Monday, 21 October 2013

Superman: The Trailer

Have no fear. My mighty pants will save the galaxy for the US of A
I love B movie sci fi.  All of it, from War of the Worlds to The Thing From Another World and The Blob.  Give me Day of the Triffids and a bag of Maltesers and I'll pretty much do what you want.  So Superman and the Mole Men should be great, yeah?

The 1950s were boomtime for B movies and scifi B movies in particular. We're hurtling towards the arrival of James Dean and Hitchcock giving his blondes full colour.  In the meantime, the ample barrel chest of George Reeves squeezes into the blue lycra and oversized red pants.  Oh boy, those pants are huge.

Superman was 13 in 1951, a year older than Batman, Siegel and Shuster's creation was already immensely popular for a teenager. So popular that he warranted a shift in a glorified car park to squeeze out a whopping 58 minutes of film.  Except, it doesn't really feel like a film.  Superman and the Mole Men feels like a Rinso sponsored Disney vs HG Wells mash up.  Superman and the Mole Men is what it is and that is a bottom of the bill extended trailer for a TV series.  Nowadays it'd be one of those special features on disc four of the special edition you just bought that never quite makes it into the DVD player.  The characters are well known to us, there's Lois and Clark, the generic old country boy and the tunnel visioned sheriff.  It's the 50s so there's a healthy dollop of suspicion and the threat of mob mentality but no Fonzie. 

In fact, the cut glass diction of Lois and Clark drives this into a rather serious cul-de-sac, mild mannered Clark Kent is far too assertive in the face of the commies under the bed (well, down the oil well).  There's no hint of Kal-El but from the start you're left in no doubt that Superman is an alien.  He's from outer space.  Now, we've been au fait with this for 75 years but it's never really been foregrounded like this.  He's an outsider, a refugee and never has Superman felt more sci fi than he does here even when flying or seeing through walls.

Lois and Clark are brought into a backwater called Silsby to do a story on the world's deepest oil well.  Quite how this is supposed to boost Daily Planet circulation is beyond me.  But the well is shut!  Nope, there's no Timmy stuck at the bottom but there's definitely something going on.  Lois and Clark do their best wooden impression of Mulder and Scully and oranges glow in the dark and women in floral dresses scream at the camera.  The poor little mole men, all filed down conehead and bug eyes appear and skulk about like this is German cinema.  The allegorical mole men have the unfortunate dispensation of walking like they've shit themselves. 
No, it's not Dan Aykroyd
All tiptoeing and black jumpers with a penchant for making things glow in the dark the mole men may as well have a hammer and sickle on their jumpers and scream 'WE'RE SOVIETS' until they're brought down a peg or two by a little girl who thinks she's just met Orko.

A mob forms and there's some resourceful vandalism of the town's barbers before a whooshing and the familiar display of strength from our hero who then sets about teaching us all a lesson.  Superman's morals are almost as big as his pants acceptance and tolerance abounds.  The Hollywood Code was fully entrenched and television was yet to challenge cinema and so both sides are permanently separated and relatively unharmed, the Cold War intact.

Superman and the Mole Men is from another time and it is difficult to relate to.  It's a little too serious and lacks a few elements we take for granted.  Lois and Clark need a little bit of sexual tension and Clark definitely needs to be a bit more goofy, a bit more affable.  Someone give Terence Stamp a nudge and get him to dig out his cabaret gear.