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.