Superman (1948) Review: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s in Black & White!

In this world famous character’s first live-action appearance, SUPERMAN (1948) is pleasant, slightly repetitive, but most of all... long.

I’m not sure if it’s more powerful than a locomotive, I don’t know if it’s able to leap tall buildings in a single jump, but I definitely know that this 4-hour and 4-minute movie is not faster than a speeding bullet. 

Separated in fifteen different parts, SUPERMAN is a collection of shorts played consecutively. Each part ends with a cliffhanger that attempts to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, while at the same time, contributing enough to the story so that the audience doesn’t get bored. 

Unfortunately, I can tell you that I got bored.

Let me run you through the plot. After explaining Superman’s origin story, showing him in his cute, little Kryptonian space crib, this movie shows a young, ready to take on the crime of the world Clark Kent, played by Kirk Alyn. After moving to Metropolis and stopping by the Daily Planet, getting a job with no questions asked, he immediately starts saving the city. He learns of the “Leader of the Metropolis Underworld,” named Spider Lady. Once a piece of Kryptonite is found in a meteor and Spider Lady, played by Carol Forman, learns that it is her only chance at defeating Superman, she does everything she can to try and harness its power and use it in a, you guessed it, evil death ray! But despite all her efforts and her countless attempts to defeat him, Superman prevails in the end.

Though the plot is straightforward, it’s the small creative choices that the production team and writers made that bring the film to a stand still. It’s amusing to watch Superman save Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, played by Noel Neill and Tommy Bond, from being kidnapped or murdered, but when it happens upwards of 10 times in one movie, it gets pretty repetitive. The first few times it’s entertaining, but as it continues to happen, I found myself getting frustrated with these characters. It went from “Oh! Haha! Silly ol’ Jimmy Olsen getting into some crazy shenanigans!” to “COME ON, YOU KNOW THAT ENEMIES ARE BEHIND THAT DOOR, YOU’RE GOING TO GET KIDNAPPED! IT HASN’T WORKED THE PAST 10 TIMES, WHY WOULD IT WORK NOW?”

Now, you may be wondering, “Why do Lois and Jimmy keep putting themselves through these dangerous situations? Aren’t there any police officers around who are capable of helping?” Honestly, not one. The police that are there care more about a traffic accident than a woman who is planning to take over the world. It’s very strange to watch, but everyone in this film just assumes that if a crime happens, the first people to call are the reporters of the city. 

There’s one moment in the movie that genuinely boggles my mind. At one point, two of Spider Lady’s goons, disguised as scientists, are attempting to purchase a highly dangerous material from a chemical engineer. The engineer, becoming skeptical of the goons, reads that if anyone without the proper identification tries to buy the material, then he should call the police. So what does he do? 

He calls Perry White, editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet, and again, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen get put on the case! 

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s easy to see the enjoyment in this movie. Just when I thought I was going to lose my mind if I saw Lois Lane think that she can confront five goons and win, I found myself joyfully living in the movie, just like young comic book fans before me. In a time when very few superhero movies were coming out, I could feel the excitement that early fans must have had, shaking in their theater seats, watching this movie. 

Coming out near the 10th anniversary of Superman, this movie seems to know the shoes it has to fill. So many people loved Superman during this time that the pressure on all of these people working on the movie must have been enormous. I couldn’t help but respect it. It’s not an easy task, but these filmmakers knew what they were getting into. 

With BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE coming out soon, this movie was especially heartwarming to watch. Though this movie was repetitive and, at some points, illogical, it’s still part of Superman’s history. To see the first on screen appearance of Superman, and to now, 68 years later, see that Superman is still dominating the screen a great feeling. 

Fellow comic book nerds, we have won.

Written by Willian Staton, Retro Movie Reviewer -- Click here to read William's posts

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