THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 2 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN SEASON 2

Five Minutes To Doom (Dir. Tommy Carr) is the introductory episode to season two of The Adventures Of Superman. Already, it is a slicker product than what passed in previous season and, as expected, there are gains and losses. It’s lost none of its grit, even with a new, bourgeoisie Lois Lane.

Five Minutes To Doom is literally a noir cliffhanger with Clark Kent using his abilities as a human lie detector test (gauging the heartbeat of a convicted killer) to determine the man’s sincerity. Someone doesn’t want Kent and gal pal Lois Lane uncovering the truth behind a corrupt contract deal and attempts to assassinate the cub reporters. Lane condescendingly praises Kent for his out of character bravery.

Noel Neill, George Reeves

Reportedly, Carr was hard on Neill, whom he found lacking, compared to the much missed Coates. Reeves’ defended Coates and while that’s an admirable example of cast camaraderie, it’s difficult not to sympathize with Carr’s POV. Neill claimed that she was merely playing herself but that may be part of the problem with her portrayal of Lane, who often comes across as a Sarah Palin styled Avon lady huffing and puffing her way through the newsroom with status quo shoulders, chastising Kent for not being man enough, even though we never see his cowardice. Occasionally offsetting this unattractive trait is a winning perky quality, which renders Neill’s Lane as consistently uneven.

Surviving the elements, Superman literally saves the day at the last moment by breaking through a prison wall to halt an electric chair execution. Stylish and moving like quicksilver, this is a helluva open to a legendary season, despite a fidgety debut from Neill.

Adventures Of Superman Five Minutes To Doom

Adventures Of Superman Five Minutes To Doom George Reeves Noel Neill Adventures Of Superman Five Minutes To Doom Nole Neill Adventures Of Superman Five Minutes To Doom John Hamilton, George Reeves, Noel Neill, Jack Larson Adventures Of Superman Five Minutes To Doom John Hamilton Noel Neill

The Big Squeeze (Dir. Tommy Carr) is noir for the 50s family. Dan Grayson has received a citizen of the year award from the Daily Planet after he was nominated by his employer. Alas, Dan has a past that comes to put the big squeeze on him. Kent is obsessively driven in righting wrongs and finding/allowing redemption. Obsession and redemption are dual, key themes in season two.

The Adventures Of Superman “The Big Squeeze”The Adventures Of Superman “The Big Squeeze” George Reeves

The Adventures Of Superman “The Big Squeeze” Hugh Beaumont.

The Man Who Could Read Minds (Dir. Tommy Carr) Kent, Olsen, and Lane attend a nightclub act, which features a phony mind-reading swami that leads them to a phantom burglar. The writing is straight out of the 1940s radio drama program tradition. Well-paced, well-acted, and a stylishly suspenseful entry. Reeves steps back, allowing the (considerable and authentic) chemistry between Neill and Larson to breathe. Mutual respect and generosity between cast members was developed early and is a testament to their longevity.

The Adventures Of Superman “The MAN WHO COULD READ MINDS”

The Adventures Of Superman “The MAN WHO COULD READ MINDS” Jack Larson Noel Neill

Jet Ace (Dir. Tommy Carr). Perry White’s nephew Chris is a jet ace pilot with a confidential report for top-secret eyes only. He is kidnapped and it’s up to Kent/Superman to prevent government files from falling into enemy hands. And Hillary thought she had problems. Needless to say, Kent is up to the job as is cast and crew in this superior Air Force oater. In this half hour setting, perfect for its topic, there’s no time allotted for celebrity pandering or Tom Cruise-like prancing. It’s a full-throttle narrative without a minute wasted.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN JET ACE

STARRING GEORGE REEVES

Shot In The Dark (Dir. George Blair) is in no way related to Blake Edward’s Pink Panther. Rather, it’s about an accidental lens capture of Kent’s alley transformation. However, other dark room secrets emerge along with a shadowy underworld figure believed to be dead. The story was reportedly taken from the daily newspaper comic strip. Sly nods to Hitchcock-like voyeurism abound and guest star Vera Marshe is a scene-stealer as Mrs. Harper. Her shrill, comedic timing is pitch perfect (and with a threatening fifties dress which could kill if moving too far in the wrong direction, it’s no wonder Perry White sends her packing off to Kent). Marshe’s performance is matched by Larson’s multi-faceted Olsen.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN SHOT IN THE DARK GEORGE REEVES

George Reeves SUPERMAN.%22Shot in the Dark%22 The Adv of Superman George Reeves

The Defeat Of Superman (Dir. Tommy Carr). Gangster Happy King has returned to Metropolis and wants to make a deal with Superman. “No deals.” King has a mad scientist at his disposal and he’s played with full-blown ham zeal by character actor Maurice Cass, who could give both Bill Shatner and Ricardo Montalban serious competition in scene-chewing. Such over the top eyebrow arching works here, especially when he’s equipped with a kryptonite gun, ordered straight from the Acme warehouse. Lane and Olsen come in handy when disposing of the green rock, which Kent hurls into space. Unfortunately, for King and company, the offending rock (wrapped in a pipe) comes-a-crashing into their windshield, sending them off a cliff to a fiery fate below. Only in this type of melodrama could such an outlandish, improbable finale be pulled off. This is the first appearance of kryptonite in TAOS and it’s all the better for it. Reeves leads a fine cast who approach both role and narrative with the earnestness required to convince us. They do, with flying colors.

DEFEAT OF SUPERMAN

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THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN GEORGE REEVESADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN GEORGE REEVES

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.

Phyllis Coates TV's first Lois Lane

actor Jack LarsonJohn Hamilton aka Perry WhiteRobert Shayne aka Inspector Henderson

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.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN GEORGE REEVES

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.

George Reeves as Tv's first SupermanClark Kent Nash-Healey

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.

Gone With The Wind George Reeves So Proudly We Hail George Reeves So Proudly We Hail George Reeves Claudette Colbert

So Proudly We Hail George Reeves Claudette Colbert

From Here To Eternity George Reeves Burt Lancaster

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.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN GEORGE REEVES

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.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN GEORGE REEVES

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.

SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN GEORGE REEVES, PHYLLIS COATES

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.

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

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).

Superman gun control

Superman and the Mole Mn lobby card

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.

George Reeves AKA CLARK KENT

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.

Superman and the Mole Men news adSTARRING GEORGE REEVESSuperman and the Mole Men advertisementSuperman and the Mole Men advertisementSuperman and the Mole Men George Reeves Phyllis Coates

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.

SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN GEORGE REEVES, PHYLLIS COATESthe mole-menGun control Superman style

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.

Suerman and the Mole Men lobby cardSUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN GEORGE REEVES

superman and the mole-mensuperman and the mole menGeorge Reeves and Phyllis Coates in Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)George Reeves and Phyllis Coates in Superman and the Mole-Men (1951).

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.

Reporter Lois Lane Phyllis Coates

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.

SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN GEORGE REEVES

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.

SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN GEORGE REEVES, PHYLLIS COATES

SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN PHYLLIS COATES

 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.

SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN PHYLLIS CAOTES GEORGE REEVES

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