Superman movie serial, 1948
Superman burst onto movie screens in 1948, right as the movie serial format was waning. That didn't phase the Man of Steel, played by Kirk Alyn: the Columbia produced serial proved commercially successful. It was also the first time Krypton and the Kents would get committed to live action.
"In the far reaches of space," the narrator intones across matte paintings of, well, outer space. He hones in on a blue star that was once a planet like our own, a planet named Krypton. "Krypton was a rugged planet, laced with jagged mountain chains rich in strange minerals unkonwn to Earth," he says over footage of a quarry, before settling on the matte painting futuristic city that is the nameless capital of Krypton, one that boasts a race of super-men.
Jor-L, the "foremost man of science," is in his lab working on the rocket that will serve as a prototype for a fleet that could save Krypton's population. Jor-L and Lara are not dressed in the sci-fi garb of the comic strip, but in robes that are biblical in nature. Given producer Sam Katzman's cheapskate method of serial-making, they were most likely left over from some other production filmed on the Columbia lot. Krypton's greatest threat is from the tremors and volcanoes--now active--that will utterly doom the planet.
Roh Zahn, head of the council of Krypton, calls an emergency meeting of the other old white men in charge of Krypton. Jor-El, his voice dignified and measured, warns them of Krypton's dangers: "The sun is gradually drawing our planet into its orbit. Soon, the gravitational pull will be so strong that Krypton will be unable to stand the strain. When that moment occurs, our planet will explode into millions of fiery fragments. Nothing can survive such a catastrophe."
The council entertains him, but just for a moment, accusing him of "creating" the threat of Krypton's destruction. "Are these not the utterances of a man whose mind has begun to wander?" The most skeptical of the council challenges before the utterly drama-less vote against Jor-L. As Krypton goes up in a montage of stock footage, Jor-L and Lara place the baby Kal-L in the small rocket. There are no words, as a cartoon rocket takes the place of the prop and flies off into space. Krypton's first live-action explosion was animated.
Back on Earth, the Kents are riding in their Model T when the rocket lands. Eben Kent, a little pudgier and more well-spoken than other versions, walks over with the casualness of his comic book counterpart. Even after the rocket explodes after saving the baby, they treat it like finding a new puppy.
The narrator establishes the child's new name as being Clark, and a montage shows Clark dragging a cart at about 8, and finding Ma Kent's watch in a haystack at 13 (courtesy of X-Ray vision). They live on an actual farm, but the house and their dress feel oddly 1940s suburban. No matter: Clark, when in high school, saves Eben from an animated tornado by holding the distraught farmer's car from being blown away.
It isn't until Clark's adulthood, now played by handsome, lantern-jawed Kirk Alyn, this his parents tell him the truth. "The world needs a man of such extraordinary abilities. That is why you must leave this farm, and put them where they can best be put to use."
Ma hands Clark a bundle with a uniform she made from the blankets he was wrapped in, made of a material that is fire-resistant and durable. The narrator, as Clark walks off with suitcases in hand and hat on head, says "Shortly after this, Clark's foster parents passed away.."
And that's it: The first onscreen depiction of the Kents and the town that would become Smallville. Clark rescues Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, as Superman, from a damaged rail by his local train station the next chapter. After that, Clark Kent is off to work at the Daily Planet, save the day as Superman, and face off against the evil and sultry Black Widow. He even encounters Kryptonite for the first time on screen.
His four-color counterpart, however, still remains oblivious to his own origins.
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