Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) Movie Serial Review

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

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Atom Man vs. Superman is the 1950 sequel to the previously reviewed Superman (1948) movie serial and features many of the original actors including Kirk Alyn back in the lead role as Superman.  I enjoyed this 15 part Columbia movie studios serial almost as much as the first.  While not overly complex or high minded, the serial was fun and featured plenty of action.  The villain in Atom Man vs. Superman was also considerably better than the unremarkable Spider Lady from the first series.  Atom Man is actually Superman's arch rival Lex Luthor.

Lyle Talbot, who we have already seen as Commissioner Gordon in the 1949 Batman & Robin serial, returns to play Lex Luthor and, if I'm honest, he's probably my favorite Lex Luthor to-date.  Lyle Talbot did a fantastic job as the maniacal mad scientist Luthor, not playing him too over the top, but clearly showing a mean streak that worked perfectly for the character.

Lois Lane (Noel Neill) was one of my few complaints about Superman (1948), mostly for the way she was written, but even her character was a little better this go around.  Finally, both Pierre Watkin who played Perry White and Tommy Bond who played Jimmy Olsen were great in their roles.

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My biggest criticism of the film would be the completely unnecessary Atom Man.  To clarify, Atom Man is the secret masked identity of Lex Luthor.  The costume looked ridiculous with a giant glittery masked head piece, Atom Man looked like the worst of the worst sci-fi movie reject.  It also never made sense why Lex Luthor was hiding his identity in the first place.  In fact, about mid way through the 15 part serial they just kind of gave up on having Luthor masquerade as the Atom Man and just went straight forward with Lex Luthor as the lead villain.

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The serial also introduced an idea very similar to the Phantom Zone which would become a staple of the Superman mythos.  In this serial, Superman is zapped away into a phantom like zone called "The Empty Doom" where he existed in between reality and being incorporeal.  It was a pretty interesting section of the series.  Pictured below is Superman trying to contact Lois Lane from the Empty Doom.

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Written by David Mathews, George H. Plympton, and Joseph F. Poland, Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) was Columbia's 43rd serial and the second live-action Superman screen appearance, both featuring Kirk Alyn as Superman.  The plot finds Lex Luthor blackmailing the city of Metropolis by threatening to destroy the entire city with various sci-fi inspired devices.

Lex Luthor invents a number of devices to attack the city, including a disintegrating machine, a heat ray, and a missile. Superman manages to defeat each of Luthor's schemes.

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There are multiple scenes reused from Superman (1948) including, almost in it's entirety, the origin of Superman and the destruction of the planet Krypton.  Most of the flying sequences were reused and some archival news footage was used to simulate destruction including footage of the failing of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge which had occurred ten years earlier. 

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While not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, both of the Columbia Superman movie serials had a charm that both The Batman (1943) and Batman & Robin (1949), also by Columbia, lacked.  It also was less serious and not a tedious as Captain America (1944).  Both the Superman Columbia film adventures could be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

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Patreon supporters of When It Was Cool at the $5 level can hear all of our audio reviews of these movies including Superman (1948).  Click here to listen to the audio review of Superman.

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