This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.
Peril in Paris (dir. George Blair) is an ignominious opener for the fifth season. Diamond thieves have plundered the City of Love in an episode which could have used Grace Kelly.
Tin Hero (dir. Blair) is a slow news day, but Daily Planet subscribers aren’t the only ones suffering from boredom.
The Town That Wasn’t (dir. Blair): Gangsters use a mobile town to catch unsuspecting motorists in speed traps. Crimes are perpetrated and the law is evaded until Superman sets things right.
Tomb of Zaharan (dir. Blair) is awfully dull going for an episode dealing with reincarnation and Egyptian queens. At least Perry White gets some enjoyment in seeing his ace reporters stripped down and humiliated.
The Man Who Made Dreams Come True (dir. Blair): Who would ever guess that superstition could be a channel to the monarchy? Lois gets gagged tied yet again, and manages to render that fetish dull.
Disappearing Lois (dir. Harry W. Gerstad): Lois goes undercover to oust Lefty the gangster in a fun episode. Spanish Fly meets French Maid.
Money to Burn (dir. Gerstad): Arsonists burn the Daily Planet. Perry White waxes suspicious before being abducted. A Super fireman comes to the rescue. Superman with a fire hose… Ding! Turn the page! Can’t wait for the action figure set. Cool stuff.
Close Shave (dir. Gerstad): Crooked barbers. Lois gagged and tied. What more can you ask for?
The Phony Alibi (dir. Blair): Professor Pepperwinkle has invented another useless device straight out of Dr. Seuss. This one teleports people through telephone lines. Lois shows off her “come hither” pearl necklace.
The Prince Albert Coat (dir. Gerstad): Life savings accidentally given away in a coat pocket… stop the presses, this is a story! Actually, all turns out well, and we’re relieved.
The Stolen Elephant (dir. Gerstad): Poor Jimmy thinks he didn’t get anything for his birthday, but lo and behold, Mom placed an elephant in his shed. Sad to say, but bad kidnappers want the elephant too. Nail-biting suspense.
Mr. Zero (dir. Gerstad) is the nadir of the entire series, and quite possibly the most execrable thirty minutes to ever disgrace the idiot box. It’s a cardboard takeoff of a comic villain and a pain-inducing endurance test. If it borders on masochism for its viewers, one can only imagine the humiliation it inflicted on the cast. After catching only a few minutes of Mr. Zero, my wife quipped, “No wonder Reeves was depressed.” This episode should have sent off alarm bells that the Superman cash cow was in mortal danger.
Whatever Goes Up (dir. Gerstad): Jimmy has his ownmoment when he invents an anti-gravity formula. Perry and Jimmy are no Ozzy and Harriott. Smartly, Superman steers clear of the shtick.
Much-missed director Tommy Carr returned for the sixth season opener, The Last Knight, but even he can’t salvage its pedestrian script. Wisely, Carr bowed out of “The Adventures of Superman” permanently after this brief return. The episode is about a medieval museum, a society for the preservation of knights and dragons, and Superman climbing into a suit of armor. Still, nothing in it is as humiliating as what we have seen the previous three seasons.
The Magic Secret (dir. Philip Ford) is the first entry in an odd trilogy from “The Adventures of Superman.” It’s also a return, of sorts, in that we see Reeves actually locating a joyful pulse in his Superman role for the first time since season two. While Reeves clearly enjoyed playing Clark Kent, in the sixth season we sense him actually having fun with his “visitor from another planet” role. Reeves’ appeal is intact as a welcoming father figure (something that none of his successors tapped). Christopher Reeve was the Superman your big sister had a crush on. Dean Cain evaporated before our eyes as he waxed angsty, pleading repeatedly for Lois Lane to love him, not Superman. Brandon Roth could have been a case study for Clearasil, and Henry Cavill’s Passion of the Superman is only fit for masochistic boys spinning their tires in parking lots. Reeves never strikes one as being insightful, and he uses that no-nonsense approach to full advantage, rather like a patriarch for a clan of misfits. Here, Superman learns the trick of elevation from grandpa White and tries it out on gal pal Lane, whose body shields both himself and Olsen from deadly, raining kryptonite. How cool is that?
Divide and Conquer (dir. Ford) finds Reeves in dual roles. Superman gets split in half and has a little trouble putting himself back together again. He’s weakened enough that he can’t break cell bars by himself, and his better half is forced to assist. He feels the sting of a bullet and his takeoffs lack zip. In other words, he’s not impervious here, and much the better for it. This is a strange entry with strange writing and peculiar texture.
The Mysterious Cube (dir. Blair) is ever weirder. There’s a cube of a mysterious substance that Superman cannot penetrate. A gangster is inside, awaiting the right moment to emerge, after he’s declared dead with the statute of limitations department. Superman vibrates through the wall, stopping midway, and is almost trapped (a bit like the Flash here) in the unknown substance. Superman messes with the Naval Clock and… Reeves’ enthusiasm level is in high gear here, as it has been for the most recent episodes, and he takes us along with him for the ride.
The Atomic Captive (dir. Blair): A sinister spy ring is afoot, with femme fatale X-29! Superman, knowing that his molecules differ from those of Lois and Jimmy, charges them with his positive neutrons, protecting them from deadly radiation! With that out-of-the-way, Superman again averts a mushroom cloud crisis, drives the H-Bomb back into the ground, and bests sinister commies. What were they thinking?
The Superman Silver Mine (dir. Blair): Someone’s trying to steal the silver mine that its filthy rich owner had donated to charity in Superman’s name. Watch out.
The Big Forget (dir. Howard Bretherton) opens with gangsters named Mugsy Maple and Knuckles Nelsen trying to steal an anti-memory vapor! Naturally, Superman is impervious to its effects and, luckily for him, the vapor works on the Daily Planet staff they see Kent change into the old red and blue. Superman even uses his Super breath to suck out all the deadly fumes.
The Gentle Monster (dir. Bretherton) of the title refers to Mr. McTavish, a piano playing, boxy robot with slinky for legs and an ounce of kryptonite in his heart. Of course, Superman’s enemies get wind of the gentle monster’s ingredients, and that spells predictable trouble afoot for the aging boy scout.
Superman’s Wife is often cited as a fan favorite. It’s certainly aided by Lew Landers stepping in as director (he had previously helmed big budget, A- efforts at Universal, including 1935’s The Raven). One suspects the real reason for this episode’s popularity lies in pseudo-cult guest star Joi Lansing posing as Superman’s wife to weed out a gang of thugs. There are no surprises, but Reeves’ Kent/Superman dynamic begins to take on a more organic texture in this season. Rounder, graying at the temples and more saturnine, he’s less lecherous, less foppish and more interesting than before. Unfortunately, it’s a bit like‘s performances of the Forties in which an actor, aging beautifully, is confined to unbecoming projects. In his mid-forties, Reeves’ Superman is a patristic hero. It’s almost as if the protagonist of the Fletcher cartoons has lived long enough to become a princely hero in an adolescent world, commanding the small screen like a veteran.
The oddly named Three in One (dir. Landers) is one of the better episodes from seasons three to six. Landers gives the material a cinematic visual milieu, giving it a queer texture unlike any preceding episode, which is likely unintentional but makes one wish he had directed more of these. Even the dramatic B-music score places it a notch above the norm.
Detective work is needed to keep Superman from being framed by criminal elements. The broken-down circus setting, a golden sphere, a strongman, and Superman (in the guise of a night rent-a-cop) add up to a figurative, surreal watercolor, with only narrative bullet points and clunky dialogue obtruding. With the narrative centered around circus performers, Three in One is more than the sum of its parts. It has a reflective quality, with Reeves’ lit like Lee Majors and evoking memories of. It was effective enough to inspire an homage in the 90s’ “The New Adventures of Superman” (starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher). Reeves is never cooler than when stripping off his keystone kop disguise and playing golden sphere pitch-and-catch with the good-hearted Lurch of a strongman. It often looks like an precursor to Adam West’s “Batman” series, and has an undeniable silver screen sheen. A testament to its oddness lies in the popularity of stills culled from this episode.
The Brainy Burro (dir. George Reeves) is the embarrassing entry of season six. Understandably, Reeves directs with little enthusiasm for the trifle of a script about a mathematician jackass.
The Perils of Superman (dir. Reeves) is another fan favorite, with Reeves thoroughly enjoying himself behind the camera. Fortunately, his enthusiasm proves contagious as he embraces the spirit of serial chapter plays. The Daily Planet staff is abducted by nefarious men in lead masks. Reeves (the actor) hilariously milks the simple line of dialogue “oh, no,” while being submerged in acid. The episode taps, and improves on, the spirit of serials such as The Adventures of Captain Marvel or King of the Rocket Men (serials were hampered by pacing, which is not a problem here in a thirty minute setting). It’s also an indirect to sequel to season two’s Man in the Lead Mask.
All That Glitters (dir. Reeves): Super Lois and Super Olsen take charge of a dreamy episode, which ends with Jimmy exclaiming to Kent, “Golly, Mr. Kent. You’ll never know what it’s like to be Superman.” “No, Jimmy, I guess I never will,” replies Kent. Reeves and cast were clearly having fun, like children playing with a big toy set.
However, with 20/20 hindsight, knowing the actor’s fate shortly after, this is a bit of dialogue that literally delivers shudders. Our image of the 1950s live action Superman is undeniably shaded by the knowledge of his counterpart’s self-murder, which was enigmatic enough to inspire the 2006 feature Hollywoodland (dir. Allen Coulter). The role of George Reeves proved a renaissance of sorts for actor Ben Affleck. Predictably, complaints were lodged against both the film and Affleck. Affleck plays a facet of Reeves that is apt, as he nails both the role and its source of inspiration.
Opinions are still divided over Reeves’ cause of death, with camps alternately claiming a murder conspiracy, manslaughter as the result of an argument, or, as the official inquiry ruled, that he killed himself. There’s fire behind the smoke for all the arguments. Reeves broke off his decades-long affair with the hyper-jealous Toni Mannix, who was married to a studio mafioso. According to(the series’ first Lois Lane) Mannix phoned her within two hours of Reeves death and told her that “the boy had been murdered.”
It has also been claimed that Mannix confessed Reeves’ murder to a priest some years later, although she was suffering from Alzheimer’s at the time. The weapon, a Luger, was registered to Mannix’s husband, Eddie—but one must question why Mannix, if he were responsible, would be foolhardy enough to kill his wife’s lover with his own gun?
Noel Neill, the second Lois Lane, also rejected the theory of Reeves’ suicide, saying “I don’t know who killed George Reeves, but it wasn’t George Reeves.”
Some place the blame at Lenore Lemmon’s feet. Reeves fiancée had a reputation for a violent temper. According to some sources, Lemmon ran downstairs moments after the fatal shot, yelling “tell them I was downstairs.” One thing is almost certain—Lemmon was present in Reeves’ bedroom when he died, although she was highly intoxicated, as was Reeves’ himself (three times the legal driving limit). Lemmon certainly didn’t help her claims of innocence by immediately taking off for New York with thousands of dollars in travelers check left by Reeves. But none of Reeves’ guests on the night of his death could be described as being close friends to Lemmon, so why they would continue lying/covering for her for years? Even after her death? The odds of such loyalty are nonsensical. Yet, why did none of them call the police for almost an hour after Reeves’ death? Of course, they were all highly intoxicated, as the investigating officers quickly and rightfully pointed out.
Reeves’s body did show signs of a struggle, with fresh bruises on both his face and chest, but this could have been from a recent car accident. Other sources claim that a mechanic had warned Reeves “somebody wants you dead.” Allegedly, Reeves’ brake line had been cut and drained of fluid, thus causing his accident. Adding to the murder theory was the recent abduction and killing of his schnauzer, and Reeves’ filing a restraining order against Mannix after receiving literally hundreds of threatening prank phone calls. Reeves had more than one driving accident, however, and the incident with the brakes accident had been almost a year previous. (Reportedly, his recurring car troubles were primarily alcohol related).
There is no denying that Reeves had a serious drinking problem and was depressed enough to have had two previous suicide attempts. While some claimed suicide unlikely, as Reeves spirits were high and enthusiastic at the time (he was slated to direct an entire season of “The Adventures of Superman”), others, including Jack Larson (Jimmy Olsen) argued that Reeves was terribly depressed, which all the guests at Reeves’ home agreed upon. “If you think George was happy about another season of ‘Superman,’ you didn’t know George very well,” said Larson in an interview. Noel Neill expressed exasperated disagreement with Larson’s assessment, saying she knew George as predominantly happy. Reeves had a sign on his dressing room door that read “Honest George,” and he seems to have enjoyed his status as the father figure to cast and crew, but he also burned his Superman suit at the end of every season, and once quipped to Phyllis Coates “we’ve reached the bottom of the barrel.” When an author attempted to dispute Reeves’ depression, citing sources like the dual Lois Lanes (neither of whom had seen Reeves for months), the counterargument argument was “but according to people who had been around Reeves at the time of his death, all state that he was depressed as hell. Who are you going to believe?”
Affleck captures the pathos facet of George Reeves and does it ably, giving the subject due respect. Regardless of how Reeves died, he almost certainly died instantly, probably never knowing what hit him if it was an accident or the result of a heated argument with Lemmon. He went out faster than a speeding bullet, and in an imperfect world, Reeves was granted an almost flawless exit.