Today, few seem to pay mind to the artists, writers or creators of comic book characters. When as Indiana adolescents, Denny Stephens and I walked into Denny White’s comic book shop, we immediately knew -without looking at the credits, if a book was penciled by Jack Kirby, Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Mike Ploog, Curt Swan or Wayne Boring. In their place is a bland homogeneity permeating both the world of comics and the shops which market them. One book looks the same as the next, blending without seams, shorn of rough edges, entry points, atmosphere, originality, color, or inherent personality.One could say the same regarding the recent spat of films based on DC characters (not so with their television work, including animation where they rule their Marvel rivals. On the big screen, Marvel does it better). While the 50s Television Superman was nowhere near as imaginative as stories being cranked out by Otto Binder in Superman Magazines, ( TV didn’t have the budget or, still in its infancy, the know how) the first season of The Adventures Of Superman has reached something of a silver age within itself.
George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jack Larson, John Hamilton, Robert Shane, Tommy Carr and Lee Sholem each put an individual stamp on the characters and episodes; a personalized milieu and individuality that today is alien to an audience whose primary concern towards character tends toward biblical fidelity and adulation.
For many, George Reeves remains the quintessential portrayal of Clark Kent and his alter ego, Superman. It’s not out of nostalgia or because he was the first actor to portray the pulp character. In fact, he wasn’t the first at all. That honor belongs to Kirk Alyn who starred in the serials: Superman (1948) and Atom Man VS. Superman (1950). Alyn, who interpreted Kent as a kind of bumbling Jimmy Stewart character, simply doesn’t inspire. That lack of inspiration isn’t just limited to the serial’s quality. Certainly, many of the later television and big screen incarnations were equally poor in writing and execution. Rather, it’s due to Alyn’s Kent, which set the blueprint for the later Christopher Reeve performance: Kent really isn’t Kent.He’s Superman and the newspaper paper reporter is just a caricatured facade.
It’s hardly a secret that George Reeves had no love for playing a role that later actors would kill for. For Reeves, this was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Not only was he playing a little boy’s pulp comic book character who wore underwear outside of his pants, but he had been reduced to television. Like many actors of his time, including Alyn who had refused to repeat the role for TV, Reeves was suspicious of the new medium. It was called small screen for a reason, lacking the glamour of the big screen.
Earlier, Reeves’ career had been on a roll, having played the Tarleton twins in Gone With The Wind (1939) and a critically acclaimed starring role in So Proudly We Hail (1942) before being drafted into service for WWII.
After returning from the Air Force, Reeves discovered he had been forgotten by studios. Adding to that woe was the unexpected death of the producer who had aided Reeves career. Still, known for his ability to quickly memorize dialogue, along with a rugged physique, Reeves landed roles in low-budget serials and features, which were rushed productions, and live television. Although he was successful on the small screen, the quality of scripts he was offered seemed to confirm his trepidations.
In 1951, Studio executives and producers unanimously chose George Reeves for the starring role in Superman and The Mole Men, which was to be followed by one season of a television series. Producers saw something of the quintessential Superman/Kent in Reeves that neither the actor himself, nor post-Christopher Reeve audiences could see. Producers envisioned Reeves as embodying Kent/Superman as a barrel-chested father figure (he is closest to Wayne Boring’s Superman). As Whoopi Goldberg astutely observed in a documentary about the actor, “Reeves’ disappointment in not becoming the next Gary Cooper inspired him to put his all into Kent.” Reeves refused to play Kent as a slapstick idiot. His Superman is merely an extension, or an afterthought of Clark Kent. As two villains observed in one of the series’ episodes,”it’s not Superman we need to worry about, but Kent.” George Reeves’ aggressive Clark Kent was far more of a threat with type writer than Superman merely banging two heads together.
This portrayal of Kent is matched by the writing of the first season. It’s not as well-matched in seasons 2-6 with Noel Neil’s Lois Lane and John Hamilton’s Perry White making occasional snide comments about Kent’s “being afraid of bullets or running to hide from danger,”which we never see as Reeves’ portrayal of a toughened, fearless reporter remains consistent throughout the series run.
Still, despite his enthusiasm for playing Kent, Reeves was told, and hoped, that the series would be shelved and forgotten. He seemed to get his wish when producers sat on that first season for two years, in an attempt to find a sponsor. That delay turned out to be a blessing for sponsors.
By the time The Adventures of Superman beamed into 1953 living rooms, Dwight D. Eisenhower had been elected President and the country was swept up in a style of leadership that came to be known as Rockefeller Republicans. Reeves/Kent/Superman fit that mood like a glove. Reeves’ Kent/Superman has a genteel, patristic quality that no other actor has given the role (s). His type of conservative echoed Ike and the Webster definition of conservative as a moderate. Tradition was valued, but never at the expense of being bought by special interests (the NRA and religious right).
Nor was the Eisenhower conservative prone to anti-government sentiments. Indeed, the idea of conservatives allying themselves with confederacy sentiments would have been unthinkable to an ideology still under the influence of its founding father figure, Abraham Lincoln. Of course, this was before Strom Thurmond and his fellow Dixiecrats infiltrated and sabotaged the conservative American party. It was also before the appearance of radical right-wing Dixiecrat offspring who have rendered conservative and bigot as synonymous.
Indeed, in Superman And The Mole Men, Reeves’ Superman seems to symbolically echo mounting warnings of the threat in uneducated right-wing thugs dismantling an authentic conservative tradition.
Nor would Reeves’ Kent be given to bigotry and homophobia. He proved an advocate for gun control in Superman And The Mole Men, and, although hetero, his best pal was the gay Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson). It’s no wonder that Reeves’ Kent/Superman is indeed an alien to millennials who only identify conservative as extremist kooks.
Off-screen Reeves was a passionate drinker, known for his partying and decade-long affair with a mafioso’s wife. However, the actor took his role seriously enough to stop smoking and give Kent-like moral advice to the show’s pubescent audience. In this he had a model in William Boyd’s Hopalong Cassidy, which is apt; Reeves’ Superman is more noir B Western cowboy than sci-fi character (and it probably is no coincidence that the series debut director was Tommy Car, who had previously helmed several episodes of Hopalong Cassidy and Dick Tracy). When finally released, the success of The Adventures Of Superman took everyone, including Reeves, by surprise and he immediately transitioned into mantling a public persona.
The consensus, for once, is right in ranking the first season of The Adventures Of Superman as the best, being heavily inspired by the preceding noir radio show (with Bud Collier voicing Kent/Superman). There really never has been anything like it before or since. The second season has its gems, and some actually prefer its slicker sheen, but few of the episodes were well-written and set the stage for the lower, Kellogg’s sponsored, family friendly quality for later color seasons (many of which can compete with the ineptness of Ed Wood script writing).
Naturally, the special effects throughout are dated and sub par (the Mole Men ray gun is a decorated vacuum cleaner, Superman’s flight is executed by placing the actor on a glass table, etc). Seen today, it becomes clear that the enduring legacy of The Adventures Of Superman six seasons are primarily due to Reeves’ performance.
Additional standout performances include Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane (still, the yardstick measure of both characters). The Lois Lane of Noel Neil, from seasons 2-6, was uneven, through no fault of the actress. In contrast to Coates’ brassy portrayal, Neill gave Lane a charming perky, petite quality, but was often reduced to June Cleaver-like decor. It’s a testament to Reeves’ that he responded well to both actresses. His chemistry with Larson, and at the opposite end, Robert Shayne (as Inspector Henderson) was equally winning.
Special effects always date and, in a few years, it’s a given that Man Of Steel (2013), like Superman (1978) will look antiquated. Unfortunately, Snyder’s film neither has a good narrative, nor a charismatic lead performance to ground it, such as in Superman II (1980). Although in slight defense of actor Henry Cavill, the Kent of Man of Steel, like Dean Cain’s Kent from the TV series Lois And Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, proves more influenced by George Reeves’ portrayal, rather than Christopher Reeve’s.
The Adventures Of Superman actually premiered in theaters with Superman And The Mole Men. Dispensing of a pointless mythology-making origin, it gets straight to the action and is far more a testament to the Clark Kent/Superman character than its predecessors (the dual serials) or offspring. Here, Kent is pure 50s Americana. A tough, but genteel defender who inherently knows that “Truth, Justice, And The American Way” means justice and civil liberties for all, including the minority, misfits, and outsiders.
Reeves’ Kent is too shrewd to be bamboozled by the Goebbels-like argument of “you’re a bigot for being bigoted against our bigotry.” When local racists deny civil liberties to illegal aliens, Kent pulls a Wyatt Earp and disarms the entire town, literally interpreting the second amendment as one for a sanctioned militia whose job it is to restore peace and communal order.
Later, the film was retitled The Unknown People and divided into two parts for the TV series. It can been seen in its original incarnation on both the series DVD set and as a bonus on the Christopher Reeve Superman movie Blu-ray set.
Superman On Earth (dir. Tommy Carr) served as the first season pilot and says in only a few minutes what it took Zack Snyder an hour to tell poorly. Simple and to the point, it sets the thirty minute tone to follow: Kent is the focus with Superman as the exclamation point. It utilizes and smartly condenses the Krypton narrative and gives Clark Kent a quicksilver-like upbringing in Small Town, during which he finds out why he has powers and abilities far beyond mortal men.
The passing of years gives the episode a golden age sheen. With the origin presented as a medley-like synopsis and behind us, Kent transports himself to Metropolis where he meets Perry White (John Hamilton), Lois Lane (Coates), and Jimmy Olson (Larson), landing a job as an intrepid reporter for the Daily Planet after Superman briefly appears for a rescue and saves the day.
The episode ends on Reeves’ self-depreciating humor when, as Kent, he looks at the camera and says: “Who knows, Lois? Maybe I’m a super man.” It’s a joke we are in on with Reeves, unlike Lane and company. Charmingly, Reeves’ invites us to laugh with him, as opposed to laughing at peers who can’t see through a simple disguise of horn-rimmed glasses. Character actors Robert Rockwell (as Jor-El), Dabs Greer (as a man saved by Superman), and Frances Morris (as Ma Kent) give the pilot a commendable sense of period seriousness, as does the regular cast. The weak link is the dated, overtly amateurish acting of Tom Fadden as Pa Kent.
The Haunted Lighthouse (dir. Carr) was a series favorite. Omitting Lane and White, it features Kent and Olsen. Larson was closely associated with multiple figures in theater and the arts, including Montgomery Clift (whom he had a romantic relationship with). In his first starring role as Olsen (he merely appeared toward the end of the series’ pilot), Larson imbues the episode with a sense of dread, naïveté, and humor, which extends from an extensive Grand Guignol theatrical tradition. He does it so effectively that since the series ended in 1959, no live action portrayal has attempted such a comparatively extensive focus on the character.
Choosing to take a vacation on the fog-laden Moose Island with relatives he hasn’t seen since he was an infant, Olsen discovers stolen identities and criminals using the lighthouse for a smuggling operation. He calls on Kent for help. Naturally, Kent brings along his blue, red, and yellow suit and teams up with the coast guard to put a stop to illegal activities. The underground cavern, moody lighting and atmospheric fog place this episode securely in the radio show’s noir tradition. Aunt Louisa and a talking parrot seem to know something Olsen doesn’t in regards to his co-worker.
The Case Of The Talkative Dummy (dir. Carr) is the first episode to feature Inspector Henderson (a character taken from radio). Celebrating his birthday at a nightclub ventriloquist with Kent and Lane, Jimmy Olsen discovers the dummy being used by criminal elements to pass on codes for an armored car heist. Whattya know? It’s an inside job and despite vague motives for that, the episode moves like a nifty, second-run B quickie with Kent as a Sam Spade type. Chemistry between the principles, always a plus in the series, sells us in spite of a few narrative shortcomings. It ends with Henderson, speculating, “who knows? Maybe Kent takes off his glasses, changes his clothes, and turns into Superman.” Some detective that Henderson.
Like the previous two episodes, Mystery Of The Broken Statues (dir. Carr) follows in the crime noir spirit. After witnessing hoodlums buying and then smashing ceramic items in various curio shops, Kent and Lane embark upon a mystery, which is in the way of items found within the smashed figurines and pieced together codes. Preposterous and fun, Superman himself is utilized to tie up potentially violent loose ends.
What makes this a winning episode is the genuine chemistry and latent eroticism between Reeves and Coats, which reportedly was intense enough to worry Reeves’ off-screen girlfriend Toni Mannix. When Lane is kidnapped and threatened by a gangsters, it’s Kent who lands the first punch, possessing a sense of danger, risk taking, and seriousness of purpose that few of the character’s big screen incarnations would take.
The Monkey Mystery (dir. Carr) could only have been made in the McCarthy commie fearing hysteria. With his daughter Maria, scientist Jan Moleska has been declared an enemy of the state for his secret formula to combat atomic threat and is hiding in a cave from the secret police. After Moleska is murdered, Maria, with her father’s formula secured within a locket, is bound for the United Sates. Her intent is to personally give the president this formula to and save his country from the sinister spy organization. Both she and a shadowy foreign enemy all make their way into Metropolis street drama, which involves the organ grinder Tony and his monkey, Peppy who wears a Superman shirt to entertain children. Lois Lane inadvertently receives a message from Peppy, which is actually an enemy spy plan to abduct Maria.
Thus, the Hitchcockian-like, delightfully far-fetched mystery unfolds. Peppy goes missing with both friend and foe searching for him. Jimmy Olsen, as prone to danger leaping as Lane, gets beaten up when trying to defend his simian pal. And, after much head spinning, it all ends well and on a note of humor in this example of solid, early television pulp writing.
After the first five episodes being directed by Carr, Night Of Terror is the first under the direction of Lee Sholem (Superman And The Mole Men, Tarzan And The Slave Girl-1950, & Tarzan’s Magic Fountain-1949). Lois Lane, taking a needed vacation, stops at Restwell Tourist Cabin lodge in the Blue Hills and discovers its receptionist, Mrs. King lying face down on the floor. After reviving the injured woman, Lane is confronted by a scarred gangster named Solly, who socks her on the jaw, knocking her out. The gangsters are using the cabins to sneak criminals on the lam across the Canadian border, which is a half hour from the resort. After having already killed Mrs. King’s husband and discovering that Lane is a reporter, Solly’s partner, Mitch calls their boss for advice. The big guy is sending in the hit man, Baby Face Stevens to professionally dispose of the witnesses. Although neither Solly nor Mitch have met Baby Face, they are aware of his reputation as a wise-cracker who never misses.
Lane briefly escapes and gets a call into the Daily Planet. However, it is Olsen, rather than Kent who she reaches before being caught by Solly. An intense sequence follows. Olson leaves Kent a note with the Planet secretary Miss Bachrach and heads to the Blue Hills. Unfortunately, Miss Bachrach knocks the note off the desk, leaving it for the janitor to collect with the trash and burn. Once Kent gets wind of the trouble brewing for his co-workers, he interrogates Miss Bachrach, who defensively shrieks in response to the reporter’s desperation and anger, “The name of the place was Sleep Well or Deep Well… something with a well.” Slipping into his primary colors, Superman takes flight. Olsen arrives and is mistaken for Stevens by the gangsters. As Olson, Lane, and King plot their escape, the real Baby Face arrives, but so does Superman, who does exactly what we expect of him.
Reportedly, Coates was actually knocked out by the actor playing Solly, when he forgot to pull his punch. The scene remains intact as filmed. Again, we have an episode carrying on the radio show’s noir spirit, but Sholem doesn’t seem as natural in directing actors as Carr.
The Birthday Letter, directed by Dennis Cooper, is the type of episode that endeared Reeves’ Superman to children of the fifties. Today, this type of overt sentimentality would never fly. Yet the heart-tugging is contained within a classic noir feel and, in that, actually carries on a tradition from earlier films, such as High Sierra (1941).
Handicapped seven-year-old Kathy Williams (a quintessential 50s name) has sent a letter to the Daily Planet asking Superman to take her to the county fair so he can assist her in riding on the roller coaster. Perry White promises that the Planet will take her, but Lois Lane knows only Superman himself can make Kathy’s birthday wish come true.
While Kathy’s mom is at work (she leaves seven-year-old Kathy home alone) the telephone rings. Kathy answers it. Unwittingly, a gangster has dialed the Williams home number by mistake. He gives Kathy the time and place of a meeting before being shot to death by pursuant enemy gangsters, which makes the girl an audio witness to a homicide.
After a little investigation and seeing the Planet article about Kathy,the dead men’s cohorts add it all up, pay Kathy a visit with Slugger dressed as a phony Superman and kidnap her, hoping they can obtain much-needed information about the meeting location. Mom blames the real Superman while Slugger, a lug with a heart of gold, bonds with his new adolescent pal and tries to save her from his bosses. It ends predictably with the bad guys brought to justice and Superman flying Kathy to the fair. While hardly innovative, the episode is an engaging example of Reeves’ Superman as having a super heart, which is of course more important than super powers. By all accounts Reeves enjoyed his pubescent audience and interacted with them well and that chemistry is evident in The Birthday Letter.
The Mind Machine is classic science fiction noir, which seems to be inspired heavily by the radio show. Dr. Stanton and his assistant John Hadley are at work in the lab on a scientific device, which enables the doctors to make contact with person’s mind, in order to treat nervous disorders. Three masked men break into the lab, kidnapping Stanton and his machine, warning his assistant that if he goes to the police, Stanton will be killed.
Naturally, Hadley goes to Kent.Stanton has been kidnapped by the crime lord Mr. Big who wants to use Stanton and the machine to connect with the minds of witnesses against his organization, testifying before Senator Taylor. The first witness is Mr. Big’s former accountant. Through the transmitter, which works like a visual radio, the witness’ mind is made blank. Fleeing the investigating committee, followed by Lois and Clark, he hijacks a school bus. Superman comes to the rescue but the witness is dead from severe brain damage. The deaths of the various witness remains unknown to Stanton.
One such witness is Lois Lane who plans to go through with her testimony, despite pleas from Perry White and Clark Kent. Stanton find out the truth by this point. Kent, with Hadley is flying in a plane above trying to locate the transmission when they discover that the time of Lane’s testimony has been moved up.
Through radar, Kent and Hadley locate the signal, but time is crucial. Kent knocks Hadley out, puts the plane on auto pilot, flies down below, putting Mr. Big and his thugs out of commission as Stanton destroys his own machine. Hearing the plane sputter, Superman lands it safely.
The episode ends with Lane, “Why should I need your help when I can always count on…”
“Superman,” winks Kent.
The acting is solidly performed by cast in this imaginatively directed (by Sholem) episode.
Rescue is an episode in which narrative purpose overrides biblical attachment to character history or bullet points. Prospector Pop has been working his coal mine for a decade, despite warnings that it’s a death trap. Refusing to heed the warnings, Pop gets trapped after a cave-in. Enter Lois Lane who, with a crew discovers Pop’s predicament and attempts a rescue. Naturally, being Lois Lane, she too refuses to heed warnings and attempts a lone wolf rescue, getting trapped herself. A series of near-misses follows in which Kent barely escapes news of the mine avalanche. Naturally, Kent being Superman, he would have super hearing. Not if it gets in the way of narrative. Thus, Kent, revving his faulty engine fails to hear the radio broadcast of Lane’s current troubles.
Moving like a clip, Kent finally gets wind of the gas explosion which now seems to have sealed the fate of Pop and Lane. Naturally, our favorite Super boy scout saves the day , which inspires Lane to quip, “Clark, Superman finally took me out.” Rescue is a welcome change of pace, well-directed by Carr, and crams a lot of plot into twenty some odd minutes.
Carr returns to helm The Secret Of Superman. In the early A.M. Jimmy Olsen’s mom calls Kent, worrying that little Jimmy has not come home. This looks like a job for… Clark Kent who finds Olsen in a trance-like state at the Daily Planet office after hours. A file is missing, but not just any file! It is the file on Superman! As Kent suspects, dastardly gangster types are trying to find out the secret identity of the Man Of Steel.
Next up is Perry White who gets slipped a mickey in his coffee from a suspicious waiter. White doesn’t know Superman’s identity either and proves to be of little use to the bad fellas. Inspector Henderson, being the Sherlock he is, finds that both Olson and White were under the influence of Sodium Amathol and orders round the clock police protection for the Daily Planet staff. A little gunplay follows but we’re still no closer to wrapping up this episode.
Kent, after the guise of being fired (in an attempt to smoke out the gangsters) drinks from the same cup as White. Of course, Kent fakes stupor but Lane is more susceptible and is asked the question: “Could Superman have the ultimate disguise? Could he be … a woman?” “Superman-a woman? Nah, but Clark-well maybe.” Performed with commendable straight-face, the cast deserves credit for convincing us with enough serious aplomb to convincingly guide us through 50s naiveté. The world’s greatest mystery gets solved: Kent is Superman behind those horn rims. However,upon learning it, the henchman gets wasted and Lane conveniently forgets her drugged-induced sleuth work. Kent sighs relief. No wonder he’s so charmingly smug.
The Sholem-directed No Holds Barred has been a stapled fan favorite. Bad Luck Brannigan has sent several opponents to the hospital after using the paralyzer move on them. With super-hearing now intact, Kent becomes privy to ringside conspiracies and locker room plots. Perry White sends in ace reporter to investigate.
Swami Ramm gives Kent a demonstration. It’s all about pressure points and sure enough, unable to resist his bad habits, Bad Luck Brannigan is back to shady gymnastics. But it’s not magic that can resist evil. Rather, it’s the magic of knowledge, Kent assures us as he restores broken bodies and faith in humanity.
The Deserted Village (dir. Carr). An ominous town sign greets Lois and Clark with a guarantee of a trip to the twilight zone.
Lane has taken along the boy to thank longtime family friend Mrs. Tazey for her annual birthday present of a ginger bread man. However, when Lane previously tried to contact Tazey, she found that no one in the entire town of Cliffton seemed to be answering phones, despite the fact that the lines were not down.
Next up, a man in protective great lumbers through the town of Cliffton, throwing rocks into various house windows, surrounded by an eerie fog. A dog literally collapses dead at the strange man’s feet.
In addition to Dr. Jessup and Mrs. Tazey, the pharmacist Mr. Godfrey and his son Alvin seem to be the only occupants of this deserted village, but Kent, spying a gas mask and gun in Jessup’s drawer, and an additional gas mask hidden in Tazey’s bed of roses, intends to solve this mystery.
Within the space of mere moments, Kent is warned to get out of dodge, Lane is abducted, and the culprits are bested by Superman, saving his GF from a watery grotto death. The best mysteries are hyper-kinetic and Deserted Village delivers in spades.
When Lane discourse Kent correcting the sign number, she inquires about the source of his information. “A little bird told me, ” he smiles in best smug Reeves delivery , “and if you’re a good girl, someday I’ll tell you who that little bird is.”
The Stolen Costume (dir. Sholem) may be the most startling episode from TAOS, especially to a newcomer.The notorious rope burglar of Metropolis is at it again and, with the Koppers fast on his heels, he slinks his way into Kent’s vacant apartment with all the clandestine skill of a Grace Kelly in black tights. Kent’s elsewhere; getting his annual checkup which could prove embarrassing if being prodded through the red and blues. Kent leaving super undies at home invites T-Ball to have a peek though the missing ace reporter’s closet space. Lo and behold, there he finds the glory of the boy’s manhood mystery, which he wads up, sticks under his armpit, and heads to the gangster’s ball, bit not before being winged by one of Metropolis’ finest.
Before croaking, T-Ball spits up the red and blues to awaiting blackmailing arms. Kent hires a private dick to investigate for the missing mystery item. Mr and Mrs Blackmailer purpose a “deal.” Try that super cheek or we’ll tell. No deals.
So, Superman does what any super guy would do-he flies them to the mountain of solitude. Props them up on the highest peak, but does warn,” don’t try to climb down.”
Intending to keep them propped until he finds professor Pepperwinkle, Supes takes flight.Not heeding his fatherly advice, Mr. and Mrs. Blackmailer fall to their deaths.
“Pretty, odd, huh? Them dying like that?” asks Dick.
“Oh well,” shrugs Kent.
Mystery In Wax (dir. Sholem) is more like an enigmatic lesson in 50s styled melodrama served up in camp thespian hijinks. Madame Selena has made another death mask. RSVP, Daily Planet.
Her previous death masks all were prophetic omens ending in the suicides of each subject. Now sculpted in wax, Perry White is going to expose this charlatan, but a trip down the river seals his fate.
Lane mourns, Henderson waxes bafflement and Kent gets down to the dirty business of finishing his final assignment for Perry.
Selena’s orgasmic, narcissistic shrieking puts Bela Lugosi’s Dr. Vollin to shame on his best day. Naturally, with fists of steel, Kal-el saves the day, frees the imprisoned, and sends Selena to the big house where she belongs.
Mystery in Wax is coated in period grand Guignol and only the most disaffected will be immune to its Hall Of Death charms.
Treasure Of The Incas (dir. Carr). Memo: Be wary when approached by an “arts collector” with a fedora and a scar running down his face.Unfortunately, Lois Lane didn’t get the memo, which sets up this episode.
Professor Laverra wants a tapestry that is being auctioned off so, being a bit shy, he shoves a thousand dollars into Lane’s hands and asks her to buy it for him. The gangster Mendoza wants the same item, kills Laverra, and now goes after Lane, who is unaware of the homicide or Mendoza’s intent. Olson, White, Kent, and Superman all become involved and the drama teleports us from morgue to Peru.
Another fun and thrill-packed episode from The Adventures Of Superman.
Double Trouble (dir. Carr) doesn’t deliver double the fun, despite crisp writing and direction. By this time, the actors must have been feeling overworked and it shows with both hammy and fatigued performances by all. Carr pitches in with a winning cameo and, with Reeves, almost saves this story about spies and radium. Alas, it’s to no avail.
The Runaway Robot (dir. Carr). How can a team-up between robots and Superman go wrong? It can’t. This is right up there with Frankenstein Meets The WolfMan in teams ups you just couldn’t wait to see. And before you can sing a single note of “Mr. Roboto,” Hero is saving the day from super jewel thieves.
Of course things run amok, as they often do with 50s robots and the design of Hero is a bonafide classic, on a par with the robots of The Phantom Creeps, Robby The Robot, Tobor the Great, Rock ’em sock em Robots, and Robot Monster.
Fortunately, Superman is wilier than a runaway robot and made of sterner stuff too.
Don’t get all 21st century elitist on this one. Let it wash over.
Drums Of Death (dir. Sholem). From Robots to jungle voodoo, Lois and Clark, along with Perry and Jimmy are getting to do much adventure traveling.
Perry White’s sister and cub reporter Olsen have gone missing in an expedition to Haiti. Superman to the rescue. The Plant gang get a lot of mileage in under half hour, but the narrative they are stuck in short circuits.
The Evil Three is the equivalent of a ham sandwich overdose. White and Olsen have Gone Fishin, but they’re just a wishin’.
Watching the principal baddies do belly flops trying to outdo each other is akin to witnessing Chaplin and Oakie compete for the highest Great Dictator stool or Kirk VS. Kahn. Reeves and Larson join the fun and seem as entertained as we are.
Riddle Of The Chinese Jade takes us back into period noir. Sinister oriental types straight outta The Mysterious Mr. Wong accompany trap doors, jewel heist and deadly explosions.
This could have been produced by PRC and we kept expecting a cameo from Petter Lorre, Bela, or Boris but Reeves handles it all by himself. Lane gets in a classic scream queen moment and thirty minutes moves by like quicksilver.
Gambling addict Bet A Million Butler is the focus of The Human Bomb (dir. Sholem). Butler will bet on anything, even if it means a little jail time and he has gambled one hundred thousand dollars that he can preoccupy Superman for thirty minutes (while his comrades pull off a museum heist). Strapping dynamite to himself, Butler strolls into the Daily Planet and handcuffs himself to Superman’s gal pal Lane. Kent’s not amused by such shameless publicity, which gives him a much-needed out. Olsen goes all hero on us, which of course means a save from Superman.
Superman’s response? “No comment until the time limit is up.” Butler proves a little dense and easily bamboozled.
Czar Of The Underworld (dir. Carr) usually makes the top ten episodes of TAOS in such lists. Crime boss Luigi Donelli has plenty of headaches stemming from Clark Kent’s series of exposes. Worse, Kent, with Inspector Henderson, is heading out to Hollywood, to serve as technical advisors, in the film Czar Of The Underworld. Donelli and his thugs plot an assassination attempt, but naturally fumble. A series of further assassination attempts follow, one of which gets film actor Allen Dexter killed on set. It plays out a bit like Phantom Of The Opera with a mystery murderer behind shady film location hijinks.
Being television, the phantom is unmasked, the bad men get punished, and the head spins from almost overdosing on so much plot being covered in so little time. The consensus, again, is right on the quality of this remarkable episode.
Ghost Wolf (Dir. Sholem) is about a werewolf. No kidding. Sort of. Rather, it’s actually about a she-wolf. Sort of. Kent, Lane, and Olsen embark upon an eerie mystery deep in the Oregon forest. They better hurry up. Perry White is running out of pulpwood to produce his paper and the Lone Pine Timber Company is making his job easier with a she-wolf terrorizing its lumberjacks.
Werewolf? Check. Lane getting to do a helluva scream queen? Check. Superman putting out a forest fire? Check. What the hell more do you need?
Crime Wave (dir. Carr) has made more than one list as the best episode of TAOS. While that’s debatable, it is a balls-to-wall-action packed 30 minutes with the Son of Krypton kicking ass and taking names.
In addition to Bulldog addition deadlines, an underground Number One Crime Boss, hijackings, a mortal threat from a mad scientist, assassinations, assassination plots, and Kent’s secret identity being made quite vulnerable (which, oddly never gets resolved), Crime Wave is all Superman with the Kent identity almost reduced to a cameo.
Needless to say with Superman in charge, “there is no Number One Crime Boss in Metropolis… anymore.”