A Casual TV Fan's Guide
Adventures of Superman: The Complete First Season, part two
Rated: N/A :: Air dates: 1952-1953
By Dan Toland
06 November 2008 As important as the main character is, any Superman project is (generally speaking) only as good as its supporting cast. The first Superman film is an exception to this; Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman shoulder the full weight of that movie despite a rather lackluster cast. Otherwise, you can usually point to the supporting players as a major factor in any success a Superman show has. Lois & Clark had arguably the best Lex Luthor in John Shea, and probably the best Lois Lane (certainly the best live-action Lois) in Teri Hatcher. The Animated Series got amazing performances out of Dana Delany. Smallville fans routinely point to Michael Rosenbaum and Allison Mack. Superman Returns had... um... well... Sam Worthington made a decent Jimmy Olsen, despite having nothing to do, and James Marsden made the most of a thankless role.
Adventures of Superman, however, has them all beat.
The Daily Planet staffers form the best all-around cast for any Superman project so far. Phyllis Coates is a strong, intelligent Lois who viewers have no difficulty believing as a driven journalist (her replacement in the second and all subsequent seasons, Noel Neill, is a step backwards into swooning, damsel-in-distress territory), but who nevertheless has a healthy pair of lungs on her and can scream the paint off the walls if the need arises. John Hamilton is, as I mentioned last week, the best Perry White ever committed to film, as he effortlessly swings from tantrum-throwing bully to hardnosed newspaperman to caring boss and back again, and can bellow "Great Caesar's ghost!" in such a way that it actually sounds like something a reasonable person might say. And Jack Larson is loads of fun as Jimmy Olsen, as he takes what should be an extremely irritating character and injects him with enormous charm. Larson is one of those rarities in television in that he was in his 20s, but was believably able to play Jimmy as a teenager.
So popular was this cast, in fact, that when it came time for the sponsor of the show, Kellogg's, to create its ad spots, they used the entire cast, rather than Reeves on his own. The entire cast, that is, except, pointedly, Coates (and later, Neill). The feeling was that the sight of Clark Kent and Lois Lane sitting down at the breakfast table early in the morning and eating Corn Flakes together would be too suggestive; they did not want parents to have to explain to their kids why Lois might have been sleeping over at Clark's. It never occurred to anyone that there would be anything odd about Jimmy or Perry sleeping over at Clark's. (Which is ironic, when you consider that Jack Larson is openly gay.)
Disc Two (continued)
The Secret of Superman
Writer: Wells Root
The Plot: A criminal is feeding truth drugs to Planet staffers, trying to learn Superman's secret identity.
Good Stuff: It's been a few episodes since Jimmy's had anything to do. Also, Perry White is in full force-of-nature mode, which is always fairly awesome.
The look on George Reeves' face when he playfully suggests that Perry White is Superman is a thing of beauty.
"I dislike dead bodies around the house. They're so untidy."
Not So Good Stuff: Aargh!!! Lois! You do not walk into the apartment of the bad guy, tell him that you're going to expose him and his use of illegal experimental truth drugs, and then accept his offer of coffee! Oh, look! He spiked your coffee! What the hemorrhaging fuck did you think was going to happen?
Aargh!!! Jimmy! You do not hang up on Inspector Henderson when you're trying to call for help, when a clearly drugged Lois stumbles out of the bad guy's apartment and says you should come inside with her! Oh, look! He's got a gun! What a freaking shock! I swear, Clark should just let these two get killed. It would free up about 80% of his time.
You can see the boom shadow moving back and forth from one head to another during a conversation between Lois and the bad guy.
I hate it when a bad guy learns the hero's secret and then gets killed before he can do anything with it. I know, it's necessary to keep the status quo, but it smacks of lazy writing.
Overall: Despite my fairly strong frustration with certain aspects of the story, this is actually a pretty good episode. Reeves gives a stronger performance than usual, and the plot doesn't overstay its welcome: 7.5 out of 10.
No Holds Barred
Writer: Peter Dixon
The Plot: Clark investigates a wrestling syndicate after seven athletes are hospitalized.
Good Stuff: Jimmy hurts himself attempting to put some wrestling holds on himself. I admit I laughed out loud.
The technical wrestling scenes are pretty good.
Not So Good Stuff: The crooked promoter, Murray, has an East Indian wrestler in his employ.
Murray: Hey, where's that Swami?
Ram: (bowing and scraping) Here I am, Master.
Me: Oh, my. Awkward.
Bad stuntman shot about 20 minutes in.
Overall: A relatively lightweight episode that actually manages not to have enough story to fill its 24 minutes. There's certainly nothing wrong with it, really, but it's not all that interesting: 5.5 out of 10.
The Deserted Village
Writers: Dick Hamilton and Ben Peter Freeman
The Plot: People are disappearing from Lois' hometown, leaving it virtually empty.
Good Stuff: The opening scenes, showing a man in a radiation suit walking silently through an abandoned town, are appropriately eerie.
Not So Good Stuff: Peter Godfrey, the town druggist, looks like he's on loan from The Music Man.
Old lady Tazie appears to be about 30.
When you have four people in a town, and three of them are in a scene when the bad guy starts doing whatever it is the bad guy does, it doesn't really make for much of a guessing game.
Overall: It's a nice idea, but the execution is kinda dull: 6.5 out of 10.
Disc two has some really good stuff on it. It ends weakly, but four out of the six episodes are above average.
The Stolen Costume
Writer: Ben Peter Freeman
The Plot: Metropolis' infamous Rope Burglar breaks into Clark's apartment, where he stumbles across his Superman uniform.
Good Stuff: Clark freaks right the hell out. It gives Reeves a chance to do more than be smiling and avuncular all the time.
I like the idea. I could see this being one of my favorite episodes when I was little. The dialog is really sharp, too.
Norman Budd works well with Reeves.
Not So Good Stuff: I don't know if I'd call this "not so good," exactly, but it's kind of odd. The tone of this episode is weird. It could have been made in the 1930s, just after the era of silent pictures. There's no background music, the episode itself is scratchy as all hell, the sound is weird and it's made in an extremely old-fashioned manner, even considering the fact that these shows are almost 60 years old.
The means by which Superman deals with the people who know his secret is just not cool. I mean, it's right out of the Jerry Siegel pre-war Superman handbook, but Silver Age Supes isn't supposed to act this way. But not to worry; remember that whole "the writer makes it okay by killing anyone who knows Kent is Superman" thing? Yeah, there you go.
Random Observations: George Reeves is the only regular cast member to appear in this episode.
The costume is a lot darker than usual.
Overall: I liked this, although the ending rubbed me the wrong way. The script is good and the cast plays well with it: 8.5 out of 10.
Treasure of the Incas
Writer: Howard Green
The Plot: Lois gets mixed up in hidden Inca treasure. Because that's just what Lois does.
Good Stuff: This is the first time that we really see Lois in competition for a story with Clark.
Jimmy and his pitiable attempts at Spanish are pretty amusing.
Not So Good Stuff: Lois is off to Peru to track down the bad guys.
Perry: Take Olsen with you for protection!
Me: BWAHAHAHAHAHA! And who's gonna protect Olsen?!
I know they didn't have a lot to work with, but the desert of Peru is fairly obviously a gravel quarry in California.
Overall: An average episode, but carried solely on the backs of Phyllis Coates and Jack Larson. They get the lion's share of the episode, and they do a fantastic job: 7.5 out of 10.
Writer: Eugene Solow
The Plot: Jimmy gets an empty box from a drag queen and gets kidnapped as a result.
Good Stuff: Nothing's really jumping out, to be honest.
Not So Good Stuff: Clark takes some fingerprints to his contact in the military, and he opens his filing cabinet and immediately finds the file that matches those prints. Seriously, they happened to be on top of the pile.
Overall: This was not terribly interesting at all. It's a lot of Clark talking to various people and going back and forth with Inspector Henderson and generally being a journalist. When Jimmy gets kidnapped and is locked in a secret room with the threat of being electrified, you damn well better actually make it seem like he might get electrified: 5 out of 10.
Mystery in Wax
Writer: Ben Peter Freeman
The Plot: Okay, this is what it says on the DVD: "Lois Lane, chloroformed while investigating strange disappearances, is held prisoner in Mme. Selina's wax museum of the living dead." Seriously, if you were a kid, wouldn't that be enough to get you to take the phone off the hook and make sure you weren't disturbed for half an hour?
Good Stuff: Metropolis looks like a city, and not a backlot.
There's a classic Clark / Lois dynamic, as she mouths off repeatedly to Madame Selina and he tries to get her to behave herself.
Myra McKinney, as Mme. Selina, is chewing that scenery for all she's worth. She's pretty creepy and a lot of fun
Not So Good Stuff: ...until it gets to be too much. About 15 minutes in, Selina goes from creepy to batshit crazy and goes completely over-the-top.
Is "occult" really pronounced AWK-elt?
Overall: A very solid episode with good production values, a sinister tone, and a really neat running theme, but the whole thing is marred somewhat by the fact that when we learn Selina's master plan, it turns out to be kind of nutty. Still, worth watching, and another really good script from Ben Peter Freeman: 8 out of 10.
The Runaway Robot
Writer: Dick Hamilton
The Plot: An inventor's robot is stolen by gangsters who want to use it to steal millions of dollars from the bank.
Good Stuff: Chopper, the leader of the gang, is played by Russell Johnson, the Professor from Gilligan's Island. He's actually kinda fun in a "Holy smoke, the Professor's got a gun" sort of way.
Perry White intimidates even Chief Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department when he's got a really good rant going.
Phyllis Coates pitches a very brief but hilarious fit when she (spoiler) gets captured.
Not So Good Stuff: The robot has to be seen to be believed. He looks like the Tin Man as designed by Mrs. Anderson's first grade class.
Lucien Littlefield plays Horatio Hinkle as a "wacky" inventor who speaks like James Stewart doing his world famous Sport Goofy impression. He's an overtly comedic character who, unfortunately, isn't very funny. (Which is nothing compared to his assistant, Marvin, who sounds like Gomer Pyle.) When you have Jimmy keeping tabs on someone, and Jimmy is the most mature and responsible person in the room, there's a problem.
Overall: This is a silly, feather-light episode aimed squarely at very young children. It's a comedy, pure and simple. This actually foreshadows the childish, simple stories to come in later seasons. Not without any enjoyment, though: 5.5 out of 10.
Drums of Death
Writer: Dick Hamilton
The Plot: Clark accompanies Perry on a trip to Haiti to search for Perry's sister and Jimmy, who have both been taken prisoner by a voodoo cult.
Good Stuff: Clark gets really frustrated at his inability to shake Perry. Superman could have flown to Haiti, found the prisoners and flown back to Metropolis in about an hour, but Perry's insistence on micromanaging everything keeps Clark from doing much of anything.
Superman uses his X-ray vision for the first time since "The Haunted Lighthouse," all the way back to the second episode. It's like the writers forgot about it.
Not So Good Stuff: The very first thing you see in this episode is a guy in blackface. It's a plot point, but still.
Some of the Haitian locals speak English with a French or Creole accent, but plenty of them don't bother.
Overall: Even if we can get around the uncomfortable feeling that always comes from seeing African-American actors wearing necklaces made of animal teeth and carrying spears, this episode isn't too great. No one feels like they're in any real danger, the miniscule budget is really showing itself and, you know, blackface. And stupid, poorly done blackface at that. It's supposed to be a disguise, but if I showed up at work wearing KISS makeup, I feel pretty certain they'd still know who I was. Unfortunate: 4 out of 10.
Disc three is a total mixed bag. There are some great episodes on here "The Stolen Costume" and "Mystery in Wax" chief among them but on the whole, it feels kind of flat.
We're getting to the end, kids. There's another eight episodes to get through, including one story that was actually released theatrically to some acclaim. We'll look at those next week, assuming I can stop playing Rock Band 2 for six hours a night.