Superman (1948) Movie Serial Review

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

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Compared to the other superhero movie serials of the 1940s and 1950s, Superman (1948) is a fun breath of fresh air.  Much better paced and acted than either of the Batman movie serials and actually true to the character unlike Captain America, the first of the two Superman serialized adventures is fun, well cast, and enjoyable despite the obviously low budget.

The series even starts out with a, close to the comic book, retelling of Superman's origin and the explosion of Krypton.  This sequence, where we meet Jor-El and the other leaders of Krypton and see the fate of the planet, was one of the most enjoyable sequences yet in these old time movie serial adventures.

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The villain in this serial was an original character named The Spider Lady, played by actress Carol Foreman.  I only have a few complaints about the acting.  Foreman delivered most of her early lines stoically and unemotionally as if she were reading them straight off the cue-card.  Kirk Alyn, who played Superman in a strangely uncredited role, could occasionally be too jolly and comical when playing Superman, although he was about as perfect a Clark Kent as you can get.

Two actors who nailed their part were Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen and Pierre Watkin as Perry White.  Tommy Bond played the role of Jimmy Olsen probably better than any actor to date.  Noel Neill played the role of Lois Lane.  Unfortunately, the Lois Lane character was written to be more of an indept trouble maker than a serious news reporter but Neill played the part as well as one could for how it was scripted.

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Superman was a 15-part Columbia film serial which also produced the two Batman features.  Kirk Alyn was billed only by his character name, Superman; but credited on the promotional posters and it is notable that this was the first live-action appearance of Superman on film. Superman was directed by Thomas Carr, who later directed many early episodes of the Adventures of Superman television show. The Superman-in-flight scenes are animations, in part due to the small production budget.

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Superman is sent to Earth by his parents as Krypton explodes and is raised as Clark Kent by a farm couple, Jonathan and Martha who have only small roles in the feature. The Kent's discover that Superman has great powers so they send him off to use his powers to help those in need and then are written off as having died unceremoniously off screen. 

Superman heads to Metropolis under the bespectacled guise of Clark Kent and joins the staff of the Daily Planet newspaper office in order to be close to the news. Soon Kent is sent out to get a story on a new meteorite that a man has found that he calls Kryptonite, which causes Clark passes out when near. The 1948 serial revolves around the plot of a villain who calls herself the Spider Lady.

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The Spider Lady uses her gang to pull numerous crimes, most involving fantastic sci-fi themed weaponry or the Kryptonite.  The Spider Lady's plan is never really clear and honestly, the villain is the worst part of the serial while the adventures of the Daily Planet staff are the most interesting.

Ultimately, of course, The Spider Lady falls prey to her own schemes leaving Superman and the Daily Planet gang to fight another day.  And fight they will, in the sequel which will come two years later in 1950 using essentially the same cast, minus the Spider Lady.

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