Margot Kidder

Superman (1978, Richard Donner), the extended cut

The extended version of Superman runs three hours and eight minutes, approximately forty-five minutes longer than the theatrical version (Richard Donner’s director’s cut only runs eight minutes longer than the theatrical). The extended version opens with a disclaimer: the producers prepared this version of the film for television broadcasts (three hours plus means two nights). The director was not involved.

Neither, one must assume, was original editor Stuart Baird because I’m not sure anyone could stand to see their work so butchered. Superman’s already had one somewhat inglorious revision–the director’s cut–and this extended version takes it one step further. Scenes will now drag on and on as actors try one more line. The subtly of the cuts, which enhance the performances, is either gone or severely hampered. The John Williams music is rearranged to fit the lengthened scenes and sequences, with no attention paid to how the music fits the scenes.

Worse, padding the film out changes the emphases. Margot Kidder is far less relevant (Christopher Reeve’s Superman as well) because most of the added footage is Gene Hackman and company. In addition to introducing Lex Luthor (Hackman) as a piano-playing crooner, the extended edition has all sorts of physical humor and lame jokes for Hackman’s sidekicks, Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine. Perrine gets a little more character–in fact, she’s the only actor who benefits from the extended material–while Beatty gets a lot less. The constant jokes make his presence drag, especially since he and Hackman aren’t funny with the physical humor.

The extended edition does explain a few things, like why Larry Hagman isn’t with the missile on Hackman and company’s second attempt at it. And Chief Tug Smith gets a whole subplot. In the other versions of Superman, he gets maybe a line or two in an interview with Kidder.

And there’s more at the beginning on Krypton. With everyone except Brando and Susannah York–though, wow, you forget how amazing they are together in their one scene. So good.

Actually, the extended version starts just fine. Terence Stamp’s microexpressions are preserved as well as Baird’s exquisite cuts between them. Then there’s a little more dialogue, here and there, with Brando and the other council members. The scene starts to drag and instead of the drag being corrected, it just gets worse. All the added lines are superfluous (as the two successful versions of the film attest).

Then the flying guard out to bust Brando for using too much power shows up. It’s a pointless addition–I assume it got cut because they couldn’t get the special effects to work or just decided it was a waste of time. But the producers want to waste some time with this cut. Well, executive producers. Original producer Pierre Spengler apparently didn’t have anything to do with bloating the film out. Ilya and Alexander Salkind, however, wanted to get it to those two nights for television.

Most of the added material–after the three major additions (Krypton, Hackman and company, Smith and the Native Americans)–is surplus dialogue. Lines no one would’ve kept. Including the actors. Besides Hackman seeming lost in the slapstick, Glenn Ford’s got a real awkward added line and can’t get any traction out of it. Though the extended scenes of the Daily Planet are interesting. They’re still too long.

After the surplus dialogue, the Salkinds threw in a lot of establishing shots. Lots of second unit. Lots of unfinished special effects–like during the way too long destruction of Krypton. Or special effects director Donner wisely cut just because they didn’t look any good even when finished. There’s some great helicopter footage of New York City though. Sorry, Metropolis. And, actually, Smallville too. It just doesn’t do anything.

Except add time. As scenes play long, even unpadded scenes start to drag–the mono soundtrack with the rearranged score doesn’t help–and subplots stop developing. Kidder disappears for way too long. Reeve gets some added material, which starts the character in a mildly new direction, but then there’s nothing else. The extended material is dead weight. Even when it’s good for character development, like with Perrine. And, to a lesser extent, Marc McClure.

Superman: The Movie: The Extended Cut is a swell curiosity, but nothing more. Maybe it really should be seen in two parts. Except, of course, it’s not like the Salkinds tried to do anything to make it feel like a two-part story either. Because their additive editing is disastrous and an ignoble diss to the film, its cast, and its crew. Not to mention the screenwriters, who clearly wrote some rather wordy, rather unnecessary lines.

However, if you’re a Fawlty Towers fan… Bruce Boa (from “Waldorf Salad”) does show up for a second and gets very angry. There’s also more John Ratzenberger, if you’re an avid Cliff fan.

Anyway. Editing is important. So is not purposely bloating out a film. The extra forty-five minutes are kryptonite to Superman.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).


Black Christmas (1974, Bob Clark)

Black Christmas has a lot of significant problems, but the film’s strengths make up for (or just distract from) a lot of them. But then there’s director Clark. He can’t make the film scary. He can make it disturbing–and often does, even when it’s not successful otherwise–but he never makes it scary. And when Olivia Hussey is running away from the psycho killer, it has to be scary. It’s the first scene with real action in the film and Clark doesn’t do it. In the process, he loses any of the disturbing too.

Even though the final act is a flop, the film does still look good. It’s not exquisitely directed anymore–Clark does a beautiful job introducing the film and its characters in the first act–but it’s always well-produced. Reginald H. Morris’s photography is always competent, even when he’s not doing anything special. His use of focus is particularly gorgeous and it really brings personality to the film in the first third.

Clark just can’t direct the scary part. And he never does, because neither he nor writer Roy Moore, have anything interesting in mind for Hussey. She’s initially just one part of an ensemble, but once she becomes the lead, there needs to be something to the character and there isn’t. Hussey’s not good, but she’s not bad and she does have a few strong moments. She just doesn’t have anything to work with. Her character has the film’s least thoughtful story arc–she’s pregnant with creepy boyfriend Keir Dullea’s baby and she doesn’t want to keep it. Why doesn’t she want to keep it? She doesn’t love him. And her “ambitions.” What ambitions? No idea, Clark and Morse don’t care. They care enough to immediately establish Margot Kidder’s backstory because Kidder does wonders with it. It’s like Clark doesn’t want to ask too much of Hussey.

If it’d been any of the other stalked sorority girls–Black Christmas has the psycho killer terrorizing a sorority just before Christmas because narratively pointless gimmick–the film would’ve been better. Hussey plays the script. She doesn’t bring any personality of her own. Everyone else acts. Hussey recites. And Clark’s mostly responsible. He shoots Hussey differently than the other actors. Lots of close-ups, lots of boring close-ups. Almost every other shot is interesting (until the action), but never the ones of Hussey. It’s frustrating.

Like I said, great supporting performance from Kidder. She’s hilarious, charming, sympathetic, profane, gentle. John Saxon is fine as the cop. Marian Waldman’s awesome as the drunk den mother. She has the same kind of sipping sherry stashed all over the house–it’s a fantastic subplot and far more imaginative than the psycho killer one. Andrea Martin is good as another sister. James Edmond is fantastic as one of the girl’s fathers. When Edmond’s still part of Christmas, it’s a special film in how it deals with grief and fear amid cheap horror gags. Art Hindle’s good too. Doug McGrath’s funny as a dumb police sergeant. There’s so much texture to the supporting cast, it just makes Hussey and Dullea stand out even more. I neglected to mention Dullea’s awful. There could be a drinking game for his lousy performance in this film. Anyone would’ve been better.

Or, even better, the character wouldn’t exist because there’s no place for him in the film. Clark and Moore’s problem is how they anticipate the narrative. The characters have nothing going on except what they’re doing at a moment–Black Christmas takes place over thirty hours or so–even when they’re in the middle of another subplot. The setup for the psycho killer is infinitely better than the psycho killer because there’s nothing to do with the psycho killer. Clark and Moore completely cop out.

Okay music from Carl Zittrer. Okay editing from Stan Cole. Sometimes excellent direction from Clark, sometimes not. Truly great performance from Margot Kidder. Black Christmas has a lot going for it, it just doesn’t really get anywhere.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bob Clark; written by Roy Moore; director of photography, Reginald H. Morris; edited by Stan Cole; music by Carl Zittrer; released by Ambassador Film Distributors.

Starring Olivia Hussey (Jess), Keir Dullea (Peter), Margot Kidder (Barb), John Saxon (Lt. Fuller), Marian Waldman (Mrs. Mac), Andrea Martin (Phyl), James Edmond (Mr. Harrison), Doug McGrath (Nash), Art Hindle (Chris) and Lynne Griffin (Clare).


Nightshift (1985, Phillip Noyce)

The big problem with Nightshift, an episode of “The Hitchhiker,” is how William Darrid’s teleplay handles the protagonist. Margot Kidder plays a retirement home nurse who preys on her charges–little mean stuff, stealing their jewelry. The script isn’t playful with its presentation of Kidder. If Darrid had made her true nature a reveal instead of setting it up in the ground situation, for example.

It makes Kidder a weak protagonist, letting Stephen McHattie (as her scummy boyfriend) take over the episode when he’s in it. But he’s not in it very much, just a lengthy middle sequence. Then it goes back to Kidder, but she’s even more ineffectual now.

Director Noyce is trying to play with the constrained environment, but it doesn’t come off. There’s some good editing from Stan Cole.

Nightshift could have been a lot better, but Darrid didn’t give Kidder a believable enough character. It’s unfortunate.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; teleplay by William Darrid, based on a story by April Campbell Jones and Bruce Jones; “The Hitchhiker” created by Riff Markowitz, Lewis Chesler and Richard Rothstein; director of photography, Reginald H. Morris; edited by Stan Cole; music by Michel Rubini; production designer, Richard Wilcox; produced by Markowitz and Chesler; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Margot Kidder (Jane Reynolds), Stephen McHattie (Johnny), Dorothy Davies (Mrs. Cranshaw), Enid Saunders (Mrs. MacDonald), Kenneth Gordon (Mr. Loring) and Darren McGavin (The Old Man).


Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987, Sidney J. Furie)

Roughly a third of Superman IV is missing, so it’s a little difficult to really form an opinion of the filmmakers’ intentions. I mean, it was an anti-nuclear proliferation movie… which suggests they were well-intentioned, but it’s impossible to know what they were trying to do with it as a film. For instance, it doesn’t have an ending. It also doesn’t have any real drama, but you can have an ending without any drama.

Some of the edits make me curious if anyone noticed, while it was being cut and recut and so on, if there’s the serious implication Lois Lane knows Clark Kent is Superman. There’s this weird scene at the beginning where we find out Superman takes Lois Lane out on flying dates then brainwashes her with the magic kiss (last seen in Superman II) whenever the date’s over. But the later scenes with Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve… it’s like they’re playing it like she knows. There’s a definite subtext. It’s nearly interesting.

The opening actually seems like the first real Superman sequel. It’s not awkward like II or gimmicky like III, as a tabloid tycoon swoops in to buy out the Daily Planet. It gives drama to the Clark Kent side of things and lots of opportunity for returning cast members Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure… then doesn’t do anything with them.

Furie’s actually got some good shots and the effects are–while terrible–occasionally ambitious.

And Hackman… even with terrible lines, he’s great.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney J. Furie; screenplay by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, based on a story by Christopher Reeve, Konner and Rosenthal and on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ernest Day; edited by John Shirley; music by Alexander Courage; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Superman / Clark Kent), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Jon Cryer (Lenny), Sam Wanamaker (David Warfield), Mark Pillow (Nuclear Man), Mariel Hemingway (Lacy Warfield), Damian McLawhorn (Jeremy), William Hootkins (Harry Howler), Jim Broadbent (Jean Pierre Dubois), Stanley Lebor (General Romoff), Don Fellows (Levon Hornsby) and Susannah York (Lara).


Superman III (1983, Richard Lester)

Superman III–deservedly–gets a lot of flak, but it’s actually the most faithful to the comics in a lot of ways. It plays out like a late sixties, early seventies Superman comic–“The Man Who Killed Superman,” turning out to be a bumbling, generally well-meaning guy like Richard Pryor, or “Superman Versus the Ultimate Computer.”

Superman III is also Superman versus the neo-cons (one has to wonder if, while the computer hijinks influenced Office Space, the oil plotting influenced Dick Cheney). The film’s villains are constantly weak, with Robert Vaughn (whose character has some great lines) and Annie Ross turning in dreadful performances.

But it didn’t have to be bad, which is what’s so upsetting about it. The stuff in Smallville with Clark Kent meeting up with his high school crush is often fantastic–it lets Christopher Reeve add a facet to the performance and Annette O’Toole’s great as the love interest. Even better is when she gets to Metropolis–it’s only one scene (she wasn’t back in IV) but the dynamic with her and Margot Kidder seems like it would have been outstanding.

Poor Marc McClure gets a lot of screen time at the beginning… then disappears. But the same goes for Reeve. Once Superman turns into evil Superman, he’s in the movie even less.

Pryor’s good. His dialogue’s weak, but his performance isn’t.

Lester’s direction is mostly good, though the slapstick fails–cinematographer Robert Paynter is a disaster.

But then, disaster is Superman III‘s keyword.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; screenplay by David Newman and Leslie Newman, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Superman / Clark Kent), Richard Pryor (Gus Gorman), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Annette O’Toole (Lana Lang), Annie Ross (Vera), Pamela Stephenson (Lorelei), Robert Vaughn (Ross Webster), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Gavan O’Herlihy (Brad) and Nancy Roberts (Unemployment Clerk).


Superman II (1980, Richard Lester)

There are, now, three versions of Superman II. The theatrical, an extended television version (not officially released) and original director Richard Donner’s take on it. Unfortunately, Superman II is–as a narrative and a sequel–rife with problems. Drawing attention to these problems is a bad idea. And the version with the least emphasis on them? Richard Lester’s original.

Whatever Lester’s problem with the Superman character, it’s not really apparent here. Superman II feels like a good Superman movie should feel–some of the campy humor works, some of it doesn’t. I’d say about fifty percent of Terence Stamp’s lines fail. The successful ones, however, are great. And Sarah Douglas is fantastic.

Most importantly, Lester gets some wonderful acting out of Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. The somewhat nonsensical romance doesn’t fit in the picture–and never will, no matter how many revisions people make–but it makes the film singular. Superman wasn’t a particularly long film series and the familiarity Lester gets out of Kidder and Reeve in this one, the first sequel, is something television shows usually have to go three or four seasons to achieve.

The special effects–particularly the flying sequences–are occasionally weak. There are a lot more complicated rear projection sequences than in the first film and they don’t work out very often.

Like I said before, Superman II‘s basically a bad idea for a movie. But it works out in the end, thanks to the actors and, yes, Lester.

That Paris opening’s great.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), Susannah York (Lara), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman (1978, Richard Donner), the director’s cut

If watching Richard Donner’s director’s cuts have taught me one thing, it’s Donner probably shouldn’t have final cut. His director’s cut of Lethal Weapon, for example, is atrocious.

He adds about nine minutes to Superman and, much like Coppola’s revision of Apocalypse Now, it’s a testament to the original film it can weather the additions. For the most part, Donner’s additions are small–I think the longest sequence is Superman versus Lex Luthor’s weapon gadgets–but these additions all go into the rather iconic sequences at the beginning of the film. In other words, Donner intrudes on the film in progress… it’s kind of like talking during the movie (or a big CG Jabba the Hutt all of a sudden appearing).

Worse, director’s cut editor Michael Thau can’t compare to original editor Stuart Baird (Superman‘s just an exquisitely edited film, an aspect I don’t think it ever gets recognized). And don’t get me started on the awful new sound mix.

But it can’t muck it up.

If anything, the director’s cut just shows Superman is bigger than the director and his troubles with the producers. The elements–the cast, the script, the effects crew and John Williams–are in place. Donner does a great job directing the picture, no doubt, but it’s never fit in his filmography. He’s never made anything half as good as a film and nothing a quarter as good as a director.

So, even though none of the additions add anything, Superman succeeds.

Wonderment outweighs bloating.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).


Willie and Phil (1980, Paul Mazursky)

I think I made a mistake before watching Willie and Phil. I went looking for its running time and, in addition to that information, I also found some mention of the film satirizing the 1970s, referencing all sorts of little details in dialogue and such. They were really distracting–not just in dialogue, but also in how Mazursky fits his scenes around the references. They go looking for a car and there’s a whole thing about the Volkswagen bug. It’s annoying and distracting, some fluff to disguise the film’s lack of actual content. There’s some content–of a certain kind–the content of Willie and Phil is Paul Mazursky remaking Jules and Jim, only in New York and having the 1970s as the backdrop. Obviously the stories aren’t the same, but Mazursky’s filling ten years of events into two hours. He’s constantly jumping ahead six months, a year, making it real difficult to connect to the characters.

Well, not quite.

It’s not hard to connect to Ray Sharkey’s Phil. It’s not hard to connect with Margot Kidder’s woman who gets between the two friends–though the Kentucky accent, the whole idea of Kidder’s character being from Kentucky, is a mistake. It’s also difficult to understand her after her first scene, because the character makes a drastic change to fit the story requirements. Anyway, the problem with connecting to the characters is Michael Ontkean. He’s terrible. The character’s poorly written too, but Ontkean can’t handle any of the scenes. There’s this scene with him and Larry Fishburne–three minute scene–and Fishburne doesn’t just run circles around him… I felt embarrassed for Ontkean in the scene. One was acting in millimeters, one was acting in decameters.

Then there’s Mazursky’s narration. He’s very satisfied with his narration. Thinks it’s witty to have the narration say lines of dialogue, then have the characters say them too. The narration is essential, however, because it not only charts the passage of time, it explains to the viewer what characters are feeling. Big, life changing issues are resolved in the narration as opposed to in action. The description of emotions, I’m actually not sure where I am on that usage. Ontkean couldn’t get anything reasonable across, so maybe it is necessary to make the film intelligible.

I wish I could better remember Jules and Jim so I have a nice closing comparison, but instead, I’m going to steal from a friend… oh… the years are wrong. Maybe Billy Joel did steal the idea of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” from Willie and Phil, as opposed to vice versa….

The “We Didn’t Start the Fire” music video, of course, does have a better narrative.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Mazursky; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Donn Cambern; music by Claude Bolling; produced by Mazursky and Tony Ray; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Michael Ontkean (Willie), Margot Kidder (Jeannette), Ray Sharkey (Phil), Jan Miner (Mrs. Kaufman), Tom Brennan (Mr. Kaufman), Julie Bovasso (Mrs. D’Amico), Louis Guss (Mr. D’Amico), Kathleen Maguire (Mrs. Sutherland), Kaki Hunter (Patti), Kristine DeBell (Rena), Alison Cass Shurpin (Zelda No. 4) and Christine Varnai (Zelda No. 3).


Superman II (1980, Richard Donner), the Richard Donner cut

Superman II might just be broken. Watching “The Richard Donner Cut,” it’s an easy conclusion to come to–the greatly anticipated Marlon Brando scenes feature a callow, selfish Superman–not one who’s bursting with love for Lois Lane, like in the theatrical version. Also problematic is the utter lack of super–it’s a Superman movie, but this version of Superman II doesn’t actually have any real Superman scenes besides the rescue of the kid at Niagara Falls and then the last act city fight (which isn’t any better). He’s not doing anything super… it’s tedious, because so much of the Lois and Clark romance is shredded. I remember a review for the Daredevil director’s cut pointing out, although Jennifer Garner has the same amount of screen time, the film’s so much less painful because of the additional scenes without her. Well, this cut of Superman II has less Superman–and even has less Kryptonian supervillains–but it seems like they’re in it a lot more… and it’s not a good thing. They were shallow characters to begin with and they aren’t any better here.

While it was nice to see the Daily Planet newsroom under Donner’s vision again–and the maligned ending actually works out fine (if you forgive the uselessness of taking away Lois’s memory of Superman, which makes no sense in any version and does a disservice to the romance), well even–the only really nice stuff in the Donner Cut is extra Gene Hackman scenes. There are only a couple, both with Valerie Perrine, and they’re both great. I was hoping Perrine would show up again, but alas, she did not and the film was coasting along–most of the scenes not working because there was nothing connecting them anymore, with all the cuts of Lester-filmed material–until Hackman shows up again.

There’s one scene created from a combination of screen tests and, while the differences are noticeable, it’s a well-acted scene–even if it isn’t better than what was in the theatrical version. There are new special effects, some of which are fine, some of which needed something as simple as a black level fix and didn’t get it. John Williams has sole composer credit now and it’s all music from the first film recycled and you can tell. This version of Superman II sounds all wrong.

It’s unfortunate, after all the hubbub, it didn’t turn out to be a major achievement or something. Like I said, maybe it just doesn’t work in any form.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird, Michael Thau and John Victor-Smith; music by John Williams; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler and Thau; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman (1978, Richard Donner)

I love how the end of Superman, with the spinning back of the earth, causes so much trouble for people. My fiancée–before Marlon Brando had even gotten the kid into the spaceship–made me stop the movie twice (I had to tell her to stop, though I love her line about Superman having just as many plot holes as the Bible) to make observations about its inconsistency. So, two major inconsistencies in the first ten minutes. I was more concentrated on Krypton’s apparent lack of atmosphere and the effect it’d have on the three criminals (wouldn’t they suffocate before the Phantom Zone got them?). My point being, Superman is rife with dramatic inconsistencies and silliness, the world-turning being one of the lesser ones.

I’ve probably seen Superman six times as an adult, maybe seven (this viewing is the fourth time since 2001), so it’s kind of hard to write about it like it’s tomorrow’s bread. I notice things, every time I watch, and sometimes I’ve noticed them before and sometimes I think I have or haven’t. Superman‘s an incredibly watchable film, because it works so damn well–I can’t think of a film where the music was more important than this one. John Williams’s score literally makes the film. Something about the epical storytelling and Donner’s use of cranes and his short on dialogue, but not short in running time scenes, makes Williams’s music essential. Without it, Superman wouldn’t just not work, it’d be funny looking. There’s music for most of the movie, with the exception of the Daily Planet scenes. The other superior technical aspect of the film is the editing. Donner shot some great coverage for the film and editor Stuart Baird puts it all together beautifully–that scene in the cornfield and the Superman finding Lois in the car scene are both editorially magnificent. I never thought about it before, but in a certain way (not narratively) Superman‘s got a lot in common with 2001.

Other things I noticed this time was Donner’s great close-ups of Terence Stamp at the beginning, which I’m sure I’d noticed before, but never really appreciated, especially since it’s a movie called Superman‘s first real scene. Glenn Ford gets better with each viewing… The infamous “Can You Read My Mind?” flying dance number, which has become, in the last couple viewings, my favorite scene in the film. Also a big fan of the interview scene and the helicopter scene from the cinematography angle. I think the last time I watched it, I appreciated Superman ignoring Marlon Brando for Glenn Ford (something Bryan Singer ditched in the latest “sequel”), and I appreciated it again this time.

It’s amazing to me, the film I’ve seen, man and boy, fifteen or twenty times, about a flying guy in blue tights, still has so much to offer.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).


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