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REVIEW: Adventures of Superman - The Complete First Season

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Michael.J.Hayde, Oct 11, 2005.

  1. Michael.J.Hayde

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    Note from Owner: This is not an official HTF review by any of our reviewing staff.

    ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: The Complete First Season

    Studio: Warner Bros.

    Year: 1952 - 1953

    Rated: NR

    Length: 11 hours, 2 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

    Audio: Dolby Digital English Mono

    English, French, Spanish Subtitles

    Closed Captioned (Bonus Material not Closed Captioned)

    Special Features: Theatrical Feature Superman and the Mole Men, Documentary, Audio Commentaries, Original Commercials, Bonus Short Subject

    Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 USD

    Background

    With the possible exception of I Love Lucy, no television series has enjoyed greater longevity than the Adventures of Superman. Produced in the summer of 1951 (some months before Lucy went before the cameras), Superman has thrilled countless children (and adults) from Boomers to Millennials. To this day, episodes can be seen over cable and satellite. And yet, no filmed series has been more manhandled over the years.

    Warner Brothers had their work cut out for them to get this show in shape for a DVD release worthy of their sterling reputation. That they did not quite succeed may be beside the point; given the intense devotion the Adventures of Superman and its star, George Reeves, have engendered over the decades, it's a cinch the set will fly off the shelves. (Actually, Warners had nothing to do with the production of this series, inheriting it in the late 1960's with their acquisition of National [now DC] Comics.)

    The first thing Boomers are going to notice is that the sub-title is incorrect. One thing keeps this from being "the Complete First Season" - absence of the Preview sequence, which concluded each episode (except, presumably, number 26) with scenes from next week's show set to a breathless narration. "Join with the Man of Steel as he wages war against the forces of evil," announcer Bill Kennedy urgently implored us week after week - a request most kids were happy to honor, assuming their parents weren't appalled by the gunplay, sadism and wholesale destruction of property that characterized this season.

    Although several of the previews survive and have been making the rounds on bootleg videos for years, it probably wasn't possible for Warners' to include them, for a very good, albeit complicated, reason: the Preview sequence was a feature of the show as presented by Kellogg's cereals. The episodes as originally assembled by producers Robert J. Maxwell and Bernard Luber did not include the preview sequence at the close of each episode, and these are the versions used in this set (with one exception, which I'll discuss in a moment).

    The first 26 Superman episodes (and the theatrical feature Superman and the Mole Men) were bought and paid for by National Comics with no guarantee of sponsorship. Kellogg's cereals had dropped the Superman radio show in 1949, and did not underwrite the TV production in any way. It wasn't until all 26 segments were cut and scored that the cereal company signed on to nationwide sponsorship. Almost immediately Kellogg's demanded changes in nearly every show: excessive violence was toned down, especially when it happened to women; a scene showing drinking in Perry White's office was obscured; a horror-tinged episode entitled "The Evil Three" was especially sanitized of violence and gore. Another problem was that several segments went through the entire story with no fade for a middle commercial.

    The end result was that the episodes were completely re-assembled. A "commercial bumper" (also missing from this set) for each show's halfway point was created and inserted. The preview was added after the final commercial break, leading into the end credits. These changes were all made on a set of dupe negatives, and prints were struck from them until they finally fell apart.

    To get an idea of the variance in quality between prints made from original vs. dupe negatives, you need only view episode 13, "The Stolen Costume," in this set. The story is excellent, but the print is a grainy eyesore, covered with debris, and with a splice or two. Apparently the original negative for this one has vanished, leaving only this sorry, scarred "Kellogg's re-edit" behind (which earlier turned up on Columbia House's VHS release of selected episodes during the previous decade). This is puzzling, as some collectors have pristine 16mm prints struck from the original version. Perhaps a former employee, emulating the episode's "Rope Burglar," absconded with this treasure in the dark of night; more likely it's sitting in a mislabeled can in the dark of some studio vault.

    Otherwise, the DVD uses the original (one is tempted to say "Director's Cut") versions of the 1951 shows. Since the Preview never appeared at the conclusion of these edits, it was impossible to add it. However, that doesn't mean they have to be entirely AWOL. Warners should certainly have thrown in a handful as "Easter eggs."

    Video and Audio Quality

    "The Stolen Costume" excepted, the picture quality is quite good. Blacks and whites are crisp and clear. There's some scattered emulsion scratches and debris, particularly toward the end of "The Unknown People" Part One, but nothing too distracting. The standard aspect ratio and Dolby Digital mono sound (which practically eliminates any age hiss) are entirely appropriate for a show of this vintage.

    Special Features

    The two part episode "The Unknown People" was originally released as a theatrical feature entitled Superman and the Mole Men in November 1951. The feature version is included on disc five as a bonus. In it, Superman must deal with a small town scared witless by little creatures that emerge from the center of the earth via "the World's Deepest Oil Well." The film runs about ten minutes longer than the two-parter and features an original score (by Darrell Calker of "Woody Woodpecker" fame) that compares unfavorably to the library music used in the series. Nevertheless, it's a genuine treat for fans of both the series and vintage 1950's sci-fi.

    Author Gary Grossman ("Superman: Serial to Cereal," published 1976) and writer/producer Chuck Harter (Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees, 1996) add commentary to two episodes each. Both bring just the right amount of specialized knowledge and fan perspective to the task. The two also appear in the 17-minute documentary Adventures of Superman: From Inkwell to Backlot, along with Jack "Jimmy Olsen" Larson, Leonard Maltin, current DC Comics President Paul Levitz and a host of other DC employees. The documentary is a respectful introduction to the series' history, competently illustrating why the show and its stars are so beloved.

    Three original Kellogg's commercials featuring Reeves are included. Also thrown in is a 1940 Technicolor short subject, Pony Express Days, starring Reeves as the future "Buffalo" Bill Cody. Cody wants desparately to be a rider but must settle for assisting "Nevada Jack" (J. Farrell MacDonald, who also portrays 'Pops' Shannon in Superman and the Mole Men) at the latter's way-station. The two-reeler plays fast and loose with history, but it's an entertaining piece of fluff... plus it's fun to see an eager, twenty-something George Reeves at the start of his screen career.

    Conclusion

    More than fifty years after the debut of this series, George Reeves is still considered by many to be the definitve Superman and Clark Kent. Although Reeves' performances would actually improve in future seasons, it's the first 26 episodes of the Adventures of Superman that earned him his place in TV's hall of fame. The gritty film noir atmosphere and tough storylines, along with Reeves' earnest, no-nonsense portrayal of the Man of Steel, combined to create an enduring classic. And this box set captures it all.

    Highly recommended.
     
  2. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    I have a nice fond spot in my heart for this show so I can't wait to pick this one up. [​IMG]

    Plus, Season Two is announced for January 17!
     
  3. Bill Williams

    Bill Williams Screenwriter

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    Great review, Michael! This is one series I'm definitely looking forward to getting! [​IMG]
     
  4. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    VERY nice job, Michael!
     
  5. Steve Phillips

    Steve Phillips Screenwriter

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    I think I might pick up the first season, as from what I recall it was more mature in tone than the often infantile approach they took in the later color shows.

    While I loved this series when I watched reruns as a kid, I find it hard to sit through the later "kiddie" episodes today.

    It sounds like the first DVD set is going to be great, and I'm glad they included the 1951 feature film also.
     
  6. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Michael,

    Thank you for a very informative and meaningful review. I'm buying 2 copies of this to show support for these releases. TAOS (along with Perry Mason and Get Smart) has been one of my holy grail TV DVD sets.

    You mentioned in another thread a concern you had about a couple of S2 episodes where completeness might be an issue. Any word if Messrs Harter or Grossman put an alert to WB as they did with the S1 episode for which better elements exist?

    Since S3 - S6 were all only 13 episodes each, it would be nice if WB doubled up and released 3/4 and 5/6 together. Not that I'm impatient or anything [​IMG]



    Absolutely. No disrespect to Mr. Alyn or any of the others, but Mr. Reeves was, and always will be, the man I visualize as Superman.

    Steve
     
  7. LaurenceGarvey

    LaurenceGarvey Second Unit

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    I agree, George Reeves (multiple sweatshirts subbing for muscles aside) was the embodiment of the Man of Steel, and has never been topped. This is one of my fave TV series of all time.

    I thought your review was excellent, but... "film noir atmosphere"? Huh? A guy flying around in his underwear? I think not.
     
  8. JoSAN

    JoSAN Second Unit

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  9. Michael.J.Hayde

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    Good point, JoSAN; I should have included something about this in the review.

    The discs are single-sided, and the packaging is of the "gatefold" variety, where the interior is pulled out of a slip-cover box and opened from the center into flaps. Discs 1 & 2, and Discs 3 & 4, partially overlap each other on two of the flaps - disc 5 is alone. I'm not sure if my description is doing it justice, but I have no other set to compare it to. (My only other WB TV purchases were WEST WING and MAD TV; both season one and both double-sided discs.) The DVDs can be easily removed from the hubs without incident; the only inconvenience is that you must occasionally remove TWO discs to get the one you want.

    Incidentally, there's an error on the packgaging. Episode #14 is listed as "Treasure of the Incas," but the synopsis is for "Mystery in Wax" (the TRUE #14). Episode #15 is listed as "Double Trouble" but the plot is for "Treasure..." And - you guessed it: Episode #16 is titled "Mystery in Wax," described with "Double Trouble's" plot. Disc 3 was also mastered that way: "Treasure..." at #14, "Double..." at #15, "Mystery..." at #16. Probably the mastering error occurred first; then the contents had to be switched on the package - but whoever did it only shifted the titles - not the synopses.

    Michael
     
  10. JoSAN

    JoSAN Second Unit

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  11. Mark Talmadge

    Mark Talmadge Screenwriter

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    I've finally seen the set itself and ... Oh My God, the packaging is gorgeous. You guys are going to be surprised. I've also verified that the retail price at Target is going to be $34.95. This means that we could see this set possibly on sale for $29.95.[​IMG]
     
  12. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    ABBout that at some stores...but maybe even a CCouple of dollars less at other stores--if you CCatch my drift. [​IMG]
     
  13. Bob Hug

    Bob Hug Screenwriter

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    Amazon has it for $27.99 on pre-order with free standard shipping. This set is also eligible for a rebate if you purchase at least one other qualifying Warner TV set.
     
  14. Greg_S_H

    Greg_S_H Executive Producer

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    ShuCCKs. Looks like I won't Reward myself by BBuying this at the usual BBrick-and-mortar I go to. I'll have to go aCCross the highway when I get it. [​IMG]

    Or, I could price match. [​IMG]
     
  15. Michael.J.Hayde

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    Would this be the style used on the two-disc special edition of Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Good God, what a struggle to free those discs! Once I got them out, I tried to "adjust" the hubs with a pair of plyers - now the discs won't stay put. But frankly, I find that more tolerable than the disc-bending I went through to free them!

    Michael
     
  16. Roy Wall

    Roy Wall Supporting Actor

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    Great Review Michael. I envy your talent as a writer...but your love for this show comes through your writing no matter how tightly you pull back on the reins. Thank you !!!!
     
  17. JoSAN

    JoSAN Second Unit

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  18. JoSAN

    JoSAN Second Unit

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  19. CherylWI

    CherylWI Stunt Coordinator

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    The women's movement back in the seventies was pushing hard for men to be more sensitive and caring and as a result of that you get a more wishy washy feminized Superman/Clark Kent.
     
  20. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    So, if I understand correctly, these original uncut versions have never been seen before? Or were they uncut on reruns? Or have they been previously released in the Columbia VHS series?
     

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