Superman has seen many incarnations from movie serials to cartoons to blockbuster movies, Bryan Singer gave us his love letter to Richard Donner films, with Brandon Routh basically playing Superstalker, while most recently we had Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel which gave us a “hero” with a higher body count than most super-villains have ever managed to achieve. 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 the late great Christopher Reeve, but if asked who was the best Clark Kent, well that is a whole different story.
For me, the actor who provided the perfect depiction of Clark Kent was the late great George Reeves as he wins that contest hands down. In 1951 the producer of the Superman radio show was asked to bring the lone Kryptonian to television, and the part went to a tall, dark and dashing man who had 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 Clark Kent, 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 behaviour that would show up in later interpretations, he was tough, smart, and would often take on thugs while in his Clark Kent persona. He didn’t need a cape to sock a street tough in the jaw. Though Lois on occasion called him a coward because he didn’t volunteer to rush off into danger with her, she was also quick to realize that Clark was the smarter of the two, and often would try and scoop the stories he was working on.
The Adventures of Superman was definitely low-budget television, and the effects and sets certainly made that pretty obvious, but what really stands out is how violent a show it actually was. This was no Saturday morning show for the kiddies as it 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 drops them off on top of a mountain and tells them that he’ll be back with food, that they will have to stay here until he can figure a way 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. That is pretty damn dark, and in the episode’s denouement, Clark doesn’t seem all that choked up about the fact that he was indirectly responsible for their deaths. In this first season, he isn’t quite the Boy Scout he is depicted in later shows, sure, he never actually kills anybody, but if you happen to 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 who was later replaced by (Noel Neill) for the remainder of the show’s run, then there is cub reporter and staff photographer Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson), and “Don’t call me Chief” Perry White (John Hamilton), who along with Clark Kent seemed to make up the entire staff of the Daily Planet. Seriously, 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.
Aside from Clark, one must really wonder about their intelligence, it’s Kent who almost always solves the mystery – 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 every other occasion.
In the episode “The Case of the Talkative Dummy” Jimmy Olsen is locked inside a safe, which is being lowered out a sixth-floor window on a block and tackle, when the rope begins to fray, while down in the street Clark and Lois are at a stoplight (they suspected Jimmy was in danger and were 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 mysteriously vanished from the car. The rope breaks, the safe plummets, and is caught by Superman. Is it just me or does anyone else think maybe Lois rode the short 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.” It’s clear that Clark is really having fun screwing with these people, and it’s not just the staff of the Daily Planet are a bit obtuse when it comes to Superman/Clark Kent and his duel identity because Inspector Henderson (Robert Shayne) was also a little on the dim side. In the episode “Double Trouble” Clark needed 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 Clark Kent begins investigating in Berlin. Then once he has uncovered the nefarious plot he then flies back to Metropolis to Inspector Henderson’s office – after donning his Clark Kent clothes – and greets Henderson who has just got off the phone with the people in Berlin who have just mentioned just saying goodbye to Clark Kent. 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 time it would take 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 any way take away from the enjoyment of The Adventures of Superman, 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, and I’d be hard pressed to list a more fun and charming superhero show, from its despicable thugs to its goofy robots this series is pure TV gold, and I can’t recommend it enough.
The Adventures of Superman
“Faster than a speeding Singer! More powerful than a Zack Snyder disaster flick!