It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman
It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman 1975
Now that I’ve finished watching every major comic book movie, it’s time for me to spread out once again to some of the lesser known films and I’m starting with the last couple DC movies that have nearly been buried to time. This was a made-for-TV musical production based on a Broadway show that was released near the same time that Batman premiered on TV in 1966. Even though this was just a few short years before Richard Donner’s version of Superman would start to take comic book superheroes more seriously, this musical is just as full of the camp and humor as Adam West’s Batman that came before it. It even includes fight scenes with visual onomatopoeias. It was a very low budget production and doesn’t even live up to an episode of Batman, but despite the awfulness or possibly because of it, the movie tickled me in just the right ways to have a ball while watching it. Except for the songs.
The film starts off with a quick introduction of Superman’s origin before very quickly killing off his adoptive parents and getting to his adventures in Metropolis. There isn’t any Lex Luthor, but instead he faces off against three villains who more or less work together. Max Menkin is a rival reporter with political aspirations who holds a grudge against Superman because the city loves the hero and not Max. Doctor Sedgwick is a mad scientist and somehow a ten time Nobel Prize runner up who wants revenge on Sweden, and in order to get his revenge on Sweden, first he has to conquer the world, and in order to conquer the world he has to kill Superman. And finally, there’s a random group of mobsters who want to kill Superman just because he’s a threat to the crime way of life, or something similar. But most of the movie revolves around either setting up the villain’s plan or the initially non-existent relationship between Clark and Lois.
If you’re someone who didn’t like the portrayal of Superman in Man of Steel because it wasn’t hopeful enough, this doesn’t do much better. Here, Clark is portrayed as a complete and total sad sack that Lois doesn’t even notice despite interacting with him moments earlier. Superman also gets taken down a peg by getting a dedication of a “laundry” only to be blamed for not preventing some catastrophe that was happening at the same time. Not only that, but somehow the people at his “laundry” dedication learn of this destruction, apparently from the breaking news bulletin that interrupted the movie somehow. David Wilson either couldn’t hide his own rather thick New York accent or decided to give one to Clark and Superman for some reason. It didn’t help that he wasn’t a great singer, actor, or even in that great of shape.
Since this was a made-for-TV production of a stage musical, the budget appeared to be extremely small. The sets all looked like stage production sets with comic book style art on flat backgrounds and a few pieces of set decoration. The flying was handled through a very cheap and obvious trick of having Superman lay down and have the hand drawn cloud background move behind him. The special effects were also minimal animation like the death ray and the “Pow” balloons in the final fight. There was even a oddly adult joke where one of the characters was about to swear only to have an animated “censored” appear over their mouth along with a beep.
Where the musical really failed were the songs. None of them were very catchy, funny, and rarely seemed to add anything to the plot of the movie. Most were just an extension of what the characters had just said they were going to do. There were a few moments here and there where the absurdity of the song itself made the entire thing funny, but the joke would only last for a few moments while the song continued on for several more minutes. But overall, the humor worked in a similar way that a bad movie works. There was so much that just didn’t make sense that it became funny on its own. Like how the narrator would set up the cliffhanger for each chapter only to essentially answer the cliffhanger with the title of the next chapter. “Will Clark find happiness? Find out in the next chapter ‘Clark Finds Happiness'”. That and when the villains find out Clark’s identity through the mad scientist’s supercomputer, the computer itself prints a readout that mentions how the computer forgot about Clark Kent too.
All in all, this was a bizarre oddity that doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the Adam West Batman series which is why this one has mostly been forgotten. There is definitely some fun to be had revisiting this even if you do have to suffer through some cheesy songs and very low bootleg quality video on YouTube, complete with moments of VHS era tape glitches as this was likely originally recorded off of TV. I went in knowing more or less what I was expecting, and while I could barely tolerate the songs, the intentional and unintentional humor laced throughout the movie tickled me a lot more than I expected so that I really had a ball watching this. If you’re curious about it yourself, just do a quick search for the Superman Musical and watch a few scenes for yourself. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.