With Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Susannah York, Trevor Howard
Directed by Richard Donner
Reviewed by JL and JB

Come fly with me     The first big-budget superhero film remains one of the best, thanks to its mix of action, fantasy, humor, and pastoral beauty.  This is not to suggest that they always mix well -- the tone of the film sometimes seems to change from shot to shot, in fact -- but the overall effect is grand entertainment.  The tale of Superman's origins -- his voyage from the planet Krypton as an infant, his Midwestern upbringing with the Kent family -- is treated with an almost religious reverence (with obvious parallels to the New Testament), whereas the second half of the film lapses into an ironic self-awareness that borders on farce and camp, and somehow it all fits together without too many seams showing.

     The casting of the late Christopher Reeve in the title role was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment.  Not only does he look like he stepped out of the pages of a DC comic, he also manages to play things with tongue firmly in cheek yet remain completely respectful to the Superman legend.  Marlon Brando, who collected a $4-million-dollar paycheck for about 14 minutes of screen time; is properly imposing and authoritative as Jor-El, but Gene Hackman nearly steals the picture with his vain and smarmy interpretation of Superman's perennial nemesis Lex Luthor. 4 ½ - JL

     One of the seminal blockbuster films of the 1970s, SUPERMAN is a strange brew - a flawed, schizophrenic film that features at least one major plot cheat (how Superman saves Lois from death), and yet still manages to rate above four stars in a five star system.  Its retelling of the legend of Superman is so earnest and its casting is so perfect, most of the film's questionable bad points melt away ten seconds after viewing it.

     The known stars of this film are all fine, especially Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor ("Miss TessMACHER!!!") but it is the previously unknown Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder who make SUPERMAN fly.  Since Reeve's untimely death, it has become the fashion to say that he was the best Superman, hands down.  I still hold George Reeves (The Adventures of Superman) and Dean Cain (Lois and Clark) in equal regard to Reeve - all three men brought something unique and of themselves to the table - but I won't argue with those for whom Christopher Reeve will always be their Superman.  Margot Kidder was not as coolly icy as Phyllis Coates, as bubbly as Noel Neill nor as sex-kittenish as Teri Hatcher, but she had chemistry with Christopher Reeve in bucket loads, which made every scene they shared together work.  They are so good together that, even with little or no dialogue, some obvious process work and Kidder doing a lame voice-over reading of the lyrics to the Lois - Superman love theme "Can You Read My Mind", the scene where Superman takes Lois flying still makes my list of Top Ten Romantic Movie Scenes Ever.

        SUPERMAN is by no means perfect, but even with superhero movies now all the rage  ("You will believe that a CGI figure can fly!"), you would be hard pressed to find a greater example of the genre than this one. 4½ - JB

Super Heroes     The Secret Vortex




    Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder became instant stars and household names with the release of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. Unfortunately, neither could ever find any sort of sustained success outside of the Superman films.

    Born in Toronto, Margot Kidder worked on Canadian and American television and in the movies before being picked to play Lois Lane.  Her natural, girlish charm worked wonders in the first two Superman films but for various reasons, she only had limited footage in the less successful SUPERMAN III and IV.

    Her biggest success outside of the Superman films came in the THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979), where she worked alongside James Brolin and Rod Steiger.  Although she has appeared in several other films over the years, she never became the star she deserved to be.  Sadly, after being nearly forgotten by the public, she gained renewed fame in 1996 when she was discovered wandering around Los Angeles in a disheveled state related to her bipolar disorder.  

    Kidder has continued to work steadily over the years, mostly in genre movies and television shows including a two-episode stint on Smallville, a popular series which explored the early years of Clark Kent.

    Today, several decades after the release of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, the late Christopher Reeve is probably more famous for the 1995 horse riding riding accident which paralyzed him from the neck down and confined him to a wheelchair than for playing "The Man of Steel".  Like Kidder, Reeve had his share of interesting films outside of the Superman franchise, including SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) and DEATHTRAP (1982), but it was the 1995 accident which brought him back to the public eye.

    In his later years, he once again embraced the legend, if not the role, which made him famous, by appearing on television's Smallville.  Limited by his disability in what kind of roles he could play, he appeared in a TV remake of Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW in 1998.   In 2004, he directed the television movie THE BROOKE ELLISON STORY (2004), based on the life of a young woman who, like Reeve, was paralyzed by an accident and confined to a wheelchair.  Unfortunately, Reeve died two weeks before the film was broadcast, at the age of 52.   


Keep an eye out for a pre-Cheers John Ratzenberger as well as Larry Hagman in bit parts.

The best cameo of all is Noel Neil, who played Lois Lane in both the first movie serial of SUPERMAN and on television's The Adventures of Superman.  Neill plays a passenger on the train that young Clark Kent outraces.  In the extended version of this scene released on DVD, it is clear that Noel is actually playing Lois Lane's mother in this scene.  Kirk Alyn, the man who first portrayed Superman in the 1948 film serials, plays young Lois's father in the same scene.

Superman II (1978)
Superman III (1983)
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Superman Returns (2006)

Related Movies
Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
Supergirl (1984)
The Man of Steel (coming 2013)