Superman III 4.22: The No Comprendo

For almost one minute of screen time, the Superman III soundtrack is Roger Miller singing “They Won’t Get Me.” Why?

I mean, it’s not a good song. It is an aggravating song, and as far as I can tell, they wrote it specifically for this movie, to play over footage of Superman hitting Richard Pryor in the junk with a car.

“They won’t get me, me, me, me,” sings Roger Miller. “They won’t get me, me, me, me,” he continues. I imagine that it’s supposed to refer to Gus sneaking into town in order to do something nefarious, but you can tell from the verse that the song is about a man feeling trapped by women who want to snare him into a committed and satisfying relationship, so it applies equally to this abruptly domesticated Clark Kent, still hanging around in Smallville and watching Lana do her grocery shopping.

“I’ll help you, Lana,” says Clark, but apparently what he means by “help” is sit in the station wagon while she does the actual shopping, and then walk to the back of the car after she’s already placed her bags inside.

Clark does a lot of this kind of helping in the movie: rescuing Ricky when he’s in danger of learning how to bowl, escorting the family to a picnic lunch that he did not meaningfully contribute to, and generally presenting himself as a potential father figure when he has no serious intention of investing in this family in the long-term. Fortunately, Lana doesn’t need anybody’s help as far as basic life skills are concerned; she’s been doing an adequate job providing for her family for years, and she will continue to successfully hoist her groceries into the wayback after Clark has gone back to the city.

But that’s all emotional subtext that we’re not supposed to pay attention to; the point of the scene is to stage a little comic moment when the two stars of the movie bump into each other, unaware that their destinies are intertwined.

This is followed immediately by another little comic moment when Gus observes the latest trends in Kansas menswear…

… registers baffled disgust …

… turns and walks away …

… stops, turns back, registers again …

… turns to give the town in general the once-over …

… shakes his head, whispers “Jesus Christ!“, and walks away.

This scene is there to establish the comically loud suit that Gus will be wearing when he infiltrates Wheat King’s computer network. It’s a funny suit. But Gus has been wearing that crappy tan jacket for the entire movie so far, so I don’t understand how the existence of the loud suit in a store window condemns the entire town to ridicule and revulsion, except in the general sense that the movie despises everything about Smallville.

And honestly, I’m not that open to more comic moments at this point, coming after Webster’s comic monologue about Colombia, and the Daily Planet scene where Jimmy is taking a comical picture of Mr. and Mrs. Maury Stokis, who have won a trip to South America thanks to the Jingo numbers that Perry comically pulled from the hopper in the previous Daily Planet scene.

This little side trip will pay off later as we see the Stokises having a lousy time in South America, and then coming back to raise hell and destroy the Planet, which is another comic subplot that the audience is supposed to be tracking through the whole movie.

And my question is, how much “comic relief” is too much, in a movie that’s not technically a comedy? Does one need the family Stokis, followed by a comical Roger Miller song playing over the spectacle of a ground-breaking comedian taking a shock to the shammies? What happens when you pile up the comic relief so high that it blocks out the rays of the sun?

2.43: Sure, the Picnic


Here’s some more trivia for you: Pa and Ma Stokis are played by R.J. Bell and Pamela Mandell, who also both appeared in the 1985 film Morons from Outer Space. You may recognize Mandell as the diner waitress from Superman II.

And checking back in with the Internet Movie Car Database, as I like to do every now and again, Lana’s crappy car is a 1974 AMC Matador Station Wagon.

2.43: Sure, the Picnic


— Danny Horn

10 thoughts on “Superman III 4.22: The No Comprendo

  1. I reached my fill of comic relief during the slapstick opening scene of the blonde woman causing chaos on the streets.

    I like to laugh. I like the comedy in the MCU movies, as Danny discussed in the Gunn post. But the “comedy” in this film for the most part really grates on me. I’m just not a fan of this sort of humor, I suppose. I’ve never found a guy getting hit in the crotch to be funny, for example.

    I feel like there might be some larger discussion to be had of everyman Gus suffering pain from being hit in the crotch, something that wouldn’t bother super Clark, who doesn’t even notice getting hit by a taxi. Unless Clark feels he has to mime pain to protect his secret identity and so goes over the top in his reaction.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The superheroes of the MCU are written as fairly realistic people except that they have superpowers and make an inordinate number of quips in the heat of battle. Those characters have inner lives which are evident in their words and choices. The characters of these classic Superman films are quasi-insane by comparison, whether it’s Lois jumping from high places to prove Clark is Superman, or Lex Luthor figuring out Superman’s weakness with a leap of intuition, or Webster’s absurd evil-CEO antics, or Superman destroying a bowling alley lane to “help” a child, or Gus Gorman designing a supercomputer that can do basically anything after taking his first computer programming class. There’s little to no logic or emotional realism.

      However it’s worth reminding ourselves that these Hollywood folks probably were familiar with Superman from the Silver Age, aka the most childish era of comic books, which only ended around 1970. Audience expectations were probably also different back then. So it’s partly a matter of reaping what had been sown; Silver Age Superman comics seemed like they were straight out of a fever dream, with sensational plots and deus ex machina superpowers invented in the spur of the moment to get the writer out of a jam.

      The MCU is the product of a much later era of comics, one where Tony Stark battles alcoholism and Bruce Banner’s anger stems from child abuse. In that sense, maybe we just can’t expect these first superhero movies to hold up well. Still, it would have been nice if they’d at least *tried* to tell a story that adults could take seriously.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. That’s an interesting point.
        When I first saw Citizen Kane I thought it was ok but I also didn’t understand what the big deal was. In the twenty years or so between when it was made and when I saw it, Welles’s innovations had been copied so much that they were commonplace. The impact was gone.
        Maybe I have the same problem with this forty-year-old movie. Maybe blows to the groin were more original then. When I saw the suits in the window, I was reminded of how awful men’s attire was in the 1970s. Maybe in 1983 I would have gotten the joke.
        Or maybe it wasn’t funny then, either.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. It’s like the comedy’s there to reassure the audience that they’re not being mocked, in a weird way? Like, “we know you don’t really think Superman comics are ‘real’ literature or anything, relax. Look, we grafted all these weird comic bits that don’t relate to each other onto our main story until it looks like the kind of unholy experiment that some mad scientist would come up with in one of those silly stories! Ha ha!”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. @goddess: Yes, and I think that practice persists in modern superhero movies down to this day. I guess those self-aware or self-deprecating jokes in the movie are meant to prevent the adults in the audience from feeling silly for watching a comic book movie. Or maybe they’re to prevent the writers from feeling embarrassed that they worked on a comic book movie. I always feel like they cheapen the experience though.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. The first Superman movie had moments of excellent dialogue, strong characterization and genuine wit, especially with Gene Hackman as Luthor. It was always possible to make a well-crafted superhero movie; it’s just that in this case, the producers valued “on time and under budget” more than artistic achievement. That’s also true for almost every other case.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. When I first saw the movie, I took the scene with the ugly leisure suits in the window to be another indicator that Smallville is behind the times by about a decade. This is further emphasized by the old cars everyone is driving, including Lana.
    As for the Jingo winners, I don’t know what they were going for here, other than a running joke about them having a “trip of a lifetime”. (wink-WAH!)

    Liked by 1 person

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