Movie Cereal: Superman, Chapter 2 – Depths of the Earth

A train carrying Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, and presumably dozens of other travelers, is careening towards a broken rail. An epic crash is on the way, but luckily, mild-mannered Clark Kent is waiting at the station and is ready to reveal himself as Superman. Will he save the unsuspecting commuters? Let’s find out in Chapter 2 of Superman, Depths of the Earth.

As we saw last time, Clark Kent ducks behind the bushes and changes into his cape and tights. He rushes over to the broken rail and not only bends it back, but holds it in place as the train passes safely by. This is witnessed by one of the railroad workers, who is so amazed he nearly faints. Of course, once the train stops safely at the station, Lois and Jimmy come out to find out what happened. However, the mysterious Superman has ducked back behind the bushes before the intrepid reporters can spot him. After a short conversation with the folks at the station, they hop back on the train to their destination. You see, they are on an assignment to write a story about some workers trapped in a mine nearby.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent makes his way to Metropolis. He hops in a cab and asks to be taken to a newspaper headquarters. Of course, the driver starts to head for the offices of the Daily Planet. However, they don’t make it far as the streets are blocked because of a building on fire. Clark uses his x-ray vision to spot a woman trapped inside the burning building. So he ducks behind a car, and changes into Superman. He then flies into the building and rescues the woman. Then he quickly ducks away again. Tons of people see this and are amazed by the sight of a man who can fly.

Clark finally makes it to the Daily Planet and wiggles his way into meeting with the editor, Perry White (Pierre Watkin). White has just gotten off the phone with Lois and Jimmy who have been unable to get a scoop on the mine disaster. Though Clark has no experience as a reporter, White decides to give him a job, that is if he can crack the mine story. Enthusiastic, Clark rushes off to the scene.

At the mine, a crowd has gathered, but Lois and Jimmy still can’t manage to get close to the danger zone. They are then approached by an old coot who leads Lois off to where there is a secret entrance to the mine. Now, it would’ve made more sense for him to give this info to the rescue squads, but why do that when you can tell a reporter. Of course, Lois foolishly goes inside and, wouldn’t you know it, a random explosion causes another cave-in. Now she’s trapped, too. When Clark shows up he meets Jimmy just before the old coot returns to tell of what happened to Lois. Clark heads off and uses X-Ray vision to spot her inside. Luckily, there are bushes nearby, so Clark ducks behind them to change into Superman. He rushes toward the mine, but we’ll need to come back next week to find out what happens to Lois.

While the last chapter was pretty much the obligatory origin story, this time we are upping the action and adding more elements of Superman lore. For example, we get our first look at Metropolis, which pretty much looks like any other random backlot city street. We also get introduced to the Daily Planet, and its editor Perry White. Our look at White is pretty brief here, but he’s not presented as a terribly likable fellow. He’s gruff and seems more concerned with selling papers than journalistic integrity. He comes off more like J. Jonah Jameson out of the Spider-man universe than the way I typically picture Perry White. 

We also do get a bit more out of Lois and Jimmy this time around.. We get to see more of Lois’ spunk and her knack for getting into trouble. As we said last time, Lois is played here by Noel Neill, the actress who has played Lois more than any other. Not only did she appear in this serial and its sequel, but she also played Lois on the TV series The Adventures of Superman, starting in season two. She took over the role from Phyllis Coates, aka the Panther Girk of the Kongo from the last serial we examined. Much of what we associate with the role of Lois Lane is from Neill’s portrayal of the character for so many years. It’s fun to see her here in her first moments in the role. 

Also a lot of fun is Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen. Bond got his start in movies with Our Gang, aka the Little Rascals. He’s one of the few members of the gang to have played two different characters. He first was the mop-topped Tommy from 1931 to 1934. He then took a break from the gang but returned in 1936 as the gang’s iconic nemesis, Butch. Also of note is that Tommy Bond provided the voice of the character Owl Jolson in the classic Tex Avery cartoon I Love to Singa. Now, Bond is all grown up and though he still has Butch’s hard face, he has a lovable squeak to his voice that is perfect for the golly gosh gee-wilakers type of delivery we need out of Jimmy Olsen. I have a feeling Bond will continue to be the comic relief throughout this serial.

As for Superman himself, we do get some interesting devices used to portray some of his powers here. X-ray vision is used several times in this installment. The method for portraying this seems to be zooming in on our hero’s eyes as he focuses in on what he’s looking at. We then see an image superimposed over, for example, the burning building, showing what’s going on inside. But we’re burying the lead here, cuz who cares about x-ray vision when you get to see a man fly? That’s right, we get to see Superman fly for the first time in this chapter. Once again, this is something that is realized through animation. Basically, he pops out in his costume, and then…boom, he changes from a live actor to a cartoon. It sounds cheesy, but it’s actually pretty cool. 

After a little bit of a slow start with chapter one, I imagine this chapter would’ve had the kids cheering for the next chapter So come back next week to see if Superman, or cartoon Superman, is able to get Lois out of the mine in chapter three, The Reducer Ray.

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