Superman and the Mole Men (1951)

superman mole menSuperman and the Mole Men (1951)
AKA Superman and the Strange People, The Unknown People (Episode title when re-broadcast as a two-parter for Adventures of Superman)

Starring George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jeff Corey, Walter Reed, J. Farrell MacDonald, Stanley Andrews, Ray Walker, Hal K. Dawson

Directed by Lee Sholem

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


Alright, who’s ready for some Superman? In anticipation of Zack Snyder’s take on Supes, Man of Steel, I’ll be running through 11 films that have previously taken a crack at the last survivor of the planet Krypton. Now what exactly those 11 films are is for me to know and you to find out, but expect things that line up with the grand Silver Emulsion tradition of balancing the mainstream with the not-so mainstream. So once again, who’s ready for some Superman? I can’t hear you! Are you ready?

Oh, so you are ready for some Superman? Well… hmm… this is awkward… in that case, you’ll have to wait. Mostly. Because Superman and the Mole Men isn’t all that much of a Superman movie. He’s in it, and he a few heroic and super things, but mostly it’s about Clark Kent, some intolerant townspeople and a few balding mole men. I had incorrectly assumed that the title referred to some struggle that would occur between Superman and the mole men, and I imagined Superman punching short, squinty-eyed guys in the face, but instead he’s actually protecting the li’l guys! This makes Superman and the Mole Men something of an interesting allegory for the Communist scare in America, and even if it didn’t deliver the super thrills I wanted, it was nice to see Superman protecting the weak and misunderstood mole men. Of course, I would have also accepted him punching them in the face, but when I first envisioned that alternate path I had no way of knowing just how harmless they’d end up being.

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Park Row (1952)

Starring Gene Evans, Mary Welch, Bela Kovacs, Herbert Heyes, Tina Pine, George O’Hanlon, J.M. Kerrigan, Forrest Taylor, Don Orlando, Neyle Morrow, Dick Elliott, Stuart Randall, Dee Pollock, Hal K. Dawson

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Extremely high. I’ve built this one up in my mind to be one of the greatest and most anticipated films I haven’t seen yet.


In Sam Fuller’s awesome auto-biography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking, he relates the story of how he tried to sell Daryl Zanuck on the idea of making Park Row (Fuller was contracted with Zanuck at the time with a multi-picture deal). Zanuck always shot it down, and in the final plea, Zanuck suggested that it would be a better movie as a big CinemaScope musical. Sam Fuller wanted the film to reflect the reality of the newspaper industry and singing newsman doesn’t really fit that bill. Fuller then states, “I decided that the only way to make Park Row was to put up my own dough and produce it myself. Two hundred grand, to be exact. To hell with Zanuck and Fox! Fuck the entire studio system! My film was going to be a gift to American journalism.” This shows just how personal and important the film was to him, and boy does it ever show in the finished product.

Park Row is set in the 1880s on the titular street that the newspapers of New York call home. Our lead is the hard-nosed newsman Phineas Mitchell played by Gene Evans, truly one of the greatest unsung actors of his generation. At the outset of the film he is employed by The Star, the oldest paper in New York and run by Charity Hackett (Mary Welch). She inherited the job and therefore doesn’t know or care to know about true journalistic integrity. Fueled by the recent hanging of a man, Evans uses the power of words to start a shitstorm with Hackett. This gets him fired but it leads to the greatest opportunity of his career, starting up his own paper, The Globe.

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