DIRECTOR: Leo Sholem
May Contain Spoilers!
Not having seen the George Reeves’ incarnation of Superman since the summer holidays in 1989, this was an intriguing trip down memory lane. The series, even as an 11-year-old boy, the plot-holes were gaping and this, the pilot for the series, given a theatrical release in 1951, was no exception. The running time is short at only 58 minutes, barely qualifying as a film and I would suspect that this would have been shown as part of a double bill and literally been a B-movie.
The production values are cheap, very common for TV of the time, and this was clearly a TV pilot. There’s no doubt about that. But being from the generation which was used to Clark Kent bumbling around as Christopher Reeve, what struck me first off was the strength of Kent’s characters, a strong newsman of the day and his relationship with Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) was more professional than anything else. She too, was strong and professional, standing her ground when needed, though still falling into the clichés of women of the day.
The story is not as the title would suggest. The Mole-Men are not the enemy, quite the opposite, as they are a people from six miles down who have been disturbed by an oil drilling operation and have come to the surface only to be lynched by a mob of prejudice ignoramus’. The villains here are the rampaging mob who Superman, portrayed here as moralising teacher, or 50’s father figure of sorts, must sort out.
There’s little Superman here but when he is on-screen, he is pretty good. The effects are limited but the character does work. The story and tone are very much of the time, a time in which American’s were being put through MacCarthy’s witch hunts and there was a real sense of “them and us”, them being the Communists amongst the population. In a similar vein to the The Invasion Of the Body Snatchers (1955), this posses the question of what a communist take over might entail, but instead of portraying them as mindless vegetables as in The Body Snatchers, here is a strong message of tolerance, summed up by Lois’ final words, “You live your lives, and we’ll live ours”
The Mole-Men are the victims of prejudice and the mob is the villain, simple as that, but when the parable is put to one side, is this a good Superman movie? No, not really. This is the worst that I have come across so far. It’s dated to the extreme and if you have trouble tolerating 1950’s American TV, then this is not for you. To be honest, if you’re not a completest then I can’t see much reason to watch this. I have had this in the Superman DVD box set since 2006 and I’ve only just gotten around to watching it myself!
The oldest theatrical “movie” version of Superman this may be, but it won’t be until 1978 that he makes his real impact.