It’s the most significant moment in Lois Lane’s significant moment-heavy life, so it’s a shame that it begins with her talking about what a fool she is.
“Boy, I sure must have looked like an idiot,” she mutters. Her hairstyle doesn’t look that bad. Oh, she means the river thing. “Jumping in the river, waiting for Mister Wonderful… who obviously had better things to do.” I remember the days when Lois Lane was the coolest person in the world.
“Where’s my comb?” she asks. “Where’s my comb?” she repeats, with her head on a swivel. “God, not only have I lost my mind, I’ve lost my comb.” Then Clark trips over a pink polyester bearskin rug and falls face first into the furnace, and that’s how Lois didn’t figure out that Clark was Superman.
I mean, it’s fine, if you don’t care about characters or atmosphere or dialogue or personal dignity and your standards for clever plot point construction are low af, and you don’t really know how to do romance or comedy, and the film was supposed to be in the can yesterday. If squandering one of the greatest reveals in 20th century fiction is okay with you, then sure, I guess you could accept this as something to project on a movie screen, while you’re waiting for a better film to come along.
Of course, I’m saying that today, when I’m only 43 percent of the way through Superman II. There will come a time when I’m waist-deep in Supergirl and the only things I have to look forward to in my life are Howard the Duck and a second Swamp Thing movie, at which point I’m sure that a competently-filmed scene like this will seem Oscar-worthy, assuming that the Oscars still exist at that point.
But for now, I still have some kind of standards and a functioning will to live, and this scene is just not good enough to be in the movie. It is lazy and boring, and I have the receipts.
Because there’s another version of this scene — awkwardly shot and badly lit, under-rehearsed and shamelessly violating visual continuity — and for one of the few times in the entire history of director’s cuts, it’s actually better than the theatrical version.
This is from the Donner Cut, the 2006 assembly of all the parts of the film that Dick Donner shot for this movie before he was fired from the project. Donner didn’t get a chance to shoot any of the honeymoon hotel scenes, so under ordinary circumstances, this spot in the Donner Cut would be filled by the inadequate version filmed by Richad Lester.
But by an amazing stroke of luck, this crucial moment was the basis for the lead characters’ screen tests, and they still had the footage. So this scene in the Donner Cut was reconstructed from two different screen tests, to create a watchable version that gives us an idea of what the scene would have been like in Donner’s Superman II.
It’s filmed on a bland, half-finished hotel room set that’s obviously not the garish pink box of the theatrical cut. It’s also very clearly a Frankenstein from two different tests, because the close-ups of Clark don’t match the medium shots. For Reeve’s test, they hadn’t worked out the makeup and costume yet, so his hair is stained black and plastered to his head, and he’s wearing big silly nerd glasses. He also looks very skinny, because he hadn’t started bulking up for the role yet.
Now, most of you probably haven’t seen the Donner Cut, so to show you what I mean, I’m going to go ahead and give you the whole thing right here.
(Clark knocks on the door, as Lois is coming out of the bathroom in a towel. He opens the door, and almost bumps into her.)
Clark: Oh, my gosh.
Lois: Oh, that’s all right, I just didn’t hear you knocking, that’s all.
(Lois sits down and starts checking her makeup. She spends most of the scene getting ready for the evening, only half-paying attention to what Clark is saying.)
Clark: Lois! For goodness’ sake, the door wasn’t even locked! Just anybody can walk in here.
Lois: There you go, putting yourself down again, Clark.
Clark: Oh, very funny.
Lois: No, really, I’m serious.
Clark: Well, anyway… Here.
(He hands her a tiny bunch of flowers.)
Clark: A little something for the newlyweds’ dinner tonight.
Lois: Pansies! Clark, how… how different.
Clark: Well, would you believe, they grow wild all around here.
Clark: Boy, you should see what they’re charging for roses at that gift shop.
Lois: I’ll bet, huh?
Clark: Mmm. You know something, Lois?
Clark: Well, you know, in spite of the — the unreality of all this… well, you know, posing as newlyweds for the sake of a newspaper story… well, in spite of myself, even, I’m kind of starting to feel like one, in a way.
Lois: A newlywed? You?
Clark: Well, I don’t see why that should be so strange.
Lois: Oh, I’m sorry, Clark. Really, I didn’t mean that. I mean, I’m sure there’s thousands of girls who… well, a few girls anyway.
Clark: Oh, go ahead and say it.
Lois: Say what?
Clark: That somehow, you’re not satisfied being here with me. That in some way, I don’t seem to, uh… shape up very well, in your eyes. Well, darn it, I don’t have anything to apologize for! I’m a good reporter. No, I’m a very good reporter! And an even better friend, to you.
Lois: (shoots him a look) Stand up.
Clark: Stand up?
Lois: Yeah, stand up, just for fun.
(He stands up, and she settles him in front of a mirror.)
Lois: Now, come here — look at yourself. Just look at yourself.
Lois: What we have here is a potentially aggressive, dynamite guy, who can do anything he wants! I mean, it’s not my fault you keep putting yourself down.
Clark: Oh, yeah? How?
Lois: Well, for starters, look, you slouch all the time. Here, stand up straight. (He winces.) There! That’s better. And get yourself a jacket with a vent, and some shoes that don’t lace up, and a shirt with a little color or pattern or something… and a bowtie that doesn’t look like a letter opener… (She’s teasing him.)
Clark: All right, Lois.
Clark: All right! Now, we’ve been all through this before, haven’t we?
(She settles at the desk, and starts painting her toenails.)
Lois: (sighs) Yes.
Clark: Now, I know where this is all leading to, and I’m sorry. But no matter how hard I try, I just never will be… him.
Lois: Him who?
Clark: Him who? Him — Superman!
Lois: (very casual) Oh.
Clark: Now, I can’t help the fact that you seem to think that you love him. That’s just something I’m going to have to live with. But darn it, Lois, that’s enough now! Maybe I just can’t stand the competition anymore.
Lois: And just maybe… you’ve been the competition, all along, huh?
Clark: Lois, I’ve never been particularly good at riddles.
Lois: Let me make this one really easy for you. Why — with thousands of children potentially falling off something lethal all around the world — would Superman be in Niagara Falls today? Why wouldn’t he be in the Grand Canyon?
Clark: Why don’t you ask the child’s family? I’m sure they would know.
Lois: And why is it always whenever I’m with you, until Superman appears, and then you seem to disappear! Very conveniently, it seems to me.
Clark: Well… I was getting hot dogs, for Pete’s sake, you’re the one who said you —
Lois: Uh huh. And when Superman appeared, I looked over at that hot dog stand, and you were gone, you weren’t there. Nowhere.
Clark: I can’t help it, if I had to go to the…
(She turns towards him, and smiles.)
Lois: You are Superman, aren’t you?
Clark: (scoffs) Lois… we’ve been through these hallucinations of yours before. Can’t you see what you almost did, throwing yourself off a building, thirty stories high? Can’t you see what a tragic mistake you almost made?
Lois: I made a mistake, because… (She reaches into a drawer, and pulls out a handgun.) I risked my life, instead of yours. (She points the gun at Clark.)
Clark: Lois? Don’t be insane!
Lois: Now, don’t fall down, because you’re just going to have to get up again!
Clark: Lois, now, don’t — don’t be crazy! Lois!
(She aims, and fires the pistol. Clark stands stock still, staring at her.)
(Her eyes widen. There’s no way that she could have missed, at this range.)
Lois: It is you!
(He takes off his glasses, and crosses his arms. He is Superman.)
Lois: I guess I’ve known this for the longest time.
Clark: (with a deeper voice) You realize, of course, if you’d been wrong, Clark Kent would have been killed.
(She holds up the gun.)
Lois: With a blank?
(He stares at her, and realizes that she’s tricked him. He sighs.)
Lois: (grins) Gotcha.
(He sits down, and looks at her. She wins.)
So the thing that I love about this version of the scene is that Lois is in control, as she should be. She’s being clever and mischievous, and she’s running rings around her romantic opponent, screwball comedy style. This is her scene, and she doesn’t need the truth to almost-literally fall into her lap.
Looked at entirely logically, it doesn’t quite make sense that Lois would pack a handgun loaded with blanks in her honeymoon luggage, but I’m happy to let logic lapse for a moment, to get a scene that demonstrates that Lois is actually worthy to be the recipient of the world’s most important secret.
And the second half of the Lester scene, after the reveal, is even worse. But let’s come back tomorrow, and we’ll dig into that.
22.4: Kneel Before Clark
— Danny Horn