Dave Fleischer

Terror on the Midway (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Terror on the Midway has some mediocre animation, some bad animation, and some excellent design and direction. It’s also got a gratuitous Superman butt shot, which angles to show his curves in the red tights. It’s a weird shot. Especially since it keeps angling.

The cartoon starts with Clark (Bud Collyer) mocking Lois (Joan Alexander) for being stuck covering the circus. He then ditches her to go back to the paper, which isn’t revealed for a while because Midway’s busy with this adorable circus monkey releasing Gigantic the Gorilla, who causes the resulting Terror.

Now, there are circus attendants who try to tame the gorilla; they fail. They also all look exactly the same, basically like Clark without his glasses. When the cops show up, they too look exactly the same. As the circus attendants. The only variety in the character design is in these three little kids who are in danger. Lois saves one of them, which sets the gorilla on her trail.

After the gorilla has wrecked enough havoc to cause all the circus-goers to flee and loose some of the animals. And maybe kill three of the elephants. Midway could care less about animal cruelty. Some of the later sequences kind of revel in it.

Clark comes back to the circus right after he gets to the paper and somehow hears all the people running away. He still takes a cab because he’s not too worried. When he gets there, he tries to help an attendant hold down a loose elephant but can’t. Because, apparently, he doesn’t have any super-strength when he’s in his civvies.

Eventually he changes into the long-johns, beats up some terrified animals, and saves Lois. It takes him a while to save Lois, however, because he can’t quite best the gorilla. The gorilla’s apparently more powerful than two locomotives.

The animation gets shoddier as the cartoon goes on–though still with some great direction–with a particularly unsatisfactory finale. For a while it seems like the inventiveness (Lois the hero) and the design (the circus is visually stunning) might carry Midway, but no.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Jay Morton and Dan Gordon, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Orestes Calpini and James Davis; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Jack Mercer (Barker); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Electric Earthquake (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Outside the racist–though not exceptionally racist all things considered–characterization of the villain, a Native American engineer who’s going to level Manhattan because it was stolen from his people, Electric Earthquake is pretty much great. Well, it’s outstanding. For what it does, it’s outstanding.

So there’s the opening, where only Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) thinks the Native American guy has a point–while Julian Noa’s Perry White is a piece of crap, apparently–but neither think the guy is actually going to do anything. Only Lois (Joan Alexander) thinks to trail him back to the docks, where he catches her and takes her down to his undersea laboratory.

The cartoon has already introduced the laboratory, complete with the wires going to the various parts of the ocean floor so the engineer can shock an earthquake. And he does. Manhattan falls apart. Cracks in the streets, skyscrapers crumbling, the Daily Planet having a big chunk fall away. And no nonsense regarding Superman–he’s in action right away (well, after the disaster starts).

And he saves the day. With some complications and some troubles.

There are a couple things not animated well, but otherwise it’s all phenomenal work. Good direction from Fleischer. Some of the animation doesn’t quite match, but it’s still good. The rocky parts are in the explosions. They’re lacking in detail and size.

And, story-wise, it’s not like the engineer turns out to be some great villain or even an interesting one. He doesn’t beat up Lois, which is nice, though he does leave her to drown in his getaway. He’s almost sympathetic.

The Superman action, including his various troubles with electric wiring, collapsing buildings, and just having enough breath, is great. The ending is fun too.

The fun might be the best thing about Earthquake. Even though it’s obviously full of catastrophic danger, Fleischer and his animators enjoy the heck out of Superman’s response to it.

Though Lois gets a particularly bad part. She’s present for almost everything and gets no reaction other than silent fear.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Seymour Kneitel and Izzy Sparber, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Steve Muffati and Arnold Gillespie; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (Perry White), and Jackson Beck (Lenape scientist); narrated by Beck.


The Magnetic Telescope (1942, Dave Fleischer)

The Magnetic Telescope is about a power-mad astronomer who builds an observatory with a giant magnet on top so he can attract meteors and comets to the Earth for further study. The device, in attracting meteors, is an obvious public safety issue but the astronomer doesn’t care. He’s willing to let thousands die so he can observe a comet.

The cops try to stop him, but he locks himself in and they have to try to destroy the giant magnet’s supporting machinery. They do, but it then means the astronomer can’t control the comet he’s brought to Earth. So he does a run for it.

Lois (Joan Alexander) is the only reporter covering the story. The cops aren’t very worried about her. She ends up trapped. Luckily, when Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) takes a cab over to save her, a fragment of the comet hits the cab and he decides to save the day as Superman. Though his plan isn’t initially much brighter than hitting the comet, which both times knocks him out.

Magnetic is too visually tepid to be exciting. The animation is rushed and lacks detail, the story is weak. Weak might actually be a compliment. The comet fragments hitting the city sequence is all boring–there’s a definite lack of detail throughout, but when not even the set pieces get any attention, well… then there’s nothing to Magnetic Telescope.

The end “it’s all thanks to Superman” tag would almost be amusing if Clark weren’t such a wet blanket. It’s hard to get excited about a Superman too dense to know he can’t stop a comet–and he appears to fly towards it, not jump–not to mention when Clark takes a cab to help possibly mortally injured Lois.

Magnetic it ain’t. But who knows what better animation would’ve done for it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Dan Gordon and Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Thomas Moore and Myron Waldman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Mad Astronomer), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Julian Noa (Perry White); narrated by Jackson Beck.


The Bulleteers (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Three genius mechanical engineers come up with a flying, rocket-powered bullet car, with a penetrating nose, and try to extort millions from Metropolis. When their extortion fails, they attack. After some trouble, Superman stops them. The Bulleteers is nothing if not concise.

The cartoon starts introducing the bullet car, then its owners. They’re in a mountain hideout, of course, but it doesn’t turn out to be important. The emphasis of the cartoon, for the first half, is on the city. Lots and lots of people in Bulleteers–since they’re in a mountain the Bulleteers are able to use a very loud speaker to threaten the city, everyone comes outside to listen. So it’s a lot of beautiful design work, then nice, deliberate animation of the crowds. Until the nighttime attack, Bulleteers’s Metropolis feels vibrant and full.

The attack is a bunch of disaster sequences, as the bullet car easily knocks through police defenses and starts shooting through buildings, sending debris everywhere. Luckily, Lois Lane (Joan Alexander) has ditched Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) and he’s able to put on the longjohns to try to save the day. There’s some good tension in whether or not he’ll be able to do it.

The finale with the Bulleteers is a tad perfunctory, but the cartoon’s already done its stuff–the first part of their attack is on a power plant, which leads to some great disaster inserts. And some of the Superman action is excellent. All of the animation is excellent, regardless of content.

Bulleteers’s exquisite visuals and simple narrative add up to a nice eight minutes.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Bill Turner and Carl Meyer , based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Orestes Calpini and Graham Place; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Bulleteer), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (Perry White/Bulleteer), and Jackson Beck (Bulleteer); narrated by Beck.


The Mechanical Monsters (1941, Dave Fleischer)

The Mechanical Monsters has a lot of promise. Or at least it seems like it’s going to have a lot of promise. A mad scientist has built around thirty giant flying robots he sends out to rob Metropolis. The cartoon opens with one of them returning with its loot. No one can stop him.

Back in the city, Lois and Clark are both covering a new jewelry exhibit. Clark (Bud Collyer) isn’t happy to see Lois there. The defining aspect of Collyer’s Clark Kent performance is how much he loathes Lois Lane when she’s doing her job, which makes the cartoon’s epilogue all the stranger.

So the giant robot attacks. Turns out it’s bulletproof too because the Metropolis police shoot tommy guns at it and the bullets ricochet everywhere. Presumably not into the fleeing civilians.

When Clark and Lois go to call the story in, Lois gives Clark the slip to get back to the giant robot, hitching a ride in the loot compartment. Then it’s Superman time.

The aforementioned promise starts building once Superman’s in play. Even after he somehow gets knocked out of the sky by the robot (it’s unclear if Superman’s jumping or flying, I suppose–whatever’s most convenient for the story) and gets into a fight with electrical lines, Monsters always seems like there’s about to be a great sequence.

When Superman finally gets to the mad scientist’s fortress to duke it out with the two dozen plus giant robots, it’s got to be a great sequence. Then it’s not. It’s rushed because it’s not even like Lois is in danger from the robots. She’s in danger from the mad scientist dropping her into molten lava. Good thing Superman’s cape is molten lava-resistant.

The epilogue has Clark complimenting Lois on her page one scoop; of course, she says she only got the story because of Superman. Fade out on knowing smile from Clark. Kind of gross.

There’s some nice stuff in the cartoon–effective close-up on the mad scientist, for example–but the story’s all over the place and the characters are weak. Joan Alexander, as Lois, gets about two and a half lines. Though at least this time director Fleischer cuts away from the villain assaulting her.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Izzy Sparber and Seymour Kneitel , based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Steve Muffati and George Germanetti; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Scientist) and Joan Alexander (Lois Lane); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Superman (1941, Dave Fleischer)

Superman (or The Mad Scientist) opens with Jackson Beck narrating the origin of Superman. It’s a couple minutes, sets up Krypton going boom and mild mannered reporter Clark Kent. Then it’s on to the action, which starts with a mad scientist sending a threatening letter to the Daily Planet.

Perry White (Julian Noa) tries to send Lois (Joan Alexander) and Clark (Bud Collyer) on assignment to investigate. The mad scientist is going to attack at twelve midnight. Lois tells the boys she wants to do it alone and skips out, getting in a plane and flying off. Clark makes some vaguely sexist remark to Perry and cut to the mad scientist.

The mad scientist has a pet bird (vulture? blackbird? doesn’t matter). They cutely walk around his hidden laboratory as the mad scientist prepares his death ray. Lois shows up just before midnight, ready… to interview him? Instead he assaults her and ties her up. He zaps a bridge, at midnight, just like his note said, apparently surprising Clark, who’s sitting at his desk. He then changes outfits and saves the day as Superman. Though not the bridge. And there’s no real prevention of the plan.

The cartoon’s designs are fantastic throughout–Lois in her flight gear–the architecture of the buildings, but the animation takes a while to impress. The mad scientist, for instance, is particularly disappointing. He’s got a jerky walk and Jack Mercer plays him as flat evil. The bird saves their scenes, even though the bird makes absolutely no sense.

It’s like they realized the mad scientist didn’t have enough personality.

Some of the Superman saving the day stuff is fantastic, though the cartoon’s understanding of structure engineering (a skyscraper flops like gelatin) is suspect. Unfortunately, Superman’s showdown with the mad scientist is rather wanting. And the rescue of Lois is dramatically inert. Just like the resolution.

Superman looks great, moves mostly all right, and the Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg music is right on… but it’s lacking. And the silhouetted violence of the mad scientist attacking Lois is pretty intense given it’s a cartoon with a cute pet (evil) bird.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Seymour Kneitel and Izzy Sparber, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Frank Endres and Steve Muffati; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jack Mercer (The Mad Scientist), and Julian Noa (Perry White); narrated by Jackson Beck.


The Arctic Giant (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Even if it weren’t for catching all the future films The Arctic Giant influenced, the cartoon would still be a lot of fun.

It opens with the discovery of a frozen dinosaur in the the Arctic. Scientists bring it back to Metropolis–King Kong style, but in a freezer–where it goes on display. Lois does a story, things go wrong, Superman to the rescue.

That aspect–the animated action adventure–is great. Joan Alexander has a lot of fun as Lois here. Bill Turner and Tedd Pierce’s script gets her just the right amount of condescending and grateful.

But this Arctic Giant isn’t some twenty-foot dinosaur… it’s Godzilla (in 1942). Lots of the same visual motifs too. It’s incredible. And then there’s the disaster scenes later duplicated in Superman: The Movie. It’s really cool.

It’s also poorly animated. The level of detail is terrible.

But Giant still rocks.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Bill Turner and Tedd Pierce, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Willard Bowsky and Reuben Grossman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane) and Jackson Beck (Perry White).


Volcano (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Now here’s an awesome outing for Clark and Lois. They’re on assignment to cover a volcano erupting (hence the title); the cartoon opens with a science report on said volcano. It’s a neat sequence, quickly done and well-animated. Fleischer gets a lot of information conveyed immediately, which is good since the second half is all action.

Lois gets a whole lot to do in Volcano, between stealing Clark’s press pass to get the scoop herself–Bill Turner and Carl Meyer’s script makes her rather tenacious, a behavior where Joan Alexander excels in her performance. Clark doesn’t have much and, as Superman, I don’t even think Bud Collyer gets any lines (just as Clark). But it’s not important, because the volcano eruption is fantastic.

The script has just enough information before Fleischer and the animators deliver Volcano’s thrills. Lois’s determinedness–and Superman’s vulnerability–are standouts, along with the design.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Bill Turner and Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Willard Bowsky and Otto Feuer; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane) and Julian Noa (Perry White).


Billion Dollar Limited (1942, Dave Fleischer)

It’s Superman versus a train full of gold thieves. Only not so much. Lois Lane actually battles the thieves themselves in Billion Dollar Limited, while Superman deals with the runaway train.

There’s a lot of impressive action in the cartoon, especially given how little dialogue–I think maybe four or five lines total, including one of the robbers exclaiming “Superman”–but the wrap-up leaves a lot to be desired. Poor Lois fends off the robbers with a machine gun and doesn’t get any credit at the end.

The animation is outstanding–one shot has Superman’s hair getting mussed as he slows the train–but the lack of dialogue and characterization make the whole thing a tad distant. Dave Fleischer has the good sense to show one of the robbers putting on his mask, humanizing him, but then there’s nothing else.

Limited’s action-packed, well-made; it’s just not exciting.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Seymour Kneitel and Izzy Sparber, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Frank Endres and Myron Waldman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman) and Joan Alexander (Lois Lane).


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