Tag Archives: screwball

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.

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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?

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Superman 1.72: The Color of Underwear

In yesterday’s post on the workout, I talked about the process of transforming Christopher Reeve from stringbean to superhero as a core part of the behind-the-scenes mythology of Superman: The Movie, which was widely discussed during and after release.

Partly, the description of building Reeve’s body was another way for the Salkinds to secure more funding — a story that they could tell potential investors in order to convince them that this was going to be a high-quality movie. It was also a marketing tool, meant to assure the ticket-buyers that they’ll see a real Superman on the screen, not just a guy in a padded suit.

This is an act of objectification, making Reeve’s musculature an object of discussion and concern. Reeve talks about building his body as a way of mentally getting into the character, but for everybody else, it’s a mechanical process: insert steak dinners and protein shakes, mix with barbells and squats, and out comes the result — 24 more pounds of muscle mass.

So the workout is a story about Christopher Reeve as meat, with the happy ending being an increase and redistribution of that meat into a shape that we like better. But the interesting thing is that nobody talks about Margot Kidder that way, and here I was, thinking that women were usually more objectified than men.

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Superman 1.51: The Long Walk

At the end of a hectic day at the newsroom, Clark asks Lois if she’d like to go to dinner. Lois says that she can’t, because she’s going to the airport to interview the President, end of scene.

That’s a simple bit of dialogue that the characters could deliver at their desks in about thirty seconds. Instead, Richard Donner turns this moment into a screwball comedy masterpiece, using a single tracking shot with dozens of extras bustling around the crowded newsroom.

Everybody pays attention to the helicopter rescue scene, which is coming up next, but in my opinion, you can’t beat this walk-and-talk scene, which does it backwards and in high heels.

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Superman 1.42: Another Sunny Day in Comedy New York

In an article about the filming of Superman: The Movie published in August 1977, Time Magazine reported, “One thing Superman does not have — so far as anyone with plain old 20-20 can see, anyway — is many laughs. Director Donner, convinced that it was campiness that brought down King Kong, is avoiding even the possibility of untoward giggles.” Which just goes to show how wrong a magazine can be.

Because for the last five minutes, starting from our arrival in a Metropolis taxicab, the characters have been doing nonstop screwball comedy shtick, up to and including getting stuck in a revolving door.

Extricating themselves from the architecture, Lois and Clark emerge into a sunny musical comedy New York, where everyone is quiet and well-dressed, and the traffic noise limits itself to a couple of respectful honks when nobody has any important dialogue to say.

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Superman 1.32: Murder, With a Smile

The thing to remember about Superman: The Movie is that nobody had ever made a live-action feature-length superhero movie before, so they didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what a superhero movie was supposed to be like. It could go in almost any direction: science-fiction, fantasy, drama, fairy tale, action-adventure. Should it be aimed at kids, or adults? How scary should it be?

The movie that they ended up putting together is famous for changing tones throughout the prologue: the glitter opera of Krypton segueing into Norman Rockwell in Smallville. The teen football scene could fit into a contemporary live-action Disney film with no questions asked; one of these days, I’m going to get around to writing that Superman/Escape to Witch Mountain comparison that American film criticism has been waiting for all these years.

But the most important tone shift happens right here, in our first visit to the Daily Planet. This is when the story really begins, and we find out what a Superman movie sounds like. The answer, thank goodness, is screwball comedy.

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