Superman has seen many incarnations from movie serials to cartoons to blockbuster movies, Bryan Singer gave us his version with Brandon Routh as basically Stalker-Man, while most recently we had Zack Snyder’s take which gave us a “hero” with a higher body count then most super-villains ever achieved, but when it comes to a live action version of Superman there is, in my humble opinion, only one actor who truly owns that role, and that would be Christopher Reeve. Now if asked who is the best ClarkKent that is a whole different story, for me that would be George Reeves he wins that contest hands down. In 1951 the producer of the Superman radio show was asked to bring the lone Kyptonian to television, and the part went to a tall, dark and dashing man, who made his movie debut with a bit part in Gone With the Wind as one of the Tarleton twins. Now George Reeves may have needed a little padding to fill out the Superman costume, but as ClarkKent he was everything a person could want in a hard-hitting reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. There was none of the slapstick comedy and nerdy behavior that would show up in later interpretations, he was tough, smart, and would often take on thugs while in his Clark Kent persona. Lois on occasion called him a coward when he didn’t volunteer to rush off into danger with her, but she was also quick to realize that Clark was the smarter of the two, and often would try and scoop stories he was working on.
The Adventures of Superman was definitely low budget television, and the effects and sets certainly make that pretty obvious, but what really stands out is how violent a show it was. This was no Saturday morning show for the kiddies as mainly dealt with gangsters and their ilk. People were beaten up, tortured, drugged, and murdered on a weekly basis on this show. In the episode “The Stolen Costume” a gangster and his moll discover that Clark Kent is Superman, and when they threaten to expose his secret to the world he takes them way up north to the top of a mountain. He tells them that he’ll be back with food but that they will have to stay here until he can figure away to protect his secret. They don’t trust Superman so when he flies off they try and climb down, and end up falling to their deaths. In the episodes denouement Clark doesn’t seem all that choked up about the fact that he is indirectly responsible for their deaths, for in this first season he isn’t quite the Boy Scout he is depicted in later shows. Now Superman never actually kills anybody, but if you discover his secret identity you may want to run out and purchase some life insurance.
Now a little bit about the supporting players; Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates in the first season then Noel Neill), Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson), and Perry White (John Hamilton) along with Clark Kent seemed to make up the entire staff of the Daily Planet. Aside from the occasional janitor or secretary I don’t remember seeing any other employees, and I’m not exactly sure how a “Great Metropolitan Newspaper” could survive with just an editor, two reporters, and a Jimmy Olsen (what his job actually was is never made clear as Lois is often the one with the camera, so I guess maybe he’s just a glorified gopher or cub reporter).
Aside from Clark one must really wonder about their intelligence, it is almost always Kent who solves the mystery (and then saving the day later as Superman), but the real shadow that is cast over the human staff of the Daily Planet is their complete failure to figure out Clark’s big secret. It’s as if Kent knows how dumb they are because he is constantly dropping clues and practically waving his powers in front of them on ever other occasion.
In the episode “The Case of the Talkative Dummy” Jimmy Olsen is locked in side a safe and is being lowered out a sixth floor window when the rope of the block and tackle starts to give, now down the street Clark and Lois are at a stop light (they suspect Jimmy is in danger and where driving across town to find him), Clark spots the safe and exclaims, “Lois, Jimmy is in that safe!” Lois turns to ask Clark how he could possibly know Jimmy is in that safe, but Clark has vanished from the car. The rope breaks, the safe plummets, and is caught by Superman. Is it just me or do you all think maybe Lois rode in the “special” bus to school? In another episode Clark is at his desk when there is a knock at his door, he says, “Come on in Jim,” and sure enough it was Jimmy Olsen at the door. Jimmy asks Clark how he knew it was him, and Clark answers, “Don’t you know I have X-ray vision?” Jimmy laughs, “Oh yeah…just like Superman.” Clark is really having fun screwing with these people, and it’s not just the staff of the Daily Planet that is a bit obtuse when it comes to Superman/Clark Kent; Inspector Henderson (Robert Shayne) isn’t much better. In “Double Trouble” Clark needs to get fingerprints analyzed by American Intelligence officers in Berlin. Jimmy is missing, so time is of the essence, thus he flies over “faster than a speeding bullet” to Europe, and as ClarkKent begins investigating in Berlin. Then once he has uncovered the villains he flies back to Metropolis to Inspector Henderson’s’ office (after donning his Clark Kent clothes) who has just got off the phone with the people in Berlin who mention just saying good bye to ClarkKent. Henderson asks how is it possible that Clark has got back from Germany so fast, and the response he gets is, “Trade secret Inspector.” That Clark can cross the Atlantic in the same time it takes the average person to cross-town would, I think, earn more than the headshake we get from Inspector Henderson.
Now don’t get the wrong impression that these “issues” in anyway take away from enjoyment of the series, in fact quite the opposite, they just add an extra level of entertainment. When Clark “winks” at the camera at the end of an episode it’s like he’s letting us in on the joke. The series lasted for 104 episodes and I for one just hope the level of fun is maintained through out. From despicable thugs to goofy robots this series is pure TV gold, and I can’t recommend it enough.