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>
A superior sequel and a fine example of filmed Superman
ATOM MAN VS. SUPERMAN (1950) is a 15-chapter follow-up that represents a vast improvement over the first Superman serial, SUPERMAN (1948). The original cast members who played Superman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White all return, but they are joined by a new villain, Lex Luthor, Superman's archnemesis from the comic book. Luthor's evil genius gives Superman far more opportunities to use his superpowers than did Spider Lady, the stodgy femme fatale from the first serial who did little more than dress in black satin and sit at a table issuing orders from a desk via oversized mike to an army of standard-issue thugs in suits, ties and fedoras.
Luthor (played by Lyle Talbot) is quite busy here. Paroled early on, he supposedly goes straight and takes charge of a Metropolis TV station, in the early days of television, and even hires Lois Lane away from the Daily Planet at one point. By night, however, he sends robbery gangs to crack the safes of stores his TV trucks have cased. He also unleashes a variety of ingenious inventions including a "space transporter" which teleports his henchmen from police custody back to his cave headquarters (16 years before "Star Trek"'s "beam me up" technology) and a "directional cyclotron" which causes earthquakes in Metropolis. In the final chapters he unveils even greater stuff as the action heats up.
Every episode offers a new element and a clever twist or two to keep things interesting right up until the spectacular climax in outer space. While the first serial devolved into standard cliffhanger formula fairly quickly and gave Superman few superheroic things to do, this one gives him lots of super feats to perform. In addition to fending off Luthor and his thugs, he always pops up at various disasters to rescue people. These include a bridge collapse, a fire on a cruise liner, and a flood. Interestingly, all disasters depicted use actual newsreel film footage, including the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse of 1940.
As in SUPERMAN (1948), the effects of Superman flying are created through animation so that whenever Superman takes off he becomes a fluidly animated cartoon. The difference here is that the cartoon shots are intercut with live close shots of Kirk Alyn as Superman in flight. Also, the animation is used to depict a greater range of activities here. Superman is frequently seen carrying people (especially Lois) in cartoon form. In one spectacular shot an animated Superman lifts a live-action truck (shot in miniature) from a raging torrent of water on a miniature set. And there is one whole sequence in outer space that relies heavily on animation.
Having worn the same outfit throughout all 15 chapters of the first serial, Lois (played by Noel Neill) gets a lot of costume changes here. She's less spunky and less cheery, more determined and no-nonsense, and dressed and coiffed more severely. She doesn't plunge into fights as much, but when she's chased by crooks in one scene after grabbing a notepad containing evidence, she runs through streets, hallways, and alleys and up and down staircases and fire escapes like an old pro and eludes her pursuers. We also get to see Lois in a new light in a new job when she goes to work as an on-the-street TV reporter for Lex Luthor's TV station.
ATOM MAN VS. SUPERMAN is arguably one of the best serials ever made and certainly the finest example of live-action filmed Superman in the forty years preceding Richard Donner's SUPERMAN (1978).
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