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June 27, 2008



I'm not as put-off by the camp as you were, but your point is well-taken. Still, they didn't take it as far as they could have. I remember reading an article about writing the script a few years ago. Apparently they went through a truly incredible number of revisions and screenwriters. In one iteration, Superman is searching Metropolis for Lex Luthor. Spotting a bald man, he flies down to effect capture, only to discover that he's nabbed Kojak (Telly Savalas), complete with Tootsie-Pop and "Who loves ya, baby?" *shudder* Thank Rao that travesty was cut.


When you look at all the behind-the-scenes stuff, it's kind of amazing they came out with even a *watchable* movie, let alone a timeless classic. Mario Puzo's first draft was, IIRC, something like *600* pages long, almost all of it unusable. (For reference, the standard Hollywood rule of thumb for screenplays is that one page in the usual screenplay format is equivalent to one minute of screen time.)

I actually like Gene Hackman's Luthor a lot. He's funny, yes, but he *also* has genuine menace to him for all the outward goofiness. Admittedly, it's pretty hard to explain Otis. (Miss Tessmacher may be nearly as useless, but with her, one can see at least two obvious reasons for Luthor keeping *her* around.)

Brian Disco Snell

The real problem is that they couldn't stop going to the Luthor well. What, he has to be in every damn Superman movie?? (Granted, the one he wasn't in stunk pretty hard, but at least it was an original stink, not a "let's trot out the same villain again" stink.


I always likened the end scene of Chris/Superman flying around the Earth as a beautiful neal Adams iluustration, right down to the wry smirk on his face!


Aside from the cemetary scene, my other favorite scene is the primal scream (downright chilling on a good sound system) when he fails to save Lois and what immediately follows. When he flies off and is confronted by the dichotomy of his two fathers' philosophies is an incredibly powerful moment for me. When he decides to travel back in time, we know that he's become his own man—his father's intended purpose be damned.

Mark Engblom

"I actually like Gene Hackman's Luthor a lot. He's funny, yes, but he *also* has genuine menace to him for all the outward goofiness."

See, but I never perceived that menace outside of the moment I cited above. Most of the time, he seemed to have all the menace of a used car salesman (particularly in Superman II). Any menace they might have built up was usually instantly canceled out by Otis' shenanigans or the idiosyncrasies Luthor himself (yes...we get it....he likes beach property). Imagine my disappointment when Bryan Singer wanted to import essentially the same Luthor into Superman Returns (complete with the bimbo at his side).

Greg Scott

Ah, SUPERMAN THE MOVIE. Will we ever run out of reasons to talk about SUPERMAN THE MOVIE?

One matter of clarification here:

...who would've guessed Perry's best reporter would turn to Jello when she met the spit-curled celebrity? During the meandering conversation, she wonders aloud: [...] "Do you...eat?"

Er, just so we're on the same page here, what's really happening in that scene is that she's trying to ask him if he can have sex -- but she loses her nerve at the last second, and switches it to "eat."

I'm sure you picked up on that, Mark. That's why Superman gives her that sly smile when she immediately gets up.

In fact, the whole scene is supposed to be laced with sexual tension -- hence the "How big are you -- er, how TALL are you?" line. I think it's amazing that all this comes off a winsome and not smutty. Credit the actors.

As for the writing, I'd be inclined to credit this to Mankiewicz since this stuff really is cheeky/cheesey Roger Moore/James Bond calibur material (or dare I say, HART TO HART calibur material), but much of the same dialogue is in the audition reel, which was filmed pretty early in the production process, and perhaps before Mankiewicz's rewrites. And for some reason, I don't see this coming of Mario Puzo's typewriter. So as far as credit is concerned, Advantage: David and Leslie Newman.

Mark Engblom

"Er, just so we're on the same page here, what's really happening in that scene is that she's trying to ask him if he can have sex -- but she loses her nerve at the last second, and switches it to "eat."

Yeah, that's part of the appeal of the line. This was about as far as things generally went in the PG environment of the late 70's (double entendres), but like you said, the actors delivered the lines in such a way as to keep in more on the up-and-up.

ShadowWing Tronix

Indeed. It's better to keep them suttle enough that the kiddies don't catch anything, but the adults can still have a good laugh (and it even comes out funnier that way). Pity today's "writers" can't figure that out.

ShadowWing Tronix

Sorry to double post, but I can't seem to get to your e-mail. The Angry Video Game Nerd, who reviews old games that were never any good, even when they came first out, reviewed a bunch of bad Superman games, and plans to review Superman 64 at the insistance of fans. (Apparently it's the worst of the lot.) Thought you'd be interested.


WARNING: He tends to swear a lot, but that's part of his character. One of the rare good exceptions to my last comment, actually, and he's finally got it under control after having done the character for a couple years.


I suspect I'm not the only one to enjoy Christopher Reeve's brief glance and smile at the camera just before the credits roll.

Indeed! In fact, a tear came to my eye when Brandon Routh did the same as an homage to Reeve in "Superman Returns."

Greg Scott

From Our Host:
Yeah, that's part of the appeal of the line.

Whew! From the way you wrote about the scene in the main article, I was a little worried that you hadn't picked up on it. And if you hadn't picked up on it, I'd need to explain it. And then that might mean that you and I would have to have "the talk" -- about the birds and bees, and what Supermans and Loises do when they love each other a lot, and, well, that would have been awkward, not to mention a lot of responsibility.

Great to know we're all up to speed!

From ShadowWing Tronix:
It's better to keep them suttle enough that the kiddies don't catch anything, but the adults can still have a good laugh (and it even comes out funnier that way).

Actually, I'm in the actually in the age group that initially saw the scene as "Wow, that Lois Lane is so in love with Superman she's talking silly!" only to transition later into "Oho, so THAT'S what she's talking about!" And sadly, I was probably in my 20s before I made that realization.

Back again to Our Host:
After freeing the captive coat, Clark proceeds down the hall, misses an elevator, gets yelled at by a guy in another elevator...

This one moment sticks out in my mind as being funny on repeated viewings. The elevator doors open, and Clark politely asks "Going down?" and an anonymous finger shoots out of the elevator and into Clark's face: "Going up! UP!" It's a moment that crystallizes the relationship that the filmmakers have created between Clark Kent and the world: Not only is the world not going Clark's way, it's being rude about it.


Smiling at the camera at the end may be the most iconic of the moments in the film(s). Check out this version:



OK, OK-- I'm waay late on this, but hey-- I was gone a lot of the summer and I'm catching up on archives! And anyway, this is too good an analysis not to respond to.

I love Gene Hackman as Luthor, but my perspective is probably different from yours-- I've only ever been an intermittent reader of Superman comics, and I certainly hadn't read a lot of them when I saw this movie at the age of six. So, for me, Hackman WAS Luthor, and his performance shaped my reading of the character. Maybe it's just because, years later I've seen him in everything from THE FRENCH CONNECTION to HOOSIERS, in roles where he exudes fatherly charm, leaderly discipline, or bigoted menace-- but I've never had a problem sensing the menace underneath the humor and charm. If anything, the humor is a tool-- a sign of Luthor's superiority complex (note how many failed world leaders laugh at things that aren't really funny, or seem inappropriate in their humor). Luthor is so convinced of his own meglomaniacal genius that everyday etiquette and niceties are things he doesn't have time for.

But it wasn't until I read your excellent review and these comments:"I believe Superman's willful buffoonery as Clark is actually an important (and very necessary) psychological safeguard for the most powerful being on the planet." that the whole Miss Tessmacher/Otis thing fell into place (I think Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty are wonderful actors, but have always agreed with you that-- funny joke about "Otisville" aside-- they've always seemed out of place here). Look at it this way-- as you nicely note, Superman must be "Clark Kent" in order to keep some sense of humility and perspective on himself (it also gives Christopher Reeve-- a gifted comic actor-- lots of great opportunities to shine). Luthor, as the villain, displays just the opposite tendency-- he keeps Otis and Tessmacher around to reassure himself of his mental superiority, to manipulate and to confirm his dominance. Read that way, it makes for an interesting psychological contest of wills between two people-- and makes Superman's essential humanism and decency shine all the more (a humanism which is then further confirmed by Miss Tessmacher-- sweet, supposedly "dopey" Miss Tessmacher-- saving him from the Kryptonite. We all have it within ourselves, the best superhero stories remind us, to be heroes).

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