Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, turned a superhero into a movie star (1978)

Superman, starring Christopher Reeve

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Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, is first-rate

by Mike Deupree – Cedar Rapids Gazette (Iowa) December 25, 1978

They actually pulled it off. Despite having all the earmarks of the world’s most expensive turkey, Superman turns out to be a slick, extremely classy, altogether first-rate production.

It’s a super-expensive, super-colorful comic book of a movie — funny in all the right spots and in the right way, with plenty of action, good special effects, nearly perfect casting and a fast-moving, although incredibly simplistic, story.

This is the movie, remember, that took five years and either $60 million or $78 million, depending on whose story you believe, to produce.

It’s the one that paid Marlon Brando $3.8 million for about two weeks’ work.

They cast a relative unknown, Christopher Reeve, in the crucial role of Superman-Clark Kent, because both Robert Redford and Paul Newman — really! — turned it down.

Superman movie poster - 1978

Even more ominous is the fact that the story of a uniquely American super-hero is produced primarily in England by a pair of Russians, who began their filmmaking career in Mexico and continued in Spain, Italy, France and Hungary.

The chances seemed good they wouldn’t understand Superman, and Superman is not somebody to mess around with. To treat the story as camp, or to fail to understand what the Man of Steel means to Americans, would surely result in disaster.

But through the deft direction of Richard Donner, and perceptive performances by all concerned, Superman comes out just right.

Oh, there are some laughs; phrases such as “mild-mannered reporter” and “don’t call me chief!” are bound to bring a snicker from an audience well-versed about life around the Daily Planet.

There’s a particularly nice scene the first time Clark tries to change costumes and can’t find a telephone booth, only one of those shelter-type things on a pole.

Christopher Reeve as Superman

But you’re laughing at the situation or the lines, not at Superman. Reeve plays him absolutely straight, and does an even better job portraying Clark Kent.

When Lois Lane asks him why he’s come to Earth, and Superman replies “to fight for truth, justice and the American way,” you believe he’s deadly serious — although maybe a bit naive.

When he rescues Lois from certain death in a dramatic helicopter crash, the first thing he tells her is that he hopes the experience won’t deter her from flying again in the future, since statistics prove it’s one of the safest ways to travel. He’s sincerely worried about her getting the wrong impression.

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The film’s story starts on the planet Krypton, with Jor-El (Brando) sending his infant son to Earth in a rocket ship before his home planet explodes.

It follows the super-baby as he’s adopted by kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter), goes through some adolescent problems, and eventually goes to Metropolis at age 30.

(By the way, those of you who’re familiar with the “Superman” TV series, see if you notice a familiar face at the train window when the teenage Clark Kent races it to a crossing).

Clark Kent and Lois Lane

After showing himself to the city in a series of incredible feats, and discovering he’s sort of in love with Lois Lane, Superman locks horns with arch-fiend Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), who has a plan to become rich by peeling off the West Coast along the San Andreas Fault.

The special effects are marvelous, particularly the destruction of Krypton and the climactic earthquake. Superman’s flying sequences aren’t quite as convincing, but at least you can’t see any wires.

Margot Kidder is sophisticated and clever as Lois Lane, but suitably susceptible to Superman’s charms. Jackie Cooper as Perry White, Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen, and Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine as Luthor’s henchpersons are all, well, super.

Superman and Lex Luthor - Gene Hackman

Hackman brings a nice blend of evil and wit to the Luthor character, Brando is properly pompous as Jor-El… you can go right down the line.

Reeve is simply perfect as Superman-Clark Kent; he not only looks the part, but he can act.

The score, by John Williams, isn’t up to his work in Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but it’s good.

“Superman” promises to be a huge hit, with lots of repeat business, and the sequel — most of which was filmed at the same time the first movie was — will be eagerly awaited. It’s the kind of movie that lets you go in, turn off your mind and enjoy yourself.

Finally, although the rating is PG, it’s hard to imagine anyone being offended. The violence is sparse and of the “let’s pretend” variety, and Perrine’s low-cut dress should please the men without corrupting the boys.

Reeve doesn’t worry about being ‘Superman’ forever

by Joan E Vadeboncoeur – Syracuse Herald-Journal (Syracuse, NY) June 1, 1981

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada – The black limousine pulled up to the US-Canada border stop and the pretty blond inspector stuck her headln the window to ask the usual questions — “Where were you born?” and “What is the purpose of your visit to Canada?”

What she saw was “Superman,” not Christopher Reeve, the actor who played him in a the film that amassed a $300 million gross box office around the world.

Another young woman inspector joined her, papers went into the window and, by the time I pulled up to the crossing, both were blushing and squealing, “I got Superman’s autograph!”

They managed to calm down long enough to ask me the routine queries, but, as I pulled away, the squeal went up again, “Superman! I can’t believe it!”

Must live with image

It is the image of the muscular man in the red and blue cape with which 28-year-old Christopher Reeve must live. Hollywood loves to typecast its stars, but the young group of actresses and actors staunchly resist. Some succeed; some do not.

Reeve could have a more critical problem than most since he signed for a sequel, Superman II, even before the first one was “in the can.” It will reach the nation’s movie screens late this month.

Superman movie 1978 - Christopher Reeve

But the tall, brown-haired actor has no complaints about what the film has done for him and how he has been able to deal with the image. He discussed it in an interview for the press preview staged here, returning to the site of one segment of the sequel.

Says Reeve, “Superman accelerated my career 10 years. I can choose my own scripts and who I want to work with. But I’ve always had a career and it just keeps moving to different levels. If I hadn’t done the movie, I’d still have been climbing. I had done ‘Matter of Gravity,’ with Katharine Hepburn and a soap opera, ‘Love of Life,’ so I was moving.”

Turned down ‘Gigolo’

“Typecasting is a depressing phrase, but I don’t think it applies to movie actors today. Maybe it did to George Reeves (the TV ‘Superman’) because he was there every Friday night in the living room for years.”

The Cornell University graduate was rumored to have turned down American Gigolo, lest the sex object he would have played would be detrimental to his “Superman” image. Not so, says Reeve. “It was a lousy script.”

Still, he protects the comic strip character he brought to life on screen with a fair amount of heat.

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“I’m bored by the macho side. Sure, I had to pump iron and build up for the role, but that’s cosmetic.

“I see Superman as a role model. He’s a decent guy and there are very few of them today. When I talk to children, I try to use him as a chalk talk. I ask them ‘What is a gentleman?’ And ‘What does it mean to be considerate and thoughtful?'”

Separating Superman from Clark Kent appears to be no problem for the one-time Juilliard acting student. Reeve says he works from love for both.

“What is love?” he asks rhetorically. “It means inspiration which is the child to the father. That’s Superman II — its need, which is the child to the mother. That is Clark Kent as I see him. As Superman, I try to be calm, to look and listen. As Clark Kent, I use energy and nerves.”

Film flop

The star’s first attempt to break the Superman mold proved a disaster when Somewhere in Time flopped miserably. Reeve is neither utterly embarrassed about it nor especially concerned that he was unable to project a different image.

“It was not a brilliant movie,” he concedes up front. “But I thought it would be good to do an old-fashioned romance in the cynical ’80s. It didn’t work.

“It tried too hard to be beautiful, and that’s the kiss of death. It was too pretty and too heavy with violence, and you have to be sparing with embellishments. I saw it was happening and I tried to compensate and I got very bouncy.”

Somewhere in Time movie 1980

Undaunted, the performer returned to the theatrical side of his career as the crippled homosexual son in “Fifth of July,” Lanford Wilson’s Tony Award-nominated play.

The torrent of letters protesting “Superman” as a gay never came, Reeve says. “I never got one letter saying ‘Shame on you.’ But we were threatened with picketing by the gays because we (Reeve and the actor playing his lover) were two straight guys playing homosexuals.

“Think of all the guys who played Romeo who would have been shot down if you had to be straight to play that role. We asked them to come and see the show and they did. They were so moved by the beauty that we got cards and letters and even flowers from them.”

Overlooked for Tony

The Tony committee bypassed Reeve, but gave a total of five nominations to “Fifth of July,” including one to playwright Wilson. It is an honor about which Reeve has mixed feelings.

“I don’t think the Tony is a barometer of my work,” he begins. “But I’d love to win one. The Tonys are given for many reasons. They’ve nominated Elizabeth Taylor, and that’s fine because she’s magic, and she’s good for the theater.

“But you have to understand that the Tonys are a combination of politics, emotion and publicity. They are not a serious appraisal of work.”

Instead of a Tony, Reeve received a citation that pleased him almost as greatly. In an onstage ceremony, his five months of working with a man who had two legs blown off in Vietnam for “Fifth of July” were rewarded with an award from a handicapped association. “It was very moving,” he says.

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Christopher Reeve as Superman

Finished ‘Deathtrap’

Only a week ago, Christopher Reeve completed his fourth film role as the younger man opposite Michael Caine in the movie version of Deathtrap.

“I’m so sick of thrillers that are all blood and gore. This is like Sleuth, an armchair thriller. I think it outdoes Sleuth.”

That reminded Reeve of the privilege of falling and rising again in the motion picture business.

“The critics are just waiting to see me bomb the next time out. But hey, remember Michael Caine may have had ‘Sleuth,’ but he also had ‘The Island.’ Now I don’t listen to any reviews at all. I don’t look at life as a popularity contest any more. I just do the work. I’m much happier.”

Reeve will be spending part of the summer back in Williamstown, where he acted last summer. In the company of Blythe Danner, Ken Howard, Maria Tucci, Roberta Maxwell and Edward Herrmann, he’ll be appearing in “The Greeks,” two evenings, three hours each in length, in which all of the Greek legends will unfold.

In fact, Reeve is so certain he will never become a victim of typecasting that he has signed a contract for Superman III, which is due to begin filming next spring and be released in the summer of 1982.

Like the group of young actors with whom Reeve associated — such rising stars as William Hurt and Richard Gere — the movie-theater pattern is likely to continue. It is a luxury that making movies affords them.

“I still have four or five scripts on the table,” comments Reeve. “If I run out of scripts to do with Sidney Lumet and Richard Lester (Deathtrap and Superman II directors), then I’ll get worried.”

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