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The next installment of my superhero season. Now usually I present you all with a review, with a little bit of trivia mixed in as a bonus. This time out it's more a post of film trivia, which just happens to have a little bit of a review thrown in! It just happened to have a lot of trivia that I found rather interesting


Year of release

Directed by
Richard Donner

Written by
Mario Puzo /// David Newman
Leslie Newman /// Robert Benton /// Tom Mankiewicz

Christopher Reeve
Margot Kidder
Gene Hackman
Marlon Brando
Ned Beatty
Jackie Cooper



Plot - On the distant planet of Krypton a scientist named Jor-El (Brando) is convinced that their world will soon face destruction. Unable to convince the planet's ruling council however, Jor-El and his wife make the heart-breaking decision to send away their infant son, Kal-El. By sending him to Earth they realise that he will possess great powers and that he can become a champion of truth and justice. Found and raised by the Kents, an elderly farm couple in the small town of Smallville, he adopts the name Clark. Realising he must use his abilities for good he travels to the city of Metropolis where he becomes Clark Kent (Reeve); mild mannered reporter for the Daily Planet....who just also happens to be the caped superhero who goes by the name of Superman. In both guises he forms a relationship with another Daily Planet reporter, Lois Lane (Kidder). There is a problem though, she has no idea that they are one in the same and only has eyes for Superman. An even greater problem arrives in the form of Lex Luthor (Hackman), the self-proclaimed greatest criminal mind in the world, who plots to pull off the greatest real estate swindle of all time; a plot that will result in the deaths of millions.

As will have become very evident to anyone who has spent even a little bit of time perusing my reviews, I love superheroes! I just do. I love them both in comic book form and up on the big screen, having seen just about every superhero film to have so far hit the big screen. Despite this however I had never seen any of the original four Superman films, including this film which kicked it all off; the granddaddy of all superhero movies. This is largely as a result of the fact that as a character I just don't like Superman. Of all the caped crusaders and masked heroes out there, I'm struggling to think of any that I have less interest in than old Supes. I've just always found him to an exceptionally dull character, completely lacking in the intrigue that comes with a Bruce Wayne or a Peter Parker and being nowhere near as relatable. So as a result of that lack of enthusiasm for the character I was really pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this film.

I was under the impression (perhaps wrongly) that 'real' Superman fans had a fair degree of vitriol for the 90s TV series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. I thought they held it up as an example of messing with and undermining the true nature of the character, similar to how 'real' Batman fanboys regard the campy exploits of Adam West's Batman in the 60s TV show. So it was a bit of a surprise for me to discover just how similar I found this film to be to the TV show which cast Dean Cain as the orphan from Krypton. The film takes a really quite cheesy and tongue-in-cheek approach to the material, featuring humour of the goofy and occasionally slapstick nature. I think you'd struggle to get away with such an approach these days but it's done with such an earnest attitude that it works. It seems very apparent that the filmmakers have a great affection for the character and the source material and that definitely comes through on the screen.

Film Trivia - The search for an actor to play Superman proved to be a long and arduous task. The search began in 1975 and ended with a press announcement on 23rd Feb 1977 just 35 days before filming was due to begin. During that time Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, James Caan, Warren Beatty and Burt Reynolds all turned down the opportunity to take on the role. Redford wanted too much money, Eastwood said he was too busy and Caan said, "There's no way I'm getting into that silly suit." Pual Newman was actually offered the choice of playing Superman, Lex Luthor or Jor-El for the fee of $4 million, but wasn't interested in any of them. Other actors who were considered for the part included Kris Kristofferson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ryan O'Neal, Jeff Bridges, Jan-Michael Vincent, David Soul, Robert Wager, Richard Gere and Jon Voight. The filmmakers also auditioned over 200 unknown actors for the part, including Christopher Walken and Nick Nolte. Legend has it that Nick Nolte was actually offered the role but said that he'd only take it if they agreed to make Clark Kent a schizophrenic. /// The original screenplay that Richard Donner inherited (and quickly rewrote) included one infamous camp moment where Lex Luthor encountered Telly Savalas playing Kojak in a railway station. Kojak then offered Luthor a lollipop and asked him his trademark line "Who loves ya, baby?”
The script may concern itself with a really quite simple story but it does it well, and is also really quite witty. This is especially true in terms of its dialogue, presenting some great one-liners for Perry White and creating amusing interplay between Lex Luthor and Otis. The script splits the film into three very distinctive phases and acts. The first act of the film takes place on Krypton, detailing the planet's destruction and the decision that his parents take to send him away from the doomed planet to Earth. That early stretch really is pure, campy 70s sci-fi; never more so than when it comes to the white jump suits that all of Krypton's inhabitants wear and that seemed to plague every sci-fi film of that era. I've got to say that I actually found the opening to be a bit dull, lifted only by Brando's performance. I was rather worried at what I had let myself in for due to how very seriously it seemed to be taking itself. Following that the film becomes a more traditional comic book movie, covering his coming-of-age story and origin tale. Thankfully this phase is a lot more fun, really embracing its tongue-in-cheek and playful tone. And then lastly the film becomes something akin to another 70s staple, the disaster movie.

In a number of ways I was actually surprised by some of the quality on show. For whatever reason I had been expecting something really cheap and tacky, but instead found a lot of really quite impressive. It was really well shot and featured some very nice cinematography. There are also a few great sets to be spied throughout the film, with the locations of Krypton and Superman's Fortress of Solitude being particularly noteworthy. My favourite set however was certainly that of Lex Luthor's underground lair. A bit of a classic Bond villain creation it is a great fit for the character, really playing up to Lex's eccentric billionaire side. Chock-full of art and knick-knacks it's like a cross between a museum and a library, which just happens to have a pool!

Even though I had never seen any of his appearances in the famous red y-fronts until now, I was well aware of the fondness that fans had for Christopher Reeve's portrayal of the character. From reading the likes of SFX magazine and frequenting sites and forums that appeal to my geek side, I know just how highly fans regard him. And having finally see the man in action I can begin to understand why. I found him to be a highly engaging and likeable anchor for the film. When he dons the famous suit and cape as Superman he is very noble and heroic, and most importantly I got the feeling that he really believed in the character he was playing. Recently I saw an article in which Christian Bale revealed that when he was auditioning in costume for the role of Batman he felt stupid. But here Reeve seems to embrace it and you can feel his sincerity and the film benefits greatly. As good as he was in the guise of Superman, it was as Clark Kent however where he really flourished. He is exceptionally charming in the bumbling goofball persona that he adopts to avoid suspicion, really endearing himself to the audience. I actually found there to be quite a strong Cary Grant vibe to his performance given Clark's glasses and blundering nature. There's an excellent moment in the film where we see Clark contemplating whether to reveal the truth to Lois; it allows us to see the great effort Reeve put into creating the two distinct personalities. As Superman he stands tall, barrel chested and gives the impression of having an imposing frame. For his Clark Kent persona however Reeve appears to completely change his whole physical presence, altering his stance, posture and gait to become this clumsy, slouching figure who appears like he would offer no resistance in a physical confrontation.

Film Trivia Snippets - When it came to the part of Lex Luthor, both Jack Nicholson and Gene Wilder were considered while Dustin Hoffman actually turned down the part. Nicholson was again under consideration to play Lex Luthor for a proposed Superman film in the 1990s which ultimately fell through. And then even when Gene Hackman was cast there was a problem. He initially refused to cut off his moustache for the film, and early one-sheets feature Hackman with a moustache. Before Hackman met Richard Donner face-to-face, Donner proposed to him that if Hackman would cut off his moustache, Donner would do likewise with his. Hackman agreed to this, but it later turned out that Donner didn't have a moustache at all. He wore a false moustache that he peeled off at the last moment. /// During its initial run, Superman topped the box-office charts for an astonishing 13 consecutive weeks. It's eventual $300 million gross made it the 6th highest grossing film ever at the time of its release. /// Can I just say what a d!ck Marlon Brando was. He was paid $3.7 million and a percentage of the profits for playing Jor-El for just 12 shooting days. The fee (plus the percentage) also covered the sequel, which was being simultaneously shot with the original. Brando did not appear in the sequel, however, as he was involved in a lawsuit with Ilya Salkind over what Brando said was the producer's non-payment of his profit-participation for this film. He ultimately received about $14 million for his mere ten minutes on film. All that money and yet he still refused to memorise his lines in advance. In the scene where he puts infant Kal-El into the escape pod, he was actually reading his lines from the diaper of the baby.
Opposite him I found Margot Kidder to be quite delightful as Lois Lane, the iconic love interest of the Superman mythos. She was very sexy as the feisty, brash and impulsive news reporter and very much created the Katharine Hepburn to Reeve's Cary Grant. Together they have a great chemistry and their interplay very much reminded me the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s which Grant and Hepburn were so famous for. Also a lot of fun was Gene Hackman hamming it up as the diabolical Lex Luthor. While I'm not a big fan of the series this incarnation of Lex certainly isn't what I associate as being the classic version of the character. That aside he is just immensely entertaining, conveying a wonderful sense of superiority and stealing just about every scene he is in. Ned Beatty also generates quite a number of laughs in his role as Luthor's sidekick, Otis. While it may not match that of Reeve and Kidder, the two men also share a nice chemistry. I've got to say that I was also really quite impressed by Marlon Brando's brief contribution in the role of Kal-El's father, Jor-El. While I've not seen a great deal of Brando's work, anytime I have he has always been very hammy as he attempted to chew his way through every piece of the scenery. So I felt that throwing him into a superhero film of all things (not exactly a genre prone to subtle performances) could have met with some disastrously overblown results. So I was rather surprised at just how straight he plays the role, bringing a welcome seriousness and gravitas to proceedings.

It certainly is a film very much of its time, both in terms of tone and its look. This film is now 35 years old. In terms of being an effects-packed spectacle that pretty much makes Superman an ancient relic. So credit to the filmmakers then that a number of the effects still hold up today as being both impressive and just downright engaging, able to draw you into the magic of the film instead of pulling you out of it as you sneer at the stone-age effects. And even the effects which don't work and now look decidedly ropey I didn't feel really hurt the film, if anything they just seem to add to the film's naïve charms. The film has one of the all-time great taglines; “You'll believe a man can fly.” While I perhaps wouldn't go that far it's actually surprisingly effective how they pull it off. And then there's the part played by John Williams' famous score and his iconic Superman theme. When Reeve takes to the skies backed by that classic theme even I, a self-admitted Superman hater, couldn't help but get momentarily swept up in the magic and wonder.

Conclusion - A very pleasant surprise. I came in expecting very little and was met with a really fun escapade; a sweet-natured little film imbued with a sense of playful innocence. It took a while to get me really involved, it wasn't until Reeve showed up that the film really got going in my eyes, and at over 140 minutes it does feel a bit overlong. However a sharp script helps to bring out a series of great performances from the whole cast who really seem to throw themselves into proceedings with gusto. It's a film with a warm heart and a sharp wit, both attributes largely arising from Reeve's winning performance in the central role. And who can't enjoy a film which features a character flying around the Earth so fast that not only do they turn back time, but I'm guessing destroys the minds of every scientist watching!

Bonus Trivia - A number of well-known directors were offered the chance to direct the film. Both William Friedkin and Sam Peckinpah were offered the chance to direct. Friedkin turned down the offer outright. Peckinpah dropped out of the running when he produced a gun during a meeting with Ilya Salkind. Stephen Spielberg was also offered the chance to direct, but the producers balked at the salary he demanded. They decided to wait until they saw how "this fish movie" (Jaws) that he had just completed did at the box office. The movie was a huge success, and Spielberg went on to other projects. /// The film was a mammoth undertaking. It was 3 years in planning, 2 years in filming at the height of which there were over a thousand full time crew on 11 units spread over 3 studios and 8 countries. Over a million feet of film was used and at the time it had the highest production budget. /// At one point it was planned that the film would end with a giant hologram of Superman flying out into theaters. /// Richard Donner had a single word, printed in big letters, on numerous signs, sent to every creative department involved with this film: VERISIMILITUDE. "It's a word that refers to being real . . . not realistic - yes, there IS a difference - but real," explained Donner. "It was a constant reminder to ourselves that, if we gave into the temptation we knew there would be to parody Superman, we would only be fooling ourselves." /// According to Jeff East (who played the teenage Clark) during the shot in which young Clark jumps in front of the train, he was nearly hit by the train. But stuntman Richard Hackman grabbed him just in time and he avoided being injured. /// For his portrayal of Clark Kent, Christopher Reeve based his performance on Cary Grant's character in Bringing Up Baby. I promise I did not know that when I made the comparison in my review!