Superman III 4.26: Walking the Dog

One of the problems with Superman III is that there is not enough attention paid to Gus Gorman’s yo-yo. There, I’ve said it.

This is something that I’ve been bottling up, but now that we’ve reached the first of two big yo-yo related scenes, I can no longer ignore it.

Now, I’ve written before about Richard Lester’s entirely overrated reputation as a director of visual comedy, and what I want to talk about today is the way that he treats Gus’ yo-yo.

According to the script, the yo-yo is supposed to be practically a supporting cast member in the film. Gus is constantly fiddling with it, keeping it in the audience’s mind, so that we think it’s funny when he uses it in a clever way.

To his credit, Lester does keep the yo-yo on screen quite a bit — Gus is holding it, or has it nearby, in practically every scene. But it’s usually hidden, and you only see it if you’re specifically looking for it, including during the scenes where it’s important.

Today, I’m going to walk you through where the yo-yo appears, and why it’s important, and I hope that fits into your plans for how you’re spending your time today, cause it’s too late to turn back now.

The yo-yo is introduced in the first scene of the film, when Gus is standing on the unemployment line. He’s playing with it nervously, and for a very brief moment the camera follows the yo-yo, from the ground back up to Gus’ hand.

The condition of the yo-yo is actually supposed to be a character trait in the film, according to the script:

GUS kills time by trying to make
a beat-up old wooden yo-yo
perform the basic up-and-down maneuver,
but he’s not very good at it.


(as he tries to untangle
his yo-yo string)
Gus Gorman.

They don’t do the untangling business in the film; Gus just has the yo-yo in his left hand during his encounter with the clerk, and then he puts it in his pocket.

We see it again in Gus’ next scene in the computer class, sitting next to the keyboard with the matchbook that inspired him to come to the class.

You hardly see the yo-yo on the screen here, but in the novelization by William Kotzwinkle, it’s actually a fundamental part of this moment of character development.

The instructor pressed a button:

“… memory…” said Henry the Computer. “I am a function of…”

Memory, thought Gus.

He had the whole thing in his mind somewhere, up there with his yo-yo strings.

His wrist flipped out, an under-the-kneecap move, yo-yo suspended momentarily in the air.

I know something ’bout this already…

“… in which we have strings of data…”

Strings, thought Gus, looking down at his yo-yo. Always knew this instrument was tryin’ to tell me something.

“… string variables are labeled with a dollar sign…”

Make perfect sense, thought Gus.

“… what we call looping it…”

Gus looped his yo-yo round and round. Yessir, it’s all clear as a goddamn bell…

When Gus and his co-worker go to the cafeteria and talk about missing half-cents, the script has a stage direction: “Gus mutters and works his yo-yo with no success.” He doesn’t have it in the film.

He’s not holding it when he steps out of the sports car either, but both the script and the novelization make a big deal about his yo-yo upgrade.

The script says:

GUS steps out of the elevator,
nervously working his yo-yo
(an upgraded model
now that he’s come into some money;
this is a plastic one)

And the novelization gives the new yo-yo its own introduction:

His yo-yo went down, its tiny rag polishing his shoe tips.

All eyes in the elevator were upon this act.

… I just glide on by these folks…

That a man should play with a yo-yo in the elevator of Webscoe was, of course, unheard of.

Gus’ yo-yo had a battery in it, causing it to light.

His fellow employees watched this illuminated object going up and down.

Clicking his fingers, spinning his yo-yo, he watched the elevator open at his floor, and stepped off.

In the film, he doesn’t get a fancy yo-yo here; he’s still got his brown wooden one. He’s holding it when he’s called upstairs to see the boss…

and this is the yo-yo’s most visible moment in the film. He’s flipping it up and down, repeating, “Ross the boss, Ross the boss,” in time with the yo-yo. It’s mostly out of frame, but there are little foley slaps as it returns to Gus’ hand.

He’s still fiddling with it during the entire scene with Ross the boss, which is where I think it starts hiding in plain sight.

As I prepared for this post, I went through all the Gus scenes to spot the yo-yo, and I was amazed at how many times I never noticed that he had it. It’s just something in his hand, and it’s never the focus of the shot, so it just kind of disappears.

I remembered that he had it in the elevator, obviously, and then I watched this scene, looking for the moment that he puts it in his pocket… and he doesn’t.

He just shifts it from hand to hand through the whole scene, messing with it whenever he wants something to do with his hands. At this point in the scene, he’s got a loop of string hanging down from his left hand.

And here, he’s winding the string up, as Webster pours him a drink.

It’s possible that other people have a better sense of overall situational yo-yo awareness than I do, and you’ll all brag in the comments that you knew exactly where the yo-yo was at all times. If that happens, I promise that I will be impressed with your observation skills.

The scene shifts to the Daily Planet office, and when we come back to Webster’s penthouse, Gus is still holding the yo-yo, passing it from hand to hand.

Gus has his hands full in the next scene, carrying around his portable liquor cabinet, so we don’t see the yo-yo here.

After this, he’s double-talking Brad at the door to get into the WheatKing office, and playing with a yo-yo would be distracting and spoil the disguise.

But once everyone’s drunk, the yo-yo comes out; it’s sitting on the corner of the table, next to Gus’ left hand. When Brad passes out and Gus gets up to evaluate his condition, he picks up the yo-yo and puts it in his pocket.

A moment later, he’s got it in his hand again. On the way to the computer room, he’s got the keys in his left hand and the yo-yo in his right.

The first big scene is coming up, and by now, they’ve done a lot to establish that Gus and his yo-yo are an inseparable pair — except with me, because I haven’t noticed it since the elevator.

He’s holding the yo-yo as he walks over to the computer and sits down, but it’s hidden in his hand. I know that he’s got it, because there’s a little foley “thunk” sound when he puts it on the desk, but we can’t see it.

So: the thing that I am objecting to — the reason why I’m writing this entire lunatic post — is that Lester needs to give us a close-up of the yo-yo, right now. We got one on the unemployment line and in the elevator, but that was thirteen minutes ago and apparently I have object permanence problems.

In this scene, the yo-yo is the clever solution to Gus overcoming the obstacle of not being able to turn both keys at the same time.

He’s going to pick up the yo-yo, loop the string around Brad’s wrist, and thread it across the table, so that he can pull it, to make Brad insert the key.

Which maybe everybody else understood, but I was thinking, I wonder where he got the string from?

That’s because even here — in the yo-yo’s big hero moment — there isn’t a single close-up on it, or even a very clear shot of it. It’s hidden inside Gus’ hand the entire time.

Once the action is over, there’s about a half-second when you see the yo-yo on top of the computer…

… and Gus immediately sits down, and you can’t see it anymore.

Now, for everyone who’s saying I wonder where he’s going with this?, the answer is nowhere. I am going nowhere with this. I’m doing it anyway.

It’s at this point in the script, when Gus arrives at Webster’s rooftop ski resort, that we see that he’s now got another yo-yo:

At which point GUS enters,
flipping a fancier yo-yo
(the walnut executive model),
looking very nervous and disturbed
about something.

So, you see? It’s not just me; the screenwriters were obsessed with the yo-yo too.

But in the film, Gus doesn’t have the new yo-yo in this scene, because he’s got to grab ski poles and careen down the building in a minute.

Now here, when he’s waiting for his Kryptonite delivery, is probably the most natural place to remind people of his hobby. The script says:

GUS waiting in a little room
practicing his yo-yo.
By now he’s finally mastered up-and-down
and is into (badly) some tricks like “walking the dog.”
He makes a few tries and almost jumps when
a finger taps his shoulder sharply from behind.

So as far as the writers were concerned, this isn’t just a running gag; it’s an actual character arc.

But that doesn’t come across on the screen at all. In this scene, instead of a yo-yo, Gus is futzing with some damn thing that I don’t even know what it is.

When the special K arrives, we can glimpse something in his hand…

which turns out to be…

The walnut executive yo-yo!

So now Gus has a fancy designer yo-yo, which he carries around for the rest of the film. He doesn’t play with it at all, but it’s usually in his hand or nearby on a table. I’m not sure it’s fully functional.

But they always manage to get it into shot, even here in the gas station diner scene, where he holds it up like a medallion for some reason.

I admire the follow-through to give Gus a fancy new yo-yo, but I think this may make the problem worse, because it’s even less recognizable and makes the yo-yo rescue sequence more baffling.

Here’s the film’s second, climactic yo-yo moment, when Gus is on the second floor of the supercomputer and decides he doesn’t want to be anymore. The script says:

he whips his yo-yo out of his pocket,
pulls the string all the way out,
throws it over one of the guy wires
that anchor the machine to the floor.
He jumps off the terrace,
holding onto both ends (yo-yo and string)
and slides down to the ground, a la Topkapi.

Which is kind of what happens, except you don’t see any of that stuff. We see him reach into his pocket…

And then they cut to something else…

And when we come back to Gus, he tosses the yo-yo over the cable, and gets ready to jump.

This is the other place where we could really use a close-up on the yo-yo, to make sure that people get the joke, which as far as I’m concerned, we don’t.

So he swings down the cable holding the yo-yo string like it’s a zip line, which is a pay-off to a running joke that I’m not sure people in the theater even noticed. This upsets me way more than it should.

When Gus gets to the ground, he puts the yo-yo down on top of something or other, and then he forgets about it, and it passes from our lives forever.

4.27: The Funny Part


Gus saying “Hello, baby!” to the computer is an ad-lib from Pryor; it doesn’t appear in the script, either here or when he says it again in later scenes.

The movie was filmed at Pinewood Studios outside of London, and the sign above the computer accidentally uses the British spelling: “No Unauthorised Person to Use This Machine”.  It’s actually spelled correctly (for Americans) on the closet door that Gus opened a minute ago, which says “No Admittance Authorized Personnel Only”.

There’s a similar error in the final supercomputer battle scene, where a switch is labeled “Exterior Defence”. I’m informed by the internet that you can also spot the word “colour” somewhere in the movie, but I haven’t figured out where yet.

4.27: The Funny Part


— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Superman III 4.26: Walking the Dog

  1. I appreciate all of the screenshots because otherwise I would not have known what you were talking about.
    Perhaps Lester was rebelling over having a visual joke thrust upon him by the script, as if the writers were trying to usurp his thing.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Even when they show the yo yo there’s no there there. I get it’s supposed to be plain and cheap because Gus is poor, but would it kill them to paint a red dot on it or something?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think I ever noticed the yo-yo before, but I did used to wonder why that computer was set up like a nuclear missile launch device besides a contrivance for some Gus wackiness.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Oh man, the yo-yo, my favorite topic from the movie! I’m almost as obsessed with the yo-yo as Gus Gorman is, but that’s only because I read the novelization where it’s an integral part of his character. See these two comments under a previous post about the importance of the yo-yo (the first one was written without the book at hand, but then I found it and quoted a key passage in the second one).

    The picture painted throughout the book is that the yo-yo represents Gorman’s hyperactive mind; it’s been spinning uselessly as he wanders through his luckless life, but there’s tremendous potential energy there, just looking for a creative outlet. It’s only when he’s dealing with computers that he’s in his element, and every time he interacts with a computer (or designs one, later in the movie), the yo-yo is invoked as a symbol of his mind working on the problem. The passage in the comment above even suggests that the Yo-Yo in Gus’ mind tells him to do things, in the sense that he is carried along by prodigious ideas which seem to speak to him from another realm.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I think I only noticed the yo-yo a couple of times, mostly in that first scene. Not really being that familiar with Pryor, I guess I just assumed that it was part of his own schtick that they were trying to work into the movie. For the computer scene and the zipline scene, I figured the string/rope came from the same bag of tricks as the foam cowboy hat and other paraphernalia.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve only learned from Danny’s quoting of the script that there’s a key difference between “script Gus” and “book Gus”, which is that “book Gus” is really good with the yo-yo, casually pulling off different tricks as he goes about his daily business, whereas “script Gus” seems to be just starting to learn the yo-yo. Which version came first? I wonder if the original idea was for him to be great at the yo-yo. It would certainly make more sense since Gus carries the thing everywhere.

    Perhaps when it came time to make the movie, they anticipated getting Richard Pryor but realized that he was not a yo-yo master, so they decided to change his character to be an amateur at it. They may have expected to get some great physical comedy out of this angle, judging from the moments in the script where he has to untangle the string or is slowly learning a trick. My guess is that Lester probably felt it would distract from Pryor’s established comedy stylings to have him constantly messing with a yo-yo.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I long wondered what happened to Richard Lester between The Bed-Sitting Room (1969) and The Three Musketeers (1973.) The first of those movies was the culmination of a decade of daring and often brilliant films; the second, the beginning of eighteen years of dreary junk, relieved only by one bright spot in the form of Superman II. Before I read your posts, I assumed the answer was that he’d acquired a cocaine habit. Now I know it was the trauma of meeting the Salkinds.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Obligatory sidebar: the original Yo-Yo[TM] was marketed by Duncan as being inspired by the Phillippine weapon of that name. It was actually a toy.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see the hero of the video game “StarTropics” using a yo-yo.

    And that’s all I have to say about that. Never noticed Gus’s yo-yo. Another keen observation by film-fu master Danny.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I didn’t expect to be strung along for a yoyo post but here I am impressed by this sleight of hand taking me around the globe and other yoyo tricks that serve as turns of phrases


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