TAC Table of Contents
Written by David Chantler
Directed by George Blair
I have to admit right up front that the color episodes of The Adventures of Superman (seasons 3-6) have never been, overall, among my favorites. I have always had a preference for the first and second season shows.
The first season was a rousing, action-filled adventure program written and filmed in the style of the hard-boiled 1940s movie serials. And though it was essentially science fiction, it was realistic enough and rooted in reality just enough so that it could be watched and enjoyed by adults, as well as children. Indeed, almost as many adults watched the show as did children.
The second season was a little softer than the first, but was still very much a legitimate adventure program that was still completely acceptable to adults and children alike. Even Emperor Hirohito of Japan himself was an avowed fan of the show!
However, for whatever reason (which could spawn a whole ‘nother article in itself!), everything changed with the third season. The very first color episode, “Through The Time Barrier”, unfortunately set the tone for most of the subsequent episodes to follow. The show became more silly, juvenile, and simplistic in its overall tone and style. At best it was now just a childrens’ semi-adventure program. At worst it became little more than a childish fantasy/comedy show.
However, there were a few exceptions to this rule. Many of these episodes will become subject matter for future installments of this column -- but I am going to begin here with one of my very favorite color episodes: “Peril In Paris” (1956).
If The Adventures of Superman had continued beyond its sixth season, this episode is one of the ones that I would’ve hoped would have become a template for future shows. It had just about everything: an exotic locale (Paris, France); realistic villains that were played perfectly straight (unusual for a color episode); a touch of political intrigue right out of the news headlines of the time (two European nationals trying to escape to the West from somewhere behind the Cold War Iron Curtain); a perfectly cast French-American actress in the role of defector Anna Constantine (Lilyan Chauvin, who later became a well-known actress, director, and acting coach); a realistic crime plot grounded in espionage, smuggling, the illegal crossing of foreign borders, etc.
The script is quite good, courtesy of writer David Chantler. In one revealing scene, the bogus Inspector Pierre Lamont (Albert Carrier) tells Superman: “I know you could prevent this, monsieur Superman” [referring to the arrest of Gregor and Anna], “but you won’t – because I promise I keep you out of this. Not for your sake, but for the sake of so many that believe in you.” Superman, clearly rattled by this statement, replies haltingly, “I’ve … always tried to justify that faith.” Lamont continues his dressing down of the Man of Steel: “The smarter the criminal, the more legitimate he tries to appear,” he continues [ironically, as it later turns out]. “You are not welcome in my country, monsieur. I know no jail can hold you. But you cannot fly from your own conscience!” As Lamont and Officer Gerard (Charles LaTorre) lead Anna and Gregor away, Superman sits down on a nearby bench, clearly troubled by what has just happened. The scene serves to greatly humanize and deepen the Superman character, and Reeves pulls off the scene quite convincingly.
The show also had some of the best special effects of the series. Credit effects master Thol “Si” Simonson with some of his best super-feats of the color years: Superman, in full view, smothering an exploding bomb against his body; and a spectacular crash-through by Reeves that showcased a thick concrete wall collapsing as the mighty Man of Steel burst through it (and a nearby wine rack crashing noisily to the floor).
Also credit set decorator Jerry Welch with wonderfully atmospheric sets in this episode. These included the inside of an old European theater (complete with shadows and high catwalks); a foggy Parisian street scene (complete with antique European streetlamps); the dark interior of an old world jeweler’s shop (located somewhere on a small dingy Parisian side street); and a medieval-looking Paris basement (complete with ornate stone archways and cement walls).
And thank director George Blair and director of photography Harold Wellman for their brief nod to film noir films of the 1940s, with Superman’s dramatic shadow appearing on the wall of the jeweler’s shop in one scene before he makes his entrance.
Overall, definitely one of the better episodes of the series. Would that many more had been made in this same style during the color years.
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