Thursday, April 20, 2017
Superman and the Mole Men
Some things are such an integral part of my DNA that I no longer remember when I first learned about them. I don't remember NOT knowing who Superman, the Lone Ranger and Captain Kirk are.
I do definitely remember watching Superman and the Mole Men on TV, because the visuals involving the little Mole people were quite striking to my 7-year-old mind.
Heck, they are still striking to my adult mind. The movie was made in 1951, filmed in 12 days on a shoestring budget to test the viability of a Superman TV series. It succeeded in that goal, with George Reeves and Phyllis Coates bringing Clark/Superman & Lois Lane to the small screen to make what is still the most technically primitive but consistently entertaining & satisfying version of the Man of Steel every brought to a live-action medium.
Clark and Lois have traveled to the western town of Silsby, which has drilled the world's deepest oil well. So deep, in fact, that they discover the Earth is hollow. Soon, a couple of denizens from an underworld civilization climb up the drill shaft and pay us a visit.
The look of the Mole Men is effective. As a grown-up, I can see that the make-up work was pretty cheap, but they still manage to give the little person actors an odd, alien appearance. The movie then plays this up, leaving the Mole Men intentions uncertain in our minds for a time, before it becomes apparent that they are just exploring a new world and have no ill-intent.
But most of the townspeople are in a panic, forming a lynch mob and siccing a pack of dogs on the Mole Men. Only Superman's intervention saves the life of one Mole Man after the little guy takes a bullet to his chest. The other Mole Man barely gets away, returning to the drill shaft.
But just as Superman gets the mob calmed down (mostly by bending their guns out of shape), the
escaped Mole Man returns with a couple of friends and a whopping big ray gun (a prop made from a a vacuum cleaner--but it still looks cool).
It really is amazing what skilled storytellers can do even when their time and budget is limited. Aside from just looking cool, the script is straightforward and has the wit to seed the population of Silsby with a few fair-minded people to balance out the fear-crazed mob. Add to this George Reeves' friendly but authoritative performance as Superman, as well as an obvious but still effective moral about McCarthy-style hysteria, and you have one really nifty way to spend an hour.
The movie was, by the way, edited down by a few minutes and shown as a two-parter at the end of The Adventures of Superman's first season. It was pretty much just as good as a TV show as it was a movie.