TAC Table of Contents
by Mr. X (mostly) and Jim Nolt
In 21st century Hollywood, many stunts performed on the silver screen are achieved through the use of computer generated imagery, or CGI. Of course CGI was not even imagined during the production of the Adventures of Superman, so stunt work was performed live. With few exceptions (most notably the wire and harness take-offs), George Reeves did his own stunts... much to the consternation and apprehension of producers Robert Maxwell and Whitney Ellsworth. In fact, Ellsworth once commented, "Our problem with Reeves was not in getting him to do his own stunts... but in getting him to not do them."
Now that the series is "in the can", we can look back and appreciate just how much each and every episode was enhanced by George doing his own stunts. Even a casual observer can see that George had a way of carrying himself that was virtually impossible to imitate. No one could double for George Reeves and get away with it. George's athleticism added to making the character of Superman that much more believable. After all, who'd believe in a klutzy Superman?
Recently on the Yahoo message board there was discussion of Reeves' landings. Properly staged, whether outdoors or through a window, they were spectacular. It was Tommy Carr, TAOS' brilliant director, who most often filmed George's best stunts with great flair.
Reeves flew into scenes in two basic manners: Outdoors, Reeves jumped off a ladder or scaffold. When filmed at the correct angle, his outdoor landings enhanced the illusion of flight. Carr kept the camera low to the ground, and Reeves would jump over the camera and into frame. Below are several classic examples.
The above picture is from "Superman in Exile" (1953). Notice how the camera is positioned only a few feet above the ground. (The line at the top of the photo is actually the platform George jumped off of into frame.) The upward angle of the shot helps preserve the illusion of flight. On film it's very effective as seen below.
A similar stunt, this from "Panic in the Sky" (1953).
Back up director, George Blair, however, didn't have Carr's eye for screen composition. Most of the landings he filmed were at a forty five degree to the camera, and weren't nearly as effective.
The two above pictures, from "The Face and the Voice" (1953) show George standing on the ladder and throwing his arms out in preparation to jump. We can see that he's not high off the ground, and therefore, the illusion of flight just isn't there. It's not a good stunt, and the fault lies with the director and the cinematographer, not with George. After Tommy Carr left the series, the quality of George's stunts declined.
Still, there were a couple of bright moments. One of my favorite landings from the color years was in "The Phantom Ring" (1955), when Clark Kent was pushed out of the plane. Here, director Phil Ford kept the camera low, and had George jump from a relatively high perch. It worked wonderfully.
George crafted Superman's window entrances with equal grace even though they were more difficult to do, and they required great physical strength and athletic ability. George would perch out of camera view, lift his legs and then swing off a high bar through the window. In 1951 he'd come through the window virtually parallel to the ground, making it appear that he was flying through the window feet first.
Above is one of George's best... from "The Monkey Mystery" (1951). Notice how George achieved great elevation and cleared Pepe by a wide margin. Below are two similar landings.
"The Birthday Letter" (1951).
"The Secret of Superman" (1951).
By 1953 it was apparently decided to make the landings easier and safer. The use of larger windows meant that George didn't have to swing as high, making the stunt easier. Even so, well executed and photographed right, they were very effective.
Above from "Five Minutes to Doom" (1953).
Another one of my favorites is in "The Man Who Made Dreams Come True" (1956). George smashes through a bathroom window, and picks up and extinguishes a live electric wire. It's a fantastic stunt!
And finally, this picture, from "Whatever Goes Up" (1956) clearly illustrates how George executed these window landings and shows the physical strength that was needed. I'd fall on my butt trying this!
Mr. X and Jim Nolt