life of the city, entirely at home in Metropolis.

This isn’t really a behind-the-scenes post, but I have to talk about how they did this scene, because it’s adorable. We see Superman standing at a ninety-degree angle on the window, catching the burglar and then falling backwards out of sight.

The secret is that Christopher Reeve is actually standing on a glass floor, and the office set was built sideways. The guy in the office is stuntman George Leech, who’s strapped to his chair, looking down at the studio floor. All of the props have been fastened to the wall, the papers and the trash can and the phones and everything. It’s another show-off moment that we wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t there, but this movie believes in value-adds.

His act of mercy complete, Superman carries the dazed burglar down safely to the sidewalk. Now, if I understand how this works, the burglar is now desperately in love with Superman, and he’ll spend a lot of his time looking wistfully up into the sky, wishing he had a balcony.

And Superman delivers the crook to a nearby policeman with a handshake and a quip, completely secure in his place in the law and order of things. Oh, Superman, I’m glad you’re here, the city doesn’t say — at least, not yet. We don’t know him yet, but he knows us, and for now, that’s enough.

A non-compelling car chase sequence
1.61: Thrill of the Chase

Movie list

— Danny Horn

9 thoughts on “Superman 1.60: Stop the Steal

  1. I’d always guessed that the guy in the office set was in a chair on the floor and that they just glued a manikin in a Superman suit to the window. Fascinating that they took the trouble to do it this way.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. The cape does serve as a powerful visual metaphor in this shot. Scaling the side of a glass skyscraper is an extraordinary feat, so much so that when George Willig climbed the World Trade Center in real life the year before it made international news. But the cat burglar is still subject to the earth’s gravitational pull; his reality works according to rules we can recognize. But Superman carries his own laws of physics with him, and they don’t have anything to do with the stuff they told us about in school.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I get that they wanted to make “Batman” look silly (sillier). I get that they wanted verisimilitude. But couldn’t they project an upcape shot on a wall instead of building a whole freaking office on a wall? Or is this a case of spending as much Salkind money as possible?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think they just wanted it to look real–solid, really there, and to do that you need a “real” setup–an office with a weary wage slave who doesn’t even see that the entire world as he knows it just went off sideways, but it did. It sure just did.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Superman coming into his own is kind of like if you wrote a bildungsroman, and then scribbled BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! instead of The End on the last page.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. > nobody ever said that he can’t stand horizontally on the side of a skyscraper

    I think his mother’s comment that he’ll defy our gravity is still resonating in the audience’s mind, making this entirely conceivable.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Wish this scene was done like how Spock talked to Kirk was ascending El Captain in Star Trek V and saved him. I hope everyone has the pleasure of seeing this movie on the big screen. The “something wrong with the elevator” made me howl with laughter even though I had seen it hundreds of times beforehand on video. What a thing to say!

    Liked by 1 person

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