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.
This is the almost-was, a glimpse of what Superman II would have been if the Salkinds hadn’t fired Richard Donner halfway through production. For the actual theatrical cut, Richard Lester and the Newmans came up with a baffling new scene involving terrorists threatening the world from the top of the Eiffel Tower. This newsroom scene is what Donner would have done instead, and it is entirely adorable.
For one thing, it immediately and explicitly debunks the concept that Lois is stupid, a tough-talking reporter who completely misses the world-shaking story that’s sitting right in front of her. Now that she’s got a photo of Superman in her hands that she can compare with Clark, she comes to the correct conclusion.
So she grabs a black magic marker, looks across the room to where Clark is standing with Jimmy, and makes the appropriate adjustments.
She finishes her sketch…
and delivers a series of cute facial expressions.
Perry calls Lois and Clark into his office, and I’m just going to go ahead and quote this part of the scene, because I like it and you will too.
Clark (to Lois): How are you today?
Lois: Oh, I’m just super, thanks. (She nudges him with her elbow.)
Clark: Good morning, Mr. White.
Lois (elbows him again): I’m super? Hmm?
(He gives her a confused look.)
Perry: Morning, morning, morning. You’re late, Kent!
Clark: Uh, I know, I’m sorry, Mr. White. I, um, got stu-stuck in traffic.
Lois (absently, looking at her newspaper): Oh, that’s a new one.
Clark: Excuse me?
Lois: I mean, as opposed to “I was stuck in a phone booth,” or “I got locked into the men’s bathroom,” or something like that.
Clark: Lois, what are you talking about? I’m sorry I was late…
Perry: If you two want to bicker, that’s great; I have just the assignment for you. You’re gonna pose as a honeymoon couple in Niagara Falls, to get an exposé on the newlywed racket.
(Lois smirks at Clark.)
Perry: Some of those hotels up there are bilking those poor kids for every cent they can get. Real human interest stuff! Make your Aunt Hattie cry her eyes out.
Lois: That is a great idea, Mr. White!
Clark: Excuse me, Mr. White, I’m sorry, but I’m right in the middle of a series on the City Council, and —
Lois: And it wouldn’t take long, we could just — (makes exaggerated “flying” motions with her hands) — fly right up there, and zoom right back again?
(Clark looks worried.)
Lois: Y’know? (nudges him in the chest) Like Superman?
Perry: Ha! Yeah, if he’d give you two a ride, maybe we could save a couple of bucks.
(Perry gets up, and starts walking to the door.)
Perry: I’ve gotta see young Olsen. Six lousy photographs, and that kid’s hitting me up for a raise already!
Clark: Uh, excuse me, Mr. White? Can I talk to you for a sec —
Perry (out the door): Doris!
(He turns, and looks at Lois.)
Clark: Well, my goodness. You certainly look like the cat who swallowed the canary this morning.
Lois: A canary? No, uh, actually, I was thinking about something bigger? (She makes wing-flapping motions.) Something that flies? Something more in blue.
Clark: Uh, Lois, as usual, I’m, uh, totally in the dark as to what you’re…
Lois: Let me just turn on the lights for you, then.
(She shows him the picture that she’s drawn on.)
Lois: Get the picture?
Lois: You know, I didn’t start to put this together until this morning — which is really strange, because a good reporter isn’t supposed to let anything slip by her!
Clark: Hmm. Well, that’s, um, very amusing. Um, excuse me…
(He walks toward the desk.)
Clark: Yes, sirree, that’s — that’s very amusing.
Lois: Amusing, huh? (She checks the picture.) Tall…
(He stoops a little.)
Lois: Broad shoulders…
(He pulls his shoulders in.)
Lois: Dark hair…
(He tries to smile, unsuccessfully. She puts down the paper, and approaches him.)
Lois: I gotta give you credit. You really had me fooled. And I’m nobody’s fool…
Lois: … Superman.
Okay, I’ll pause here. That’s only half the scene — I’ll talk about the more action-oriented second half on Monday — but this is a good place to break, and tell you what this is all about.
Donner shot about 75% of the material for Superman II while they were shooting the first movie, so there was a lot of existing footage that Richard Lester could use when he took over the project. But according to Director’s Guild rules, Lester couldn’t be credited as the director unless he was responsible for more than 50% of the footage in the film.
So Lester had to scrap some of the Donner scenes and replace them with his own work, and one of the things that he cut is the unbelievably gorgeous scene that I’ve just quoted half of.
Now, my friend Anthony wrote in the comments below Wednesday’s post, “I’ve never understood this idea of Richard Lester as the B-Team, especially compared to Donner.” Anthony, this is the first part of my answer to your challenge: Richard Lester looked at this scene, which is objectively better than the Eiffel Tower sequence, and decided to film the Eiffel Tower sequence instead.
When the film originally came out, hardcore fans were aware that some of Donner’s work was cut — the general outline of the Donner/Lester dispute was discussed in professional fanzines like Starlog and Starburst, even before the movie came out — but it wasn’t necessarily clear how much Donner had shot, and how much of his material remained in the finished film.
Then when Superman II was released for television, the Salkinds made an Extended TV Cut, as they did for the first movie, adding deleted scenes and extra material to make the film longer. Some of those extra scenes used footage from Donner’s work, and fans started to reconstruct the “lost footage,” and get a sense of what the original film would have been like.
In 2001, film editor Michael Thau produced a restoration of Superman: The Movie for DVD — and in the process, he discovered six tons of Superman II footage in Warner Bros.’ vaults, including all of Donner’s material. Naturally, this got a lot of people excited on the internet, and Superman fans wrote letters and petitions and impassioned blog posts asking Warner Bros. to release Richard Donner’s cut of the movie.
This was more difficult than you might assume, because there wasn’t an existing “Donner Cut” just sitting around, ready for DVD release. It was just raw footage — all the takes and retakes, which needed to be edited and turned into a movie scene. Donner said that he wasn’t interested in doing all of that work, partly because it was just painful, looking at the discarded work that he’d had such high hopes for.
Also, there’s the 20% of material that never got shot — the Niagara Falls scenes, the villains’ rampage across America, the climactic battle in Metropolis — so a true “Donner Cut” would have big holes in the story.
And then there was the Brando estate. In order to use the Jor-El material that Marlon Brando filmed for Superman II, they needed permission from his estate, which was a hassle. But in 2005, Warner Bros. negotiated with Brando’s estate to use some of his footage in the 2006 sequel Superman Returns, and that opened the door to more discussions about the Superman II footage.
Once that was done, Michael Thau started working on the project in late 2005, and although Donner resisted for a while, he ultimately did participate in the recut. The result was a more-or-less complete movie, including all of the footage that Donner shot, patched together with Lester material for the scenes that they didn’t shoot. It was released on home video in 2006, as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.
And yes, it’s worth watching. There are maybe five important scenes that are completely different — this opening sequence, three scenes with Brando, and the honeymoon hotel discovery scene — plus a few scenes with extra Hackman footage. There are also some scenes with the villains in the Daily Planet and the Fortress of Solitude that were partially reshot by Lester, and they’re noticeably different in the Donner Cut.
So as we go through the theatrical cut, I’ll be checking in now and then with the Donner Cut, to see what the original version would have been like. I’ll try not to be too nerdy and annoying about it — I now know way more about the differences between the two cuts than any normal person could legitimately be interested in hearing about — but you’ll definitely want to know about the gun vs the fire, and Eve in the Fortress, and Lois jumping out of the window. In fact, we’ll pick things up right there, when I come back on Monday.
Lois takes a giant leap in
2.6: Gone Out the Window
Perry and Lois both congratulate Jimmy on his great photography, but there are no pictures of Superman in action. The front page just has a blurry shot of what looks like a mountain and possibly the dam, and a mug shot of a bald Lex Luthor, crossing his arms and wearing a striped prisoner’s suit. When Lois opens the paper to the big two-page spread, there are five pictures of Superman, all of them posed publicity shots. In fact, two of the pictures on the left-hand page are exactly the same picture, cropped differently.
That’s because the Daily Planet scenes were shot early in the production, and they hadn’t filmed much from the first movie yet. Shooting began with the Krypton scenes in April 1977, then the Fortress of Solitude interiors for both movies in May, and the Daily Planet interiors in June. By this point, Gene Hackman hadn’t worn his costume from the first movie yet; I’m actually surprised that they already had a picture of him with the bald cap and prison garb.
Also, they also hadn’t been to New York for location shooting yet, so they didn’t even have the classic “Superman poses in front of the Manhattan skyline” pics that we would see basically everywhere from summer 1977 on.
Lois takes a giant leap in
2.6: Gone Out the Window
— Danny Horn