Superman II 2.6: Gone Out the Window

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.

Richard Donner’s vision for Superman and Superman II relies on two basic principles: Superman can fly, and Lois is the center of the universe. Every time Donner talked about the movie, he said that whether the audience believes that Superman is flying would make or break the picture, which is probably true. He also said that, at its heart, this is a love story about Superman and Lois, which is absolutely true. That’s why it’s okay to break causality and reboot the world if Lois is upset about something.

For Superman II to work at all, we need to believe that Lois Lane is a woman who’s worth giving up your superpowers for. And in both versions of the film — Richard Donner’s Daily Planet scene, and Richard Lester’s Eiffel Tower sequence — the film begins with an opening statement about why Lois deserves to be in charge of the most powerful energy source the world has ever known.

Lester’s Eiffel Tower scene goes deep into the “plucky” side of Lois’ character. She hops over to Paris with no luggage and an inadequate French phrasebook, and manages to talk her way into a developing catastrophe, which I appreciate.

Now that I think about it, Lois actually manages to solve this problem herself, using the technique of attracting Superman’s attention to an imminent nuclear accident, which — if she hadn’t been there — would have inevitably resulted in the demolition of a noticeable percentage of France.

But Donner’s opening scene makes her even more cunning and hazardous. The very first thing that happens in this version of the movie is that Lois Lane sits at her desk rereading her own article, when she casually figures out the world’s most important secret. And it’s first thing in the morning, too; just imagine what she’s going to achieve by the end of the day.

The thing that I like about this sequence is that it explicitly counters the tedious idea that Lois must be stupid for not figuring out that Clark is Superman. It’s entirely unfair, because people criticize the character, rather than the comics writers who spent several decades resisting any change to the status quo, under the mistaken impression that comic books are sitcoms that require a reset button at the end of every issue.

Comic books are not sitcoms. Comic books are soap operas. It is better for everyone when people recognize that.

The best thing about Superman II is that Lois is allowed to learn and grow as a character. She figures things out, and sees things from a different perspective. In the first movie, she’s basically bamboozled by Superman, who uses his hotness to distract her from the truth that he’s trying to conceal. In the second movie — especially in the Donner Cut — she’s the one who tricks him.

Unfortunately, this is balanced out by the worst thing about Superman II, which is that they feel the need to put the toothpaste back in the tube at the end. Somehow, they came up with the idea that everything would be ruined if we allow Lois to know that Clark is Superman, which is not the case.

There’s all kinds of fun that you can have in a story in which Lois knows that Clark is Superman, and if you’d like an example, I could point you towards pretty much this entire movie, except for the ending, when they chicken out and undo it all.

The problem is that from a structural point of view, Lois is actually treated like a villain in this movie. There are three obstacles in this film that stand in the way of Superman’s benevolent crime-fighting career: Lex Luthor, the Phantom Zone criminals, and how much fun it is to make out with Lois.

Taking care of the first two problems is time-consuming but straightforward: take Luthor back to jail, and trick the trio into losing their powers and falling into a bottomless crevasse.

Then Superman is left with the one problem that he can’t solve: how does he deal with the everpresent threat of the plucky, nobody’s-fool, investigative reporter Lois Lane?

I mean, sure, for now he can use his super-breath to keep her aloft while he uses his heat vision to unroll an awning for her to land on, so that she doesn’t realize that he saved her. But that’s a temporary solution, only applicable to the current crisis.

Because Lois isn’t the kind of problem that you can solve in one action sequence. As the philosopher Chumbawamba put it: she gets knocked down, but she gets up again; you’re never going to keep her down.

In the Superman movies, nuclear missiles are easy to deal with — you just grab them and direct them skyward, where they reach escape velocity and pass harmlessly into the infinite void of outer space. Superman does this three times in four movies; it’s basically routine.

But Lois Lane is a much larger threat than nuclear annihilation or black-clad alien dictators, because Superman can’t get rid of her. You can’t throw Lois into the sun, or down a sinkhole.

I mean, sure, you could drop her into a mixed fruit salad, which might slow her down for a couple scenes. But she’s just going to take a shower, move to a different location, and figure it out all over again.

Lois Lane is an omega-level threat, a kamikaze boss battle who plummets into your carefully-constructed house of cards, and just when you get things back in order, she respawns and does it again.

She will put her own life in danger in order to get the story, and the story is you, and your secrets. What can you do? What can any of us do, except fall in love with her and hope for the best?

Tomorrow:
We crash a car into verisimilitude in
2.7: To Get to the Other Side


Footnote:

Lois Lane jumping out of a window to attract Superman’s attention is actually a pretty common occurrence; I’ve found three other examples of her pulling the same nutty stunt.

In “Superman’s Sweetheart,” (Superman #63, July 1950), Lois is jealous that Superman keeps rescuing another accident-prone dame named Peggy Wilkins, so she throws herself off a roof in order to prove that she’s “still number one on his hit parade.” He magically weaves iron bars at super-speed into an awning for her to fall into.

In an August 1959 comic strip sequence, “The Ugly Superman”, Lois throws herself out a window just because she has a question to ask him. He thinks “I’m going to teach Lois a lesson — and give her the scare of her life!” but then he just catches her, which doesn’t scare her at all.

And she does it again in “The Satanic Schemes of S.K.U.L!” (Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #63, Feb 1966), throwing herself out the window to get Superman’s attention.

This time, it actually works out in the same way that the Superman II sequence does: he rushes to the ground level, and uses his super-breath to direct her onto an awning…

and she lands in an open truck bed filled with tomatoes, saving her life and ruining her outfit. You don’t see a lot of trucks these days carrying around tomatoes like that; I guess the truckers got tired of women falling into the produce, and they started buying trucks with a roof.

Tomorrow:
We crash a car into verisimilitude in
2.7: To Get to the Other Side

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— Danny Horn

26 thoughts on “Superman II 2.6: Gone Out the Window

  1. I’m glad to see that the set design background color of the fruit/veggie vendor finally gets a payoff in this version.

    The other way to get an enemy/obstacle out of your way is to make her your ally. By letting Lois in on the secret, Clark defuses that “threat” and gains a valuable partner. I wish we saw more of that in this film. I like the status quo that we’ve had in most of the last 25 years of the comics with Lois as Clark’s willing, active partner, as his equal and in on his secret. I don’t miss the triangle of Clark/Lois/Superman. I don’t miss the superdickery involved in keeping his secret from her. I don’t miss the hypnotic glasses that keep her (and the world) from seeing the truth about Clark being Superman. I like her with the full knowledge of who he is and the willingness to help him.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. The secret identity routine of the average superhero has always bugged me for this reason. On the surface, of course, it makes sense–if everybody knew who you were you’d be hounded constantly and all your enemies would be burning down your houses and blowing up your cars. The Iron Man movies actually did something with this.

      But honestly, in the everyday world of the superhero, let’s face it–he spends 90% of his time rescuing his family members/best friend/love interest ANYWAY. They are magnets for evildoers and mendacity-makers; to know and/or love a superhero, even only his disguised face, is to magnetically attract those who long to do him harm. Even if you only think of Spiderman as Peter Parker or Superman as Clark Kent, you are going to spend at least three days a week strapped to a bomb or dangling over a volcano. That’s just how it goes.

      So for this small group, who presumably have the superhero’s best interests at heart and are not prurient or greedy, knowing the guy’s secret identity cannot possibly put them in any more danger than they already are! Hell, it would be a net ASSET, because they could carry a secret locater pin or do the footwork research for him and generally deflect the clutches of the general populace. (Batman understood that and had quite the well oiled machine as far as an inner circle went.)

      Sure, you’re still gonna be in mortal peril a lot of the time, and you probably won’t get as much one on one face time as you’d like, but all relationships have challenges.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Yes, I think superhero comics have moved to that “partnership” phase, which is more mature (e.g. The Flash), although there are some disappointing segments of fandom that can still take a “no girls in the club house” approach so they resent the love interest as full-fledged partner.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Even back in 1940, the first thing the Flash (Jay Garrick) did after gaining his super-speed powers was to tell his girlfriend!!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “You don’t see a lot of trucks these days carrying around tomatoes like that…”
    One wonders how the tomatoes on the bottom of the truck fared, and how the load would be delivered in any case. Unless there’s a produce market that just puts out a truckload of tomatoes on the sales floor.

    Personally I’d prefer Lois to test Superman in a way that won’t get her admitted to Bellevue as a suicide risk.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. In Lester World, I’m sure the truck is unpacked by teams of wacky jugglers who entertain shoppers as they parade through the store to the tomato display shelves. A perfect target for the Joker to interfere with society.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. “One wonders how the tomatoes on the bottom of the truck fared, and how the load would be delivered in any case. Unless there’s a produce market that just puts out a truckload of tomatoes on the sales floor.”

      I can see we don’t have any farmers (or people who know farmers) commenting on this site…the tomatoes were probably on their way to a local packing house, where the load would be dumped into a vat of water on arrival, and the tomatoes would be washed, sorted, and packed into boxes to be sold to stores, etc. Ok, I doubt anyone really hauls them around quite like in this comic (all loose in the back of a truck), but they do transport freshly picked tomatoes in multiple large bins on the back of trucks, and the bins are then unloaded at the packing house. And that’s the end of the farming lesson…back to Superman!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. From this city kid, thank you! That makes sense, but I never thought about it before.

        Have I mentioned how much I love this blog? It’s like at high school, for no reason this one guy started to share all his comic geek knowledge about Superman every day. And a bunch of other kids stop by each day and chat a little about their own thoughts on comics, make each other laugh, and learn about farming. And then we all leave for History or Gym or whatever other class we have after lunch.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Personally I’d prefer Lois to test Superman in a way that won’t get her admitted to Bellevue as a suicide risk.

      What a great way to teach Lois a lesson, eh? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now, it *is* possible that my memory is playing tricks on me, but I remember the Donner footage of Lois scribbling glasses and a hat on Supes and the lead-up to her jumping out the window at the Planet being used in the “Making of Superman: The Movie” special that aired on ABC after the first film’s release.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When one considers several of Lester’s coworkers like editor John Victor Smith, designer Yvonne Blake, and composer Ken Thorne were here, one would almost expect Kinnear having a part as well.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The stout comic relief Kinnear is best known from WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY as the spoiled brat’s father. He also appeared in Mike and the Mechanics’ “All I Need Is A Miracle” Music Video. He appeared in several of Lester’s films like HELP!, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (a brief role), THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and JUGGERNAUT. It has been said his accidental death while filming THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS discomforted Lester into quitting his Director career.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Best known as a character actor, Kinnear was more than that to Richard Lester. Lester retired from directing when Kinnear died, explaining that it just wasn’t fun working without him. My favorite Roy Kinnear moment in a Richard Lester movie is the gladiator training sequence in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. It’s the darkest of black humor, but Kinnear’s mannerisms and comic timing fit it in perfectly with what Sondheim called the “pure musical comedy” of the movie.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. That first newsroom shot, with Miss I’m The Cat With The Canary, and Mister Aw Shucks It’s Just Me The Farm Kid From Kansas And Definitely Not Krypton!
    That shot is SO CUUUUTE! What a CUUUUTE couple!

    “you are going to spend at least three days a week strapped to a bomb or dangling over a volcano”

    Ah, but the rest of the week!!

    I agree with Jio and Goddess. Superman and Secret-Keeper Lois could have had so much better adventures together than Movies 3 & 4.

    Danny, thank you for the comics that showed the original gags. Love your research. I’ll want to see how much of the stuff I found annoying in Lester’s Movie 2 actually might be from the comics.

    Isn’t the building across from the fruit cart where Don Draper works for the ad agency?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alex was the Stunt Coordinator on the first two movies but Ellen Bry was Lois’s stunt double and she has the documentary evidence from “The Daily News” to prove it. There’s a photo from the paper of her on the fruit cart and she points out that Alex is the fruit vendor. He was spotting her during the stunt. The interview is online .

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I should have said that Alex Stevens was the Stunt Coordinator for the New York scenes in both “Superman the Movie” and the Donner cut of Superman II. I made it sound like he was in charge of the whole thing. Apologies. Ellen Bry doubled Margot in this scene. Neither he nor Ellen seem to have been associated with Lester’s film.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. It would indeed have been good if Lois had simply been allowed to remember her experience in the movie– for one thing, there are enough weird, uncanonical Kryptonian superpowers in it without the amnesia-generating kiss. But surely the main reason Superman wiped her memory was not because he didn’t trust her with his secret identity but because she was in such anguish over the fact that, after that one night of glory, she couldn’t ever be with him again. This too was sort of cowardly, not being able to stand her pain and not letting her work it out for herself, but he wanted to get her back fast to her normal cheery self.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course, Kidder is absent for most of Superman III, so she might as well have known and then chosen to leave the Daily Planet.

      To Danny’s point, it has taken superhero comics a long while to view them as continuing narratives (soap operas) and not just sitcoms where you hit the reset button. The reset button approach leads to the character and situations reaching a point that’s marketable and then getting set in stone. It was assumed that you had to sell other media a “classic” version of your character. What we’ve learned over the past decade or so of the superhero boom is that this isn’t necessary. They can pick and choose from stories and runs that they think work best and then create their own versions.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Danny’s right: Lois *is* the villain thematically and was in the comics for decades, especially when her express goal was to expose Superman’s identity, which would end his career (I mean, so they kept saying. There was no reason for the pre-1986 Superman to have a secret identity. It was like a bad habit.)

    SUPERMAN II ages poorly because it’s thematically rooted in the concept that the (male) hero can’t serve humanity with a (woman) distraction. Love is seen as a negative. (It’s also odd to me that during their 12-year-training session, Jor-El never mentioned that Superman would never know the touch of a woman. Seems important to know.)

    The conundrum is that you set up Lois to be this extraordinary woman and then claim that Superman can’t be extraordinary with her. She goes on in the first film about how she doesn’t want a “normal” life. She probably could handle being Superman’s romantic partner.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. That is an extremely odd thing to be a recurring part of your character – jumping out windows – so it’s almost an easter egg it’s in here. It’s also part of the argument that Lois is dumb though. She wants to risk her life and all she can come up with is jumping out a window over and over? She could jump off a roof, in front of a car, in front of a car. There are lots of options beyond windows.

    Liked by 1 person

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