Superman II 2.14: How Suite It Is

So here’s something that Superman II isn’t about: a honeymoon racket in Niagara Falls.

“I think this kind of thing should be exposed,” says the big blue boy scout in the big pink boudoir. “See, they get kids here just starting out in life, and then they take them for every cent they can get! That’s what Mr. White says.”

That may be true, for all I know. Maybe honeymoon hotels were the NFTs of the early 80s, just a big honeypot trap waiting for gullible marks to come along and get digitally swindled. I don’t recall reading any spicy exposés of the honeymoon hotel industry in the news back then, but maybe every reporter who was assigned to the story got distracted when they discovered that a close acquaintance had superpowers, so nobody ever wrote the story.

The only thing I know is that the plight of those swindleable kids has nothing to do with the story of Superman II. We don’t meet any young couples starting out in life except for Lois and Clark, and the only hotel employee that we see is the bellboy, who sneers his way through 75 seconds of screen time and then passes from our lives forever. In fact, twenty minutes from now, when Lois collects enough plot coupons to achieve enlightenment, she and Clark are going to fly off to their own private ice palace, and the Niagara honeymoon racket will continue, unimpeded.

So, the question is: what are we doing here?

Because so far, the movie has spent half an hour putting one gun on the wall after another, with no intention of firing a good three-quarters of them. First there were the Parisian terrorists, then the orange juice, and now the complimentary champagne, and none of them contributes meaningfully to the plot. It’s an entire armory of Chekhov’s guns going to waste.

But the real purpose of this room is to be a fantasy play-space to examine Lois’ relationship with Clark, away from the distractions of the busy newsroom and the potential for actual breaking news. In this place, for a limited time, Lois and Clark are not coded as friends or co-workers, as they were earlier. They’re a couple, even if officially it’s just make-believe, and Clark eagerly tests the boundaries of that arrangement.

There’s a nice moment at the top of the scene where the bellboy asks if Clark wants to carry Lois over the threshold. “It’s sort of traditional,” he says, and Lois’ eyes dart to her “husband”, realizing that the nice guy from Kansas might actually try to pick her up just to be polite, with disastrous consequence.

This is another screwball comedy scene, featuring a wisecracking, assertive woman who rejects mainstream social customs and cultural attitudes, running rings around a mild-mannered man who struggles to keep up with her. While the bellboy’s in the room, Clark is determined to keep up the appearance of being normal, lovestruck newlyweds, but Lois punctures the disguise, making smart remarks about the polyester bearskin rug and the cliché of a roaring fireplace in July.

The thing that separates them, and prevents her from seeing him as the romantic figure that he so desperately longs to be, is the distance between Kansas and Metropolis. He’s the guy who describes things as “swell”, and cares about being polite to the bellboy; she’s the jaded city dweller who can see through the artificiality of the room, as well as the artifice of their pretended nuptials.

He’s clearly hoping that some of the forced romantic atmosphere might rub off on her, grasping for the tokens that might spark a change in her mood: the complimentary champagne, the complimentary corsage and the kissing contest. But this is another long walk through the newsroom, with Clark just following her around the room as she reinforces the terms of their relationship.

But then, unexpectedly, there’s a moment of connection — a soft-focus shot of the two of them looking into each other’s eyes. He pins the corsage on her lapel — a sad, shapeless thing that she clearly scorns — and a John Williams music cue springs into action. This sequence hasn’t had any music up until now, but here comes the Love theme, setting a new tone for the rest of the scene.

“You look very pretty,” he says, and she reaches out to touch his arm, saying, “Thank you, Clark.” And then she just keeps making eye contact, rewarding him with her undivided attention, possibly for the first time ever.

He’s the one who nervously breaks contact, and she eyes him, thoughtfully — a moment of foreshadowing for the realization that she’s about to have, a couple scenes from now.

Then he pushes his luck, asking what they’re going to do about “the sleeping arrangements.” This is too much of a frontal attack on the boundaries, and she puts him back in his place, calling him “Mr. Smith” as a defense against the potential warming in their relationship, and directing his attention to “the complimentary couch.”

Now, this is all very important character work that the movie needs right now, and the moment of connection at the window hands Lois a plot coupon that she can redeem later for story development. But there are many ways to accomplish those tasks — in the Donner Cut, that same plot point was delivered through the medium of a black magic marker. So why did they decide to lock Lois and Clark in a room with a heart-shaped tub and a pink bearskin rug?

The real purpose is to let us know that Lois isn’t a slut. Later on in the movie, we’re going to see her in bed with a man she’s not married to, and in 1981, that was more meaningful than it would be today. There’s no room in the story for a leisurely buildup of their relationship; once the villains arrive on Earth, there’s a ticking clock for everyone. So if the film wants to show a moment of romantic/sexual fulfillment for Lois and Superman, it’s going to happen on the first date.

So the filmmakers place Lois and Clark in this pink marriage box, and it affects the way that we see them as a couple. In our heads, we know that these characters aren’t “married” in the text, but there’s a strong, memorable visual and they’re using the Love theme, which gives the filmmakers direct access to our feelings. Between this scene and the Niagara Falls scene that’s coming up, they deploy enough cultural clues to make us feel like they’re married, which means it’s okay for her to hop into bed with Superman right away.

Essentially, the scene is asking us: Do you take this man and this woman seriously, as a romantic couple? and the correct answer is: I do.

Tomorrow:
The best minds of 1977 tackle the big question in
2.15: The Symposium


Footnotes:

The bellboy is played by Antony Sher, who’s a lot more interesting than you’d assume from watching this scene. Just a year after Superman II came out, Sher joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, and became a well-respected British actor. His 1984 performance in the lead role of Richard III won him a Laurence Olivier Award, and he continued playing lead roles in important stage productions all the way up to 2019. He was given a Knighthood in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2000 for his services to the British theater. Yes, I’m still talking about the sneering bellboy who waggles his eyebrows as he points out the bed.

Sher was also one of the first gay couples to get a civil partnership in the UK in 2005, and he and his husband got married in 2015. This is all to show that you never know what you’re going to find, when you casually look up a guy playing a minor role.

Still tracking the Lester/Donner meta-story: This is a Richard Lester scene, taking the place of a similar scene in Tom Mankiewicz’s script. In this example, the Lester scene is way better than what the Donner scene would have been, if they’d shot it as scripted. In Mankiewicz’s script, the characters’ roles are flipped, with Lois being the one enjoying the complimentary champagne and looking forward to the newlyweds dinner. Clark is simply uncomfortable, which doesn’t accomplish much. She brings up the kissing contest, and challenges him to plant a kiss on her, speculating, “Strip away all that shyness, that klutziness, that feeble indecision, and underneath beats the heart of a rampaging stud.” He does kiss her, and then she says she’d like to get into bed… because she’s getting a headache. It sounds awful.

And one more thing: there’s a minor visual continuity error in the scene. The amount of lava that we can see in the left-hand lava lamp pillar noticeably changes between close-up shots and long shots.

Tomorrow:
The best minds of 1977 tackle the big question in
2.15: The Symposium

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— Danny Horn

13 thoughts on “Superman II 2.14: How Suite It Is

  1. Tragically, there doesn’t seem to be any footage of Antony Sher’s groundbreaking performance of Richard III, where he used a pair of crutches that allowed him to dart about the stage “like a malevolent spider,” which sounds like an staging choice Shakespeare would have been been delighted with if anyone had thought of it 400-odd years ago.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. We studied that performance back when I was a wee theater student (or rather, read about it) and it was groundbreaking–it was so deliberate, Richard using the discomfort people feel around the disabled as the source of his malevolent power.

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  2. Thanks for pointing out the role the honeymoon suite scenes play in establishing Lois as not a “slut.” It’s easy to forget that this film isn’t long after the period of separate beds even for married couples on TV.

    The honeymoon suite is an interesting set-up for the Fortress honeymoon. In fact, this suite is basically the complete mirror of the Fortress–tacky and overly done with warm colors (and the heat of the fireplace) contrasted with the cold, minimalist Fortress (which is where the real heat ends up happening). Crowded with people vs. solitude. The flowing water of Niagara vs. the frozen water of the Arctic.

    Note though that the second time she meets him Lois asks him to look at her underwear and wants to know how “big” he is. So she’s already proving that she’s not a prude in the first film.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. It’s important to note, culturally, that the first film came out in the swinging seventies, right when everything was going grey and gritty and cocaine-hangover, 1978, while 1981 was the first full year of Regan’s presidency, the new conservatism, and the rise of the religious right and “family values.”

      Lois, girl reporter and adventuress, still has to be presented as a virgin, no matter how ridiculous that concept is if two seconds of thought are given to it. It’s because in this kind of superhero story, the emphasis is on the hero part, and a hero needs a worthy damsel. It’s okay if she’s foolhardy and reckless in her professional life–it gives him a goal in rescuing her–but it’s not for her to be romantically adventurous, let alone sexually so.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for explaining the subtext, Danny. As a kid, I had no idea.

    I thought the tacky suite was funny.

    Even a little kid can see there’s nothing here for a journalist. Where’s the fraud? Some people wanna pay for fancy-tacky. That’s what they get here. I didn’t know the word “upsell” yet, but I could see it was the hotel guy’s job. But that’s not a scam.

    A little kid could also see that Chris Reeve’s Clark is super handsome when he stops slouching.
    And Margot Kidder’s Lois is super annoyed that it’s all a waste to be here. The tacky collection of love tropes can’t make her feel any sense of affection for the clueless, naive, overly trusting kid from Kansas.

    Until one moment, she realizes that even though he can’t fly, Clark IS tall, and he IS oh so handsome… dreamy for her to gaze at when he gently pins on the flower…

    … and then all her reasons to be cynical flood back into her mind.

    Now that’s a great RomCom Meet Cute Foreshadowing Moment! We know these two are destined to get together!

    I looked up the other script (April 18 ’77). I complained about script errors in other scenes, but for this scene, gotta agree. What we got in the theater was so much better than the Donnor Script. Lois as aggressive, pushy, hot and getting horny to get it on with befuddled Clark. Nope!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Lois horny for Clark crosses the streams too much. For this relationship to work we have to believe that Lois believes they are two different people, and if she starts grooving on Clark, it becomes beyond implausible that she can’t see the truth.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Say what you will about Superman II: The Other Movie, but there’s always an answer to the question “Why is this in the movie?” The answer may be kind of dumb, and the execution may be poor, but it’s always connected to what is presented to us on the screen- not a reference to the comic books, or to a projected sequel, or to a tax arrangement the producers made, but a phase of what could plausibly be called the story. The result may not be particularly good, but at least it is a cohesive whole, in fact a movie. It is not just an assortment of footage pasted together by means of a grandiose musical score like some pictures I could mention.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This blog has talked a good bit about the relationship between Lois and Clark in the comics and why they can’t be together. They make a movie and BOOM it’s a love story. Hooray for Hollywood.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I never understood the crime they were looking for. They COULD have some actual crime where they were getting people to do quick claims on houses or added up charges that they didn’t get. I liked the honeymoon suite. I wouldn’t want to live in it, but it just seems like a place you’d find in the expensive part of Niagra Falls.

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