And then she goes ahead and throws herself out of the goddamn window just to prove a point, and that is what I love about specifically Richard Donner’s version of specifically Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.
At the end of last week, I told you about the Donner Cut, a 2006 effort to reclaim the Superman II footage that Richard Donner shot during the production of the first movie. He’d finished about 80% of the film before the Salkinds fired him, and while some of that footage remains in the theatrical cut, there was a lot that was reshot by the new director, so the Donner Cut assembles the material in an approximation of what the film could have been like, if he’d completed it.
For the most part, it’s not that different from the theatrical release, unless you watch them side by side. There are only three scenes in the Donner Cut that I think are really essential to understanding the development of the film: the beginning, the ending, and the honeymoon hotel discovery sequence. Not coincidentally, all of them are about Lois.
Continue reading Superman II 2.6: Gone Out the Window
Or, there’s the option where Lois is smart and figures things out right away, which I personally prefer.
In this version of Superman II, the action begins on the day after the previous movie ended. Yesterday, Superman saved the West Coast and put Lex Luthor in jail, and now the main characters in the Daily Planet newsroom are all busily congratulating each other on how well they covered the story.
And then Lois, sitting at her desk, suddenly realizes the obvious truth: that Clark Kent is Superman.
Continue reading Superman II 2.5: The Donner Party
Well, speaking of foreign distribution rights, here’s girl reporter Lois Lane let loose in a foreign country, and she’s about to be distributed widely across a sizeable stretch of western Europe, if the hydrogen bomb she’s inadvertently strapped to her back hits the pavement at the base of the Eiffel Tower.
The bomb — if it actually is a bomb — has been assembled by a group of inconclusive terrorists demanding nothing in particular from probably the government of France. The terrorists take the elevator up to the top of the tower, where they have the bomb (if it is a bomb) primed to explode in sixty seconds, which they don’t want to do, while the police use their own explosives to set off the bomb, which they don’t want to do either.
Continue reading Superman II 2.4: Fight the Tower
Well, here we go again. We’re back on Krypton, which I’d figured was pretty conclusively in the rearview mirror.
But it’s here, on the cusp of this new dawn, that we find out what the three Kryptonians did to deserve being locked up in a revolving parallelogram, and set adrift in the void. At the beginning of the last movie, all we saw was the sentencing; we didn’t see the actual crime that they committed.
Well, now we know. They broke a crystal!
Continue reading Superman II 2.3: Let’s Twist Again
“I think it’s been a little bit overanalyzed,” says Ilya Salkind, “because, really, a lot of the decisions were pretty logical and common sense. I want to clarify a little bit, because it’s much simpler than all of the things that have been said. I mean, Richard Donner did a fantastic first film, as we all know, and it was a tremendous success, and what happened after was really, I would say, normal film history. Things happened.”
Okay, great, so that’s all cleared up. It was normal film history! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.
Continue reading Superman II 2.2: It Wasn’t Ilya’s Fault
So here’s how to torpedo your own film in six words, courtesy of Army Archerd’s Hollywood gossip colum in Variety:
Producer Pierre Spengler allows that he and Superman director Dick Donner differed during filming, but he says all’s now well, and Spengler expects to return to complete Superman II. Donner, however, declares, “If he’s on it — I’m not.“
It’s late December 1978, and Superman: The Movie has just opened in theaters to, if you’ll pardon the expression, boffo box office. Everybody who worked on the film is feeling that Christmas spirit — except for Richard Donner, who fucking hates Pierre Spengler, and is not shy about letting people know his truth.
Continue reading Superman II 2.1: Things That Richard Donner Probably Shouldn’t Have Said
Okay, let’s get into the money, because that’s the only thing that matters.
Superman: The Movie made 7 million dollars in its opening weekend in December 1978, and it was the #1 box office draw for 11 weeks, all the way into early March ’79. The total domestic box office was $134 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 1979.
To give you a sense of scale, there were only seven movies in the 1970s that grossed more than $100 million, and Superman was in the top five: Star Wars ($307m), Jaws ($260m), Grease ($160m), Animal House ($141m) and Superman ($134m), followed by Close Encounters of the Third Kind ($116m) and Kramer vs. Kramer ($106m).
So, yeah, it was a big hit, and a big deal. So, the question is: why didn’t they make any other superhero movies for basically a decade?
Continue reading Superman 1.100: One Hundred and Thirty-Four Million Dollars
Lois Lane is dead.
Now, you and I know that this is a comic book movie, and in superhero comics and other soap opera narratives, almost nobody dies permanently. Superman died in 1992, Spider-Man died in 2013, Wolverine died in 2014, and here in 2022, DC has just announced that in an upcoming issue of Justice League, they’re going to kill off all of their popular superheroes, and Zatanna. They always come back.
But Superman was the first comic book movie, and they hadn’t established any ground rules yet. The film has been ping-ponging from one genre to another, including psychedelic space opera, screwball comedy and James Bond villainy, and over the last ten minutes, it’s taken a strong swerve into disaster movie.
And if you watch 1970s disaster movies — The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno — then you know that there’s always one personable character who gets sacrificed, in service of the drama.
And Lois Lane is dead.
Continue reading Superman 1.98: Turn the World Around
I tell you what, today is not a good day to be living in Tinytown.
First, somebody dropped a midget missile on Li’l San Andreas Fault, which made a mess of the Golden Gate Microbridge. Then the model train set fell apart, endangering dozens of itty-bitty passengers.
And worst of all, the model of Hoover Dam has burst, and now the floodwaters are threatening to overwhelm an innocent community of dollhouses, ending playtime as we know it.
Continue reading Superman 1.98: That Dam Scene
Okay, we’re almost done with the story of Superman: The Movie, which means that it’s time to call in the lawyers. Last week, we talked about that mad moment in mid-November 1978, when executive producer Alexander Salkind told Warner Bros. that he wouldn’t release the final print of the movie in time for the premiere, unless they gave him another $15 million for foreign distribution rights. And just as they were wrapping up that little scheme, Salkind was arrested in Switzerland by Interpol, for a different but related crime.
Now, I’ve been writing a lot about the Salkinds and their bumbling financial crime syndicate, and people have asked me, “So what ultimately happened to them? Did they get caught? Did they get punished?” There’s no real mystery, so I might as well answer those questions now.
What happened to the Salkinds?
Nothing. They kept on making movies for another fifteen years, which got smaller and less successful until everyone got tired of them. Their last production was the 1992 movie Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, which was astonishingly badly-reviewed.
Did they get caught?
Yes, ceaselessly. Their production company folded in 1993, when Alexander’s son, Ilya, filed suit against his father for fraud and racketeering.
Did they get punished?
Nope. People like this never go to prison. They’re just forces of chaos, whirling through the world like Tasmanian Devils. They pick you up and spin you around, and then they go on their way, leaving you exhausted and confused, and with a different amount of money in your pocket. There’s no way to predict how much money you’ll have at the end of it, but it’s a different amount than when you started.
Continue reading Superman 1.97: Man of Steal