Superman II 2.13: The Great Escape

Pssht!

Did you just go pssht?

I wish I had, Mr. Luthor, before we left.

Pssht!

Not that pssht, that pssht!

Oh!

Pssht!

Pssht!

Pssht!

Don’t go pssht when I go pssht!

Pssht!

Pssht!

Pssht-pssht!

Okay, so maybe I get your point about the villains.

There are two schools of thought about the Luthor/Otis/Teschmacher cadre in the Superman films. One school, of which I am a part, holds that they are generally delightful, and bring some of the first film’s finest moments. If anybody needs an explanation, I need only gesture in the direction of the “Voila, voila, voila” moment with the page from National Geographic. That’s where I stand on the issue.

But I can understand how, under certain conditions, these keystone criminals might inspire you to shoot yourself, and those certain conditions include watching the Donner Cut.

As we’ve discussed, all of the footage in Superman II involving Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor was shot by the original director, Dick Donner, because Hackman refused to come back and do reshoots once Donner was replaced with Richard Lester. So this jailbreak sequence was already complete when Lester came on board, and the way that Lester handled it reflects his understanding of the amount of patience the audience would have for Luthor-related antics.

In the theatrical cut, this sequence is split in two. First, there’s a three-minute sequence of Luthor and Otis breaking out, which ends with Luthor and Eve flying away. Then there’s several minutes of Lois and Clark in the honeymoon hotel suite, and following that, there’s a little 30-second tag with Luthor and Eve talking in the balloon.

Fully restored in the Donner Cut, the jailbreak is one five-minute sequence, which includes the above “did you go pssht” exchange, and an extended version of the balloon scene that even devoted adherents of the Lex/Otis/Eve school might find a little trying.

Lester’s version of the balloon scene takes place the morning after the jailbreak, because he’s wedged the daytime honeymoon hotel scene in the middle. Some of the dialogue is excerpted from the original, but it’s performed by the Gene Hackman impersonator, and dubbed imperfectly over actual Hackman.

Luthor:  Very good, Miss Teschmacher. Very good!

Eve:  Why am I here? What am I doing here?

Luthor:  Miss Teschmacher, is this a philosophy seminar? No. This is a getaway.

Eve:  A getaway.

Luthor:  Right.

Eve:  Lex, how could you do that to Otis?

Luthor:  What else is ballast for? Miss Teschmacher… north. Due north.

Eve:  Right. North.

And that’s it, just a little postcard from Mapquest and we’re on our way.

Donner’s original vision for the scene is about three times longer, and since it’s part of the larger jailbreak sequence, it takes place at night. It also involves a lot of the “don’t go pssht when I go pssht”-style vaudeville patter that either appeals to you or it doesn’t.

Luthor:  Very good, Miss Teschmacher. Very good!

Eve:  What am I doing here? Why am I here?

Luthor:  Miss Teschmacher, is this a philosophy seminar? No. This is a getaway.

Eve:  Getaway!

Luthor:  Right. It’s ingenious, though! I don’t know where you got the inspiration from.

Eve:  I got it from you, Lex.

Luthor:  Aww.

Eve:  Hot air rises!

(They point at each other and chuckle.)

Luthor:  Miss Teschmacher, would you like to take a trip?

Eve:  A trip! A vacation? Oh, Lex! (She embraces him.) Oh, I could go shopping! I can go buy a bikini! You must have thought about me in a bikini while you were in prison.

Luthor:  No, I didn’t, actually. (He turns on the black box that will lead them to the Fortress.) I thought about you in a parka.

Eve:  You thought about me in a parka?

Luthor:  Mm-hmm.

Eve:  You are sick, Lex. You are really sick!

Luthor:  That’s possible.

(The machine starts to whirr and bleep. Lex points.)

Luthor:  North, Miss Teschmacher. Due north.

(She smirks, and taps him on the shoulder.)

Eve:  Lex…

(She gestures in the opposite direction.)

Eve:  North?

(Lex smiles, and points the way that Eve did.)

Luthor:  That’s what I said. North.

Eve:  That’s what you said.

Luthor:  I know I said I said that!

Eve:  I know you said —

Luthor:  I just heard it!

Eve:  Yes, Lex.

Luthor:  Don’t repeat what I say, when I say something!

Eve:  I won’t repeat what you say.

Luthor:  Okay, don’t!

Eve:  (giggles)

Luthor:  Well, stop repeating it!

So, pssht: Lex detractors, in this case, I feel you. I wish I didn’t, but I have to admit that I do.

Tomorrow:
Lois and Clark cross the threshold in
2:14: How Suite It Is


Footnote:

I am informed by reliable sources that you can’t actually steer a hot-air balloon in whatever direction you want to go. The balloon follows whichever way the wind is blowing. So if you want to take a hot air balloon and get anywhere near a specific destination, you have to plot out all the current wind conditions at different altitudes, and then move the balloon up and down to catch the wind that’s going in the direction that you want to go. And that’s how you know that Superman II isn’t a documentary.

Tomorrow:
Lois and Clark cross the threshold in
2.14: How Suite It Is

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— Danny Horn

20 thoughts on “Superman II 2.13: The Great Escape

    1. I looked for the name of the Hackman impersonator, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I would love to know.

      The primary use of the Hackman body double was in the final showdown in the Fortress of Solitude. Lester wanted to do reshoots that Hackman wasn’t there for, so when the villains enter, they dump the “Lex” body double on a platform that’s off to the side of the set. A little later in the scene, the double climbs down from that platform and approaches the center of action, and then the scene continues with Hackman in it.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. As one of those detractors, I’d probably be banging my head against the wall by the end of this extended version of the escape if I were to watch it. I’ll note, however, that I’d probably find this sort of shtick more enjoyable from a different villain, one already meant to be silly like Toyman or Prankster. It just doesn’t work for Luthor for me. I like the Luthor who pushes a cop onto the train track or connives to doublecross Superman in the Fortress.

    I will grudgingly admit that I did chuckle at Otis dragging the balloon down as he tried to climb the rope ladder.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Trying to combine different kinds of villains is always a recipe for disaster. You want a charcuterie board, you end up with mulligan stew.

    Lester really got the deluxe gift package of short ended sticks with this assignment–he had to use at least but no more than half of a movie that was already in the can, while incorporating the new and improved Bigger and Not Schticky in the LEAST trio of dastards that just finished murdering astro-and-cosmonauts before heading to Planet Huston to ruin everything forever.

    Knowing that three evil superbeings are about to wreck all our shit makes our local antiheroes here that much more irritating to deal with. It’s like being told halfway through a sixth grade orchestra presentation that they’re going to perform the entire 1812 Overture, and everybody sit tight, no going to the bathroom or out for a smoke.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Great point. My problem with this Luthor is that he’s nothing like the comics version. If you’re going to change everything about him, why not change the name too?

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Something like that can work, as long as you have a strong vision for the new version of the character. The gross deformed flipper-hand Penguin in Batman Returns, for example, works for me because he’s so striking and unique, even though he’s nothing like any previous version of the character.

        Tim Burton, Danny DeVito, makeup artist Ve Neill, costume designer Bob Ringwood – they’re all working together to bring this weird, ghoulish, hilarious character to life, and they’re all on exactly the same page.

        This version of Luthor, uh, doesn’t have that. Especially in Superman II.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. The name is the hook–and this is something that really annoys me. They use a title like “Around the World in 80 Days” or “Dark Shadows” and then totally change the characters and the story. It’s an even bigger disservice when they invent things about actual historical figures because many viewers think the made-up events are true.
        I have no regret that they left Otis behind. I enjoyed Luthor more without him.

        Liked by 7 people

      3. Robert Vaughn’s villain in SUPERMAN III is more like the comic book Luthor than Hackman’s Luthor. Of course, the “corrupt businessman” version wouldn’t emerge until 1986 (three years later), but anyone who grew up with the Byrne Luthor/TAS Luthor/Smallville Luthors would consider Vaughn more in line with those versions than Hackman.

        Sherman Howard on the SUPERBOY series plays Lex humorously like Hackman but he’s also a mad scientist who builds robots.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. That’s basically the point of view taken by the people who created the Broadway musical “It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman!” back in the 1960s. The only characters they kept from the comic books were Clark/Superman and Lois. All the supporting characters and villains were new because they wanted the freedom to create heir own story.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for expanding my kitchen vocabulary, Goddess! I’ve had charcuterie boards. But I never knew the word before today.

      I agree with Ralph and y’all. The “keystone criminals” are unsatisfying. If the assistants were hiliariously bumbling, but Lex was the awesome mastermind of crime? That could work.

      Lex is supposed to be a formidable foe for Superman. In the words of the scriptwriting book, you’re supposed to get your hero stuck in a tree, and then throw rocks at him. Each new opponent is supposed to make his life so much worse! But here, Superman has formidable villians from Krypton about to chase up him up the tree, then he comes down for a nice relaxing little picnic to take care of Lex.

      Thanks for the Doc Savage pseudo-sci-fi explanation yesterday, Ralph. It’ll be fun to see how that idea gets developed thru the superhero movies. With the villians where Science! is their super-power. Like Lex SHOULD have been in this film. Oh no! Supes has to fight evil Kryptonians with powers, AND he has to fight evil Super-Genius of Science, Lex!

      I’m gonna assume that in the world where the newspaper’s star girl reporter with moxie can afford a Central Park terrace apartment, hot air balloons are steerable too. It’s a documentary for this version of Planet Houston.

      We should’ve had leering Lex. “I’m picturing you in a bikini UNDER a parka,” or whatever. More missed screenwriting details. It’s not supposed to be, “I’m going to make you an offer you’ll find might be a profitable addition to your retirement fund.” Not “No, Luke, your paternal side of your family tree is not quite how Obi-Wan told you.”

      Liked by 2 people

    3. It’s strange to me that both Donner and Lester sent Clark and Lois — reporters for a major newspaper — to some goofy newlywed expose. Would’ve made more sense if Clark/Lois are tracking Luthor’s escape or covering the attack on the moon mission. Having the leads mostly cut out of the action until the third act is bizarre to me, especially considering they are *reporters.*

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Clark and Jimmy could have been the honeymooning couple, providing a mirror to Nate and Boris on the moon, while Lois did the real reporting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Extra especially when we just watched Lois try to climb her way up the Eiffel tower towards nuclear bomb wielding terrorists! These aren’t puff-piece newbies, they’re seasoned reporters!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. “Extra especially when we just watched Lois try to climb her way up the Eiffel tower towards nuclear bomb wielding terrorists! These aren’t puff-piece newbies, they’re seasoned reporters!”

        Well, Lois is, but have we actually seen Clark do any real reporting?

        Liked by 2 people

    4. Luthor is smart enough to use kryptonite when confronting Superman. He doesn’t presume he can just bluff his way through the situation as he does with the Phantom Zone criminals. It’s a little absurd. He winds up coming across like the Otis of the film.

      Lex and Eve do have a Joker/Harley vibe that modern fans might pick up on, except obviously Eve is far less interesting than Harley Quinn. She’s the moll without a purpose

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Interesting to see so much of Hackman in the bald wig. The inherent cartoonishness of the the hot air balloon sequence makes it work, I think, but it would have been too much if he’d worn it through all of his scenes in the first movie.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I recently realised (from a nother movie) that a balloon is a useless get-away-car. It is slow, you can not controll the direction, its i visible for miles around and when you’ve landed – and there will not be many options about where to do that – it will take time before it is possible to hide.

    Not saying that it is ruining this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

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