Concluding "Continued Next Week"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Concluding "Continued Next Week"

(When we left off, my sister was about to intro­duce me to the old "Superman" serials.)

Although I will always have great affection for the wonderful Republic Studio chapter plays produced from 1936 to 1956, few others from Columbia and prolific Universal have worn well with me over the decades.

Columbia's "The Phantom" serial

(Columbia's "The Phantom" from 1943, thanks primarily to Tom Tyler's performance, being an exception of note.)

And if anyone mentioned "Super­man" and "movies" to me in the same breath, my first though would run to the wonderful, exhilarating 1978 release with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as the "strange visitor from another planet" and the nosy newshen.

And because that's the type of movie maven I am, I recognized... and got a kick out of see­ing... the original live action "Clark Kent" and "Lois Lane," Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill, uncred­ited in homage roles in that film.

(They play the parents of young "Lois" in a passing train which the young "Clark" is racing on foot on his way home from school.)

I knew, of course, Noel Neill who played her signature role over the last 78 episodes1 of George Reeves' 104 episode run as the Man of Steel on television in the '50s, and had seen Kirk Alyn in other serials over the years.

DVD cover of the two Kirk Alyn "Superman& serialsquot;

But thanks to a Christmas gift from my sister I got to know the two of them a lot better over the past week, and both are great fun.

The DVD contains both 15-chapter serials on four disks, and if I find them lots of fun today, I would have thrilled to them, animation and all, 60 years ago!

Animation? You betcha... these were made decades before "green screen" and digital graphics, so what Columbia did... very ef­fectively, I must say... was optically add an animation of the Man of Steel's aerial work!

And while I cannot find a cite for it, I suspect that the flying animation was done by the same people who had done the work for the 1941 "Superman" 17 episode cartoon series.

The integration of the live action and the an­imation is flawless, and has to be appreciated in the context of its time.

While the scripts' narratives are pretty lame, the performances of the featured players are commendable, especially that of Noel Neill.

Perky, pretty2 and delightfully impudent in her independence, she's a doll and arguably the best of all who've portrayed "Lois Lane."

Alyn is good as well, though better in costume than as "mild-mannered reporter" for The Daily Planet. His is a "Superman" with dashing good looks and bouncy enthusiasm.

The serials' two "brains heavies" are standouts!

Carol Forman as "Spider Lady"

First was the villainous "Spider Lady3," delic­iously played by Carol Forman in a blonde wig and a reasonably-daring-for-its-time black satiny dress that made young males in the audience want to confess that they had been bad, and probably in need of discipline.

Lyle Talbot as "Lex Luthor," s/k/s "Atom Man"

The second was played by that consummate B-movie blackguard (and neighbor to Ozzie and Harriett, "Joe Ran­dolph"), the ubiquitous Lyle Talbot.

(In that single-two year period, along with 21 other movie roles, he played "Commissioner Gordon" in the "Batman and Robin" sequel serial and criminal mastermind "The Brain," the secret[!] identity of stock broker "B.R. Ayne," in the "Dick Tracy" ABC TV series.)

Talbot's character even got the serial's lead title position, "Atom Man vs. Superman," al­though it was never satisfactorily explained why such a known blackguard as "Lex Luthor" would need a secret villainous identity.

Interestingly, Talbot did not chew the scenery as did Gene Hackman in the same role in the 1978 film, but played it like a straight charac­ter role... he wasn't "slumming."

They still used animation for much of the sequel's flying sequences, but augmented this with "live inserts" of Alyn in costume in much the same way George Reeves "flew" a year later and throughout the six year run of the syndicated television series

In truth, it really didn't matter how Super­man took to the skys... as youngsters we'd been so accepting when hearing "Up, up and away!," that the required suspension of disbelief came when we plunked down our 9¢ or 13¢ for the Saturday matinée.

"Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!"

...only confirmed it!

Gosh, it's times like this that I miss being a wide-eyed li'l kid headed for a Saturday mati­née at the Emcee theater in Mount Clemens, Michigan, with a quarter in my pocket!

Notes
  1. Phyllis Coates had played "Lois Lane" during the first 26 episodes (1951-1953) of TV's "The Adventures of Superman"
  2. Especially in the 1948 original... much better hair-style for her than the one two years later.
  3. As opposed to "Sombra, the Spider Woman," the title character Forman had played a year earlier in Republic's "Black Widow."

Comments

1. Shepard M. Scheinberg said...

You had the Emcee Theater in Mount Clemens, Michigan, while we local kids had the Riverhead Theatre, not the Suffolk Theater, which still stands empty on East Main Street. The Riverhead Theatre was located on West Main Street, a couple of hundred feet west of Peconic Avenue and the then Riverhead Savings Bank. The serials (among which were the Cisco Kid) and the horror movies ran at Riverhead. The building ran back to the Peconic River and when the tide was high, the first ten rows of seats were in water. Many times I felt river rats run across my feet.

Halloween night a Wolfman or Frankenstein movie would be shown and our local radio personality, Jack Mullane (Arnold Mullenthal) who could be heard on WELI, would MC the night. How sweet the memories.

I recall the Riverhead well, though not the spelling of "theatre" that way. I also might have located it as being "at the foot of Griffing Avenue."

I never remember it as exhibiting any serials, but during the time you're recollecting, I was in a different part of the country. And I'd bet that the "Cisco Kid" serial you're recalling was actually one of the "Zorro" titles from Republic.

In the later '50s it used to be only be open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights with Saturday matinées, and showed the B-movies like "The Bowery Boys" which the main Prudential movie houses (Suffolk, Westhampton. Southampton) never booked.
Dean

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