Columbia's 43rd serial finds Lex Luthor, secretly the Atom Man, blackmailing the city of Metropolis by threatening to destroy the entire community. Perry White, editor of "The Daily Planet", assigns Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson and Clark Kent/Superman to cover the story. Luthor invents a number of deadly devices to plague the city, including a disintegrating machine which can reduce people to their basic atoms and reassemble them in another place. But Superman manages to thwart each scheme. Since Kryptonite can rob Superman of his powers, Luthor decides to create a synthetic Kryptonite and putters about obtaining the necessary ingredients: plutonium, radium and the undefined 'etc.'(in order to keep viewers from trying this at home). Luthor places the Kryptonite at the launching of a ship, with Superman in attendance. He is exposed to the Kryptonite and passes out. Superman is taken off in an ambulance driven by Luthor's henchmen, and he is now under the control of Luthor. Superman is placed... Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Atom Man Vs. Superman' is the second of 2 Columbia Pictures Superman serials and is clearly superior to the first. Once you liberate yourself from modern expectations regarding budget, special effects, realism, etc., you can sit back for 15 chapters and enjoy the earnestness and charm of the actors, and the free-wheeling fantasy of the storyline.
It is best to watch the old serials from the perspective that you are looking at some kind of alternate reality so as to suspend some of the prejudices of the modern world. Or perhaps as though one were a tourist in a foreign country: rather than seeing differences as bizarre or deficient, but instead as being novel, interesting, and sometimes wondrous.
Next to Kirk Alyn, George Reeves was Lawrence Olivier. That notwithstanding, Kirk Alyn at least bears a good physical resemblance to the comic book Superman, and at least he tackles the impossible with gameness and good cheer. His best moments are with Lois and Luthor, and there a few times in the serial when his acting is actually good. And his performance in 'Atom Man' is a 100% improvement over the 1st serial. And even at his clumsiest moments, Kirk Alyn is infinitely preferable to Brandon Routh.
The supporting cast is great. Noel Niell is cute as a button and very charming as Lois Lane. Pierre Watkin is a perfect Perry White. Former Our Gang member Tommy 'Butch' Bond plays Jimmy Olsen as a pugnacious juvenile, which works pretty well. Best of all, Lyle Talbot plays arch-villain Lex Luthor with creepy and insane genius, and also uses a good foreign accent during the scenes when we wears the ridiculous 'Atom Man' disguise (Talbot is, IMO, at least as good as Gene Hackman, and head and shoulders above Kevin Spacey in the role).
This serial moves quickly along and is filled with many clever plot devices and cliff hangers. The primary purpose of the serial was to provide diversion and escapism, and this provides plenty.
One of the most notable features of this serial has to be the abundance of science fiction elements, many of which were on the very cutting edge in 1950. There is a teleportation device, similar to that used on Star Trek and there is a flying saucer. To my knowledge, this serial features the earliest cinematic appearances of such devices. Star Trek's 'transporter' would not appear till 1966, and flying saucers entered feature films in 1951 with 'Day the Earth Stood Still' and 'The Thing.' There is a very effective sequence in which Superman is exiled in another dimension, called 'the empty doom.' As far as I know, this is the first time in cinema that the concept of an extra-dimensional world is introduced. The Superman comic books would later appropriate this gimmick and call it the Phantom Zone, which would become one of the more interesting parts to the Superman mythology. As far as I know, dimensional worlds didn't become well known in celluloid sci-fi via until the early 1960's via 'Twilight Zone' and 'Outer Limits' episodes.
Another fresh but not wholly new sci-fi element in the serial is Luthor's ballistic missile. I can't think of any feature films with them prior to this serial, but I know that Republic's 'King of the Rocket Men' had a great scene with their hero stopping an 'air torpedo' in 1949, thus beating Superman to the punch. Ballistic missiles, of course, had been a reality ever since WWII's V-2 rockets, but it wouldn't be till the mid-fifties that they really entered the mass consciousness of the cinema. I don't want to spoil too much, but note the scene with Superman riding atop the ballistic missile: this pre-dates Slim Pickens' ride on Dr. Strangelove's A-bomb by 14 years.
Also note that the opening credits feature stock footage of A-bomb tests. As the 50's and 60's progressed, copius use A-bomb footage would become a staple of scifi and horror films, especially in opening credit sequences.(Stanley Kubric as well used A-bomb footage in Dr. Strangelove, strangely enough.) So far as my studies have led me over the past 35 years of B-movie research, this is the earliest usage of A-bomb footage in any scifi/monster pic.
A final note: I advise that you watch this in chapter installments, or limit yourself to at most 4 chapters at a time between other activities. I can't explain it, but it's more enjoyable that way, perhaps due to design.
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