Tag Archives: villains

Superman 1.94: The Shakedown

The telephone trills.

It’s mid-November 1978 in sunny Los Angeles, and all four of the Warner Brothers, seated at their identical desks, reach for their four matching telephone receivers. “Hello?” they chirp, in unison. “These are the Warner Brothers.”

“Good afternoon, Mizter Brothers,” says the voice, in an imaginary Russo-Swiss-Mexican accent. “Zis is Alexander Salkind.”

Mr. Salkind is the executive producer of Superman: The Movie and the head of a bumbling, crumbling international crime syndicate, and he’s making a transatlantic person-to-persons call to make Warner Bros. an offer that they can’t refuse.

Continue reading Superman 1.94: The Shakedown

Superman 1.66: So Below

“… Some sort of fantastic hoax,” says the man on the TV, and he’s right; as hoaxes go, this one is terrific. An angelic figure from beyond the stars has appeared in the night sky, righting wrongs and gathering up loose housepets. “Your guess is as good as anybody’s,” the man on the TV continues. “True or false, miracle or fraud?”

Miss Teschmacher!” shouts the man in the swimming pool. “Turn it off!” He’s something of a miracle or fraud himself, and he’s not used to competition.

Continue reading Superman 1.66: So Below

Superman 1.49: The Look of Luthor

For the last week, we’ve been looking at the new version of Lex Luthor that was invented for Superman: The Movie — a down-at-the-heels art thief, inventor and real estate magnate, lurking underneath Metropolis’ Grand Central Terminal in a lair made out of other people’s property. The movie Luthor doesn’t need death rays; he’s got sarcasm, and National Geographic, and the ability to reprogram ballistic missiles. He’s sophisticated and urbane, and he plays the piano. He wouldn’t dream of putting on a silly costume, and trying to punch Superman in the face.

So that puts him at odds with the trend of modern thought at DC Comics in the mid-to-late 70s, where they’d spent the last several years turning Luthor into a cartoon character.

Continue reading Superman 1.49: The Look of Luthor

Superman 1.47: Lair Life

The chilly splendor of the Fortress of Solitude interior, the glass-lined maze of the Daily Planet newsroom, the unbelievably well-landscaped jungle of Lois Lane’s balcony — Superman: The Movie is full of enormous art installations for the characters to live, work and fight in. But the most spectacular of all is Lex Luthor’s lair, two hundred feet below Park Avenue.

Overstuffed and shabby chic, this subterranean museum of crime is the perfect hideout for a villain who’s trying to convince the audience that he’s important, in a hurry. Luthor enters the film with a messy murder that immediately establishes his villainous credentials, but after that, he spends a lot of the movie just hanging around downstairs. Superman gets to fly around catching crooks and saving the day, while the villain sits in the basement, reading back issues of National Geographic. If he’s going to get any respect from the audience, then that needs to be a damn impressive basement.

Continue reading Superman 1.47: Lair Life

Superman 1.46: Criminal Minds

Now, where was I? Oh, right, Lex Luthor. Last week, I talked about how striking Luthor’s entrance into the movie is — and it needs to be striking, because we’re already an hour into the movie and he’s competing for our attention with a lot of other stuff.

This first visit to the lair lasts about three minutes, and then there’s another fifteen minutes of Superman material — the whole helicopter sequence, and Superman doing his first batch of heroic deeds. Then Lex gets a second scene which lasts less than two minutes, and then there’s another fifteen minutes, full of Superman and Lois’ first date. Luthor’s scheme doesn’t actually begin until more than an hour and a half into the movie.

The fact that he makes an impression at all says a lot about the level of energy that Gene Hackman brings to the role. His Luthor is a bundle of contradictions, especially in his relationship with his subordinates. He says that he longs to be idolized and congratulated, but Miss Teschmacher insults him most of the time, and the sidekick who idolizes him also irritates the hell out of him. Personally, I think he does this to himself on purpose, just for the pleasure of having someone to sneer at.

Continue reading Superman 1.46: Criminal Minds

Superman 1.45: Hair Today

Rick didn’t say “Play it again, Sam,” and Kirk never said “Beam me up, Scotty.” Darth Vader said “No, I am your father,” and Brody said “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Do you feel lucky, punk? Houston, we have a problem. I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille. Top of the world, Ma! Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?

A lot of the phrases that we pick up from pop culture as famous movie quotes are actually slight misquotes, often making them a little shorter and simpler, because on the whole people are not that good at remembering dialogue. Exact wording fades quickly, and so do plot points and character relationships.

But we’re great at remembering a striking visual, and most of the things that we consider “iconic” are compelling images, like Claudette Colbert showing her legs in It Happened One Night, or Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct, or a steam vent blowing up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt to reveal her legs in The Seven Year Itch. A lot of them involve women’s legs, for some reason.

So when Superman: The Movie introduces the new version of Lex Luthor that we talked about yesterday, there are a lot of alterations to the comic book character that for the most part audiences don’t notice. The movie version of Luthor has sidekicks and a sense of humor, which has never really happened before, and he presents himself as an eccentric businessman, rather than a mad scientist — but for movie audiences, those are details that they don’t know about.

The one thing that people do notice is that Lex Luthor is supposed to be bald, because we remember interesting visuals. The details of his characterization don’t really stick in the mind, but even people who’ve never read a Superman comic in their life know that Luthor doesn’t have any hair.

Continue reading Superman 1.45: Hair Today

Superman 1.44: The Man Behind the Curtain

He’s had henchmen. He’s had cronies. He’s had dupes and hostages and occasional team-ups, and according to the comics, there’s a whole planet out there populated by knuckleheads who think he’s a hero. But he’s never had a sidekick before; it’s just not a thing that Lex Luthor does.

He doesn’t really have a sense of humor either, or a collection of wigs, or any kind of compelling backstory or motivation.

So this, right here? This is not a Lex Luthor that we’ve seen before. This is something new.

Continue reading Superman 1.44: The Man Behind the Curtain

Superman 1.40: Everyone Looks Like Lois

Well, you know what they say: there are two sides to every story, and vice versa. The other day, I told you about the narrative pressures in the early days that encouraged the writers of the Superman comic books and radio show to change the characterization of Lois Lane, gradually making her more friendly towards Clark so that the two of them could get involved in a wider variety of stories.

But that change in Superman’s universe caused an equal and opposite reaction — creating a flip side, parallel version of Lois from the upside down, who gradually turned darker and meaner, until she became Superman’s first recurring supervillain. It’s time to break the silence about the year of evil Lois clones.

Continue reading Superman 1.40: Everyone Looks Like Lois

Superman 1.8: See You Later

And in the other corner: General Zod and his Kryptonian dance crew, appearing temporarily in their standing-room-only farewell stadium show.

Now, I think it’s fair to say that there were mistakes on both sides. Yes, Non is a mindless aberration whose only means of expression are wanton violence and destruction. True, the woman Ursa’s perversions and unreasoning hatred of all mankind have threatened even the children of the planet Krypton. Admittedly, General Zod — once trusted by this council, charged with maintaining the defense of the planet Krypton itself — was chief architect of this intended revolution and author of this insidious plot to establish a new order amongst us, with himself as absolute ruler.

I think the important thing is that we come together as a bipartisan coalition, put the past behind us, and start working on the issues that really matter to the average Kryptonian.

Continue reading Superman 1.8: See You Later

Superman 1.4: The Kojak Moment

ALEXANDER SALKIND is proud to announce the engagement of MARIO PUZO (The Godfather — The Godfather II — Earthquake) to write the screenplay of SUPERMAN

it said, in enormous type.

This was another one of the Salkinds’ full-page ads in Variety, in March 1975. That was the whole thing, a one-line engagement ring with no further information. That was enough, back in the days when they thought Puzo would deliver a decent script.

Continue reading Superman 1.4: The Kojak Moment