Superman II 2.23: The One Where Lois Finds Out

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.)

Lois:  Whoops!

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.

Lois:  Mm-hmm.

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?

Lois:  What?

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.

(He sighs.)

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.

Lois:  Mm?

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

Movie list

— Danny Horn

20 thoughts on “Superman II 2.23: The One Where Lois Finds Out

  1. She’s painting her toenails? That’s an awkward bit of direction, but then so is tripping into a fire. It’s one of the scenes that makes the Donner cut look like a work-in-progress rather than a finished film. But it’s still better than Lester.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s bits like that that make you realize that A) a man wrote this and B) Donner keeps putting bits of glass in his diamond necklace.

      Lester’s is always the “good enough, write the sides” version that lacks the sparkle and wit in the dialogue, but the fire bit, to me, at least works better because it’s the kind of clumsy thing Clark would do, while being, finally, the tiny thing that he can’t deny. It’s certainly better than having a woman, who is getting ready to go out in the next fifteen minutes and with a plethora of grooming steps to go through that would make some damn sense, decide now is the time to paint her toenails.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Lazy writer! Bad writer! Who’s chewing on the pink carpet again, hmm? Who made a stinky little puddle in the honeymoon suite! I think I know who! Down, writers!

    For the Lois rescue at the falls, it was necessary for Clark to flail helplessly. But in the suite, there’s no reason for him to pratfall. Which a crazy space angel would never do by accident. He’s not reinforcing his secret identity here. He’s just a victim of bad writing.

    I already suggested my solution. He uses his X-ray vision to look in her purse for the comb. He sees that some of her Polaroids have incriminating evidence.

    He walks over to remark, “Maybe your comb’s in your purse, Lois. Oh, here it is.” He gets it out and hands it to her. (Maybe it wasn’t in the purse, but in the drawer, and he used super-sleight-of-hand. Whatever.) While reasonably assuming she’ll be busy with her hair for a while, he walks off with the purse. He sits by the fire, sets the purse down on the floor beside him, takes out just those particular pictures and puts them into the fire, holding them in place til they turn to ashes.

    It only takes seconds. But before he’s done, she happens to turns around for some more feisty dame’s witty repartee, only to see his hand in the fire. Maybe also a quick burst of heat vision to help wipe out he evidence faster. Letting her be even more clever. “So that’s why there was a tree trunk with a burnt stump in the middle of the river, just where I needed it! I KNEW IT! I WAS RIGHT!”

    Just one usable story solution to why Lois discovers that Clark’s fireproof. There could be others. The writers failed to find even one.

    Those last few screen tests shots – her waving her hand, then determined, him suavely in control, then defeated but majestic. Now there’s real super silver screen charisma! But Margo and Chris aren’t super-charismatic in Lester’s scene here. That’s because Lois ain’t cleverly figuring things out like an ace reporter, and Clark ain’t cleverly manipulative like an ace secret identity hider. They’re both bumbling around like victims of bad writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I wonder how this would ended if Donner were still directing? I mean, at the end of the Lester version, Lois cannot handle knowing his secret so he heepnotizes her into forgetting what she learned.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Donner and Mankiewicz have basically said “we would have thought of something.”

      The Donner Cut uses the “turn the world backward” from the end of the first movie, because that was originally intended to be the end of Superman II. Once they decided to bring that forward, they knew they would have to come up with something different for the end of II, but that was a problem they didn’t have to solve while they were trying to get the first movie finished.

      I’m sure they would have come up with something interesting, once they came back and started working on the second movie. They made a lot of changes as they were filming the first movie, so they were used to thinking on their feet and pivoting if something wasn’t working.

      I don’t know if that hypothetical “something” would have been better or worse than the Lester ending. My guess is probably better, because I think the Lester ending is about as bad as it could be (see yesterday’s post about The Empire Strikes Back). But we don’t know. They never even started talking about it.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Why didn’t they film the scene as written for the screen tests (subbing going over Niagara Falls for jumping out of the building)? It’s not like it involved paying Brando. This is head and shoulders above even how _Lois and Clark_ handled the reveal.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The version of the revelation of his identity that I’d like to see would be like this: Lois through her cleverness figures it out and confronts him. Clark treats her as an adult and admits he’s Superman without having to trip over a bear or be menaced by a gun with blanks. That way, she still has intelligence and agency, and he’s not a dick. Maybe if the jumping from the window scene had been kept early on, Clark could have gone back to Smallville and actually talked it through with Ma Kent who’d give him some good advice to help him make up his mind to tell her the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “it doesn’t quite make sense that Lois would pack a handgun loaded with blanks in her honeymoon luggage”

      Maybe the hotel is run by a member of the Collins family (Carolyn maybe, or Tom Jennings after he fled Collinsport). As per the plethora of weapons always at hand in Collinwood, the hotel has a weapon in the drawer in every room rather than a Gideon’s Bible.

      On second thought, if it were the Collins, the gun wouldn’t have blanks. Nevermind.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Alternately, cut to the furnace room of the hotel, where Clark’s wrists are chained to a conveniently located alcove that Lois is in the process of bricking up…

        Liked by 3 people

  6. If Lois has already figured it out, she’s had the time to come up with the bullet test, get a gun with blanks, and pack it in her bag. That gives her even more agency and lets us see a non-sloppy side of her.

    And since she already knows, she doesn’t have to jump in the river.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I can understand why an investigative reporter might feel that carrying a gun for her own safety would be a good idea. However, I can’t come up with a reason she would load it with blanks. Plus Lois has her own personal bodyguard now in Superman so there’s no reason she would need to continue to carry a heavy gun with her. I can only conclude the helpful bellboy would have to supply her with gun and blanks for a hefty tip.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. davidspofforth points out that Lois has ample reason to own a handgun and carry it with her. Especially after that attempted mugging in the first movie where the guy actually fired, and only missed them by dumb luck 😉 Considering how much danger Lois regularly gets herself into, *not* owning a gun would seem pretty stupid; does she really think Superman will always be there to save her?

        The only question left, then, is where she gets the blanks, and a quick visit to a gun store is at least a plausible explanation. Or maybe she bought them along with her gun so she wouldn’t have to actually shoot someone, figuring that blanks would suffice to scare them off. All this could have been explained earlier in the movie (and without Clark present, of course), so that the gun doesn’t just appear out of thin air.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m going to say Lois went out to get the gun once she realized the flaw in her plan. I assume there was a gap of time while Clark went to get the flowers that she could have. This is BY FAR the better scene. You’ve convinced me I have to watch the Donnor version.


    1. Blanks are dangerous because of the shockwave of expelled air, which is apparently as powerful as when a live round is fired. Hexum (and others) died because they fired the blank at their own head and didn’t know about the tremendous air pressure it generates. Brandon Lee died when a blank was fired from several feet away because the gun still had a real round in it when the blank round was fired, and the bullet was pushed out of the barrel by it.


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