Superman 1.70: The Other Balcony Scene

But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is Central Park West, and Juliet is the sun.

So here we are, at the start of the other important balcony scene in Western literature: Lois Lane’s date with a space ape.

Now, as a blockbuster action-adventure movie, Superman needs to create moments of tension and anxiety for the audience, and this, I believe, is the scariest thing in the movie: Lois knows that Superman is going to drop by her place at eight pm, and she has no idea what to wear.

I mean, is this an interview, or a date, or just a fly-by, or what? Is this dinner? What does “Hopefully – a friend” mean? How do you prepare for this event?

Now, this is a pivotal scene — not just for the movie, but for civilization in general — and Donner, Mankiewicz and the actors took it very seriously. They actually filmed this scene over the course of several months — some in October 1977, some in November, and a third shoot in January ’78. They did the extra filming because they weren’t sure that they’d gotten the tone right, the first time.

There are a number of additional lines in the filmed scene that weren’t in the original script, and all of them point in the same direction: making the scene more explicitly romantic.

Lois’ first line here is one of those additions. She looks at her watch, which shows it’s a few minutes past eight, and she paces across her enormous garden terrace. She sighs, “Eight o’clock, he says. Eight o’clock, eight o’clock. Huh. Some ‘friend’.” She walks over to a table, pours herself some wine, and slumps into the chair. “Story of my life. Cinderella bites the dust.”

So right away, she’s signalling that this is a romantic fantasy for her, and “story of my life” says that she’s been disappointed by guys before.

And then here he comes, the least disappointing guy of all time, arriving ringside with a graceful two-point landing on the parapet.

Now, Richard Donner says that he cast Margot Kidder because she could be clumsy in an unexpectedly endearing way, and he specifically told her makeup team not to let her put her contacts in, so that she would be wide-eyed and just a bit off-balance.

This scene is where that really matters, where the ambitious, hard-headed reporter who’s comfortable writing about murder and mayhem is transported into a princess fantasy that she is not prepared for. She smiles, she stammers, she’s not sure where her arms and legs are supposed to go. This is her house, but she does not have the home field advantage.

And then the first thing he does is apologize, which is hardly fair. He says, “Oh, I’m sorry, did you have plans this evening?” as if it’s possible for anyone to have plans that are more important than hanging out with Superman.

She looks down at her blue Cinderella dress, and says, “Oh… oh, this old thing? No.”

“Well, listen, it’s no trouble at all for me to come back later,” he says, which is designed to make her panic and essentially beg for him to stay, which she does.

“No, don’t move!” she cries, and takes a few hurried steps towards him, before catching herself, and realizing that she’s not being especially cool right now. “Um…” she smiles. “Sure, you can move. Just…” — and here, there’s still a little bit of panic in her eyes — “don’t fly away. All right?”

And he smiles — an eager, uncool little kid smile that says that he’s just as excited to be talking to her as she is to him.

In the Making of book, Christopher Reeve talked about the upcoming filming of this scene: “Staying with the theme of making him more human, take the scene we’ll do on Lois’ balcony, when Superman comes flying in. The script had it that he was really there only to impress her — that’s what I got from the first script — that he’s sort of showing off. Now I think it’s quite the other way around; he’s there because he’s got a crush on her.”

That’s why it’s okay for him to tease her, and make her say awkward things: because he doesn’t think he’s better than her. He is legitimately thrilled that Lois Lane is looking at him like that. This is the best moment of both of their lives.

He goes into what is obviously a prepared speech that he’s been working on for some time: “Sorry to drop in on you like this, Miss Lane, but I’ve been thinking, you know, there must be a lot of questions about me that people in the world would like to know the answers…”

And she says, “Of course, yes,” and spins around to grab her notebook — leaving him hanging in the middle of a sentence — and now he feels like he’s chasing after her.

And then there’s the lung cancer moment, which is strangely intimate, for a surgeon general’s warning. Lois is nervous, and starts lighting a cigarette, and Superman corrects her: “Uh, you really shouldn’t smoke, Miss Lane…”

She grins, “Don’t tell me. Lung cancer, right?” and then he does a medical exam, standing there on her balcony at the beginning of their first date.

He sighs, “Well, not yet, thank goodness,” and that makes her look at the cigarette, and stab it out in the ashtray. It’s a moment when he indicates that he cares about her on a personal level. You wouldn’t think examining somebody’s lungs would be a romantic story point, but this is a brand new kind of event.

And just look at the man; he’s a dream. They’re lighting him specifically to accentuate all the good parts, which is all of them. A lot of this scene is about the tactical implementation of Christopher Reeve’s body.

The start of the interview is one of the bits that was added to the scene while they were filming. In the script, Lois says, “Let’s start with your vital statistics, okay? Age?”

In the movie, her first question is, “Are you married?” He flusters for a second, and says, “Uh, no. No, I’m not.”

Her immediate follow-up question is, “Do you have a girlfriend?” and then she just hangs there, with her heart racing and her pencil poised.

And he says, “Uh, no, I don’t, but, uh, if I did, Miss Lane, you’d be the first to know about it.”

And then this happens:

And the world is full of flowers.

So when I said that they went back and reshot some of the scene to get the tone right, this is what they were doing: making it a lot more explicit that they’re flirting. Yes, this is happening, this is what we’re doing right now, and yes, I will love you for as long as I exist. That’s the tone.

She does the age question next, and then she says, “How big are you?… How tall are you?”

That’s an addition as well, and it actually came from a mistake that she made in rehearsal, which everyone thought was funny and they made it part of the scene.

Lois’ question, “How much do you weigh?” and Superman’s answer, “About two-twenty-five,” was in the script, although they wrote it as “One-ninety-five,” because nobody realized how big Christopher Reeve was going to get, until it happened and there was nothing you could do about it.

Lois’ stunned and pleased reaction to that information is not in the script; that’s another bit of extra business they came up with later. It’s very skillful how they made a scene for a children’s movie that’s as much about sex as this one is, mostly through smirks and reaction shots.

Then she leans forward and asks the crucial question: “Do you… eat?” And it turns out that he does.

Monday:
Why do we talk so much about
building the superhero body?
1.71: The Workout

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

6 thoughts on “Superman 1.70: The Other Balcony Scene

  1. I understand that Superman can tell Lois doesn’t have lung cancer because he has x-ray vision and that’s visible on an x-ray. I don’t get how he can tell what color her underwear is because I don’t think that’s how x-rays work. Anyway, it’s a good thing he’s a nice guy because being able to literally undress women on the street with his eyes would take this movie in a totally different direction.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think (just fanwanking here) that “x-ray vision” is just the term that we mere humans apply to his extraordinary visual abilities, in the same way that we refer to his defiance of gravity as “flying”.
      Just the poor human way of trying to understand what Superman is capable of.

      Heat vision – – that one, I got nothin’. That should fry his optics right out.

      Liked by 6 people

  2. I don’t get how leaving out your contacts makes you wide-eyed–I squint like hell when I don’t have mine in.

    But *Yes, I will love you as long as I exist?* Sighhhh… you’re such poet, Danny.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. ” It’s very skillful how they made a scene for a children’s movie that’s as much about sex as this one is.” When this movie came out, I was eight, and everyone my age knew why it was funny for Lois to ask “How big are you?” I don’t think many people under twelve laughed at her asking “Do you eat?” Anyway, yes, it is an utterly magical moment, so lovely that it seems only right that a newspaper reporter would live in a penthouse overlooking the park.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This scene has an unexpected intensity, especially from Superman’s side. The look he gives Lois is so smoldering and desirous that it’s a bit over the top; the audience may become uncomfortable with how boyish and sexual Superman suddenly is. I actually think this slight excess was a good choice because it adds humanity to his character, something that writers have a hard time doing with Superman. He normally seems so… above us mere humans that we might imagine he has no bodily desires. This scenes makes it clear that he does.

    The flying scene after this is probably *too* far over the top, but I guess things have to move fast in order to establish their relationship by the climax of the movie. A more reasonable build-up would take more time than the movie has to spare at this point.

    Like

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