Great Comic Book Hero Becomes Motion Picture Hit
By Harold Schindler, Tribune Staff Writer
Salt Lake Tribune, 16 December 1978, page B11
Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. . . It's Christopher Reeve in "Superman," a $42 million screen biography of America's greatest comic book hero.
After four years of work on a production involving a thousand people, 11 separate film units and three studios shooting a million and a quarter feet of color film on locations in eight countries, the result premiered at the Villa Theatre Friday.
The verdict: "Superman" is a hit. Even at a running time of nearly 140 minutes, the story of a man of steel from the planet Krypton should have no trouble earning profits to match its colossal investment.
The cast of "Superman" in sprinkled with Hollywood "names" and major stars in cameo roles (reminiscent in some respects of Mike Todd's "Around the World in 80 Days"), the most formidable being Marlon Brando, who commanded an estimated $3 million for a dozen days work on the movie as Jor-El, Superman's father and leading scientist on Krypton.
Brando's professionalism provided the only moments in which the feeling of high camp does not pervade the film. As he prepares his only son, the baby Kal-El, for the three-year space journey of escape to Earth, Brando and Susanah York (as Lara, his wife0, are cooly detached from the impending disaster which will destroy Krypton. The footage of the last hours of Krypton are excellent, by the way, some of the best in the picture.
Because "Superman" was filmed with enough material for its sequel "Superman II," (eventually as many as eight more features are planned), some of the characters introduced on Krypton will not be developed until the sequel. The role of General Zod, (Terence Stamp), traitor and arch villian, for instance, appears only to establish an undercurrent of suppressed revolution on Krypton in the opening sequences of the movie.
Christopher Reeve is Superman, the role fits as snugly as the uniform. As Clark Kent, Reeve makes the description "mild-mannered" an understatement. Kent is the fourth estate's journeyman klotz. He's a well intentioned shnook; well meaning but always underfoot. He's humble and hopelessly hooked on Lois Lane, (nicely played by Margot Kidder), ace reporter for the Daily Planet who constantly has to be reminded by tough editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper) that she can't spell ("There's no z in brassiere. . .")
Gene Hackman is delightful as Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor, and Ned Beatty is marvelous as Otis, Luthor's bumbling henchman. Valerie Perrine, as Luthor's beautiful playmate, Eve Teshmacher is the closet "Superman" ever gets to its PG rating. . . otherwise the movie is G all the way.
But Miss Perrine represents the triumph of good over evil, when she turns against Luthor to free Superman from a crystal of Kryptonite - the only substance the man of steel is powerless against.
Special effects in the film are generally excellent, especially the sequences involving the destruction of Krypton, but an occasional spotty scene appears here and there in the feature.
Luthor's plan to destroy the West Coast by diverting an Air Force test missile into the San Andreas Fault near the climax of the picture causes an enormous earthquake and destroys a dam. Virtually all of the special effects to this point in the film are brilliant, but the movie's budget-cutting because of excessive cost overurns shows here.
Houses in the path of the bursting dam's torrent are easily recognized as models (and not very good ones at that.)
But the privotal flying scenes in which Superman either is accepted by audiences or not, are brilliant. Yes, Superman does fly and so clinches the movie's chance for success.
It's great fun, it is a picture for all ages. And whatever the producers failed to include in this one, they'll make up in a sequel.
Others in the cast include Trevor Howard, Maria Schell and Harry Andrews. (There's even a scene with Hollywood columnist Rex Reed grinning in front of the Daily Planet Building.) Glenn Ford appears as Superman's foster father, and Phyllis Thaxter is seen as his foster mother.
Superman is played by three actors, not counting Reeve. There's Lee Quigley as the baby Kal-El, Aaron Smolinksi as the baby Clark Kent and Jeff East as the young Clark Kent.
And not once does anyone say, "Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. . ."
It's "Superman" and it's terrific.