Superman and the Mole Men (1951, Lee Sholem)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Clark Kent and Lois Lane, reporters from the Metropolis Daily Planet, arrive in a small town to write about the world’s deepest oil well. But two creatures who live in the centre of the earth climb up the six-mile-deep hole…

Good guys: Clark Kent/Superman is played by George Reeves, who appeared in various movie serials and TV episodes between this feature in 1951 and his death in 1959. We first see him in an intro sequence, which explains the set-up and ends with Superman standing in front of the Stars and Stripes as the narration tells us that he fights for “truth, justice and the American way!” Once the story’s underway, Clark turns up at the oil well with colleague Lois Lane and the pair research their story. It’s 24 minutes into this 58-minute film before Superman makes an appearance – oddly, we don’t see the switch of costume. Lois, meanwhile, is played by Phyllis Coates. She’s a photographer as well as a reporter, seems totally unmoved by an old man’s death, and shows very little journalistic curiosity. There’s no flirtation or much chemistry between Clark and Lois.

Bad guys: Luke Benson, an angry local, represents ‘mob rule’ and wants the Mole Men hunted down. He fires a gun at and punches Superman, with no effect. Sidekick Webber shoots one of the Mole Men – Superman finds him and takes him to hospital – while Benson traps the other creature in a hut and burns it to the ground. Benson is played by Jeff Corey, who was later in both Star Trek (The Cloud Minders) and Babylon 5 (Z’ha’dum).

Other guys: There are many forgettable oil workers and townsmen. The Mole Men are short, bald, dressed all in black and have huge foreheads. They don’t speak and we don’t learn anything about them.

Best bits:

* The melodramatic incidental music.

* The two Mole Men climbing up out of the pipe. They later appear at a window and scare the bejesus out of Lois.

* Superman takes flight – smartly represented by a high angle as the camera tracks above a crowd of people.

* Lois: “You give the impression you’re leading a double life.” Clark, smirking and putting on his hat: “Really?”

Review: My watchthrough of every full-length, cinema-released film featuring Superman or Batman begins poorly. There’d been a couple of movie serials featuring the Man of Steel before this – but Mole Men was the character’s first feature film. It acted partly as a pilot/showcase/advert for the subsequent TV series, Adventures of Superman, and indeed it has the feel of a story-of-the-week. It’s all out on location, for example, and we never see the Daily Planet. Sadly, it hasn’t dated well. It’s brain-numbingly bland and very, very ‘straight’. Irony, subtext and character are all absent. If you squint, I suppose there may be a Reds-under-the-beds metaphor going on. Certainly, the locals are instinctively scared of the Mole Men because they’re ‘other’. But it’s all pretty flat and drab.

Three test tubes of radium out of 10.

Next time: Holy 1960s, Batman!


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